On Obama, Drones, Deportation, Austerity, and the Vote

My last post, about why I voted for Obama-Biden in ’08 and will again, inspired some pretty strong criticism. Since most of the commentary has been off-line, and many points of criticism that deserve air time were raised, I’m taking another stab at this to get more of you in the discussion.

First, I have to admit that it was unfair to equate resistance to voting for the Obama ticket with simple disappointment based in unrealistic expectations.

I know there’s more to the protest against Obama from the left than that – much more. A strategy of countering terror with terror, “secret” drone wars, a record number of deportations, and massive expansion of the national security state, not to mention inaction on mass incarceration, and an austerity agenda are not small matters.

Moreover, the analysis that drives much of the critique from the left is not to be taken lightly. Folks aren’t just disappointed; they are concerned about Obama being, as Glen Ford of Black Agenda Report puts it, “not the lesser of two evils, but the more effective of two evils.”

In some respects, I agree. The combination of Obama’s relative social liberalism and the symbolic significance of his status as the first Black president has the affect of marginalizing critics of the repressive aspects of his agenda, especially among communities of color. And the right’s racist attacks on Obama aren’t helping matters.

And there’s more. Check this Democracy Now! video out for a taste of what’s being debated.

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But, I’m still voting for Obama.

I respect that some of you will not. But I don’t believe that Obama is the “more effective of two evils.”

Here’s why.

First of all, I think that assessment may be based in an under-estimation the evil of the agenda of the other side, and just how effective they may become at institutionalizing it.

For instance, there’s that unaccounted for $2.1 trillion increase in defense spending proposed by Romney. That’s a major expansion of the war budget, and given the Ayn Rand inspired vision of the most insurgent faction of the GOP, my guess is that it won’t all be invested in the traditional military. A Romney-Ryan administration could, I believe, redefine what we mean when we say military industrial complex.

Moreover, that Randian vision I referenced takes the notion of elitism and corporate control of everything to all new levels. I’m pessimistic about the prospect that this brand of evil would inspire more effective opposition.

In place of that hopeful vision, I have the memory of hundreds of families I worked with as a social worker. I will never forget a girl whose father punished her for cutting school by putting her hand on a red hot electric stove element. What will become of people like her and her father, who suffered from mental illness but didn’t have the insurance coverage he needed to have it properly treated, if, say, Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell were to become the Secretary of Health and Human Services?

And, on that subject of cabinet members, consider another Secretary of the Interior like James Watt, a Reagan appointee, who summed up his use-it-up-before-Jesus-returns approach to forest management with the statement, “I do not know how many future generations we can count on before the Lord returns…” Or, consider Mike Huckabee as Director of Homeland Security.

But beyond all my perhaps alarmist fears, there’s another reason I believe that Obama as president is the lesser of two evils. That’s my sense of where the two political parties and candidates fit within the context of other political factions, trends, and movements.

Among them there’s the right wing.

If you think evangelical and white nationalist rightists have revealed their whole agenda with racist anti-immigrant attacks, and campaigns to eliminate reproductive rights and human rights (like the right to be LGBT), you’re under-estimating them. The white nationalist faction has a far more radical racist agenda than “papers please” legislation. And to many of the religious right, Islam must be eradicated to make the world safe for Christianity, and support for Israel is based in the belief that the end times are triggered when Israel completely consumes Palestine.

Neither faction should be in a position to more directly influence federal policy.

And in terms of social trends, one of the most concerning is the one toward libertarianism among Gen Y. This tendency is the flip side of their broad support for same sex marriage rights, among other anti-authoritarian leanings.

The more powerful the libertarian right, the more likely it is that this tendency will become a dominant one among Gen Y. From positions of greater authority, it’s just plain easier to take exotic ideologies and turn them into common sense.

But there’s more.

There’s another reason I fear the GOP. That’s the disorganized state of the U.S. left which has yet to formulate a popular ideological alternative to either the cultural right’s traditional values nor to mainstream neo-liberalism. Leftists need to build a broader base and develop a popular language of protest, and one that doesn’t sideline race with a purely class based approach to justice. Until we do, I fear that allowing the GOP to take control will polarize the country around issues on which there are still too few on our side.

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By Scot Nakagawa

Scot Nakagawa is a political strategist and writer who has spent more than four decades exploring questions of structural racism, white supremacy, and social justice. Scot’s primary work has been in the fight against authoritarianism, white nationalism, and Christian nationalism. Currently, Scot is co-lead of the 22nd Century Initiative, a project to build the field of resistance to authoritarianism in the U.S.

Scot is a past Alston/Bannerman Fellow, an Open Society Foundations Fellow, and a recipient of the Association of Asian American Studies Community Leader Award. His writings have been included in Race, Gender, and Class in the United States: An Integrated Study, 9th Edition,  and Killing Trayvons: An Anthology of American Violence.

Scot's political essays, briefings, and other educational media can be found at his newsletter, We Fight the Right at He is a sought after public speaker and educator who provides consultation on campaign and communications strategy, and fundraising.

8 replies on “On Obama, Drones, Deportation, Austerity, and the Vote”

I voted for Obama in 08, and might vote for him again. An election is an election, and while I’d rather see obama win, I don’t think it’s a big deal for the left to expend energy getting one elected over the other. My life I know will be worse with Romney on office than Obama. I know this bc of what I do for a living. But how do you quantify evil and say one is worse than the other? Congress has a lot of control over domestic issues, far less on foreign policy, where most of obama’s violence is being carried out. Sure – Obama has been great on some domestic issues, esp. Lgbt issues. He’s been bad on some others. But how would you explain to the Pakistani kid who lost his parents in a drone attack that no, really this guy is less evil than the other guy because he’s cutting less of health spending over there in the US?

I don’t believe that Obama is evil. I don’t believe that Romney is evil. I believe that a series of systems and structures that reinforce right wing fascism and neoliberal multiculturalism are evil. One might be more evil than the other at different points depending on the circumstance, but the left’s work is to fight injustice everywhere. I am not sure if obama’s election has anything to do with this.

I think my point, which is debatable, is that there’s a difference between fascism and the brand of oppressive foreign policy that is represented by the Obama administration. Fascism is a movement, guided by a singularizing, totalizing ideology of hate. To me, that’s a horse of a different color.

I don’t always agree with Ishmail Reed but I think he’s correct when he asserts that Obama’s job is to save capitalism. But I don’t think we have any choice but to vote for Obama. I’m not sure Romney is even in his right mind.

Voting for Obama is asking for more of the same … voting, yet once again, for continuing the problem rather than trying something else.

I saw your website mentioned by Laura Flanders … reading her own musings after discovering that she is the niece of Alexander Cockburn.

Your views on race are apt and germane. Your views on politics … unhelpful.

I appreciate your complements concerning the posts on race. I’m sorry my other political views aren’t helpful to you – perhaps, in your opinion, to no one. All respected opinions. I often ask myself if doing this is useful, so I’m not offended when others ask that same question.

That’s why I’m putting it out there that this is what I’ll do. I’m not trying to say it is the only, or the absolutely right thing to do. It’s just my choice. I did so hoping to open up a dialogue that allows folks to respond and disagree, present their own, perhaps much stronger analysis, and to really dig into the ideas that are suggested by your comment “trying something else” Even if my own ideas may be, to some, unsophisticated or wrong, I tend to think the debate, which is now happening so marginally, is useful.

So, in that spirit, I wonder if you would mind my asking, what is the “something else” you’re proposing? I mean, I get the community organizing efforts that are going on around me and that I support and participate in; the attempts here and around the world to build alternative structures or engage in various horizontal strategies are also interesting and worth supporting. But it seems that they require political space to be executed. My experience in working with people in Mexico on local economic development, and with colleagues who are working under repressive regimes outside of the U.S. seem to indicate that political space can quickly contract, and that organizing alternatives under a more overtly fascistic regime can become dangerous or impossible. I live with that concern. Is there something else we can do to preserve that space or some other voting alternative (though honestly, that’s the least interesting to me since elections hold so little hope) that you have in mind? I’m totally open to hearing other options. In fact, In fact, I’m hungry, in an intellectual and spiritual sense, for those options.

Thanks for your comment. Much appreciated!

All of these posts are the most rational, helpful I have seen so far. So, thanks. A lot of us here in Mexico don’t think it will make much difference for us who wins, but I have not spoken to a single person–born in the USA or Mexico–who is an Obama apologist, and we are mystified as to why there are so many of those who call themselves progressives but seem to be liberal sheep in wolves clothing. The man betrayed his base and history and there is no explanation good enough. All that said, if I were in the USA I would vote for Obama simply because while there may well be no qualitative difference between him and Romney, there is probably a quantitative difference in the USA and all over the globe in terms of the number of human beings whose lives will be damaged or destroyed in the next four years and beyond.

As someone who is passionate about race and race relations on a much more interpersonal, rather than political level, I am continuing to appreciate the historical and political facts I am able to garner from your posts. I think they help give backbone to the reasons I feel the way I do about race and social justice, and so I thank you again for all that you share here, and for the dialogue you encourage here on Race Files.

I haven’t been able to find a way here to contact you via email to ask this, and so hope I’m not overstepping blog etiquette here, but I have linked from my site, to yours, and am glad to see that already several folks have clicked to your site this morning from mine. If you feel it’s a good fit for you, would you consider linking to mine on your Links section?

Thanks for considering it, and thanks again for all the thoughtful posts.

Wendy Jane

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