The Arguments Against Obama

As we approach the presidential election, there has been a new flurry of articles from radical and progressive leftwing writers on why not to vote for Obama, from various particular frameworks.

Conor Friedersdorf of The Atlantic had already been the focus of much of the earlier phases of this debate when he, a libertarian, identified lines in the sand that he viewed Obama as crossing regarding 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.

Over the weekend, Matt Stoller offered up a progressive case against Obama, a thorough and thoughtful look at the reasons, particularly in economic and housing policies, not to vote for the President. Stoller identifies the ways in which Obama has created a less equal society and solidified power in the hands of elites. Much of this critique is not new to Stoller, but this is piece is a comprehensive assembly of different threads of criticism into one larger argument.

Stoller’s piece relied in part on the arguments of philosopher and feminist Falguni Sheth, who argues against Obama from a framework built around criticism of his failures for women of color both in the US and around the world. This is an expressly more expansive framework of criticism than the often deployed one in defense of Democrats regarding the importance of the Supreme Court to protect reproductive rights.

Chris Hedges provides an argument for why he is voting Green that is also worth reading. He relies heavily on the statements and positions of Green Party candidate Jill Stein, as well as highlights the importance third parties have played in driving progressive political and social change movements in American history.

What should be clear to any thinking citizen is that there are ample reasons to decide to not vote for President Obama, just as there are even more reasons to not vote for Mitt Romney. The people making these arguments against Obama are doing so in good faith and opening themselves to massive amounts of criticism in doing so.

It’s unfortunate that the recent history in America includes Al Gore’s loss in 2000 – something many people have blamed on Ralph Nader. For a country that strongly favors narratives of personal responsibility, I’ve always found this fairly bizarre. But nonetheless, the debacle of 2000 is commonly viewed as a case against citizens voting for the politician they most agree with and instead limiting themselves to choosing one of the two major parties. The 2000 election and the conventional wisdom which emerged from it is undoubtedly poisoning much of the discourse offered by critics listed above (and others) about what the American left should do with their vote in this election.

Voting is a moral act. The vote you cast represents the normative view you have of our country. With your vote you will that your fellow citizens vote the same way. In my view you have zero obligation to vote for someone you don’t support. Given the way our electoral college makes all but a small handful of states competitive, I think this is especially true if you are in a non-swing state.

There are plenty of arguments to vote for President Obama and plenty of arguments that weigh heavily on electoral game theory for strength. But there are also strong, coherent, good faith arguments for progressives, radicals, liberals and even Democrats to note vote for President Obama. I really wish the public space was capable of handling these facts in an honest and forthright way, as they are fundamentally debates about who we are and what we believe in. Sadly, when I see the vitriol leveled at critics like Stoller, Friedersdorf, or Glenn Greenwald, I don’t think such a debate is too likely to happen in earnest. The meaning of these criticisms is too great and looking at them honestly is too hard for many people.

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