Beyond The Lesser Evil

by Gilles d'Aymery

November 4, 2002


"A people that values its privileges above its principles soon loses both."
--Dwight D. Eisenhower

A few readers objected to my contention two weeks ago, in Vexing Electoral Realities, that in the coming elections, "Voting for different candidates, neither republicans nor democrats, even with the knowledge that they will quite unlikely be elected, is a positive strategy." I added, "when over a series of elections the tally begins to show an increasing willingness from the electorate to shun the 'system,' to refuse to cast one's vote for the 'lesser evil,' then the 'system' will take notice." And I also submitted, "The most compelling issue at hand is not the Iraqi war, North Korea, and all the fabricated enemies. It's about making people understand that whether they vote for a 'democrat' or for a 'republican' they vote for the same system, the status quo. The issue is about convincing people to express their voices at the polls and request that real alternatives be offered. It's about voting and it's about presenting workable alternatives."

The criticisms kept with the traditional ideological fault lines. Some assailed my reasoning for its utter naïveté asserting that voting was a waste of time. The system cannot be changed through democratic means, they affirmed. What's really needed is a revolution. Others found my approach rather disconcerting and a cause for concern. In their view I was advocating a technique perfected by fascists of yesteryears; that is, to try to split the opposition. In this case, I was leading people to a strategy that would allow the Republicans to win. One particular reader wondered whether I was not a Republican propagandist in disguise, adding, "Unfortunately, I am forced to vote for the lesser of two evils.....since from these two evils [one] candidate will be [elected] (not maybe but definitely)." She concluded: "Remember the Bull Moose candidacy!" (1)

Let me try to make the case once again -- after all, the elections are one day away -- and in so doing answer the critics. Then in a second part, I will look at the future beyond the mid-term elections.

This "lesser evil" or lesser nefarious theory makes no sense in the present conditions of the US electoral system.

First, the choice between a bad or a less bad candidate strikes me as an unconstructive, self-defeating option. Such a non-alternative means that one always ends up choosing a negative. It's a rather apathetic attitude, an acceptation of one's powerlessness. As such, it reflects a fundamentally pessimistic approach to life; it's deeply conservative and latently reactionary since it fosters the status quo and disregards and in all practicality negates the potential for creative alternatives.

Second, this approach or theory of the "lesser evil" is based on a flawed premise, that there is a real, significant set of differences between both parties. There is not. Both are catch-all organizations where, within each body, all political sensitivities embrace the system as it is. Even Senator Wellstone, now lionized in death as a formidable liberal, a leftie with deep ideals, had espoused the system unreservedly. So had former President Carter who, Nobel Prize and Habitat for Humanity notwithstanding, was a closeted warrior and dominator (see my last article and Stephen Zunes). These are parties where a Ron Paul, the darling of the US Libertarians that infest the Internet like a virus can be allied with a Barney Frank, the cherubim of the East Coast "liberals" in their anti-war stances. That Mr. Paul is a deeply reactionary person, anti-women, anti-immigration, anti-tax, anti-gay, anti-anti and that Mr. Frank is gay, pro-choice, pro-immigration, pro-tax, pro-governmental intervention, pro-pro, says it all. They espouse the same system.

And the system means status quo, whatever "lesser evil" one longs for...

Third, that approach is a self-defeating trap masterminded by the bicephalous body politics. It's the good old argument that one should cast a useful vote rather than a principled one. It's based on the perception that change can only occur within that body politics; a perception that undoubtedly keeps the status quo in place and leads to frustrations, and the disenfranchisement of the many. It reminds me of my faithful canine companion chasing his tail...

Now, let me ask you, especially those of you who are women, whether you can state, off the top of your head, which amendment to the US constitution allowed women to vote? (2)

If you know the answer (or if you have checked the preceding note) are you aware that it took over 70 years to get there? Do Lucretia Mott and Susan B. Anthony ring a bell? (3) Did they vote for the "lesser evil?" And, in reference to the Bull Moose candidacy alluded to by my correspondent, it should be noted that one of the most ardent campaigners on the long journey to the 19th Amendment was Belle Case La Folette, the wife of Wisconsin Governor, Congressman, Senator, corruption buster (Teapot Dome scandal), anti-war hero and 1924 third party candidate to the presidency, Robert "Fighting Bob" La Folette, the founder of the Progressive Party (Wisconsin was the first state to ratify the 19th Amendment as early as 1919). (4)

This is significant. It means that we are an integral part of a long historical continuum where, if we choose to, the "lesser evil" has no place. We are not about less and evil. We are about more and what's right, even if it takes 70 years to get there. We walk the talk and, against all odds, we will prevail.

Principles versus short-term expediency... We sure could use a third party and a contemporary La Folette in the US of A!

That some people (a lot?) may find such an attitude naïve or idealistic is really befuddling, especially in a country rooted into the Judeo-Christian tradition. Was Jesus voting for the "lesser evil?"

A system rotten to the core

Bicephalous, according to the American Heritage dictionary, is an adjective meaning "having two heads." Two heads on the same body, indeed!

Need some examples?

In Texas, where the notion of bigness is bigger than the legend of big, a "unit" among big time political donors (or philanthropists...when the economy is humming big) is $100 million. Guess what, the democratic candidate for governor, Tony Sanchez, is good for more than half a "unit." "He spent $57 million on his own campaign through early October," according to The Texas Observer. (5) "That's already a record in Texas, but the remaining weeks are traditionally TV saturation time, so he could very well wind up topping New York mayor Michael Bloomberg's self-funded total of $79 million," says the editorial. Check out California where the incumbent, Governor Gray Davis, is banking his re-election on a $60 million war chest (while he has presided over a $60 billion electricity pilfering of Californians).

Tony Sanchez is a democrat and he is spending his own money to grab the Texas governorship. Bloomberg, a republican, spent his own money to become a mayor (granted, of a rather well-known city). Davis, a democrat, has raised these millions from special interests, in order to defeat a multimillionaire republican candidate. Any difference?

Money talks on both sides of the aisle, corrupting the entire system. How many "units" are you worth? "unit-less?" Hmm, can you run for office then? Here again a present-day La Folette is direly needed.

Is this democracy? Take the example of California. Two crook-pated, dread-bolted, flap-mouthed, corrupted politicians, Bill Simon (R) and Gray Davis (D), both sold to corporate greed and special interests, both avid defenders of the status quo, are running tedious campaigns with absolutely no imagination. They are pro-war, anti-labor, anti-environment, etc. They are the bicephalous candidates of Corporism! (6) And there is Peter Miguel Camejo, the candidate of the Green Party -- a decent, ethical and principled politician, with a very solid platform (7) -- who's essentially ignored by the main media... (see Deck Deckert's "Fourth Estate").

We can't have change by voting for the "lesser evil" which only equates to the "evil" one is comfortable with, not to the "better good" (hey, these two apples are rotten, which one should I eat?). As a comity we seem to be acting in a typically reversed Buridan's Ass fashion (8) but with identical results!

We can't have alternatives and the status quo both at the same time!

As to the people who affirm that voting is a waste of time one can only ask: What else? Running to the hills? Staying put, whining and complaining, and awaiting for the messiah, the famed leader, the hero, the new, improved vanguard, that will lead us all to the promised land? Taking arms and joining the revolution with a big R?

While a trip to the hills may to some be quite self-satisfying it has little chance to have much effect on our system of governance. The magic potion of the new leader is the surest medicine to become further contaminated with and crippled by a more authoritarian government.

The big R revolution

We already have a bunch of laptop bombardiers all over the pundocracy so why not laptop revolutionaries over the Internet? But what do they mean exactly? I often hear that we need a revolution but never get a full explanation. Is it the "sudden political overthrow or seizure of power brought about from within a given system?" The revolt of the masses?

How romantic!

I am all for a revolution personally but, important qualification, I'm in favor of a small r revolution; that which begins with oneself and entails the grinding and unglamorous job of organizing and acting locally, putting together and proposing alternatives; debating them and convincing people of their rightfulness.

There are plenty revolutionaries with a small r. Comes to mind, for instance, Jeanette Wallis who, inspired by Doris "Granny D" Haddock, is walking all the way from Seattle, WA, to Washington D.C. collecting grievances letters that she intends to deliver to Resident Bush II. And yes there is the indomitable Granny D as well as the Alliance for Democracy, the organization created by Ronnie Dugger, the founding editor of The Texas Observer, and so many, many others. Myriad groups are bubbling under the surface following the Discordian law that says that the more order is imposed the more disorder escalates (creative disorder that is). (9) Remember, the only way not to play a game is to not play it.

However, if the game is appealing or necessary, then we all could learn a few lessons from, and emulate the radical right and the religious extremists, a friend recently wrote to me. Use their working model, he said, adding:

"Start with the local levels. Take over the party organizations of both or all parties. Failing that, tie up party meeting or procedures. Work on by-law changes. Challenge through Robert's Rules. That stuff drives away all but the few, most dedicated. Do character assassination on them [hmm, I'd leave aside the character assassination part]. Jeopardize their jobs.

Take over key advisory boards, committees, panels, etc., related to local governments. Take over school boards, textbook committees, etc. Show up at meetings, PTA and every other group involving itself with education.

Get on road, water, park, etc., boards. Take them over, too. Leave elected officials no recourse except to work through controlled structures. Frustrate any legislative attempts to bypass controlled structures. Use the rules and procedures to tie up whatever cannot be otherwise defeated."

That is very much what the radical right-wingers did from the early seventies onward. We can give them some of their own medicine. Creative disorder... Small r revolution...

We are no more and no less powerless than the early feminists or the members of the Civil Rights movement. What seems hopeless today, after so many years of a right-wing onslaught, can change in the blink of time.

No one holds a monopoly on history.

· · · · · ·


1.  "Bull Moose was a nickname given to the Progressive Party, founded in 1911 by Senator Robert M. La Follette of Wisconson, under the name 'National Republican Progressive League.' Teddy Roosevelt, who began his term as President in 1901 after President McKinley's assassination, and served until 1909, ran on the 1912 Progressive ticket after a brief break from politics. His personality was the basis for the 'Bull Moose' nickname, and his 1912 candidacy effectively split the Republican Party (Progressives received 25% of the popular vote), and guaranteed victory for Democrat Woodrow Wilson. (And you thought Ross Perot could skew election results...)" poliTrivia, April 17, 2000; http://www.faceofthenation.com/archives/april2000/  (back)

2.  XIX Amendment:
The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.
Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.
http://www.law.cornell.edu/constitution/constitution.table.html#amendments  (back)

3.  See, http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&ie=UTF-8&oe=UTF-8&q=Lucretia+Mott+and+Susan+Anthony&btnG=Google+Search
and, http://www.aoc.gov/cc/art/rotunda/suffrage.htm  (back)

4.  See a short bio of La Folette at http://search2.eb.com/elections/micro/333/3.html and at http://gi.grolier.com/presidents/aae/side/lafoll.html  (back)

5.  "A Two-Unit Election," Editorial, The Texas Observer, 10/25/02 - http://www.texasobserver.org/showArticle.asp?ArticleID=1119  (back)

6.  Ken Reiner, "Corporism: The Systematic Disease that Destroys Civilization;" The Alliance for Democracy, April 2002; http://www.thealliancefordemocracy.org/html/eng/1933-AA.shtml  (back)

7.  "We offer real solutions: Dramatic expansion of renewable energy. No offshore drilling. Universal health care. Promote affordable housing. Pass a living wage. Provide gays and lesbians full rights including marriage. Defend family planning and pro-choice. Lower classroom size, empower teachers, end the counterproductive testing mania. End spoiling elections through Instant Runoff Voting, public financing, and clean election laws. Abolish the death penalty and Three Strikes. Decriminalize marijuana. Create a minimum car insurance program and provide hard-working immigrants with amnesty and driver's licences. Stop all racial profiling, including Muslims and Arabs. Support the World Court. Peace, democracy, and social justice will help end terrorism. The major parties are soft on corporate crime. The Greens want a society based on the rule of law, environmental protection, and social justice. They represent the past, Greens the future." (from the California Official Voter Information Guide). See also, http://www.votecamejo.org/  (back)

8.  From Jean Buridan (1295-1356), French logician and philosopher. "The theory often referred to as 'Buridan's ass' states that, when given the option of two equally wonderful piles of hay, the ass will starve to death because it cannot choose. This concept was first discussed in writing by Aristotle, but has been in existence long before it was documented in writing. However, it has unfortunately seemed to slip from use. Part of that burden can be placed on Sigmund Freud's head for his word with the instinct of life, that is, living beings innately strive to live. Buridan's ass suggests that this instinct can be overridden by stupidity and/or passivity." Francine DuBois, http://www.postmodernvillage.com/eastwest/issue5/ftf05.html  (back)

9.  Principia Discordia  (back)


Vexing Electoral Realities - by Gilles d'Aymery (October 2002)

Finding The Strength To Love And Dream - by Robin D.G. Kelley (June 2002)


Gilles d'Aymery is Swans' publisher and co-editor.

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Published November 4, 2002
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