Surrendering Principle: The Lesser Evil Remains Evil

If you, like many progressives, are wondering how to proceed should the Democratic establishment presidential candidate take the party’s nomination, you are not alone. A lot of people would be faced once again with the prospect of voting for a “lesser evil” candidate rather than casting a principled vote. Not only that, they would face bullying, pressure, and the like from establishment Democrats and even from some self-described progressives.

Talk host Thom Hartmann, whose prog bona fides are long and unquestionable, has made a point of noting that he is reluctant to criticize the establishment candidate for fear of damaging her prospects for the general election. He regularly praises both Bernie Sanders (his stated first choice) and the establishment’s choice as great candidates. He has gone so far as to call non-Democratic progressives and leftist Independents politically “unsophisticated” for not throwing their support to the Democratic Party no matter what. For Hartmann and others of a similar mind, job one is keeping a Republican — and particularly, the hate-filled Donald Trump and Ted Cruz — out of the White House, whatever the cost.

For others, including myself, the cost of abandoning principle and conforming is far too high. The lesser evil remains evil, and we refuse to support evil.

A great Truthdig analysis piece on this subject, “What Will ‘Lesser Evilism’ Look Like in 2016?” by Lance Selfa of Socialist Worker, poses a pertinent question: “So what’s so wrong with voting for the lesser evil when the ‘greater evil’ of Trump or Cruz would clearly be a disaster for working people?”

Well, my answer to the author’s question is this: The hawkish, pro-Wall Street, imperialist lesser evil would be a disaster as well.

Selfa provides other answers, along the way smashing the “red herrings” behind the mainstream imperative that we conform and obey.

  • Principled progressives are lambasted for not seeing differences between Republicans and establishment Democrats. Of course we see the differences! But, as Selfa notes, both of the mainstream parties put on pedestals as a mandate of a broken and immoral two-party system are in the pockets of wealthy donors, Wall Street, and corporations. “They differ on the details, not the overall aims,” he writes, “and their differences are actually smaller than what unites them.”
  • Mainstreamers and the go-along-to-get-along crowd claim that true progressives just oppose voting. Not true; I always vote. I voted for Bernie Sanders in the Tennessee primary, and I will vote in the general election, either for Bernie Sanders or for Jill Stein. I just refuse to vote for a candidate who does not represent my values. Selfa argues that “tens of thousands of [principled progressives] have devoted countless hours to getting out the vote for Sanders in the Democratic primaries.” That’s the truth; I continue to do so. And we think any of our money going to a candidate who does not represent us is money better spent on promoting our issues rather than those of an establishment party to which we do not belong. Voting for the establishment candidate — the lesser evil — hurts us.

As the author writes:

[T]hose who want to see the US get out of the Middle East or break Wall Street’s stranglehold on economic policy won’t find a champion in Clinton, an advocate for increased military intervention, whose Treasury Department is likely to be staffed with executives from the mega-hedge fund Blackrock.

To point out these pro-war, pro-Wall Street positions is not nitpicking. Even if — and it’s a big if — Clinton might, say, pick more liberal justices for the Supreme Court than a Republican would, the price for the “lesser evil” is all of the rest of the decidedly less progressive policies that will come with a Clinton administration.

As Sanders’ hero, the socialist leader Eugene V. Debs, often said, it’s better to vote for something you want and not get it, than to vote for something you don’t want and get that.

But that’s one of the traps of supporting the lesser evil. When movements fall behind candidates like Clinton, it weakens those involved. They get used to lowering their sights and putting the issues that are most important to them on the back burner.

Exactly. And who does that serve? The establishment. Not us.

Seriously, read the entire article. If you are a principled progressive, the piece will make you feel better and more sure in your choice to walk your own path, whatever you decide.

To those who truly can support the establishment candidate, great — I applaud you for voting for a candidate you can back with integrity. To those who can live with abandoning their own interests and shelving their beliefs, well, more power to you.

Personally, I cannot vote for any evil, lesser or otherwise. In reply, mainstreamers have reviled me, calling me selfish. They insist my decision to live by my principles is childish and shows a lack of love for country over self. Truth be told, I see myself as an anything but childish global citizen whose allegiance is to the world over any man-made construct. Based on her record, her statements, and her actions, I cannot in good conscience pull a lever for Clinton. She represents and will maintain a status quo I find intolerable for me and for my family. And frankly, I believe the establishment candidate — just like greater evils Trump or Cruz — would be dangerous to the entire world.

But I don’t expect people who don’t respect principle to understand. I do expect to be bullied mercilessly if Bernie Sanders does not get the nomination. So it goes.

I stand with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.:

There comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but he must take it because conscience tells him it is right.