The Prussian philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) wrote about a Categorial Imperative that can be defined like this:
A command which expresses a general, unavoidable requirement of the moral law. Its three forms express the requirements of universalizability, respect and autonomy. Together they establish that an action is properly called ‘morally good’ only if (1) we can will all persons to do it, (2) it enables us to treat other persons as ends and not merely as the means to our own selfish ends, and (3) it allows us to see other persons as mutual law-makers in an ideal ‘realm of ends’.
Mr. Kant doesn’t have the final word on morality, but he has a point. You shouldn’t tell people how to vote unless you are prepared to live in a world in which everyone votes that way. Technically, you can tell people to vote Green because you’d be delighted if the Green Party candidate Jill Stein won the election with 100% of the vote. But I think we’re all a little more sophisticated than that, aren’t we? A vote for Jill Stein is a vote denied to Barack Obama. Voting for Jill Stein makes it more likely that Romney will be the next president of the United States. If enough people follow your advice, that is what will happen, and it’s morally indefensible to tell people to do something that will result in something you don’t support.
Some people, like Noam Chomsky and Daniel Ellsberg, try to get around this by arguing that it is okay to vote against Obama if you live in a safely red or safely blue state, but not if you live in a state that might determine the outcome. This is strategic voting, aimed at getting the Green Party 5% of the national popular vote and allowing them to get more ballot access. The idea is that we can elect Obama and reprimand him at the same time. I think you can defend this argument morally, although one should consider the advantages and disadvantages of Obama being reelected with a minority of the popular vote.
What isn’t morally defensible is Matt Stoller’s case that progressives should simply throw the election to Romney by voting against Obama even in swing states. John Cole and Scott Lemieux have already responded to Stoller with appropriate disrespect. And I don’t think his argument is strong enough to warrant a detailed response. Once you get past his inflated autobiography and his deeply dishonest indictment of the Obama administration, you’re left with a crackpot who is ready to man the barricades with nothing more than a couple of Wesley Clark for President veterans who somehow morphed into Huey Long-populists. If Stoller wants Romney to win, he should make the case for Romney. If he wants Gary Johnson to win, he should go work with his old buddy Jerome Armstrong. Matt Stoller is no longer a Democrat and he shouldn’t presume to tell progressives who to vote for. And, if he is going to persist in yapping at us, he might want to come up with a better battle-cry than “vote third party because it’s practice for crisis moments.” That’s the stupidest thing I have ever read.