Daniel Ellsberg: Defeat Romney, Without Illusions About Obama

by on October 18, 2012 · 11 comments

in American Empire, Civil Rights, Election, Politics, Popular

With Election a Toss-Up, Progressives Could Influence Outcome and Prevent a Romney Victory

By Daniel EllsbergReader Supported News / October 18, 2012

It is urgently important to prevent a Republican administration under Romney/Ryan from taking office in January 2013.

The election is now just weeks away, and I want to urge those whose values are generally in line with mine — progressives, especially activists — to make this goal one of your priorities during this period.

An activist colleague recently said to me: “I hear you’re supporting Obama.”

I was startled, and took offense. “Supporting Obama? Me?!”

“I lose no opportunity publicly,” I told him angrily, to identify Obama as a tool of Wall Street, a man who’s decriminalized torture and is still complicit in it, a drone assassin, someone who’s launched an unconstitutional war, supports kidnapping and indefinite detention without trial, and has prosecuted more whistleblowers like myself than all previous presidents put together. “Would you call that support?”

My friend said, “But on Democracy Now you urged people in swing states to vote for him! How could you say that? I don’t live in a swing state, but I will not and could not vote for Obama under any circumstances.”

My answer was: a Romney/Ryan administration would be no better — no different — on any of the serious offenses I just mentioned or anything else, and it would be much worse, even catastrophically worse, on a number of other important issues: attacking Iran, Supreme Court appointments, the economy, women’s reproductive rights, health coverage, safety net, climate change, green energy, the environment.

I told him: “I don’t ‘support Obama.’ I oppose the current Republican Party. This is not a contest between Barack Obama and a progressive candidate. The voters in a handful or a dozen close-fought swing states are going to determine whether Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan are going to wield great political power for four, maybe eight years, or not.”

As Noam Chomsky said recently, “The Republican organization today is extremely dangerous, not just to this country, but to the world. It’s worth expending some effort to prevent their rise to power, without sowing illusions about the Democratic alternatives.”

Following that logic, he’s said to an interviewer what my friend heard me say to Amy Goodman: “If I were a person in a swing state, I’d vote against Romney/Ryan, which means voting for Obama because there is no other choice.”

The election is at this moment a toss-up. That means this is one of the uncommon occasions when we progressives — a small minority of the electorate — could actually have a significant influence on the outcome of a national election, swinging it one way or the other.

The only way for progressives and Democrats to block Romney from office, at this date, is to persuade enough people in swing states to vote for Obama: not stay home, or vote for someone else. And that has to include, in those states, progressives and disillusioned liberals who are at this moment inclined not to vote at all or to vote for a third-party candidate (because like me they’ve been not just disappointed but disgusted and enraged by much of what Obama has done in the last four years and will probably keep doing).

They have to be persuaded to vote, and to vote in a battleground state for Obama not anyone else, despite the terrible flaws of the less-bad candidate, the incumbent. That’s not easy. As I see it, that’s precisely the “effort” Noam is referring to as worth expending right now to prevent the Republicans’ rise to power. And it will take progressives — some of you reading this, I hope — to make that effort of persuasion effectively.

It will take someone these disheartened progressives and liberals will listen to. Someone manifestly without illusions about the Democrats, someone who sees what they see when they look at the president these days: but who can also see through candidates Romney or Ryan on the split-screen, and keep their real, disastrous policies in focus.

It’s true that the differences between the major parties are not nearly as large as they and their candidates claim, let alone what we would want. It’s even fair to use Gore Vidal’s metaphor that they form two wings (“two right wings,” as some have put it) of a single party, the Property or Plutocracy Party, or as Justin Raimondo says, the War Party.

Still, the political reality is that there are two distinguishable wings, and one is reliably even worse than the other, currently much worse overall. To be in denial or to act in neglect of that reality serves only the possibly imminent, yet presently avoidable, victory of the worse.

The traditional third-party mantra, “There’s no significant difference between the major parties” amounts to saying: “The Republicans are no worse, overall.” And that’s absurd. It constitutes shameless apologetics for the Republicans, however unintended. It’s crazily divorced from present reality.

And it’s not at all harmless to be propagating that absurd falsehood. It has the effect of encouraging progressives even in battleground states to refrain from voting or to vote in a close election for someone other than Obama, and more importantly, to influence others to act likewise.That’s an effect that serves no one but the Republicans, and ultimately the 1 percent.

It’s not merely understandable, it’s entirely appropriate to be enraged at Barack Obama. As I am. He has often acted outrageously, not merely timidly or “disappointingly.” If impeachment were politically imaginable on constitutional grounds, he’s earned it (like George W. Bush, and many of his predecessors!) It is entirely human to want to punish him, not to “reward” him with another term or a vote that might be taken to express trust, hope or approval.

But rage is not generally conducive to clear thinking. And it often gets worked out against innocent victims, as would be the case here domestically, if refusals to vote for him resulted in Romney’s taking key battleground states that decide the outcome of this election.

To punish Obama in this particular way, on Election Day — by depriving him of votes in swing states and hence of office in favor of Romney and Ryan — would punish most of all the poor and marginal in society, and workers and middle class as well: not only in the U.S. but worldwide in terms of the economy (I believe the Republicans could still convert this recession to a Great Depression), the environment and climate change. It could well lead to war with Iran (which Obama has been creditably resisting, against pressure from within his own party). And it would spell, via Supreme Court appointments, the end of Roe v. Wade and of the occasional five to four decisions in favor of the Constitution and Bill of Rights.

The reelection of Barack Obama, in itself, is not going to bring serious progressive change, end militarism and empire, or restore the Constitution and the rule of law. That’s for us and the rest of the people to bring about after this election and in the rest of our lives — through organizing, building movements and agitating.

In the eight to twelve close-fought states — especially Florida, Ohio, and Virginia, but also Colorado, Iowa, Michigan, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Wisconsin — for any progressive to encourage fellow progressives and others in those states to vote for a third-party candidate is, I would say, to be complicit in facilitating the election of Romney and Ryan, with all its consequences.


To think of that as urging people in swing states to “vote their conscience” is, I believe, dangerously misleading advice. I would say to a progressive that if your conscience tells you on Election Day to vote for someone other than Obama in a battleground state, you need a second opinion. Your conscience is giving you bad counsel.

I often quote a line by Thoreau that had great impact for me: “Cast your whole vote: not a strip of paper merely, but your whole influence.” He was referring, in that essay, to civil disobedience, or as he titled it himself, “Resistance to Civil Authority.”

It still means that to me. But this is a year when for people who think like me — and who, unlike me, live in battleground states — casting a strip of paper is also important. Using your whole influence this month to get others to do that, to best effect, is even more important.

That means for progressives in the next couple of weeks — in addition to the rallies, demonstrations, petitions, lobbying (largely against policies or prospective policies of President Obama, including austerity budgeting next month), movement-building and civil disobedience that are needed all year round and every year — using one’s voice and one’s e-mails and op-eds and social media to encourage citizens in swing states to vote against a Romney victory by voting for the only real alternative, Barack Obama.

Daniel Ellsberg is a former State and Defense Department official who has been arrested for acts of non-violent civil disobedience over eighty times, initially for copying and releasing the top secret Pentagon Papers, for which he faced 115 years in prison. Living in a non-swing state, he does not intend to vote for President Obama.

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar KeninSD October 18, 2012 at 1:07 pm

Well said, Daniel! I will not vote for rethuglicans at any level of government! But, that does not mean that the Dems who get my vote, have my full throated support as they are also complicit in the construction and maintenance of the terror state we now live in. They are marginally better in their small voices for an inclusive, democratic society and in that they should be encouraged.

So, I agree with the author, vote Democratic, vote for Obama and deny the Presidency to Romney and the SD Mayor’s office to Carl the Weasel and Dougy.


avatar dave rice October 18, 2012 at 10:20 pm

Good article, makes me think I might have to reconsider my stance of refusing to vote for candidates of either ruling party for national office…if I lived in a state where my vote might matter on the national stage. Lucky me to live in California and be able to say, no matter who wins, “I didn’t vote for that DB!”


avatar Sean October 19, 2012 at 10:48 am

So, why is this article published in a state that holds a 20 point advantage for Obama?

Californians have a special responsibility to vote for candidates that actually represent their hopes and dreams. For all the reasons that Ellsberg lays out, CA progressives are wasting their vote on a candidate who will win in this state with or without their support.

I’m disheartened that a man with such brave and impact-full acts in history would espouse the politics of fear. Its a dangerous blow to democracy to blame voters for not supporting a candidate/party with their ONLY VOTE, when that party/candidate has not earned it. The blame lies on the party/candidate for not living up to what would earn the vote in the first place.

CA Dems, its time you take responsibility for letting your party drift to the right, start putting pressure to move left, and if you feel dis-empowered to make an impact on the party, leave it and find a party that will try to create the country you want to see.


avatar Frank Gormlie October 19, 2012 at 10:54 am

Until and when the American left fields a viable political power that can actually take state power thru democratic elections, we are forced to work with what we have. I’ve been hearing your rhetoric all my political life – and I did vote for Nader and the Greens in 2000, but we all found out that the left simply collapsed in the face of the Supreme Court’s manipulation of the election. Nader, the Greens, the Dems, Al Gore, none of us – did anything.

This particular article was written for a national audience.


avatar KeninSD October 19, 2012 at 11:42 am

Good response, Frank! A more progressive Democratic Party can be built, starting locally. Our Dem representatives are mainstream and typical of where the Dems have gone wrong. This is the place for progressives to become a larger force in Dem politics. Simply voting Green or Progressive at the top is a meaningless exercise, as you pointed out.

Finding, encouraging and supporting progressive candidates has to be a priority for Dems, is it possible in San Diego, or will the local establishment Dems continue to discourage a push back to the left?


avatar Sean October 19, 2012 at 11:38 am

Thanks for your reply Frank, I just wanted to make sure your readers know that they are not in a swing state by any stretch of the imagination, so they are free to vote for candidates and parties that inspire them. Both reader comments before mine were from CA voters.
You mentioned “Until and when the American left fields a viable political power that can actually take state power thru democratic elections, we are forced to work with what we have.” In races with no options (See SD Mayoral race) working with what we have involves voting for a democrat, but your ballot includes better ideological option for the Presidential race.
Part of growing a left movement is coming out of the closet for your ideals. It has done wonders for the LGBT community. If Green candidate Jill Stein gets 10% of the CA vote, it will be a much bigger story than Obama getting 60% vs winning with 50% in this State. It will embolden the political left, encourage the Dems to stop creeping right, and you can say you didn’t waste your vote in 2012.


avatar Frank Gormlie October 19, 2012 at 11:52 am

It would also be good if California progressives added their weight to the total popular votes against Romney.


avatar Listening October 26, 2012 at 12:22 pm

I couldn’t agree more that the two party system we now employ is outdated. However , if we do as one responder did and vote for the ” Nader” party are we really making any progress ? I wonder if we poll the people who voted for Nader and got BUSH , if they might have wanted to change that vote in retrospect. Nobody thinks the Obama administration is perfect but will they get more things done that moves the country forward than Romney ? No question. So the object is to find the candidate that most closely adheres to your thinking and vote for him/her. There will NEVER be the perfect candidate , but voting for someone who clearly has no chance makes a very soft , muffled noise and is listed as third or fourth in voting stats. I’d rather see a candidate we could all get behind step forward so we can build some REAL momentum.


avatar Sean October 29, 2012 at 4:43 pm

You can blame Nader for being a candidate that was inspiring and getting 5% of the vote (which studies show mostly came from new voters inspired to vote) or you can blame the Dem candidate for not being inspiring enough, which is how I choose to see it. The Dem Party will not lead me around by the nose anymore, I am a voter, my job is to choose who is the best candidate. Obama’s willingness to play war and dump civil liberties and focus on drone warfare does not earn my vote.
…and as far as a dull thud is concerned, as I mentioned earlier the dull thud is the percentage that Obama wins by in CA. He leads by double digits, and no pundit is going to pay attention to what he wins by unless its to mention that a Green candidate is capturing the attention of a growing percentage of the population.
I think a CA progressive Dem is throwing away his/her vote if its cast for Obama this time around.


avatar listening October 29, 2012 at 5:13 pm

Sean ,
Perhaps we can BOTH blame Nader for the Bush presidency that we’ll all have to try to fix for many years. Granted , I’m tempted to vote for almost anyone else given the candidates presented but how does that affect REAL change ? They mention that 5% of the vote that went to candidate X and move on. My real hope is that the democratic party can attract a candidate that we both agree is the right one. Given the state of politics in this country and the outlook for that to change any time soon , I’ll have to vote for B.O. and hope my vote prevents the alternative from getting in office as that would as they say , “be a real game changer”.


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