Undecided voters are a frustrating part of the American electorate. They represent only 7-10% of the electorate, yet they have inordinate influence. Polls have shown that the vast majority of the country has had its mind made up for months, and among those people, they’ve firmly stood by their choice. So all of the ads, the debates, the campaigning, and the rest of the circus that is election season is a show for a small number of Americans. Many experts have profiled the undecided voter. Aside from being more likely to be female, unmarried, younger, less educated, and in a lower income job, they have been described as low information voters. Ezra Klein magnanimously steers away from calling them ignorant by explaining that they are simply people generally disinterested in politics. As he says, he can’t tell you much about what is going on in baseball, because he has little interest in it. Likewise, the undecided voter is frequently a person who just doesn’t pay attention to politics until the last minute, because it just isn’t something they care that much about. For those of us who consider political issues to be matters of life and death, it is difficult to understand such nonchalant attitudes. One wonders why they bother to vote at all, throwing their uninformed vote into the mix at the last minute.
However, it turns out that some portion of undecided voters fall into another category, or at least they do according to David Sirota. In this week’s column, “In Defense of the Undecided Voter,” Sirota presents the argument that there are well-informed liberals across the country still undecided about whether to support Obama or vote for a third party candidate, and he even counts himself among them. Sirota lives in the hotly contested swing state of Colorado. Spend any time on the Internet conversing with progressives from across the country, including in swing states, and it won’t take long to realize that he is definitely not alone. There are left wing individuals still contemplating whether to support Obama, many of them already opting to vote third party.
Sirota makes the case for himself and his brethren as follows: “There are far more similarities between the candidates [Romney and Obama] than differences. They both support entitlement cuts, corporate tax cuts, the Drug War, expanded fossil fuel drilling, privatizing education, warrantless surveillance, extra-judicial assassinations, drone warfare, increased military spending and continued foreign interventions.” That is a fairly good summary of the critiques the left wing has of our current president, and they are legitimate issues, issues best addressed after the election has been won by the left wing. What doesn’t make sense is to claim that Romney and Obama are more similar than different. What doesn’t make sense is to cast a protest vote that will never amount to anything, never make an iota of difference, and effectively throw support behind one of the most radically far right tickets we’ve seen offered up by Republicans since Reagan started their rightward trajectory.
A majority of the most recalcitrant ideologues are right wing conservatives. Hopefully, most liberals don’t waste their time on them, effectively cutting off conversations with what can only be described as right wing nut jobs. But what do you do when you find more and more of your time is spent arguing with fellow liberals? What do you do when you have progressives giving you diatribes about how you are a traitor to the cause for supporting Obama? These individuals seem to have no capacity to envision what a Romney administration would look like. Romney’s character alone is so abhorrent, the details should convince any liberal he is worth stopping. There are, in fact, tangible differences between Romney and Obama in their approaches to the social safety net such as privatization for Social Security, vouchers for Medicare, and block grants for Medicaid, and repeal of Obamacare (though it’s not single payer, it is making significant steps forward for health care). With their policies on these four programs alone, Romney/Ryan will coldly lay waste to the lives of millions of people. They have very different plans for the individual tax code and Obama’s corporate tax plan is designed to discourage outsourcing of jobs, whereas Romney’s would simply be increased handouts to corporations.
It isn’t just Romney as commander-in-chief and Ryan by his side, which is enough of a nightmare. Like any other president, he will select a cabinet to run everything from the State Department and the Department of Education to the Department of Homeland Security and Justice Department. The Republicans who lose this round of elections will be ready and waiting for their appointments. If we could ever be so lucky as to finally be rid of Michele Bachmann as a Representative, there’s nothing to prevent Romney from posting her as Secretary of Agriculture. Does he have a position in mind for John Sununu? He would be almost certainly nominating Supreme Court justices to an already right wing court. His policies would be implemented for federal workers across the nation. His neoconservative advisors sit ready to bring back not Bush, but more ominously Cheney. No difference between Romney and Obama? Which one is proposing a massive increase in defense spending? The government contracts to far right cronies would be free-flowing again. All of the advances made for gay rights eliminated. Women’s rights decimated. Programs for the poor would be trashed, and not just the ones that everyone thinks about. There are hundreds of lower profile government programs for the poor such as Upward Bound, WIC, and energy assistance that have little political support and which could be cut quickly.
For decades, the many liberals seem to have had the fantasy of an American awakening. They advocate letting the right wing win so that Americans “learn their lesson.” It seems that many liberals believe that if we become right wing enough, the country will suddenly “snap out of it” and swing significantly back away from its ever more conservative path. Instead, Republicans have been able push this rightward shift in the Overton window. Many liberals claim that it is liberals who are responsible for this rightward shift, because they support Democrats who adopt conservative positions, but this is a blatant reversal of cause and effect. Democrats have taken more conservative positions over time, but that’s because they have been forced by political currents to follow the tide. This has occurred primarily because the right wing has been powerfully organized for decades, having built extensive infrastructure, such as a media empire, throughout the country to support their movement.
Left wing extremists who constantly berate liberals they perceive as voting for “the lesser of two evils” will argue the Democratic Party itself isn’t worth investing in. They want to scrap the two-party system while neglecting its constitutional origins and deeply American structure. They advocate third-party solutions that have no chance of ever coming to fruition. Rather than organizing and trying to make reforms to the party that represents the Left, they prefer to start from scratch with an American public that isn’t going to follow them. A ragtag group of left wing activists trying to overthrow the way the American system works is not going to become a viable political movement.
Two of the most progressive activists in the country have weighed in on this debate. Daniel Ellsberg and Noam Chomsky have both been vocal in their criticisms of the president from a liberal perspective. However, both of them have suggested that liberals in swing states ought to vote for Obama, but if they live in a state with a more certain outcome, to vote their third party protest vote. These men are wise and, with any luck, well-respected enough in left-wing circles that people will follow their lead. Hopefully, those on the left wing who are still “undecided” will realize that there is a world of difference between Romney and Obama and make the right choice, just as Naderites must now realize there was between Bush and Gore.
Deborah is a former social work professor who taught social policy, mental health policy, and human diversity. Proud to be called liberal, she happily pays her taxes after being raised in a home that needed long-term welfare. Contrary to the opinion of many, she is living proof that government investment in children leads them out of poverty having received services from Head Start to Pell Grants. Deborah works with low-income, first generation, and disabled college students who are at high-risk for dropping out of college in a program designed to help them graduate. She lives with her husband, stepson, and an aging cat.