"We're too great a nation to allow the evil-doers to affect our soul and our spirit." -- G.W. BushProgressives (myself included) invariably bemoan the lack of a legitimate presidential candidate that mirrors our values. We pine for an Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders but when the primary smoke clears, we are generally left with the Establishment Candidate. We are then confronted with the unpalatable choice of abstaining altogether, throwing our vote away on a principled but purely symbolic third-party candidate or voting for the Democratic nominee as the lesser of two evils. With the exception of my first presidential election in 1980, when I voted for John Anderson instead of Jimmy Carter, I have invariably gone with the third option -- voting for the decidedly lesser evil. In 2016, this will be the only option.
The Ralph Nader Debacle of 2000, that ushered in George W. Bush, should have buried once and for all the cynical, self-defeating argument that there is no substantive difference between the two parties. Think about what the world would be like if Nader had declined to run in battleground states or his supporters woke up to reality and held their noses while voting for Al Gore. No hanging chads. Perhaps no 9/11. Certainly no Iraq War, no Guantanamo and no torture. An efficient and humane response to Katrina. A liberal majority on the Supreme Court with no Chief Justice Roberts or Justice Alioto. Dick Cheney as a mere footnote to history. I could go on and on. But even if this inconvenient truth has not shamed us into having a more pragmatic view of presidential politics, we only need to look at the current crop of increasingly unhinged GOP candidates to realize that the lesser evil doesn't look so bad when the greater evil becomes ever more evil.
Nevertheless, with the ascension of Hillary Clinton as the presumptive Democratic nominee -- and the candidate who has by far the best chance of defeating any Republican candidate -- there is already a premature disengagement by some progressives who say they are disinclined to support her -- who will no longer resign themselves to voting for the lesser of evils. This is madness.
Now, I've never been a fan of Hillary Clinton. As a Senator she not only voted for one of the worst foreign policy decisions in our nation's history she repeatedly went in front of the cameras to cheerlead in the run up to it. 23 Senators voted against the Iraq Resolution. Clinton was not one of them, and her belated apology was lame. Her coziness with Wall Street, and Goldman Sachs in particular, is deeply troubling and does not augur well for an aggressive approach to rein in the financial industry. The Clinton Foundation appears rampant with conflicts of interest. The incessant scandals -- self-inflicted and manufactured -- are exhausting. And, finally, her husband, is not the man I would choose to have the ear of the next president. When I think of the Clinton Presidency (speaking of the lesser of two evils), I am reminded of his war on drugs, so-called habeas reform, so-called welfare reform, DOMA, and deregulation of the financial industry that helped spur the 2008 economic meltdown. With the singular exception of DOMA, I have never heard Hillary disavow any of these disastrous policies.
On the other hand, one only has to do another brief thought experiment. Just hypothesize what the world would look like if the next president is any one of the dim characters that comprises the Republican clown car and you should be scared shitless into becoming an avid Hillary supporter.
Start with the United States Supreme Court. Given the advanced ages of the justices (Ginsburg is 82, Scalia is 79, Kennedy is 78 and Breyer is 76), the next president will most likely have the opportunity to appoint more than one new justice, thereby impacting the balance of the Court for at least another generation. The difference between Obama's appointees ( Kagan and Sotomayor) and Bush's (Roberts and Alioto) couldn't be more stark. Another Republican appointee would create a rock solid conservative majority that would surely overturn Roe v. Wade, further dismantle Voting Rights, revisit and overturn the Affordable Care Act, dismantle federal regulations on everything from the environment to Wall Street, further limit available remedies for individuals against corporations, allow for greater intrusion of religion into the public sphere, and roll back advances in civil rights and criminal justice.
That alone should be enough to frighten any sentient being into supporting the Democratic nominee. But there is so much more to be afraid of.
Even if some Republicans have finally admitted that climate change really exists, not one of them believes that the government should do anything about it. Imagine four years spent reversing the modest efforts of the Obama Administration in reducing greenhouse gases combined with the dismantling of the EPA, reversal of environmental regulations and encouraging unfettered fossil fuel development.
As for economic priorities, while House and Senate Republicans can't seem to reach immediate consensus over their respective budget plans, their only area of dispute is over how to overcome caps on military spending. There seems to be ready agreement among virtually all Republicans with regard to further tax cuts favoring the wealthy, repeal of the Affordable Care Act, deregulating Wall Street, gutting environmental regulations, making drastic cuts to food stamps, Medicaid and other essential aspects of the safety net. Not even Pell Grants are safe. Republicans' unstated but irrefutable goal, as Paul Krugman summarized, consists of "huge transfers of income from the poor and the working class, who would see severe benefit cuts, to the rich, who would see big tax cuts."
Foreign policy for Republicans has not evolved since Bush-Cheney invaded Iraq. Relying on the same blinkered and unrepentant advisors, it seems to consist mostly of jingoistic saber-rattling, disdain for diplomacy, and the belief that putting "boots on the ground" is the sure-fire solution to defeating terrorism. It is worth pointing out that three potential candidates signed the infamous open letter to Iran in an effort to derail nuclear arms talk, and no other Republican candidate has criticized this irresponsible, if not treasonous, lapse of judgment and protocol.
Progressives don't have to sell out. They can stay pure at the local level. They can -- and should -- work to elect more liberal candidates in Congress which, more than anything else, will help push a moderate president leftward. But when it comes to the presidency, there is no alternative but to rally around the Democratic candidate -- whoever she or he is. It is no longer about choosing the lesser of evils as much as it is defeating the evil-doers.