Voting for Obama with No Illusions

Four reasons to keep Obama in the White House and Romney out.

Achy Obejas

Barack Obama is less than perfect, but more than the lesser of two evils. (Photo via Getty Images)

Ah, the weeks before the General Election: the season of panic when presidential campaigns hit their fever pitch, and the Left is at its most tortured. To vote or not to vote for the Democratic candidate, that is the question.

But here’s the bottom line: We don’t have a better choice. Realistically, right now, this is it: Obama or Romney.

But frankly, for me, the answer this time is simple and straightforward: Yes.

Sure, I wish Barack Obama had used the historic opportunity of a congressional majority in his first two years as president to pass a healthcare plan with a genuine public option. And yes, I’m plenty disgusted with the drone attacks, with the refusal to genuinely go after Wall Street, with the expansion of executive powers, with the war without end in Afghanistan. And don’t—don’t—get me started on the broken promises about immigration.

But I’ll wait until Obama has secured a second term before I work myself up.

It’s not that I don’t think the two-party system is corrupt — I do. It’s not that I think Obama can’t be bought. I’m sure he can (and I bet that having one of every six of his top bundlers be queer probably had a lot to do with his marriage-equality evolution). It’s not even that I don’t think we should scrap most of the way government is run and start anew. I wish we could.

And that’s just it: I wish we had a better candidate for president. In fact, I find it astonishing that Obama and Mitt Romney are what the two major parties have come down to.

But here’s the bottom line: We don’t have a better choice. Realistically, right now, this is it: Obama or Romney.

The others? I find myself aligned with the Green Party’s Jill Stein in every one of those Internet who-should-you-vote-for” tests. I know Justice Party vice-presidential candidate Luis Rodriguez is brilliant. And I’m embarrassed when I find myself liking much of Roseanne Barr and Cindy Sheehan’s platform for the Peace and Freedom Party.

But even setting aside the colossal odds against any of this year’s third-party candidates winning, what would happen if they won? Not a one of these folks has the structural support to make the kind of changes that they actually espouse. And not a one of them will garner enough votes this election to merit much attention — even in progressive media.

Honestly, I wish the money and energy going into the myriad left-of-center third-party presidential efforts were going instead to local races — a school board or city council seat or a state rep or municipal judge — to build from the bottom up a political structure that can someday sustain a realistic progressive presidential campaign.

I’ve voted third party plenty but only once in the presidentials, when I opted for Barry Commoner in 1980. We got Ronald Reagan instead, and whenever anyone tells me the two major parties are interchangeable, I just imagine what the world would be like if Jimmy Carter had won and Reagan had ridden off into the California sunset.

The fact is that, in spite of all I’ve just written, I actually find reasons — real, honest reasons — to vote for Obama this time around. 

First, he’s the only one standing between us and a bitter, extremist, white-conservative agenda that would undermine civil rights, healthcare and environmental progress, destroy our economy (again), and leave us begging for mercy after a single Romney term.

Second, whatever its failings, the Affordable Care Act is a legacy bill, not just historically important, but a sea change in healthcare for lower-income Americans. It doesn’t make care accessible to all, but to a hell of a lot more than ever before. I’d rather spend the next few years arguing to expand it than having to start from scratch.

Third, having the option to be a legal queer in marriage or the army — regardless of the merits of either institution — is better than not having that option.

Lastly, a good number of the folks who oppose Obama do it not out of opposition to his policies or support for other ideas, but because they still can’t stomach a black man in the White House. If those people win — if they boot Obama out of racist hatred — every single one of us will feel the consequences of their retrograde empowerment.

Achy Obejas, a Havana-born member of the In These Times Board of Editors, is the author of Ruins (Akashic 2009, akashic​books​.com) and Aguas & Otros Cuentos (Editorial Letras Cubanas, 2009). A former staff writer for the Chicago Tribune, she is also the translator, into Spanish, of Junot Diaz’s Pulitzer Prize-winning The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (Riverhead 2008). She is currently the Distinguished Visiting Writer at Mills College, Oakland, Calif.
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