Today I voted, incredibly reluctantly, to re-elect Barack Obama. This is easily the worst vote I've ever cast. The sad part is that there were no good options.
Those of you who know me well know that I was all prepared to vote third-party. And in an ideal world, I would have. Rocky Anderson, Jill Stein, and Gary Johnson are all better than Obama on a lot - really, most - of the issues I care about. But at some point during this election cycle I realized something - you can't make a symbolic gesture if no one recognizes your symbolism. And because there's no real anti-war movement, and no real pro-civil liberties movement, a protest vote accomplishes exactly zilch.
The point, for those of us who care about Pakistani children and possibly innocent Americans getting blown up by robots, is this: we lost long, long ago. We lost when the anti-war movement, which was so strong during Bush's second term, lost its way. We lost when we let Obama get bullied into keeping Guantanamo open with nary a peep. We lost when there weren't massive marches in our cities about the kill list, or dead Pakistani wedding parties. And so we can't possibly win now.
We have to work to get back to the point where war and civil liberties are actual issues over which elections can be won and lost. Which means we have to do the hard work of convincing others that the drone war is cruel and counterproductive, that the kill list is unconstitutional and dangerous, and that Guantanamo is unnecessary. And when we've done that, and when we've organized ourselves into a bloc capable of swinging elections, we can actually have an effect.
(The anti-War on Drugs movement is getting there, as evidenced by the presence of pro-legalization ballot initiatives in Colorado and Washington this year, so I'm not talking about that as much. A broader reform of the criminal justice system, however, is long overdue.)
To extend a metaphor Mike and I used to discuss this: it doesn't matter if the good party serves better beer - if no one else is there, you're still drinking alone. I'd rather go to the bar with all the people in it and get everyone to bitch loudly about how the beer is so damn shitty, and then maybe they'll change the keg.
Now I have no idea how to go about doing this. I'm no political expert and have no idea how to start/grow a movement. But I know it needs to be done, and that there's no point in casting a protest vote until such a movement exists.
And one more thing. It's about high time we, as an electorate, stopped trying to imagine the president with powers befitting a mystical king. The president cannot pass laws on his (or eventually her) own. Congress still exists, and it will pass a law or a budget or whatever when it damn well feels like it. The president can't fix the economy - or ruin it. The president can't keep us safe from everyone who wants to hurt us, nor should we expect that. The most important governments in your life are your local and state government. The more we lose track of these facts, the worse our electoral process will be.