smhwpf: (Winter is coming)
[personal profile] smhwpf
In the final round of the 2002 French Presidential election, leftists faced an insidious choice: the two remaining candidates were Jacques Chirac, of the mainstream right-wing party, the Rassemblement pour la République (RPR, Assembly for the Republic); and Jean-Marie le Pen, leader of the far-right, explicitly racist Front National (National Front).

France has a 2-stage Presidential election system: in the first round, there are many candidates – 16 in this case; but if no candidate gets more than 50% of the vote, there is a 2nd stage run-off between the top 2 candidates.

Usually, that will be someone from the main right-wing party [1], and one from the Socialists. But this time, with an even more divided left than usual with 8 parties standing [2], and partly as a result, the Socialist candidate Lionel Jospin came narrowly 3rd behind Chirac and Le Pen.

Most of French society was horrified that a fascist like Le Pen could come so close to power. [3] What, though, was a Socialist or Communist voter to do faced with this ugly choice in the second round of a right-winger and a far-right-winger? Stay at home? Spoil their ballot paper? Or swallow their bile and vote for a candidate whose politics they detest (and with a bunch of corruption scandals from his time as mayor of Paris)?

The answer was emphatic and overwhelming: with the encouragement of the defeated leftist candidates, and on the back of massive anti-fascist demonstrations between the two rounds, left-wing voters turned out in their droves to vote for Chirac, who won the election with 82% of the votes, on a turnout of 80%, up from 72% in the first round. Some suggested people vote with a clothespeg on their nose. One poster said “I’m voting for the crook, not the fascist”. I’m sure a lot of Socialists, Communists and other leftists needed a long, hot shower and a stiff drink afterwards.

But they knew the stakes, and they knew that, however much they disliked Chirac, Fascism could never be allowed to gain sway in France. Not again.

The situation in the US Presidential election this year is not exactly analogous. While the primaries function a bit like a ‘first round’, there are of course still third party candidates in the Presidential election itself. Thus people have positive choices of whom to vote for if they don’t like Trump or Clinton, rather than staying at home or spoiling their ballot paper.

But there are two things in common: first, that there is a fascist standing as one of the two main candidates, who absolutely must be stopped; second, that there is only one candidate in a position to beat them, but much of whose politics is highly distasteful to many on the left (myself included).

Generally speaking, I have been getting increasingly fed up of voting for the Lesser Evil. The Lesser Evil is still Evil. I would much rather vote for something that I consider actively Good. Not just as a matter of being ‘pure’ and sticking to one’s principles (though I think that sticking to one’s principles is not an invalid concern), but 1) as a means of demonstrating to the centre-left parties, as they triangulate their way ever further to the right, that there is a demand for something more radical, and that the votes of those who want it cannot simply be taken for granted, but need to be won; and 2) as part of building up a radical alternative for the long term.

If the left always meekly shows up to vote for the Lesser Evil to keep the greater evil out, then the danger is that this Lesser Evil party will continue to move more and more to the right in search of the so-called ‘middle ground’. The Overton Window will continue to shift to the right. And if British working class voters at the start of the 20th century had all stuck with the Lesser Evil of the Liberals for fear of the Tories, then the Labour Party could never have grown to become a viable party of government.

So I do not automatically support voting for the lesser evil. And I have serious problems with Hillary Clinton’s politics. I think she is far, far too close to Wall Street. Not that I think she is actually corrupt or has been ‘bought’, but that if you spend that much time around that sort of people, you are likely to start thinking like them, seeing things from their point of view, seeing them as ‘your people’. Although she is banking left now, she seems to me to have been part of the Neoliberal ‘centrist’ Democrat consensus for most of her career. And I am very concerned about her foreign policy, which strikes me as too hawkish (considerably more so than Obama’s). And of course she hates the Palestinians.

But this year, I will be voting and very possibly campaigning for the Lesser Evil of Hillary Clinton (as I will be moving to the US a month before the election). Because of Trump, because the stakes are just too high, but also because I think that in the present situation, this forms a part of the best way of pursuing a progressive agenda in US politics.

The progressive wing of the Democratic Party has not been this strong in a very, very long time. Certainly as long as I can remember. Bernie Sanders’ campaign has mobilized a powerful movement, which has the potential to bring about real progressive change. He came closer than anyone might have imagined to winning the nomination. I voted for him, and I wish he had won, but he did not. [4] The result of this campaign has been that Hillary Clinton has been forced to move considerably to the left, and the Democratic Party has just adopted what Sanders calls “The most progressive platform in history”. A quick look through the Platform justifies this : a $15 minimum wage, guaranteed paid leave and sick pay, spending on infrastructure, getting the rich and corporations to pay taxes, ending mass incarceration, reforming drug laws, abolishing the death penalty (!), immigration reform, LGBT rights, campaign finance reform, including a Constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United, climate change, e.g. getting 50% of energy from clean sources within a decade, free tuition at public colleges, health care policies, and gun control among others.

It is far from perfect, but it offers real, positive change on a whole range of issues. This is something that the progressive movement, which Bernie Sanders has helped to re-energize, has won, and it has a chance of winning more by continued pressure. But none of this will happen unless the Democrats win the Whitehouse. If Clinton does win, there will still be a massive amount of work to do to ensure that she keeps to this platform, and indeed goes beyond it, but if Trump wins then the very most we can hope for is to push back against some of his worst excesses. Jill Stein, however good her politics [5], is not going to be President.

Moreover, electoral politics in the US involves a lot more than the Presidential election. The Bernie movement provides a golden opportunity to seek to advance progressive causes through congressional primaries and elections, whether by supporting progressive challengers in primaries or forcing existing Democratic Senators and Congress members to the left to avoid such.

Therefore, it seems to me, at the moment the Democratic Party represents a far more effective electoral vehicle through which to promote progressive politics than does the Green Party, or any other third party. [6] This may not always have been the case. It may not always be the case. But I think it is now.

But there is also, very much, the negative reason for voting for Hillary, which would still be valid even if the most she had to offer was Neoliberal centrism with a few liberal scraps thrown in.

The US stands on the brink of electing a Fascist as President. Think it’s an exaggeration to say that Trump is a Fascist? Have a look at this compilation of his statements and policies, and the actions of his followers. He is not just a fascist, he is leading a nascent fascist movement. Maybe the US Constitution and its institutions are strong enough to withstand 4-8 years of Trump, but this is not a gamble I am willing to take. The consequences of a Trump victory for civil liberties, for the rights of African Americans, Latinos, Muslims, women, LGBT people could be horrendous. Not to mention the consequences for the entire planet. He thinks climate change is a hoax, he is actively in favour of committing war crimes, he opposes the Iran nuclear deal, his foreign policy changes from one speech to the next but his advisers are all virulently right-wing, and just the whole prospect of having this angry, insecure, narcissistic egomaniac in charge of the world’s most powerful military, not to mention the nuclear button, is something which ought to fill everyone with dread. He must be stopped. He. Must. Be. Stopped.

Some people of the Bernie-or-bust tendency call this “fear-mongering”. One of the most ludicrous memes I’ve seen on Facebook equates threatening voters with Trump if they don’t vote for Clinton as “terrorism”. For heaven’s sake, it is not I who am threatening to make Trump President if people don’t vote for Clinton, it is not Clinton herself, or the DNC, it is Trump voters who will make Trump President if not enough people vote for Hillary Clinton. It is not ‘fear-mongering’ or ‘terrorism’ to simply point out the consequences of different actions.

I am far from enthusiastic about Hillary Clinton. I think she has her genuine good points, but I have not forgotten that she voted for the Iraq war, or that she is resolutely anti-Palestinian, but with her as President there is the possibility of positive change, if we fight for it, while the alternative is just too dreadful to contemplate.

So I will be voting for Hillary in November, and I think you should too, if you are eligible. A friend of mine in Boston may be organizing some buses of volunteers up to New Hampshire (a swing state, unlike rock-solid Democrat Massachusetts), and if I have time amidst the whole transatlantic relocation business I may well get on one of them. I had wondered, in my ultra-safe state, about voting for Jill Stein, but one can hardly tell others to vote for Clinton if one is not intending to do so oneself.

Remember France, 2002. If lifelong Communists can trudge to the polling station, clothespegs at the ready, holding back the vomit from their mouths, and vote for Jacques Chirac to preserve France from Fascism, then we can vote for Hillary to preserve the USA from the same.

[1] This keeps changing its name. At the time it was the RPR, which subsequently merged itself into the Union pour un Movement Populaire, which subsequently renamed itself Les Républicains in 2015

[2] in 2002 there was the Socialists, the Citizens Movement which split from it, Workers Struggle, The Greens, the Revolutionary Communist League, the French Communist Party, the Radical Party of the Left, and the Worker’s Party, which between them got 43% of the vote

[3] Sadly, they seem to be doing even better now, having followed the common European far-right path of cleaning up their image, steering away from the openly racist rhetoric and the Holocaust denial, and saying that their problem is only with immigration and Islam.

[4] Yes, there was much in the campaign that was unfair, such as media coverage and the DNC’s partisan support of Clinton; but in the end she won pretty comfortable, and in particular won the overwhelming support of African American voters.

[5] I’ve seen some negative things about her too, mind you. Though in most respects pretty good.

[6] Interestingly, the Communist Party of the USA, of which much of my US family are members, appears to have come to the same conclusion, and adopts a strategy, as far as elections go, of backing progressive Democrats in primaries, and Democrats in elections.
 
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