PROFESSOR OF RELIGIOUS STUDIES
UNIVERSITY OF COLORADO AT BOULDER
AM I A FLIP-FLOP IF I HELP THE DEMOCRATS?
Am I a flip-flop? Or do I have a subtle consistency? John Kerry might not lie awake at night worrying about that question. Heís probably too tired. But I may be lying awake tonight worrying.
Throughout this campaign Iíve been writing columns about the lack of difference between Kerry and Bush, especially on issues of foreign policy and national security. Today I started knocking on doors and handing out fliers for the Democrats.
"Do I contradict myself?", Walt Whitman wrote. "Very well. I contradict myself. I am large. I contain multitudes."
But Iím not sure that I contradict myself. I think there is a consistency here.
I wrote those columns about Kerryís reactionary stance on war and terror because so many progressives I know seemed totally obsessed with defeating Bush. When they cast Bush as the devil, they talked as if Kerry were some kind of saving angel. I feared that, in their enthusiasm, they might lose sight of the larger issues, like saving the people of Iraq from U.S. - inflicted violence (just for starters). I wanted to remind my friends on the Left that politics does not end on Election Day.
Judging from the emails Iíve received from Commondreams readers, I may have misjudged the Left. Most of the folks who write to me say theyíll vote third party, or not at all, rather than vote for Democrats. I understand and respect that view. But I cannot agree with it.
In my state, a Democrat has a good chance to take a Senate seat away from the Republicans and tip the balance in the Senate. Even if Bush wins, a Democratic Senate could save us from the worst of his excesses. And my representative in the House is the infamous Marilyn Musgrave, author of the proposed constitutional amendment denying equal marriage rights to gays and lesbians. Defeating her would be a service to all humanity, regardless of sexual orientation.
Most importantly, I live in a presidential battleground state. Only nine electoral votes. But you never know which state will make the crucial difference. And on a wide range of domestic issues, the difference between Bush and Kerry is truly crucial.
Some who will vote third party or stay home on Election Daymight not agree. Perhaps they have the luxury of taking the long view. True, they may say, if Bush wins millions more will lose jobs and / or health care. In the long run, they may say, itís worth that risk to move beyond our Republocrat, single-party-with-two-names political paralysis.
But I wonder how many of those purists have lost their jobs and canít find another, or have been forced into dead-end low-wage jobs. I wonder how many are living without health insurance, or with inadequate insurance. Or is it just those of us with good secure jobs and good secure health insurance who can afford the luxury of refusing to vote for and help the Democrats?
I, for one, donít want to take advantage of my luxury. I want to put myself in the place of those without jobs or adequate health care and the ask: Are the differences between Bush and Kerry really irrelevant? The answer I hear from those who are suffering under the Bush regime will be "No. The differences really matter to us. We canít wait for the long run. We need relief now."
I hear that answer coming from people who live on monthly Social Security checks. The Bush plan to privatize Social Security will make their income unpredictable at best, and perhaps too meager to live on.
I hear that answer from women who canít afford a private doctor to perform a necessary abortion. That means they canít afford to have new Supreme Court justices who will limit the right of choice.
I hear that answer from poor people, who are typically most victimized by environmental pollution. They canít run the risk of seeing already weak environmental rules further weakened.
I hear that answer from military reservists and their families, who never signed up to fight an immoral war. They will have no choice under a Bush administration that refuses to enlarge the regular Army, because it wants to fight on the cheap.
I hear that answer from the people of Nevada, who are fighting the Bush plan to truck huge amounts of nuclear waste into the unsafe repository at Yucca Mountain.
I hear that answer from all sorts of people who will suffer directly from four more years of right-wing Republican rule. Unlike me, and perhaps you, they donít have the luxury of waiting for the long run to come around. For years, I thought of those folks whenever I cast my vote for the lesser of two evils.
Now, on domestic issues at least, the greater evil is so much greater that I am knocking on peopleís doors, urging them to vote for Democrats. I hope you will do the same. If you canít get yourself to do that, I can understand. But please, if you live anyplace where the outcome appears uncertain, get yourself to vote Democratic on Election Day. It will only hurt for a minute. And there are millions of people, perhaps worse off than you, who will thank you silently for it.
After the election is over, when you and I join together in a reinvigorated progressive politics, we will need help from the people who are most victimized by the system. We will want to enlist them in our campaigns to end the war, get single-payer health care, legislate a real living wage for every worker, etc.
Suppose they ask us: "What did you do to get Democrats elected in í04?" If we have no good answer, they may wonder whether we really care about them, or whether we are just affluent middle-class idealists (as the Republicans want them to believe).
From November 3 on, we can afford to demand the very best. But for the next week, it makes sense to get out there and do our damndest to help the somewhat better get more votes than the very worst.
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