Conor Friedersdorf, a libertarian-leaning, conservative leaning writer who supported Barack Obama in 2008, is getting a lot of attention for an article he wrote a few days ago on why he wouldn’t vote for Obama again.
He said he wouldn’t vote for Obama because he wouldn’t vote for any President who:
- Claims the right to sign death warrants on his own personal judgment based on criteria he refuses to disclose.
- Terrorizes people in remote parts of the world with flying killer drones based on his own personal judgment, without accountability to anyone.
- Sends American troops to war based on his own personal judgment, without accountability to anyone, in situations where the safety of the American people is not at stake.
There was immediate push-back from pro-Obama liberals. Scott Limieux wrote on the Lawyers, Guns and Money web log that the likely repeal of the Affordable Care Act and non-enforcement of the environmental laws would result in many more deaths than the relatively few who have died in the kill zones in Pakistan.
The number of victims of Obama’s flying killer drones is very small compared to the number of Iraqis who died during the Clinton blockade or the Bush invasion, or the number of Vietnamese who were killed during the Johnson and Nixon administrations.
Eric Loomis wrote on the same web log that only a privileged white man could write what Friedersdorf wrote, because he is indifferent to the plight of the poor and only cares about civil liberties. Loomis and Limieux point out that even on the particular issues Friedersdorf is concerned about, Romney would be worse.
I, too, am a privileged white man. A Romney victory would not keep me from having enough to eat, a roof over my head and good medical care. If I were poor, black and female, this might not be the case.
But that argument cuts both ways. If Erik Loomis were a poor brown woman living in the Pakistan kill zone, he might feel differently, too. As a thought experiment, suppose an American President initiated a foreign medical aid program that saved the lives of tens of thousands of poor people in Pakistan, and at the same time fired killer drone missiles into high-crime areas of American cities aimed as suspected organized crime figures. Would this be an acceptable trade-off?
Apologists for Castro and Mao used to tell me that poor people only care about getting enough to eat, not political freedom. But without political freedom, how do poor people demand the right to bread?
If you are a progressive, and you think your duty as a voter is to choose between the two major-party candidates on the basis of which one will on balance do the most good or the least harm, then you should vote for President Obama over Governor Romney. But if, as Friedersdorf argued, there are things that would keep you from voting for a candidate under any circumstances—a candidate who was a Holocaust denier, say, or a racist or a Creationist—would you vote for a President who asserts a right to sign death warrants at his sole discretion?
The worst thing about President Obama is that he is setting precedents. He is not just perpetuating old evils. He is creating new evils.
No President has claimed the right to order assassinations based on his own personal judgment, but every President from now on will claim that right. Suppose for the sake of argument that all the people Obama has marked for death are really, really bad people who richly deserve to die. Will every President in the future also exercise this new power wisely, justly and impartially? If a President can order assassinations in secret, and not have to answer to anyone, what power does he lack to become a dictator?
I don’t see obedience to the Constitution and the rule of law as one issue among many. I see them as the foundation on which everything else rests.
Why vote anyway? My vote is not going to determine anything. New York is as certain to go for Obama as anything can be, but even if I were voting in Florida in 2000, my vote would not have determined the outcome. I vote because it is my civic duty. If nobody voted, we wouldn’t have a democracy. And since I am voting, I vote my convictions.
I don’t think I am necessarily throwing my vote away by voting for a third party. The Republican Party originated as a third-party alternative to the Democrats and the Whigs. In the 20th century, third parties have at times been strong enough to hold the balance of power and influence Democrats or Republicans or both to change their positions.
But if someone has decided to work for change within one of the two political parties, and commits to support whoever that party nominates, to show party loyalty, that is an honorable choice. One of the arguments such a person could use is that it is necessary to nominate a candidate who respects the Constitution and the laws in order to get the vote of people like me.
Click on the following links for Erik Loomis’s and Scott Limieux’s posts on the Lawyers, Guns and Money web log.
All American Presidential Elections Are Choices Among Evils by Scott Limieux.
There Are Many Life and Death Issues by Scott Limieux.
An Essay Only a White Person Could Write by Erik Loomis.