Sunday, November 4, 2012
drones and election 2012
I would never ever ever ever ever vote for Gary Johnson, being a socialist and all. But I do have to point out that if you're trying to justify the morality of a program by comparing it to the morality of another immoral program, something has probably gone amiss in your reasoning. I understand that Blumenthal is critiquing Conor's position particularly, but I find this so common in this debate, the bizarre rhetorical jiu jitsu people have to engage in to get to support of Obama against drone criticism. (Which isn't support of the drone program, as my commenters rightly remind me-- but then, we're getting into the jiu jitsu a bit again.) I think that part of the reason that this debate is waged so angrily by people who defend Obama against critics of drones is because they recognize the weird tensions in their own stance. Never have I been attacked so vociferously for my arguments by people who themselves acknowledge the correctness of those arguments.
We've had this debate endlessly around here, and I know my more critical commenters are just as frustrated by what they see as my lack of responsiveness on the drone issue as I am in what I see as theirs. (Pardon my syntax.) I do think that there's one issue here that should be getting more attention: the unusual degree to which the drone issue is chosen by the Obama administration. I know many of my fellow lefties were frustrated by the health care fight and unsatisfied with PPACA. The same goes for me; there are many things I wish they had done differently, tactically. But I recognize an issue like health care as a situation where the Democrats are seriously constrained by the need to pass legislation through a hostile Congress. There's only so much they can do. That doesn't mean that you abandon principle or accept every choice, but you spread responsibility.
But the drone issue is not that way. It's a secret program with no Congressional mandate at all. It's not a matter of troop commitment and doesn't have that much play in the popular political consciousness. I imagine only the most high information voters know about the program at all. And as Commander in Chief of the military, Obama could simply shutter the program. (I mean, they haven't even officially acknowledged the program, aside from bragging about it and joking about it, as bizarre as that sounds.) Sure, some Bill Kristol types would complain. But it's not nearly as high profile or high risk as Afghanistan, and in an election dominated by the economy, I seriously doubt it would make a big difference either way. The drone issue is special because it is both so heinous and so irrefutably a matter of Obama's personal responsibility.
Of course, the reason the program continues is simply because the administration really believe the drones to be doing some good, above the costs in innocent blood. I find that both immoral and flatly wrong, given the fact that terrorism is a very minor threat to the United States, that it's clear that we frequently send drones without being entirely clear who we're targeting, that drones are precisely the kind of issue that stokes anti-American hatred and makes more terrorists, and that in general the drones represent the failed, revenge-minded mentality that we simply cannot shake since 9/11. The interesting part, as someone who keeps getting flogged in these debates, is that almost all of the people who are now arguing in support of Obama made those same arguments a few years ago-- and many do now. Anyway, I guess we all know where we stand.
The election is a few days away. I'll be going to the polls on Tuesday in a state where my vote is unlikely to make much difference in the Presidential election, but vote I shall. In the Senate race between Joe Donnelly and Richard Mourdock, you've got a really interesting test cast for the lesser evil/anti-vote crowd. As I mentioned once, abortion is the issue most often invoked as a reason to support Obama at all costs. Here, you've got yet another Republican cretin saying horrid things about abortion, in this case claiming that women getting pregnant from rape are part of God's plan. The problem is that his opponent, Donnelly, is also anti-abortion. Last year he received a 20% from NARAL as a Congressman; every year before that, he got a 0%. He's consistently received high marks from the National Right to Life Committee.
So: as a pro-choice zealot who favors unrestricted access to abortion for all women, what do I do? I think most people will tell you that I need to vote for Donnelly, an anti-abortion guy, and do so specifically to support abortion rights. And I probably will. But if it's the case that the lesser evil position requires me to vote for a pro-life candidate because I am pro-choice, it might be time for us all to take a breath and think this through. I really would like it if the legions of lesser evilists would look a little more deeply into their political ideas and maybe reassess a few things. The lesser evil mentality is quite strange in that it acknowledges itself as a deeply imperfect and unfortunate stance and yet is expressed with absolute and unwavering conviction. I hear the lesser evil argument all the time. I very, very rarely hear it expressed in a qualified or restrained way. Instead it is usually expressed as though no one of any intelligence or character at all could ever oppose it.
If the people who advocate supporting candidates who don't really represent your views are serious when they acknowledge that it's an imperfect way to operate, I wish they would demonstrate their commitment to changing that imperfection. I've heard it a thousand times-- it's an imperfect world! the system is violent! we're constrained by reality!-- and okay, fine. Then please show your support for the good-enough politicians in an bad system, but also work hard to improve that system. That acknowledgment shouldn't be a hand wave. The system is so flawed in large part because principled people are so willing to compromise about those flaws. If you believe you're supporting the better of two bad choices, fine, but then work to make the choices better in the future. If you want a model, look at Digby. I don't agree with her about everything, but she proves that you can support Democratic candidates and relentlessly push the Democrats to be better and do it without once calling for the public execution of Glenn Greenwald. A Democrat and a leftist and liberal about political differences-- it's not impossible.
We control our politics, it's a human system, so every argument based on how the system is flawed is ultimately an abdication of personal responsibility.