In an electoral system corrupted by money, media, and parties, the US people are offered a choice every four years between two hideously awful candidates for an office that increasingly resembles an imperial throne. And increasingly the primary motivation of voters is to oppose the candidate they believe is the greater evil.
Thus, we chose Obama over McCain in 2008. But Obama in 2008, as the lesser of the two evil candidates, was arguably a greater evil than George W. Bush had been four or eight years earlier, or Bob Dole 12 years back, or certainly Bush senior 16 years before. None of those previous candidates campaigned on as militaristic, corporatist, plutocratic or power-abusing a platform as Obama did in 2008. Sure, he's worse in office than his campaign rhetoric suggested, and so were they. But, whether you compare campaign promises to campaign promises or actual performance to actual performance, we are on a downward slide that continues whether or not we elect the lesser evil candidates.
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Kerry, Clinton, Dukakis, Mondale, and Carter were lesser-evil candidates as well, but arguably worse than either of the two big candidates in each of the elections that preceded them. Nobody when I was a kid could have imagined someone like Obama as the greater evil candidate, much less the lesser evil candidate. If you look at the national trends toward militarism, an imperial presidency, the concentration of wealth, the erosion of civil liberties, the privatization of the public sphere, the selling out of the environment, et cetera, et cetera, the two candidates in each presidential election tend to agree on policies worse than what either candidate would have accepted four, or at least eight, years before.
Try to imagine Reagan and Carter debating, and largely agreeing on (since most debates are largely lovefests) such topics as ending Social Security, eliminating Habeas Corpus, torturing and assassinating, “legal” warrantless spying, a military as large and powerful as today's, legislation by signing statement and executive order and secret OLC memo, corporate trade agreements, the elimination of public unions, the privatization of schools, and massive bailouts for Wall Street.
Of course, there are lots of factors contributing to this downhill slide, but there is one action that could put a stop to it within four or eight years. We could all refuse to support candidates that make things worse than they were in the past, even if it risks allowing the greater of two evils to win an election or two. “Are You In?” they will ask us. “Are YOU Insane?” we will respond.
The result, after a cycle or two, would be decisive support for decent candidates in both general elections and primaries. But this would only work if accomplished not by staying home and silent but by staying out and visible. Freedom Plaza in Washington, DC, has the same name as Tahrir Square in Cairo. If we were to pack it with millions of Americans and march to and nonviolently shut down the Capitol, the White House, and the Pentagon, our voices would be heard. Then, and only then, could we communicate our refusal to any longer support a momentary lesser evil who is historically a greater evil than what has gone before.