Sometime over the summer, I made a promise to myself: stop fighting with my progressive friends about whether they should vote for President Obama on November 6. Frankly, I had grown weary of the strident, even silly arguments some of my friends were making, mostly that “there’s no difference” between Obama and the Democrats and Romney and the Republicans, that this election amounts to nothing more than a choice between the “lesser of two evils.” That may have been true at certain points in our recent political history. Not so in 2012.
The Left has made these arguments before. Every election cycle, it seems, we seize the occasion to wail and gnash our teeth in public, to lament the fact that Democrats have failed us in any one of a number of ways. It’s as much a national ritual as our four-year election cycle. Of course, now as in the past, there is ample justification for such disappointment and dissent. Historically, America’s two-party political system has more often than not constrained our political choices, to say nothing of our progressive aspirations. In the twenty years since I cast my first Presidential ballot (for Bill Clinton), I have often made these arguments—especially in 1996 and 2000, when my disaffection from the Democratic Party led me to vote enthusiastically, and unapologetically, for Ralph Nader, and in 2004, when my disgust over Democratic cowardice in the wake of two manufactured wars reached a fever pitch (I ended up voting for John Kerry nonetheless). In my adult lifetime, it has been a rare thing for me to vote for a national Democratic candidate without holding my nose. In an ideal world, we would have more than two viable political parties, and a much broader range of options, to choose from. But alas, we live in the real world even as so many of us struggle to change it.
My intention here is not to lambast the Left. There is more than enough of that going around these days—from the war on workers and women to the scapegoating of immigrants and the poor, from the caricature of public school teachers and college professors to the crackdown on Occupy and other forms of radical dissent. Given this wholesale conservative assault, I am as proud as I’ve ever been to stand firmly on the left. But given the enormously high stakes of this year’s election—and the GOP’s increasingly zealous crusade to dismantle everything that is decent and just about this country—I need to break my summertime promise and make a strong case to my progressive brothers and sisters that it is in our collective interest to get out to vote and give President Obama a second term and a Congress he can work with in November. If we don’t deliver, Mitt Romney and his mendacious band of right-wing plutocrats will deliver us back to the Stone Ages.
Just for the record, though I don’t always vote for Democrats, I always vote—in primaries and general elections, for everything from City Council to President. As a historian, I appreciate the fact that too many people have died in the global struggle for democracy and universal suffrage for me to ever take this right for granted. In fact, voting is still a privilege—or worse, a dream deferred—in too many parts of the world, including parts of the United States where GOP-sponsored voter ID laws have been enacted with the intention and hope of disenfranchising segments of the Democratic base. While I understand anyone’s choice not to vote, in a world where access to the ballot and political self-determination are routinely denied, I will never agree with this decision.