On the Fatal Synergy of ‘lesser of two evils’ Voting

A common refrain from liberals and some leftists during a Presidential election cycle is that even if we don’t like the Democratic candidate for President we should vote for that candidate because he (or in the present case, she) is the lesser of two evils when compared to the Republican candidate. What I’m not sure has occurred to liberals and leftists who think this is that conservatives make precisely the same argument to their peers. In 2012 I listened in on a conversation where a co-worker of mine was arguing vehemently in favor of voting for Mitt Romney, in spite of the fact that no one listening, including the person making the argument, liked Romney. My co-worker asserted that Romney was the lesser of two evils when compared to President Obama.

That last statement will undoubtedly sound preposterous to any liberal. This represents a failure on the part of liberals and leftists to imagine that the arguments we use to support voting for a Democratic candidate are often identical (excepting ideological components) to the arguments conservatives make to support a Republican candidate.

As the Republican party has shifted further right over the past few decades, the Democratic party has always been able to make this lesser of two evils claim even while the Democratic party itself shifts to the right.

By the same token, the Republican party can always represent the Democratic party to their constituents as being too left-leaning even when the Republicans abandon ideological space which is subsequently occupied by the Democrats. How else does one explain Republicans attacking Democrats as ‘socialist’ when the Democratic party’s current platform may be reasonably described as Reagan-era Republican…

This is the fatal synergy of lesser of two evils voting. Regardless of one’s party affiliation, the strategy of painting the other party’s candidate as worse that your own party’s poor candidate keeps everyone trapped in a two-party system that effectively functions as two sides of a single party, trading power across a narrowing ideological space that consistently moves to the right.


I’m neither a statistician nor a psychologist, but something I find consistently troubling about the lesser of two evils mindset in voting is that it both seems to greatly overemphasize the value of a single person’s vote while at the same time reinforcing the perceived necessity of playing on the winning team.

It seems to me that, statistically-speaking, one individual vote is entirely inconsequential on any scale much larger than that of a town. Votes are meaningful only in aggregate. The lesser of two evils mindset will always propose that votes should go to one of the two major parties, but consider, as Dr. Jill Stein has, what could be achieved if an alternative voting bloc could be formed.

Dr. Stein has just described one possible version of the winning team. Pity so few can imagine playing on it.


Perhaps the most fundamental thing to recognize in our current election cycle is that Donald Trump’s candidacy didn’t not rise out of a vacuum. Decades worth of conditions which have been contributed to, in part, by lesser of two evils voting, have brought us to a point in time where a classic Republican disguised as a Democrat (Hillary Clinton) is going to run for President against a fascist disguised as a Republican (Trump) who will be able to run to the left of the Democratic candidate on specific issues (like favorability toward the Trans-Pacific Partnership) while simultaneously proposing some of the most openly racist policies presently imaginable. Most think a Trump win will be horrific, as it’s likely to be. It’s not, however, unreasonable to be concerned about the different set of horrors we will likely experience should a) Clinton become President, and b) another more brazen fascist come along to challenge Clinton in 2020. The thread starting with the tweet below proposes a dire scenario.

If we’re really going to change the direction of politics in the US, and assuming the ballot box is the place to do it, we need to drop the lesser of two evils voting method, abandon the two-party duopoly and find the alternatives that best speak to our principles and beliefs, whatever they may be.

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Reflecting on Pride Philosophy and Movements in the #BlackLivesMatter Era

A little over two decades ago, some time after having taken some philosophy courses at Mt. Hood Community College, (from an instructor who referred to himself on handouts as Spade Cooley, for reasons which remain a mystery) I distilled some of what I’d learned from Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics into this statement: “Don’t be proud of who you are; be proud of what you do.” A variant upon this theme turned up in pop culture when Christian Bale’s Batman said, in Batman Begins, “It’s not who I am on the inside, but what I do that defines me.”

In the early 2000’s I found myself in a deep conversation with a new (at the time) friend of mine who happens to be gay. I spoke about my previously mentioned philosophical distillation and asked him how it might relate to the gay pride movement. I can’t recall his exact words, (and wish I could) but he countered my assertion that pride in an inherent property (in this case, being gay) didn’t make sense by noting, rather brilliantly, that pride movements develop out of persecution.

What this seems to boil down to (if you’ll forgive a distillation metaphor) is that taking pride in an inherent property makes sense when the purpose of feeling that pride is to elevate one’s self and the group one is in to a state of parity, both in terms of self-esteem and esteem in the broader community, with the privileged majority.

It will come as no surprise then, that #BlackLivesMatter may be easily understood as a (profoundly necessary) pride movement.

In a much more recent conversation, a different friend of mine asserted that the statement, “Black lives matter,” is inherently racist. I didn’t argue the point out of a desire to avoid our conversation becoming heated, but the wrongness of what my friend said is plain to me. Hari Kondabolu puts it most succinctly:

Or there’s this longer, more metaphorical explanation of what “Black lives matter” does and doesn’t mean.

Of course, there are full-on racists out there who will assert nonsense like #BlueLivesMatter and #WhiteLivesMatter. I think a false sense of persecution must be at least partly a driver for such vile absurdity.

When I reflect once more upon my original statement concerning pride, it occurs to me I thought of it largely in a personal context. I’ve never felt any pride over being white, male, heterosexual, American, or for any other inherent or inherited property of my being. It always struck me as silly. (Almost as silly as that shitpile of a song by Lee Greenwood, which is apparently achieving renewed popularity.) I’ve come over the years to recognize that when others express pride over related sorts of things, like Blackness, homosexuality, alternative gender identity, ethnicity, religious affiliation, etc., it’s not silly at all. It’s vital in the struggle for survival and equality in a nation whose privileged majority has little to be proud of in its ongoing failure to live up to the ideals we claim to hold dear.

I thought I might dedicate this post to Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, but I don’t think this post is the right way to honor their memories (or those of Tamir, Sandra, Michael, and a host of others). I would rather dedicate this post and other, better future efforts, to all the names I don’t know and hope never to see in the form of a hashtag. We can best honor the dead by working to achieve justice for the living.