There is an argument for not voting, and it's not a specious argument. It is, however, naive and wrong. "Whenever we choose to take part in a collective enterprise of any kind, we necessarily grant that enterprise legitimacy." Well, bucko, vote or not, you are an accessory in Obama's drone murders. If you pay rent, buy food, watch TV, buy a record, drive a car, go to the doctor, have a job, buy ANYTHING, you are complicit. You don't get the luxury of sitting back and saying "not my fault . . . didn't vote for the guy" (though I do appreciate the fine distinction made here, that a vote for ANY candidate is an affirmation of a system which manufactures these atrocities). You don't legitimize the system by voting; electoral voting is one of the least important functions of our capitalist system. You legitimize the system the first time a dollar bill passes from your hand to another hand. You legitimize it by breathing American air. You legitimize it by being here. The only way you escape blame is by escaping America (and arguably not even then). We are all complicit. It's the new old model of accountability, by way of Martin Luther and original sin: we are all accountable. Get over it.
Accountability is nothing more than a bourgeois buzzword, gummed tonelessly by mealy-mouthed middle managers. Accountability is a scene in an Ayn Rand children's puppet show. Accountability is monotheistic in its aspect, and reactive in its exercise. Automatically suspect anyone who starts babbling on about accountability, from any point of view.
Getting to the core of a system, understanding how a system works, and determining the good of a system has little to do with accountability. Any real analysis will take an accounting of a system (making evaluations on who/what is responsible for various factors/effects/outcomes), but judgement is a secondary order of action, and a reactive one at that.
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So, assuming you find change valuable, what do you do to change?
I'm not going to be a wealth of wisdom on that point, not tonight. Obviously, voting isn't going to change anything in any real sense, but neither is not voting, so you can throw that argument out the window. I have no interest in busting chops on people who refuse to vote, since voting is such a small, small part in improving things. I will tell you, however, why I will vote tomorrow.
I will vote Barack Obama for President of the United States. I do so (as Charles Pierce said) "without enthusiasm, and without a sliver of doubt in my mind". The primary reason: we need to get this conservative cultural bullshit off the table once and for all. We need to stop fussing over public ideology so we can get to work on what is really creating suffering across the entire world: money, and those that hold it.
I've said before that the greatest triumph of the right wing in the US is how they have pulled the entire dialogue into their camp. Not only have they managed to move the middle so far right that people actually consider a center-right pro-business Democrat a left-winger (yes, for those of you keeping score at home, that means Obama), but they also have managed to successfully engage the entire country in a game of Pin the Tail on the Ideology. We are so busy talking about human rights in terms of access to marriage that we forget about human rights at a more basic level, or even (god forbid!) how our actions affect fundamental human rights outside our national borders. We are so busy arguing over so many things that should be fait accompli by now that the real issues are obscured.
The real brain trust behind the right doesn't give a shit about abortion. They don't give a damn about gay marriage, funding Planned Parenthood, the ten commandments in the schools, where mosques get built, or anything like that. They don't care about the national debt, because when the time comes, that debt just means they'll be able to buy America for pennies on the worthless dollar. They don't even care about welfare, because any real politician knows that a few crumbs off the tables of the rich keep the poor from congregating in the streets with rifles in their hands. What the right really wants is for vast portions of the country to be arguing about these cultural issues and screaming about getting like-minded citizens into voting booths. They want citizens to ignore the fact that their Republican culture warrior heroes will gut the very social institutions that they depend on, creating a dependence on the "private" sector that they find somehow tolerable because it isn't a "government handout". They want millions of mindless "rebels" heading into the arms of so-called "Libertarians" babbling about no wars and open access to drugs, all the while smashing, in the name of FREEDOM, all the levees erected against corporate control. They want helpless leftists scrambling to nominate "electable" Democrats who share the pro-corporate agenda of the right just so they aren't the "losers" in the culture wars. I've got news for y'all: in the culture wars, like many more conventional wars, there are no real winners.
Most of all, after setting the table so that there is no real way to change the system by voting, they want you to believe (and feel proud!) that you've done what you can to change things when you walk out of the polls with a little red, white, and blue "I voted!" sticker. If, indeed, you believe in the "bloodless revolution" of American democracy, if you believe that by voting you really are participating in change, then perhaps you do need to step away from the lever.
For the rest of us, voting is one small means to an end. You need to get a school board that won't wipe Darwin from the textbooks. You need to get state legislators who won't gut union rights, who won't approve hostile takeovers of elected municipal governments, who won't legislate the Christian version of sharia law. We need to hammer anti-human public ideology into the same dark corners currently occupied by its brethren in the Ku Klux Klan and American Nazi parties. We need to do all this, and much more besides, just so we can file away our public silliness and start talking about the real core issues of repression.
I feel for those who say that voting isn't a real choice, because any choice we are given is a matter of degree, not a choice on the fundamental conduct of our lives. I've got sympathy for the idea that voting validates a bad system, but again, we already do so much more to validate that system just by living here. Ultimately, I feel we need to keep voting so we can drag the national dialogue, kicking and screaming, back toward the center, one vote at a time. And that may not be change, but at least it is starting to prepare the ground for change.