The Choice, As If It Matters

Maine’s presidential primary is about a month away. If she’s still in the race by then, which seems reasonably likely, I’m going to be voting for Elizabeth Warren.

The first thing that needs to be said is that in this disastrous political moment, the conventional process of selecting a candidate is barely relevant. This post from the always worthwhile blog Lawyers, Guns & Money explains why:

This election is incredibly important because it’s about stemming the tide of ethno-nationalism and fascism. Winning the presidency is absolutely critical to that in all sorts of ways (controlling the executive branch, foreign policy, judicial appointments etc.)

But it’s not about enacting anything even vaguely resembling a progressive political agenda, because in the short term that can’t happen. It’s about triage.

An awful lot of digital ink has been spilled, and a fair amount of ill will generated, about minute differences in reform plans that will never be enacted, and about the perceived failures of certain candidates to adjust to modern realities. That’s not entirely a bad thing: lively debate over a long-term vision can increase everyone’s political engagement. But as we transition into the voting phase of what seems likely to be a long and bitterly-contested primary, it’s vital to remember that the next Democratic president’s vision is barely going to be relevant to what he or she achieves in office, because other factors limit the range of possible outcomes much more decisively. Don’t misunderstand me: it’s very exciting that economic injustice has entered the Democratic discourse on a more meaningful level than at any other time in the last 40 years or so. But that’s a beginning, and an opportunity; it’s not a sign that change is immediately achievable. The national discourse hasn’t shifted anywhere near that much, and the Republican discourse continues to slide to the right.

I will cheerfully vote for any of the Democrats who has a meaningful chance of winning the nomination, and anyone supporting any of those Democrats should easily be able to make the same pledge. The risk is always that passion for a particular candidate will lead to overinflated rhetoric about how the alternatives wouldn’t be any better than Trump, and that over-engagement in the dramas of the moment will turn that rhetoric into a sincere, deeply-held, but indefensible belief. No one running for President right now is anywhere near as corrupt, authoritarian, and bigoted as Trump. Don’t fall into the trap of taking Trump’s awfulness for granted because he’s a Republican and Republicans are generally awful; absolute rather than relative standards are what matter.

I plan to vote for Elizabeth Warren because I think she strikes the best balance between desiring bold change and recognizing that bold change is complicated. She seems to me to be the best suited to pursue as aggressive an agenda as possible, without wasting time on misguided appeals to bygone bipartisanship or ill-fated attempts to change politicians’ behavior by rallying the general public. It’s obvious that she’s engaged in the details of the reforms she proposes, which is an enormous plus, given that indifference to, if not outright contempt for, detail has been the hallmark of the terrible Republican presidencies of the last four decades. And the vision she emphasizes is more comprehensive than that of her primary opponents: it’s not just reversing Trumpism, it’s not just tackling economic injustice, it’s not just about what some dismiss as “social issues” or (dog whistle alert) “identity politics.” It’s all of the above.

You can probably discern from the above some of the reasons I prefer Warren to Sanders, Biden, and Buttigieg (who are listed there, for whatever its worth, in preference order from greatest to least). I don’t see much value in going in-depth on my issues with them. They’re not perfect, but neither is Warren, and again, given the current political context, the odds that any of the four would be a significantly better or worse president than the others are minimal. They’re all products of the only normal political party and political ideology in the modern U.S. The current president is not. And when November rolls around, that’s the only thing that’s going to matter.

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