SYNDICATED COLUMN: Fight the Powerlessness

The Left’s Case for Boycotting Obama in November 2012

Three years in, it’s obvious to all but the most willfully obtuse liberals and progressives that their 2008 votes for Obama have not paid off.

The president blames obstructionist Republicans for his lack of action on, well, everything. His blame-the-GOP argument would be plausible if not for one thing: Before the Republicans swept the 2010 midterms, Obama had enormous political capital, a supportive media and Democratic control of both houses of Congress.

Had Obama wanted, he could have governed to the left. Far to the left. To the left of FDR.

Remember how scared we were? The economy was in freefall. We lost 600,000 jobs the month he took office. We would have gone along with anything he asked for, including a new WPA program and permanent jobless benefits.

He didn’t ask.

Obama didn’t govern like a liberal because he didn’t want to. He didn’t want to because he’s not a liberal.

Many progressives are angry. They want to send Obama and his fellow phony Democrats a message next November. But they don’t know how to counter the central argument of the two-party trap.

It goes like this:

“Voting for Obama sucks. He’s just going to do more stuff I hate, like bailing out banksters and starting more wars while ignoring the terrible economy. But what else can I do? I can’t vote for some science-denying, Bible-thumping Republican ignoramus who’d be even worse.

“Not voting? That’s almost as bad as voting Republican. With so much at stake, there’s no choice but to hold my nose and vote Democratic.”

This powerful argument has kept liberals in the Democratic fold since 1976, when Jimmy Carter pushed the party to the right with his huge defense build-up.

Fear of a GOP nation drove them to vote for Bill Clinton, even though his major accomplishments—welfare reform, NAFTA and the WTO—were right-wing.

There’s always something at stake. Every election is “one of the most important elections of our lifetimes.” As a result, there hasn’t been a liberal presidential nominee for 40 years. Mainly, this is because liberal voters are willing to vote for right-wing Democrats.

A lot of liberals, feeling even more conned than usual, are asking me how to counter the two-party trap argument.

Here’s what I tell them:

First and foremost, your vote (or lack thereof) cannot and will not put Rick Perry or Mitt Romney or Sarah Palin in the White House. It’s simple statistics. By definition you can only change one vote: your own. And no state’s electoral votes have ever come down to a single vote.

No election in U.S. history has ever come down to one vote. Not even a local one.

Even in Florida in 2000, the outcome hinged on about 150 ballots. I don’t care how big your family or circle of friends is—you are not going to change 75 or more votes one way or the other. Mathematically speaking, your vote is purely symbolic.

Point two: Democratic Party strategists take liberal voters for granted. Don’t take my word for it; check out books by Washington insiders like former Clinton pollster Dick Morris and “The Political Brain” author Drew Westen. Democratic leaders obsess over “Reagan Democrats,” “soccer moms,” “security moms” or whatever catchphrase equates to “swing voter” during a given year—people who might vote Republican one election, Democratic the next. That’s why “Democrats” run as—and govern like—Republicans.

As for liberals, progressives and leftists, Democrats ask: Where else are they going to go?

Refusing to vote for Obama answers their question: If you don’t stop taking us for granted, we will take our votes elsewhere—whether to the Republicans, a third party, or limbo, boycotting the process altogether.

Point three: Voting for immoral leaders makes you immoral.

It’s one thing to be duped, as liberals were by Carter in 1976. It’s another to knowingly vote for a politician you know or at least strongly suspect will promulgate policies you believe are wrong—which is exactly what most liberals did when they voted for Obama in 2008.

Most Americans and the vast majority of lefties were against the U.S. occupation of Afghanistan. During the campaign Obama pledged to send even more troops there. From a moral standpoint, the blood of every Afghan wounded or killed after January 2009 is on the hands of those of us who pulled a lever, pushed a button or punched a chad for Barack Obama. (That includes me.)

Obama lied about other issues. He promised to close Gitmo, to push for a real healthcare plan (one with a public option), and to withdraw from Iraq. Now, however, we know that he lied.

Knowing what you know now, a vote for Obama in 2012 would be an enthusiastic vote of support for torture, extrajudicial assassinations, drone attacks, corporate healthcare, doing nothing about jobs and staying in Iraq. Your eyes are open. A liberal who votes for Obama would be directly responsible for the torture, the killings, and the suicides of the desperately unemployed.

The two-party trap is the sort of sick game that sadistic concentration camp guards like to play.

“I’m going to shoot this old man or this little boy. You decide which. If you refuse to choose, I’ll shoot both.”

There is only way to deal with ideological terrorists:


Let evil scum do what they like. You can’t stop them anyway. If the guard shoots both the man and the boy, it’s a terrible crime—but the blood is all on his hands.

For a progressive, voting for Obama is like asking the camp guard to shoot one person rather than two. In the short run, it seems like the right decision. In the long run, the man and the boy die—and it’ll partly be your fault,

(Ted Rall is the author of “The Anti-American Manifesto.” His website is



  • Completely wrong on pretty much every level, Ted. But I’m sure you know that.

  • Sure you knew that I would say that. That’s what I get for trying even simple posts before coffee.

    You’re still wrong though.

  • Ok. We’ve had this discussion before.

    50% of the population already boycott elections. If this number grew at the expense of the Democrats, the assholes would just use it as an excuse to move further right.

    I’m not voting for Obama or any other Democrats who have proved themselves complete shills. I’ll write-in “Green Party” or something else to that effect. But I’m not under any illusion that this will make a difference, because too many drones like Whimsical still believe in “Hope and Change.” But at least it won’t allow the media to call me “apathetic.”

    I just read your book, Ted. I know that you want to hasten the end of the system. I believe that people voting for “none of the above” is the way to go. The media can’t as easily dismiss such a protest vote. Imagine Obama losing by a margin less than a large block of write-in “liberal” protest votes. This would be a good way to really stir shit up…

  • Also, to preempt comments soon to be made:

    I reject the idea that President Bachmann would be worse than Obama. If “crazy-eyes” was in the White House, the congressional Democrats would start acting like a nominal opposition party again, and we’d see a net slowing of the rush to the right.

    • Indeed, I wonder if Obamabots can point to anything good that happened under Obama that wouldn’t have happened under President McCain.

      Don’t mention healthcare–that’s a net loss.

  • Grouchy, Hope and Change are still possible. But it depends on liberals changing their strategy from the one they’re currently using, the one that has driven the party, and by extension the country drastically rightward over the past 30 years to one that will actually work.

    Not voting or voting third party wont work. Oh, it’ll hasten the end of Democracy, but you and Ted are in for a nasty surprise, because the system will not be rebuilt in any way you would like.

    And I have to question if you’re paying attention, because anyone who paid even the slightest bit of attention would get that it is inarguable that Bachmann would be worse than Obama. But It’ll be Perry getting the nomination, and he’s worse than Bachmann.

  • I reject the idea that President Perry would be worse than Obama. If “crazy-Christian” was in the White House, the congressional Democrats would start acting like a nominal opposition party again, and we’d see a net slowing of the rush to the right.

  • ***”Not voting or voting third party wont work.”***

    What do you mean by “wont [sic] work?” Do you mean enact real progressive legislation? Because voting Democrat doesn’t do that either.

    ***”Oh, it’ll hasten the end of Democracy, but you and Ted are in for a nasty surprise, because the system will not be rebuilt in any way you would like.”***

    Have you read Ted’s book? He doesn’t paint any unrealistic rosy pictures. And I’ll be the first to say that this country could easily morph into a full-fledged theocratic nightmare.

    But the status quo is unbearable.

  • Matt Taibbi would rather endure rug-rats than listen to Obama’s lies:

  • >>>But it depends on liberals changing their strategy from the one they’re currently using, the one that has driven the party, and by extension the country drastically rightward over the past 30 years to one that will actually work.>>>

    The strategy we’ve been using is to hold our noses and keep voting Democratic, which is exactly the strategy that you’ve been recommending from Day One, Whimsical. We’ve been doing exactly what you want us to do.

    So don’t complain about the result.

  • Tovarishch Rall is too young to remember when we said, ‘If voting could make a difference, it would be illegal.’

    The options are all totally unacceptable. Keeping Obama would be a complete disaster, but letting Perry win would be far worse.

  • @Grouchy-

    >>the congressional Democrats would start acting like a nominal opposition party again, and we’d see a net slowing of the rush to the right.

    False. An Obama loss would reinforce the message that the public actually wants the “crazy Christian” agenda, and you’d see an even faster rush to the right.

    As for getting progressive legislation passed, by 2018 I could get you a Congress and a President that would pass the People’s budget. But it would require the left to learn some patience, frustration tolerance, and most important of all completely abandon the punishment strategy theyve been using for the past 30+ years that has driven the party and country so far right.

    But it seems like there’s a substantial contingent on the left that would rather tear the whole thing down. And if they get their wish, they are in for a nasty surprise.

    >>Have you read Ted’s book? He doesn’t paint any unrealistic rosy pictures. And I’ll be the first to say that this country could easily morph into a full-fledged theocratic nightmare.

    I have read Ted’s book and I consider his case unrealistically optomistic. A fascist theocracy is a virtual certainty if we are foolish enough to take the system down.

    But that’s accepting the argument that it’s impossible to get what we want within the sysetm, which I wholeheartedly reject. Liberals are using a broken strategy, and then using the failure of that broken strategy to claim that the system is broken. Not true.

    >>But the status quo is unbearable.

    A) What will result if we take the system down will be orders of magnitude worse than the status quo.

    B) That accepts the argument that the stas quo is unchangeable within the current system, and that we have no alternative but to take it down. I reject both those assumptions as false.

    Your streak of willfully misunderstanding and misrepresenting my positions continues unabated. Good job! It’d be sad, if it wasn’t so funny.

    We’ve been following the strategy of you and liberals like you for the past 30 years, so if there’s anyone who shouldn’t be complaining about where we are now…

    • Whimsical: Anyone who believes the system is reformable should oppose revolution. I think it cannot be saved, not now, not by “better candidates.” I agree that a revolution will probably fail. But I don’t see how we shouldn’t try.

  • Whimsical, I disagree with your analysis, and you mine. We’re unlikely to convince each other to abandon our respective positions. Nothing more to say really.

    I’m just curious why you spend so much time trolling Ted’s site. I used to listen to Rush Limbaugh for yucks, but it got old pretty quick.

    Other readers: Maybe we should take heart that DNC-type “centrists” consider Ted’s ideas worth their derision. Maybe there is hope after all…

  • Hedges says: “Most important, we must stop being afraid. We have to turn our backs for good on the Democrats, no matter what ghoulish candidate the Republicans offer up for president. We have to defy all formal systems of power.” Yeah… ’bout time.

  • More from Hedges (March of the Trolls):

    The only commodity the troll state offers is fear. The corporate trolls, such as the Koch brothers, terrify the birthers, creationists, militia lovers, tea party militants, right-to-life advocates, Christian fascists and God-fearing red-white-and-blue patriots by proclaiming that, unless they vote for Perry or Mitt Romney or Michele Bachmann or some other product of the lunatic fringe of our political establishment, the American family will be destroyed, our children will be corrupted and the country will turn socialist. Barack Obama, who they whisper is a closet Muslim, will take away their guns, raise their taxes and bring homosexual couples into kindergartens.

    For those, usually liberals, still rooted in a reality-based world, one that believes in evolutionary science, the corporate trolls offer a more refined, fear-based message of impending doom. If you abandon the Democrats we will be governed by Bible-thumping idiots who will make us chant the Pledge of Allegiance in mass rallies and teach the account of Genesis as historical and biological fact in our nation’s schools.

    And underneath it all runs the mantra chanted in unison by all the trolls—terror, terror, terror. The troll establishment spins us like windup dolls and laughs all the way to the bank. What idiots, they think. And every election cycle we prove them right.

  • “Imagine Obama losing by a margin less than a large block of write-in “liberal” protest votes.”

    You mean like how Gore lost by a few hundred votes in a state where 92,000 people voted Green (Nader 2000)? That had a huge impact on both parties, as demonstrated by the leftward shift over the past decade.

    So much for Grouchy’s plan. Whimsical, is there anything to your plan beyond “hold my nose, vote for Obama anyway, and keep on hoping”?

    Selling out- being apolitical and just chasing $$- is still working well for me, personally, but not for the country as a whole.

  • “I don’t have a problem with third-party protest votes”

    Finally some sanity on this issue.

  • @Russel: actually that had some effect. It was insufficient because not enough liberals were protest voting.

    Not commonly discussed is that in 2004 Kerry actually called up Nader late in the campaign and asked him not to run. Nader told him he would step down if and only if Kerry championed three issues, any three of Kerry’s choosing, from a list of options that Nader provided him with that were issues being covered by the Nader campaign. Kerry considered it for a time, but eventually stopped talking to Nader. Presumably Kerry decided that reaching right would provide more votes then reaching left. Now what happens if that no longer becomes true if hordes of liberals were to start third party votes (protest or not)? Then, suddenly there becomes more votes potentially available to the left and the majority of the liberal vote is no longer something that can be counted upon by democrats. Suddenly the democrats need to pay attention to the left or else the fade out of existence.

    In such a hypothetical situation, when the next equivalent of Kerry calls up the next equivalent of Nader, that man better listen to the demands made or he will loose, and more importantly, he will know that he will loose if he does not.

  • Officially, Nader received 1.6% of the vote in Florida in 2000. There’s debate about how many votes he actually pulled from Gore–the candidate who proposed a larger militarily budget increase than Bush, Jr., which is the reason I couldn’t vote for the guy. If Nader had been on my state’s ballot, he would have gotten my vote. And in this instance, Gore would have lost nothing.

    I’ll vote for Nader again if he runs. I will never vote for Obama or my present Democratic Senator. My Democratic Rep. is walking a fine line. I doubt he’ll get my vote. I need to do a little research first. Isn’t that a novel thing: Actually looking at what a Democrat voted for in order to determine if they deserve your vote…

  • Ted’s right. On some boutique wedge-issues (read: distraction issues) Obama might be better than Perry/Bachmann/etc., but on the big issues he’s the same. And worse because the Democrats would never let a Republican do things like gut S.S.

    Obama lost me a long time ago, but honestly, I can’t understand why anybody is still with the guy after his dismal/treacherous performance during the debt ceiling “crisis.”

  • If McCain became president he would have been killed in an unfortunate snowmachine accident.

  • Here’s what I’m hearing:

    1) Don’t vote for the Dems, they won’t support my liberal views.
    2) Don’t vote for the Repubs, they’re much, much worse.
    3) Don’t vote for third party candidates, they can’t win anyway, and may help Repubs get elected (see #2).
    4) Don’t not vote, that’s a cop out and you will have no right to complain.
    5) Don’t hope for — or work for — true change to the system (revolution) because what follows is likely to be even worse than you can imagine.

    What the fuck is left, then? Suicide?

  • Which party wants unemployed people to commit suicide? They have my vote.

    I’ve got a broke friend who is too lazy to hold down a job crashing on my couch and eating my food for about a month now. With friends like that, who needs enemies?

    I understand that its not fair that the Koch brothers get billions and they are probably just as lazy as my so called friend, but sometimes people get exactly what they deserve. I’m beginning to think this notion of working class heroes forced into idleness by the man is a Dickensian fantasy. I’ve lived in some of most economically depressed parts of this country and I have yet to meet an employable unemployed person.

  • Actually, Ted, you’ve convinced me. And it seems to drive everyone I know crazy. It’s a sick game is all it is, and it’s better not to play because either way we lose.

  • Why do liberals think that the Democrats are always the lesser of two evils? Under Obushma the “left” has been silent. At least under a real Republican we know what we are in for and the wimpy liberals in Congress will sometimes put up a protest.

    And why do we really care anymore about this country? It’s over, there is no way that electoral politics will fix anything unless the great mass of ignorant stupid people – the great American public – gets off their lazy ass, turns off the TV, and starts educating themselves. Ain’t gonna happen. The corporations have won and it is only when the economy collapses that we will have a chance to make things better. The southern bible beaters will revert to their natural state of affairs – without Northern money redistributed by DC they will be a third world shit-hole, and none too soon in my book. Texas – well, hopefully that will end up as part of Mexico soon. The northern states can create several regional entities and maybe one of them will actually be a civilized country. Maybe. So let’s stop pretending that voting means anything and let the wackos like Perry take over and get it over with. The sooner we fail then sooner we can start the work of rebuilding.

  • >>Your streak of willfully misunderstanding and misrepresenting my positions continues unabated. Good job! It’d be sad, if it wasn’t so funny.>>

    Naw, I understand them perfectly. And the joke is on you.

  • michaelwme said:

    “letting Perry win would be far worse.”

    A tapeworm serves the imperative feeding itself and multiplying, but equally important is the keep-host-alive imperative.

  • I can’t bring myself to vote for President Obama again. If Nader or someone like him runs, I’ll vote for him. It might contribute to the victory of a right-wing maniac, but it’s not like the Republicans will be defeated forever if they lose this time. They’ll be baaaack in 4 years. The Democrats were able to ignore and ostracize Nader voters in 2000 because, unlike Perot voters who were never blamed for Daddy Bush’s loss in 1992, there were so few of them. If more people went against the Democrats from the Left, the party would have to change. If only a few of us do, we can expect more of the same, with the same excuses and the same “logic” that they use to get us to the polls.

  • Right on, Jazzage.


    Haha! ‘CALLED IT!

    MONTHS ago!

    My only hope is that the Federal government doesn’t feel imprelled to engineer some new kind of leadership crisis as further proof (for the yet unconvinced) that Obama is incapable of doing his job effectively in order to spur the great, unforeseen political theatre of Hillary’s stepping forward.

    I’ll give Obama this over Cheney though…at least Obama had the balls (or maybe it was only INSATIABLE VANITY) to actually run for the office of the Presidency and subject himself to the scrutiny that comes with being top dog. Vice President Dick[less] Cheney always had the illiterate [sub]human shield of Du[m]bya to cover his dirty deeds.

    It’s just a beauty pageant, folks. All the powers-that-be care about is that enough of us settle for the “charismatic” “competent” “beauty” that comes out on top at the end of the quadrennial marketing campaign (which I’m willing to bet will somehow magically defy prevalent economic conditions and still REQUIRE the enormous personal and corporate financial contributions without which it couldn’t possibly function.)

    (Amazing that it all costs so much. All the voter gets out of it is maybe three televised debates, moderated by a press that’s grown fat & happy issuing government / corporate press releases and doesn’t see any need to rock the boat during the primetime advertising hour.)

    Great article here; it sounds like just what we’re talking about.

    Caligula was assasinated before he could make his horse consul of Rome. How long before we Americans tire of the menagerie we’re being insulted with?

  • This whole “Gore would have won if it weren’t for Nader” business makes a mockery of democracy. It implies that Liberal votes belong to the Democratic Party like they own us or something. If Obama didn’t earn our votes than screw him, we should vote for someone else, like maybe Kucinich.

    What I don’t get is why Labor keeps playing along with this charade. I’d love to see the former Industrial Heartland states organize a “Labor Party.” It could be anti-immigrate, pro-tarrif (something neither party ever talks about), and not take a position of social issues. I bet such a party could win a block of midwest states and play kingmaker in congress.

  • […] Ted Rall explains to liberals why feeling forced to vote for Obama in 2012 is acquiescing to an immoral act. He concludes as follows: … […]

  • John From Censornati
    September 8, 2011 4:33 PM

    Who “moderates” comments here and what are the boundaries? What on earth did I say that was unacceptable?

  • @Andy: ABSOLUTELY!

    It is no different then saying Nader would have won if Gore didn’t run.

  • Gore would have won if he’d managed to win HIS OWN EFFIN’ STATE !!!!!

  • @Grouchy-

    My business slows way, way down in the summer. Now that school is in session, I won’t have anywhere near as much time for political argument. Try to contain your dissapointment.

    I come here because I’m not narcissistic enough to only want to talk to people who agree with me, and unlike teabaggers, you folks are smart enough that I have a shot at getting you to see reason.

    Troll is a bit harsh, though. I’m not really trollish, not even to those who have trolled me first.


    Revolution is the last resort, to be used ONLY when ABSOLUTELY EVERYTHING else has been tried and failed. We aren’t there yet. We may get there; we will certainly get there faster if we do not deliver Obama and the Democrats overwhelming victory in 2012. But right now, we just aren’t there.

    You don’t pull the final option while there are still cards left to play. That’s why we dont try- at least for now. I’m generally not in favor of tilting at windmills while there are other, more productive options- it usually just messes you up pretty bad and doesn’t do a damn thing to the windmill.

    >>Indeed, I wonder if Obamabots can point to anything good that happened under Obama that wouldn’t have happened under President McCain.

    Oh, I can point to several.

    1) There would’ve been NO stimulus. You can argue the stimulus was too small, and I’ll agree with that while we disagree on whose fault that was and whether anything more could’ve passed. However, under McCain there would’ve been no stimulus and the economy would be much worse than it currently is.

    2) DADT would not have been repealed.

    3) Here’s something that would’ve happened under McCain that didn’t under Obama: We would’ve started a war with Iran. Yeah, Obama got us into a handful of piddly shit conflicts- add them all together, multiply by a thousand and you still won’t have come close to the utter clusterfuck that going into Iran would represent.

    There’s three in thirty seconds off the top of my head. I’m sure more time and more research would bring up dozens more.

    Oh, and the health care clinics in the ACA make it a net win, not a net loss. And you don’t get a better bill without passing something like the ACA first.

    I’ll give you that on issues, Perry and Bachmann are pretty similar. But I can laugh at Bachmann, while Perry’s smarmy smirk makes me want to put my fist through a wall and/or TV screen. So at least on a personal level, for me, Perry is worse.


    I vote for #6) Reform your understanding of how the system ACTUALLY works, and use that understanding to move the Democratic party to a place where it will give you what you want.


    >>Naw, I understand them perfectly

    All available evidence indicates otherwise.

    >>And the joke is on you.

    Well if you’re referring to your replies, you’re certainly right there.

    Ok, more to come the next time I get a break from business.

    • Whimsical:
      Obviously we can’t know for sure, but I disagree with your Top 3 Reasons McCain Would Have Been Worse Than Obama.
      1) There was no stimulus under Obama. He paid bankers. Stimulus would have put money directly into people’s pockets.
      2) DADT would have been declared unconstitutional anyway.
      3) War against Iran would be madness, but I doubt McCain could have started one. For one thing, the Left would oppose him ferociously.

  • My use of the word “trolling” was a mistake. When I dashed it off, I was thinking more of the pre-internet use the word, where the meaning isn’t so harsh. I apologize.

    My final thought on the subject of voting Democrat: insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.

    Read more: Who is it that first said that “insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result�? | Answerbag

  • DADT: boutique wedge-issue (read: distraction issue).

    So I’m supposed to be happy that gays can now openly serve the murderous empire?

  • I read all the comments, but I don’t see it. What is the within-the-system approach that will move the Democrats to the left? (Is it that we should vote for Nader, Kucinich, etc in the general election? Do we really have any reason to believe that will work?)

  • And there will be a larger post addressing it.

    Right now, I’m popping in to say

    1) You aren’t seriously backing the right wing claim that the economy recovered IN SPITE of the Recovery act, are you? Even you have to admit that what Obama did caused the economy to recover, and that no actions towards recovery would’ve been made under Mr. “The fundamentals of our economy are strong.”

    2) Maybe, though its just as likely the issue would’ve dragged on in the courts until McCain could’ve packed the Supreme Court with folks who would’ve declared it constitutional. And Grouchy- go tell a gay service member that their right to serve openly is a “boutique wedge-issue” and a “distraction” instead of a positive. That’ll go over real well. I’m guessing you don’t know any gay people at all, let alone gay service members.

    3) You’re joking, right? They’d just follow the 9/11 script over again to get a war with Iran. It worked so well the first time, after all.

  • Crap, forgot part of a sentence, that’s what I get for being in a hurry. “Even you have to admit that what Obama did halted the slide and started a recovery even if it didn’t go far enough down that road or last long enough”.

Comments are closed.