What a depressing election. (Warning: giant rant ahead.)
We have one party which is dismantling civil liberties, is building a total surveillance police state, is intent on continuing to wage unwinnable wars, is thoroughly corrupted by lobbying, and is in thrall to big banks and other corporate interests.
The other party... is the Republicans.
Everything I just said about Democrats applies double to the GOP, plus as a bonus the GOP is run by racists, homophobes, and Christian supremacists. Or, at best, run by plutocrats willing to pander to all the prejudices of racists, homophobes, and Christian supremacists in order to decrease the marginal tax rate on their capital gains. The Republicans openly support torture and reject science and they're itching to start a war with Iran. They just get crazier and crazier every year; they now seem to have retreated entirely to some alternate universe based on Ayn Rand / Leviticus crossover fanfiction.
I care a lot about civil liberties, OK? They're kind of my main issue. And both parties are terrible on civil liberties. A lot of the stuff that made me so mad about the Bush administration - Guantanamo, the warrantless wiretapping, the Patriot act - is still going on under Obama. Guantanamo's still open, our government is still spying on us without warrants, we're still stuck in an endless war in Afghanistan, and the Democrat-controlled Senate was happy to renew the Patriot act and then one-up it with the NDAA.
I guess what this has taught me is that I was wrong to blame the erosion of civil liberties after 9/11 on Bush specifically. It's bigger than one president or even one party. It's endemic to the whole system. Obama either couldn't change it or he didn't want to.
Here's an article about how the Democrats have retreated on civil liberties in their 2012 platform. Meanwhile, the Obama administration just won a court challenge over his right to indefinitely detain citizens using the NDAA. The CIA is refusing to publicly admit the existence of the drone assassin program that they've publicly bragged about in the past!
And when the Senate Intellignece Oversight committe asked the NSA how many Americans had been spied on, without warrants, under FISA, the NSA refused to comply, saying it would "violate the privacy" of citizens to say if they had been spied on or not. They refused a request from the Senate Intellignece Oversight committe, which you think would have the authority to, you know, oversee intelligence or something? Our shadow government seems to be sending the message that it no longer takes orders from mere elected officials.
How can we have a democracy (or even a republic) if voters are not allowed to know what the government, that supposedly represents them, is doing in their name?
How does a citizen vote to change a bad policy when both parties agree on continuing to support that policy?
There's simply no party to vote for if I want my country to stop killing Pakistani civilians as collateral damage from drone strikes. Or if I want the 4th amendment back, or if I want Habeas Corpus reinstated, or if I think the FBI should get a search warrant before wiretapping citizens, or if I want to close Guantanamo Bay, or if I want the government to stop wasting money imprisoning non-violent drug offenders, or if I think the people responsible for torturing prisoners of war should be prosecuted.
You can vote for a 3rd-party or fringe candidate; that sometimes works in a local election, but in a national election I'm not sure that actually accomplishes anything other than making yourself feel good. I wish third-parties were viable, but the structure of our voting system works against it; until we implement some kind of instant-runoff voting, third parties in national elections will continue to be spoilers and protest votes.
I've got a friend who was a volunteer for the Ron Paul campaign this year, claiming that Ron Paul is the only candidate who wanted to end the war, dismantle the surveillance state, and restore constitutional rights. And while Ron Paul does agree with me on some things, wants to go back on the gold standard, abolish all public education, and fucking repeal the Fourteenth Amendment. And he opposes the Civil Rights Act. Paul isn't pro-freedom; he just prefers tyranny to be implemented at the state level instead of the federal level. This is not even getting into the openly white-supremacist newsletters published under his name.
I look at Ron Paul and other third-party/fringe candidates and it's like, they will never have to seriously face the consequences of their policies, because there's no chance their policies will ever get enacted. They can go on feeling superior due to their ideological purity and never have to make the hard decisions that come with governing a country.
There's a Calvin and Hobbes strip where Calvin, not wanting to take a bath, screams that he refuses to compromise his principles. Later, in the bathtub, he muses that he doesn't need to compromise his principles, because they don't have the slightest bearing on what happens to him anyway.
Maybe we just need to lower our expectations of politics. John Kenneth Galbraith said, "Politics is the art of choosing between the disastrous and the unpalatable." Mark Twain said "If voting made any difference, they wouldn't let us do it."
Maybe the best we can hope for is to prevent the worse of two candidates from getting into office. In practice, that seems to be how most people vote anyway -- not voting for a candidate, but voting against the party they hate more.
I'm not saying we should give up on changing things. Rather, real change is a long, hard process that takes a heck of a lot more involvement, work, and sacrifice than just voting. Sometimes it even requires being willing to go to jail for your beliefs.
So if the parties are near equally bad on the main issues I care about, then I guess I should vote based on the issues where the parties do differ. For me the big one is Romney's desire to start a war with Iran. Or at least he repeatedly during the primaries that he wanted one; some say he was just pandering to the base and he didn't really mean it, but is there any reason to think Romney would get any better at resisting the warmongers in his party after being elected?
I don't think so. I think there's a real danger he would really do it, having learned absolutely nothing from the disastrous failure of our attempts to remake Afghanistan and Iraq. Tens of thousands could die in a conflict that might not even succeed in stopping their nuclear program, or even delaying it for more than a few years. Obama's policy of containing Iran's nuclear program with diplomatic and economic pressure, imperfect as it is, is probably the least bad option.
There's plenty of other things to hate: the fact that Romney is an elitist scumbag who sees half the country as parasites, that his economic plan ("cut the deficit by cutting taxes on the rich and raising military spending") makes not a lick of sense, and that he's happy to pander to racist birthers by gloating that "nobody's asking to see my birth certificate". (Yeah, because you're white, asshole.) At the same time, he's aspiring to be even worse than Obama on civil liberties, promising to "double Guantanamo".
So as unhappy as I am with Obama's civil liberties record, it's a very easy decision to support the unpalatable (Obama) over the disastrous (Romney), and I'm glad to see Obama pulling ahead in the polls.
Meanwhile, we should use methods other than voting to work for restoring civil liberties. Speaking of that, my representative Anna Eshoo is a cosponsor of HR 3702, the Due Process Guarantee Act, which would undo the indefinite-detention-without-trial provisions of the NDAA. It looks like there hasn't been much movement on it Maybe find out where your representative stands on it and encourage them to support it too? It may not have much of a chance but it's better than nothing.