In 2008 Conor Friedersdorf voted for Barack Obama, hoping for an end to Bush’s immoral, unconstitutional recklessness in foreign affairs. But then Obama won, and things — Friedersdorf believes — got worse.
It’s not strange that this sequence of events soured Friedersdorf on Obama. Lots of smart folks have had exactly that experience. What is strange is that, having witnessed voting for Obama failing to fix the country’s constitutional crisis, the only follow-up question he can think to ask is “Okay, so who should I vote for?”
And in fact it’s worse than that. Though Friedersdorf says he’s “supporting” Libertarian Gary Johnson this time around, he’s not sure if he’ll vote for him. And he seems to believe that the act of not voting can itself bring the change he seeks:
“If enough people start refusing to support any candidate who needlessly terrorizes innocents, perpetrates radical assaults on civil liberties, goes to war without Congress, or persecutes whistleblowers, among other misdeeds, post-9/11 excesses will be reined in.”
Voting isn’t a particularly effective mechanism for making political change on issues like civil liberties, and voting in presidential general elections is perhaps the least effective of all. If Gary Johnson somehow manages to draw a higher-than-expected number of liberalish votes this cycle, the most likely result is a shift in marijuana policy, not drone policy, from the Democratic nominee.
Why? Because, for starters, drones aren’t unpopular with the American electorate, and neither are the rest of the practices that Friedersdorf rightly condemns. And unless that changes, there’s zero chance that presidential candidates will come wooing folks like him and me on that issue.
Nobody has any magic beans. Voting Obama won’t end drone strikes, and neither will voting Romney, and neither will voting Johnson or Stein or not voting at all.
As for what will, there are two schools of thought that I find compelling:
The first says that you shift party policy at the grassroots. Vote for — and far more importantly, work for — candidates that support the stuff you support. In Senate races, in House races, in presidential primaries. Work like hell to get good folks into positions of power, and you change both the people at the top and the calculus they face when they get there. More civil libertarians in Congress means more pressure in a hundred mostly-largely-invisible ways for better policies. More civil libertarian presidential candidates means a better shot at a better national debate, and a better shot at better governance.
Then there’s the second, which says that the American political process is so hopelessly compromised that there’s no point in trying to bring it around. Folks I respect who believe this are mostly working like hell to make social change outside of electoral politics, in any one of a hundred different ways.
And that, finally, is what separates the folks I respect — liberal and radical alike — from Friedersdorf. Both camps understand that we’ve got huge problems in this country, and both understand that victories aren’t going to be won without a huge amount of really hard work.
Voting isn’t hard work. Voting is easy. (Not voting is even easier.) And that’s one reason that voting, on its own, rarely gets the goods.
Nobody has any magic beans.