Voting for ‘the devil you know’

Should US voters cast their ballot for those whose principles they share, or simply for the lesser of two evils?

Many on the US left are backing President Barack Obama’s re-election only because they feel the Republican agenda would be even worse for the country. Should voters cast their ballot for those whose principles they share, or simply for the lesser of two evils?

The threat that the Republican party – which has been radicalised by the Tea Party – and the Romney candidacy pose are just monumental to a nation that is already in bad times and I would argue that, while I differ with the president on a number of issues,   what he did do in getting health care for 30 million people and the regulations on the banks – although I’de like them to be much stronger – and the bailout of the auto industry, are all actions that commend him to progressives.

– Harold Meyerson, a Washington Post columnist

Progressive forces in the US have spoken out about rising inequality, the expansion of covert international warfare and expanded curbs on civil liberties under Obama.

His economic policies are accused of institutionalising the gap between rich and poor as he failed to take comprehensive action for those facing foreclosure in favour of protecting the interests of Wall Street.

From economic policy, to climate change, to foreign policy, Obama has disappointed his progressive base. But the prospect of a Republican victory next week is enough for many to stick with the president. His policies may be short on specifics, but the ideological framework put forward by Mitt Romney has the left frightened.

They fear even deeper cuts to social spending for the poor in favour of more perks for the rich, even more neglect of a changing climate, and a greater assault on the rights of the working majority and women.

In the third party debate last week Justice Party candidate Rocky Anderson explained why he felt there was little difference between Republicans and Democrats.

“We know that the Republicans and Democrats have some differences, but both of them have morphed into a militarist, corporatists, anti-democratic force that has betrayed basic human and civil rights. We know that both of these major candidates have been bought and paid for. That’s why neither of them stands for healthcare-for-all, as in the rest of the industrialised world.

There is simply no evidence that he [Obama] cares about inequality, there’s no evidence that he cares about civil rights. There is a lot of evidence that he has pursued a highly malevolent policy to take away rights from workers, from debtors and from whistleblowers. He has tortured Bradley Manning. There a lot of things he has done that indicates what his policy preferences are.

– Matt Stoller, political activist, writer

“Obama and Romney have refused to discuss the corrupting influence of money, flowing from Wall Street banks, from the insurance companies, pharmaceutical industries or military contractors because they are the recipients of that corrupting money,” Anderson said.

In the third party presidential debate Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson criticised the drone programme and the militarisation of US foreign policy:

“I will tell you that regardless of whether or not Romney gets elected or Obama gets elected three things are going to happen. We’re going to find ourselves with a continued, heightened police state in this country. We’re going to find ourselves continuing to militarily intervene in the world, which results, has resulted in hundreds of millions of enemies to this country that wouldn’t otherwise exist. There’s a reason why we shouldn’t be using drones. It’s because we don’t just take out the target, we take out a lot of innocent civilians in these countries where these drones attack.”

So that has prompted many progressive voices to reluctantly root for Obama. Vote for third party progressive candidates where Obama is safe, they argue, but where the contest is close, vote democrat.

Some still bitterly blame those who voted for Ralph Nader instead of Al Gore in 2000 for the George W Bush years – and the ensuing warfare, and economic policy that favoured the one per cent.

So, is it time for the progressive left to vote with their conscience and ditch Obama?

Inside Story US 2012, with presenter Shihab Rattansi, discusses with guests Matt Stoller, a fellow at the Roosevelt Institute. He recently wrote an article titled The Progressive Case Against Obama for; and Harold Meyerson, a Washington Post columnist and editor-at-large at the progressive magazine American Prospect.

“I think Barack Obama invited public misjudgement of Barack Obama. He is very conflict averse, he has strong conservative streaks in him when it comes to challenging corporate power and he has this propensity of turning his back on people who support him because he takes their votes for granted and becomes continually concessionary to people who might oppose him – especially corporate power ….  But by large his promises were not kept especially for workers’ rights and living wage and cracking down on corporate crime against consumers, the environment and tax payers.

Ralph Nader, a former US presidential candidate