Try to imagine how you would have felt about the recent presidential election if President Obama had done some of the following things:
1) suggested in a joking manner that Mitt Romney wasn’t a legitimate presidential contender because his father was born in Mexico, and done nothing to criticize people who made this argument in a non-joking manner.
2) argued that he had actually followed Mitt Romney’s advice on the auto bailout.
3) argued that he alone had rescued Wall Street and that Bush had nothing to do with TARP.
4) wrongly accused Mitt Romney of going on an Apology Tour of Europe and Israel.
5) denied that Mitt Romney had created a health care system in Massachusetts.
I could go on at length. My point is that it would have been harder to support the president’s reelection if he had shown a complete contempt for the truth, even if we thought he was scoring political points in the process.
One of the reasons I value voices like Glenn Greenwald and Arthur Gilroy is because they are gadflies who needle us about the areas where our own political party is doing things that are hard to defend and that can make us complicit in deceitful rhetoric. If we aren’t aware of these shortcomings, we can begin to lose our moral compass.
What I want to point out, however, is that the Republican Party has already morally compromised their entire political movement through their contempt for the truth. Every day, they are making their supporters into worse people because they are teaching them that the truth doesn’t matter. We’re not immune from this same problem and we need to be vigilant about it. But deceit is not central to our political strategy.
On some level, American politics is a zero-sum game. I think you ultimately have to make a decision about which side you are on, and you have to recognize that priority number one is beating the other side while priority number two is working to improve the side you’ve chosen.
I definitely see this as the case for people who choose the left. That’s because I cannot think of one single issue which would be better and more justly handled by the right.
Even though I am pretty much a down-the-line progressive on the issues, almost every disagreement I have with progressives is about the difference in where we put our priorities. For me, I am engaged in a lifelong war against reactionary anti-science xenophobic religious fundamentalists who show fascist tendencies and rely on Wall Street money. Fighting for progressive values within the Democratic Party is very important to me, but will always take second place.
It’s not a no-brainer. In 2000, we had a choice between Dick Cheney and Joe Lieberman for vice-president. I didn’t make up my mind to vote for Gore until the Sunday before the election. I ultimately decided that Gore respected and understood science and technology and that his opponents would start a war in Iraq and bankrupt the country.
If you wanted to find a worse vice-presidential candidate than Dick Cheney, John Edwards would be about as good as you could do. But I’d vote for him again over Dick Cheney, because Dick Cheney was a war criminal, not a philanderer.
For me, I recognized something was desperately wrong when the Republicans impeached Clinton despite the public’s clear preference that they merely censure him. That was the beginning. I soon realized that we were really in a war between the Enlightenment values that founded this country and a bunch of lunatics who were miseducated and misguided by a bunch of anti-democratic plutocrats.
I don’t like it when my side falls short, morally or otherwise, but I never take my eyes off the the direst threat.