You Can Blame Me: My Vote in 2008

You Can Blame Me: My Vote in 2008 by Steve Clemens. Election Day +2, 2008

If Al Franken fails to surpass Norm Coleman in votes after the state-mandated recount in the next several weeks and Norm is sworn in for another 6-year term, I guess you can “blame me”. I just couldn’t justify filling in the oval before his name on the ballot. No, I didn’t completely lose my mind or my conscience and vote for Norm Coleman! Nor did I succumb to the tempting “a pox on both your houses” for such a plethora of disgusting negative adds by the Franken and Coleman camps by supporting the libertarian ideas embodied by Independent candidate Dean Barkley.

I don’t like voting against others. When given a choice, I prefer to vote for what I want - rather than against others. So I wrote in Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer for Senate. None of the candidates whose names appeared on the final ballot have laid out policies and ideas that take seriously the environmental and economic crisis that awaits us if we fail to rapidly address climate change challenges that Jack’s campaign chose to tackle head-on. None of the other candidates addressed the need to drastically cut military spending by significant amounts (50%, for starters) if we wish to reject American exceptionalism and imperial claims.

This Senate vote was an easier one for me despite the projected closeness of the race due to the personal nastiness of the Franken campaign during the DFL caucus and endorsement process. My vote for President, however, caused me much more anguish. During the primaries and most of the general election campaign (after Kucinich and Edwards dropped out), I wanted Obama to prevail over the policies and record of Senator Clinton – but I was clear that Ralph Nader would once again get my vote as in 2000 and 2004.

I started to vacillate after hearing Tom Hayden explain his support for Obama despite many of the positions taken in debates and on the campaign trail. At one point even icons such as Noam Chomsky and Howard Zinn advocated voting for Obama with the proviso of doing so without any illusions about the real nature of his positions and our need to continue to pressure him to change policy once elected. Zinn later recanted and advocated only supporting Obama in close swing states but to support Nader in states where the vote would not likely to be close.

An extra dilemma in this campaign is the dreaded “Bradley effect” – the notion that the public opinion polls won’t accurately reflect the deep-seated racism in some people who won’t admit they won’t ever vote for a person of color but can’t overcome that bias when marking their ballot. Should I cast my ballot for this person of color even if I don’t agree with some of his crucial positions to “correct” for the racial bias in our society?

So, about a week before the election, I had decided to reluctantly vote for Obama – to choose the possibility of “hope” and “change” that might go beyond the limits of a campaign where candidates vie for “centrist” positions. Obama at least might listen and consider progressive positions once elected. At least there is that possibility of hope. But, to assuage my conscience, I felt I also needed to write to him about some of the important areas where we parted ways so he wouldn’t take my vote as a carte-blanch endorsement of his campaign and policies. Here is what I started to write:

Open Letter To Barack Obama: My Vote in 2008 by Steve Clemens

Only twice in the nine Presidential elections of my adult life have I marked my ballot for a candidate of one of the two major political parties. I lived in Massachusetts in 1972 so I voted with the majority when George McGovern carried that state as his only electoral victory. The other time was after eight straight years of “Ronnie the Popular” with wars still raging in Central America; I felt to elect the former head of the CIA who had served as the Vice President during those years was too much. Even though I detested the vacillations and compromises of Michael Dukakis, and thought his ridiculous posing in a tank to show he was not “soft” on national defense was pandering, I voted for him primarily in opposition to his main party opponent. To help assuage my conscience, I also wrote him a letter attempting to clearly spell out to him what my vote was NOT endorsing in his platform and campaign “promises”.

And so, Senator Obama, I feel the need to share with you why I will (with hesitation but also hope) cast my ballot for you to serve as our 44th President. It is not an easy decision for me. While I feel the symbolism of your election would have tremendous benefits for our national reputation and relationships around the world, I’m very concerned that some of the positions you have taken to secure your electoral victory do not signal the changes (or continuations) I wish to see.

I would love to see the titular head of our government represent the growing diversity and multiculturalism of the USA. It is also important that the electorate send a clear message of the wrongness of our on-going war on and occupation of Iraq. Your opposition to the war plans back in 2002 are noted and appreciated by many of us in the peace community. However, your announced desire to increase military personnel in Afghanistan makes me seriously question both your judgment and analysis of the misguided “War on Terror”. There are no military solutions to genuine security and justice concerns throughout the Middle East and particularly Afghanistan. It is not a helpful response to fight terror with terror and the record of killing civilians in Afghanistan by our bombing attacks will continue to be counterproductive.

Your equivocation on the death penalty disturbs me. The entire world looks at our criminal justice system as deeply flawed by the racism evident in its world-record (per capita) prison population. We need clear, principled leadership from all our main branches of government to change these regressive and demoralizing policies that most other governments around the world already have done so.

I am deeply concerned about the nature and design of the massive economic bailout of Wall Street …

I planned to finish writing this on Election Day. But the night before, a friend who is an election judge asked me if I could help him out by working at a polling place with him as a deputy election judge. I felt it was my civic duty and ended up working more than 15 hours, thus failing to have the time to write to/about Obama before he was declared the President-elect.

The specter of past campaigns came to haunt that decision to vote for Obama. I got an email from the Nader campaign that Ralph would be interrupting my plans to hand out goodies to the neighborhood kids on Halloween night by speaking nearby at the University of MN. Although Obama has a book called The Audacity of Hope, it is really practiced by Nader - when his campaign asked for a $10 “donation” ($5 for students) to attend his speech! I guess when you aren’t raising hundreds of millions like Obama, and you aren’t likely to get any donations from Wall Street or corporate tycoons, and you get shut out of the national TV debates, you need to pay the bills somehow.

Ralph Nader doesn’t have the charisma or eloquence of Barack Obama. But he is very clear about his analysis of our present situation and the need for our political leaders to address it honestly without pandering or caving in to the wealthy corporate interest groups. It is more important that my vote reflect my convictions than merely be an expression of “hope” that this politician might change. Is the analogy similar to the woman who marries hoping to “change” her husband down the road? Why not find the right partner who can grow with you rather than always feel the need to change them?

Many observers commented about “fear” as an issue in recent American political campaigns. I decided I couldn’t let fear of a Bradley effect or a McCain win affect my vote any more than “fear” of “terrorists”, “immigrants”, “gay marriage”, or other issues that might affect other voters. Even “fear” of a Sarah Palin presidency should a cancer-ridden John McCain not survive a full term is still a vote out of fear rather than conviction.

That Halloween night, I decided to cast my ballot for the Nader/Gonzales ticket. I say this somewhat confessionally. There are many good reasons why almost all of my close friends voted for Obama (and probably Franken as well). I don’t sit in judgment on them and their reasons to do so. Frankly, the decision was easier for me because it became apparent in the last month of the campaign that Obama would easily carry the electoral votes in Minnesota – thus giving me the “luxury” of favoring my conscience over the expediency of trying to keep McCain out of the White House.

Had I finished my letter to Obama, I would have addressed core issues for me in the political realm: War and “defense”- what makes us more “secure” and what threatens our “security”, Wealth & poverty- care for the marginalized, Healthcare and the need for a single-payer/universal coverage system, Human rights, Environment, …

What I will commit to is to continue to work for creating political space (an opening) for progressive change by doing my day-to-day work of nonviolent direct action, educating myself and my neighbors and fellow citizens about issues confronting us, trying to give a voice to and on behalf of the poor and marginalized. My vote on Election Day is less significant than what I do on behalf of my nation, our citizens, and our world the other 364 days of the year. If we create the political space, maybe courageous politicians will arise to embody our values and convictions. And, someday, maybe we can elect them! In the meantime, we have to continue our work.

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