Last week, the Huffington Post featured an interview with former Senator Russ Feingold to support the Obama re-election campaign. The post, by Amanda Terkel, was titled, Russ Feingold: ‘It’s A Threat To Our Country’ To Elect One Of The GOP Presidential Candidates.
During the interview, Feingold says, “To me, the gap between President Obama and these people [the GOP candidates] is so enormous that it’s a threat to our country to elect people who take such a silly view of the rest of the world.” I wish Feingold had been more specific regarding the threat they pose. Still, Feingold may be right, although it is worth noting that the incumbent’s view/approach to the rest of the world probably poses a threat to the United States, as well, not to mention people elsewhere.
Feingold went on to say, “It’s one thing if the Bush actions with regard to civil liberties are sort of an outlier. It’s far more dangerous if it becomes reaffirmed under a progressive president like President Obama. It sort of gets cemented in.” He should not have said “if” since President Obama has already reaffirmed the attack on civil liberties, as well as an aggressively pro-business economic policy. Conor Friedersdorf remarked on one consequence of this today: “Democrats earnestly retain the idea that Bush was an ideological extremist… but forget many of the particulars that made Bush a radical are now supported across partisan lines.” Cemented, and forgotten.
Feingold obviously has not forgotten the particulars. He is an expert in the field of civil liberties and politics, so he knows what President Obama has continued the assault on civil liberties. That is what makes his conclusion that Obama must be elected for our country’s own protection disturbing. First of all, the factual premise may very well be untrue (see this Jeremy Scahill piece; last year it was reported that Obama was less popular in the Middle East than Bush). Second, elites control both parties, and the policies of both parties have consistently become more conservative/pro-elite/pro-war/anti-civil liberties. Thus, when both major parties move in a single direction but retain their relative positions on a left-to-right spectrum, a liberal like Feingold will always be able justify voting for the Democrat as a “lesser-evil” to the Republican.
Finally, that brings us to what should be obvious to everyone, and why statements like Feingold’s should concern us all. If people impose no limit to the lesser-evil mentality, their values will continue to be warped by the rightward push of their own fear (“push,” as in the voter’s mentality drives the movement). Continuing to vote for the lesser-evil, both parties will continue to become more extreme – but it won’t look that way because people forget and bad policies become entrenched. And the United States could start to look more and more like a fascist nation of 1930′s Europe.
Here are some relevant thoughts from Hal Draper that he wrote 45 years ago about the 1968 election:
In 1964, you know all the people who convinced themselves that Lyndon Johnson was the lesser evil as against Goldwater, who was going to do Horrible Things in Vietnam, like defoliating the jungles. Many of them have since realized that the spiked boot was on the other foot; and they lacerate themselves with the thought that the man they voted for “actually carried out Goldwater’s policy.” (In point of fact, this is unfair to Goldwater: he never advocated the steep escalation of the war that Johnson put through; and more to the point, he would probably have been incapable of putting it through with as little opposition as the man who could simultaneously hypnotize the liberals with “Great Society” rhetoric.)
So who was really the Lesser Evil in 1964? The point is that it is the question which is a disaster, not the answer. In setups where the choice is between one capitalist politician and another, the defeat comes in accepting the limitation to this choice….
[W]e increasingly are getting this third type of case: the Lesser Evils who, as executors of the system, find themselves acting at every important juncture exactly like the Greater Evils, and sometimes worse. They are the product of the increasing convergence of liberalism and conservatism under conditions of bureaucratic capitalism. There never was an era when the policy of the Lesser Evil made less sense than now.
That’s the thing to remember for 1968, as a starter.” (emphasis added).
12 presidential election cycles later, maybe people will finally remember it in November 2012.