Conor Friedersdorf, a conservative-leaning commentator who supported Obama in 2008 at The Atlantic, has a thoughtful argument on why he is refusing to vote for Obama again, even while recognizing that Obama is likely better than Mitt Romney. Friedersdorf specifically identifies three areas in which Obama’s actions are beyond his personal moral comfort zone, making it impossible to vote for him. The areas area the President’s bombing campaign in Pakistan, his authorization of extrajudicial killing of American citizens, and his decision to wage a war in Libya without Congressional approval.
What I am saying is that Obama has done things that, while not comparable to a historic evil like chattel slavery, go far beyond my moral comfort zone. Everyone must define their own deal-breakers. Doing so is no easy task in this broken world. But this year isn’t a close call for me.
Obama ran in the proud American tradition of reformers taking office when wartime excesses threatened to permanently change the nature of the country. But instead of ending those excesses, protecting civil liberties, rolling back executive power, and reasserting core American values, Obama acted contrary to his mandate. The particulars of his actions are disqualifying in themselves. But taken together, they put us on a course where policies Democrats once viewed as radical post-9/11 excesses are made permanent parts of American life.
He goes on to note that in the absence of public objections to these policies, they will continue. But if the public makes a big stink, then they will be stopped.
Sometimes a policy is so reckless or immoral that supporting its backer as “the lesser of two evils” is unacceptable. If enough people start refusing to support any candidate who needlessly terrorizes innocents, perpetrates radical assaults on civil liberties, goes to war without Congress, or persecutes whistleblowers, among other misdeeds, post-9/11 excesses will be reined in.
I think there’s a final key point that Friedersdorf makes which is worth highlighting:
The whole liberal conceit that Obama is a good, enlightened man, while his opponent is a malign, hard-hearted cretin, depends on constructing a reality where the lives of non-Americans — along with the lives of some American Muslims and whistleblowers — just aren’t valued. Alternatively, the less savory parts of Obama’s tenure can just be repeatedly disappeared from the narrative of his first term, as so many left-leaning journalists, uncomfortable confronting the depths of the man’s transgressions, have done over and over again.
It’s been incredibly frustrating to watch liberals, progressives, and Democrats come to either silently or vocally accept as Good and Fine things done by President Obama which, only a few years previous, they were properly decried as radical, evil and un-American when they were perpetrated by President Bush. We waged multi-year campaigns to stop President Bush from spying on Americans without warrant, yet there has been effectively no liberal outcry when President Obama asserted and then used his power as president to kill American citizens without trial. Had President Bush done this, there would have likely been riots in the streets.
Friedersdorf asks us where our lines in the sand are. This is an important question and one which we must think about when we consider who we will vote for. I believe it is entirely possible to say that Mitt Romney is not worthy of your vote and neither is Barack Obama. It’s a personal choice, but one which should not be made on the presumed limits of the election as a binary choice. It is not. There are alternate party candidates in most states. There is also the ability to write-in your pick. Voting is a civic action, but a personal choice. In some places it has more weight than others (my vote in DC will have zero bearing on the allocation of any electoral college votes). But as we begin to think deeply as a country about what values we want expressed in our vote, know that this is not as simple as the press nor the campaigns tend to make it.