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Wednesday, January 4, 2012

The Scylla and Charybdis of Voting For Democrats

One of the things I see a lot of on the Left is fighting amongst Progressives over the proper reaction to the perennial selling out and betrayal of liberal principles by Democratic politicians whom we elect to office.  Every two years we mobilize on behalf of some Democrats, help to get ‘em elected and then – at some point during their term – find ourselves yelling, “Curse your sudden but inevitable betrayal!”

It’s like clockwork.

Liberals believe in actual principles and not just in power for power’s sake.  And so very often we are likely to declare that so-and-so has gone too far, that there isn’t a dime’s worth of difference between the Dems and the GOP, that we are going to “sit this election out” to teach those feckless Democrats that they can’t automatically count on liberal support, that if they want us to vote for them they have to cater to us at least as much as they cater to their corporate donors, etc., etc.

And then the inevitable pushback begins.  “No, no,” some other faction will argue (they tend to call themselves 'pragmatists'), “we have to support the Democrats!  Sure, they’re bad but they’re not as bad as the Republicans!  If we sit out the election, then the Republicans win and our country is screwed!”

Personally, I admit to sympathy for both points of view but I fall more naturally into the second camp.  The first two years of Obama’s term saw him bending over backwards to accommodate Republicans, making concession after concession after concession on the stimulus bill, on the budget, on the Affordable Care Act, until a lot of Libs – including me – wondered what the hell happened to the guy who was gonna change “business as usual” in Washington?  So in 2010 a lot of the Democratic base – disappointed with what they perceived to have been a political bait-‘n-switch by Mr. Hope-and-Change – sat out the election.

And for their sins (I personally didn’t sit it out; after Florida, 2000 – never again) we all have been cursed with the worst, most obstructionist, most unresponsive federal legislature since the infamous “Do Nothing Congress” Truman ran against in 1948.  And this during the worst economy since the Great Depression, when effective government intervention is needed more than ever.

But that is what happens when one of the nation’s only two political parties goes bugfuck, batshit insane – the other party knows that all the sane people in the country have no choice but to vote for it, and so level-headed liberals get taken for granted by that party.  This – I know from personal experience – is extremely frustrating, but the bottom line is that our choices are limited and cursing the darkness won’t light a single candle.

* * *

About two months ago I took the time to write to one of my senators, Democrat Kay Hagan.  You can read the entirety of the letter here.  Hagan was elected in 2008 and though I did not actively campaign for her I did donate to her election and I made sure to vote for her the first day of early voting.

But it came to my attention that she is co-sponsoring with John McCain a plan for another overseas corporate tax holiday.  Essentially, she wants to allow multinational corporations to repatriate billions of dollars in as yet untaxed overseas profits and pay only an 8.25% tax on all that money.  Under her plan, these corporations can use these billions for anything that they want – hell! they could just take all of that money and pay it out to their top executives in “performance bonuses.”  (Although, really . . . if you’re going to be paying that money out as “performance bonuses” it all really should be going to your lobbyists.)

A tax holiday like this was done before, in 2004, with disastrous results.  Not only did large corporations who took advantage of this tax holiday fail to pump all that untaxed money back into the economy, they funneled it into their own pockets as bonuses, dividends and stock repurchases.  And, having learned that it pays to do as much business as possible overseas, they then shed as many American jobs as they could, relocated operations to foreign countries, stockpiled cash there, and waited until the US economy was bad enough that they could once again persuade some dopey senator that they needed another “tax holiday” to give them an incentive to repatriate all that foreign lucre so as “to stimulate the economy.”

In North Carolina’s Kay Hagan, they have found that dopey senator.

So I took the time to compose what I (tried) to make a cogent but not combative or shrill letter asking that Sen. Hagan reconsider her position on this.  I pointed out that establishing another tax holiday would do nothing to help the economy or Americans looking for work, but could instead only be considered a giveaway to the corporations and the 1%.  I sent the letter to both her Raleigh and her Washington, DC office.

Well, today I finally got her response and – boy! – did it piss me off.

What she sent me reads like a form letter, something she would send out using her franking perk to let the good citizens of North Carolina know how great a job she is doing on our behalf.  Sure, she discussed the proposed tax holiday, but only as someone who had never bothered to read what I had written beyond – maybe – its subject matter.  She made wild claims about what a good idea a corporate tax holiday is without addressing any of the substantive issues that were my main points.

It was . . . insulting.  More insulting even than if her office hadn’t responded at all.  I didn’t expect to change her mind, but I did expect that – if I heard from her – it would be along the lines of:  Thank you for raising these issues.  I understand your concerns, but I have considered the matter carefully and I do think this is in the best interest of the country. Blah, blah, blah . . .   At least, then, her office would have done me the courtesy of pretending to have at least considered the issues I raised.

But what she sent was something so completely unresponsive that it made clear what I had to say to her just was not even worth the time it would have taken for her staff to pretend to care.  When I read her letter the message I took away from it was:  I recognize you are a constituent, and one of my obligations when you actually take the time to write me is to acknowledge you.  There.  I’ve acknowledged you.  You now have a piece of senate stationary with your name on it, citizen.  Now let me get back to the real business of being a senator.

Like I said . . . insulting.  And the first thing I thought after I read it and laughed my bitter little laugh is, “Well, she’s lost my vote.”

* * *

But the sad truth is that probably isn’t even the case.

Hagan won’t be up for re-election until 2014 and unless something changes drastically between now and then, if she is the Democratic nominee I’m gonna be voting for her.  I’ll be voting for her even if I personally think the Republican’s policies are more in line with my own (fat chance of that happening, but I figured I’d acknowledge that anything’s possible).  And that’s because the way our political system works now, a vote for a sane Republican (hypothetically speaking) is the same thing as a vote for Mitch McConnell or Eric Cantor.  If elected to office, sane Republicans won’t be able to set the agenda; that’ll be set by their insane leadership.

For the same reason, not voting for a Democrat is the same thing as voting for the crazy Republican leadership too.  The GOP almost always gets its base out; the GOP runs on its base.  The GOP has figured out that undecided voters are really low-information voters who are easily convinced to vote for people who sound “confident,” and that when the GOP is addressing its base it sounds all kinds of confident.  (Also batshit insane, but low-information voters don’t know enough to recognize the insanity; they respond instead to body language and the timbre of the voice, like dogs.)

So I figure if I sit the vote out because I don’t like Hagan’s policies, or because I think she’s a lousy politician, or just because I feel personally insulted by her, then at the end of the day I am just going to end up feeling responsible for whatever complete reaming the resulting Republican majority pulls on the American public after her opponent takes that seat away from her.

Understand . . . it absolutely galls me that this is the case, but it is nevertheless true. 

I’ll tell you what though.  Between Hagan’s shameless toadying to the multinationals and to the 1% with this brazen tax holiday giveaway, and the sheer indifference exhibited by her staff’s treatment of her constituents . . . I’d primary the shit out of her.

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