Today’s the day for my annual Vote Straight Democrat essay. These past few years it seems to be an exercise in futility in every other area than social issues, as many Democrats are almost as right-wing as the Republicans on economic and foreign affairs issues, further to the right than the Eisenhower administration.
Most Democrats were once true progressives, which makes it doubly frustrating. The urge to stay home rather than vote for an Allison Lundergan Grimes or an Andrew Cuomo is strong.
But there are only two ways to influence elected officials, because those are only two things they want: votes and money. Correction—they want money and need votes. Unless you’re willing to cough up a few thousand—or a few hundred thousand—bucks, all you can offer a politician is your vote.
Votes don’t speak as loudly as money because you only have one vote and you can give many, many, many dollars. But the collective votes of demographic groups can speak loudly and clearly to the candidates.
Nothing short of an enlightened dictatorship will magically transform the United States overnight into a land in which all people get adequate health care, education and retirement as part of the social contract, there is an equitable distribution of wealth and income and we have secured our future as a species by slowing down man-made global warming and resource shortages.
In our system of government, movement in a new direction, or back into old and successful direction, comes slowly. We have to keep pushing, just like the 1%, social conservatives and gun manufacturers have kept pushing over the past 35 years, gradually increasing inequality, limiting the right to an abortion, weakening unions, lowering taxes on the wealthy, attacking any scientific theory that doesn’t support their views and making it easier to carry guns in the street and get away with shooting people in cold blood for flimsy excuses.
To turn back the tide may take as long as or longer than it took for the right-wing waters to gather and flood our country. The first step is for progressives to show our power, which we can’t do if we don’t vote, since we 99% don’t have the same ability as the 1% do to feed money to the candidates and parties. Until minorities, young people and the poor establish a track record of voting, Democrats will continue to ignore our pressing needs, make compromises with the right wing and pursue militarism and 21st century imperialism abroad.
Right now the best reason to vote Democratic is that the other side is so much worse. Let’s call it “voting on the Gore,” as we now know that progressives who voted for Ralph Nader instead of Al Gore for president in 2000 are in a large part responsible for the Iraqi and Afghanistan wars, the torture gulag, the disastrous federal tax cuts for the wealthy, racking up major debt and then paying for it by cutting funds for education, the poor and our infrastructure, the embedding of the religious right in key government posts, the curtailment of civil rights in the name of security—and, as it turns out, possibly the 9/11 bombings through deliberate ignoring of many warnings signs.
Today we have to vote, and vote on the Gore. But if we can swing the Senate for the Democrats, erode the Republican majority in the House and start to hand governorships and state legislatures back to the Democrats, we will be in a position in 2016 to move the party left—to insist on more progressive candidates, and to maybe get Elizabeth Warren, Bill De Blasio or some other progressive on the national ticket.
But if we stay home this year, the Democrats will once again treat 2016 as if it were Halloween and dress up as a bunch of right-looking centrists. And I’ll be back again telling everyone to hold their noses and vote straight Democratic.