Monday, November 03, 2008

The Folly of the "Lesser Evil" Mentality

Considering Barack Obama to be the lesser of two evils presents moral and practical conundrum

As the 2008 US federal election draws to a close, many American voters are finding themselves effectively sandwiched between their distaste for the twin elite coalitions in the United States -- the Democrat and Republican parties -- and their seeming inability to effect change through a third party.

Actor Danny Glover believes he has the answer for the conundrum faced by these voters.

A few days ago, Glover appeared on the Real News Network, where he proclaimed "if we are going to have some sort of impact on this Democracy, I think we're going to have to accept the fact that we're going to have to deal with the lesser of two evils, and I consider Barack Obama to be the lesser of two evils."

Choosing the lesser of two evils may seem like a reasonable notion. But there is a problem with it: at the end of the day, one is still left with evil.

It's widely accepted that the Democrat and Republican parties are so institutionalized in the United States that no third party could ever dream of being fully competitive. Due to the firmly entrenched partisanship of Democrats and Republicans and the literally thousands of elected positions available to be contested, third parties rarely survive long enough to actually win power.

The "lesser evil" mentality essentially tells us that both the Democrat and Republican parties are evil -- the Democrats only nominally less evil than the Republicans. As such, some third party would have to be imagined to be "good". Yet that party, seemingly, cannot compete.

One has to wonder about the moral standing of a society that only presents its voters with two realistic options: between evil and evil.

Those who -- like Danny Glover -- are deciding to support Barack Obama only because he's the "lesser of two evils" are demonstrating not only a significant lack of faith in their country, but also a significant lack of faith in their ability to change it.

Which is actually quite ironic that these individuals would choose to anoint the leader who has campaigned on change -- change they don't truly believe is possible -- as this "lesser of two evils".

Certainly, many progressive-minded Americans are fearful that voting for a third party would only result in another Republican government. Many Democrats continue to blame Ralph Nader and his Green party for both terms of the George W Bush Presidency.

But to brand John McCain as the greater of two evils is rather confusing. John McCain's record is well known. Not only has he served his country honourably, including being imprisoned by North Vietnam during the Vietnam War. Beyond that, he spent the last eight years as every Democrat's favourite Republican. Before that, he served honourably as an American member of Congress, and was integral to the US effort to normalize relations between the United States and Vietnam. His work on campaign finance reform has further democratized American politics, and certainly wasn't done out of self-interest: fundraising has never been a strength of McCain's campaign.

Furthermore, McCain has often reached out to Democrats in order to accomplish his goals.

Yet the McCain that has often come across during the Presidential Election has, all too often, been a fictional John McCain. There has been John McCain the traitor, John McCain the racist, and numerous other dishonest caricatures promoted by various members of the "progressive" left.

One supposes the matter is actually very simple: if Barack Obama is to be the "lesser of two evils", then there must be a greater evil to contrast him against. If no such evil is actually present, that evil must be invented.

The invention of such evil puts an indelible twist on the moral nature of the political contest. It demands that, even if policy differences aren't sufficient to demonstrate one candidate's superiority over the other, morality must be invoked instead. However, if the moral failings of the candidate whom it is insisted is more evil, fiction most be invoked in order to make that argument.

Certainly McCain isn't the only candidate to whom fiction has been applied in order to moralize this election. There has been Barack Obama the secret Muslim, Barack Obama the terrorist, and countless other fictions.

The moralizing -- and subsequent fictionalizing -- of the American Presidential contest is very unfortunate indeed. It means that many thousands -- if not millions -- of Americans will be making their voting decision based not on fact, but on fantasy.

Then, there is also the fact that this has been done not in the name of uniting the American people, but dividing them. And with potentially less than three percent separating McCain and Obama (according to the margin of error of most polls) there is no question that this election will produce an American population as divided as ever before.

But don't ask Danny Glover about any of this. So far as being a political visionary goes, he makes a really good actor.

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