by Mia McKenzie
Yesterday, I wrote a post called Michelle Obama Looked Great Last Night! (Oh, By the Way, You Been Took). In it, I used a quote from Malcom X to illuminate the fact that the Obama Administration, and the democratic party in general, owes an incredible debt to the marginalized people who put them in office (particularly black and brown people), and yet, once they got there, they made most of the policies that would improve the lives of those very people their very last priority. Whenever I write anything like this, whenever I criticize President Obama and his administration, it is met with some version of, “Well, who do you propose? Romney? You want Romney as President?” Some people get hella mad.
Of course I don’t want Romney as President. I consider Mitt Romney an evil man, and the idea of a Romney presidency is a nightmare scenario in my mind. A Romney presidency would surely be worse even than the Bush presidency was. Bush took office during “good times” in this country, during low unemployment and a budget surplus. Romney would be coming into office under much more dire circumstances. The state of the economy still has people really afraid. And if history has taught us anything it has taught us that the more afraid people are the easier they are to control. The worst policies are enacted when people are too distracted by fear to notice, or too consumed by fear to see reason. No, a Romney presidency is certainly not what I want.
But the truth is, an Obama presidency is not what I want, either. I believe that war-mongering is just as bad when done by a black Democrat as it is when done by a white Republican. A well-delivered speech by a smart, pretty First Lady on her husband’s behalf doesn’t make up for the deportation of 1.4 million “illegal” immigrants during this administration (that’s 150% as many as Bush, by the way). “New black cool” does not erase the murder of innocent people, including children, by drone strikes in the Middle East. Not for me, it doesn’t. I am amazed that for so many of the people I know, many of whom are smart and good and thoughtful, it somehow does. Somehow, a smile and a new set of promises is all they need.
I need more than that. And yet, I’m told, these are my only choices. I am told that if I don’t vote for Obama, it’s like voting for Romney, which is worse (it’s really not that much worse). Obama may be the (very slightly) lesser of two evils (this from those who agree and are even willing to admit that Obama isn’t a great choice). The thing is, though, I’m sick and tired of having to choose between evil and slightly less evil. And it’s scary to see how content people are with such a “choice”.
It is the insidious evil brilliance of this corrupt system that gives us a “choice” between red and blue and encourages us to fight it out, year after year, decade after decade; that has us debating the merits of blue over red, and screaming at each other over the moral soundness of red over blue, all day every day, in churches and workplaces and at bars with our friends; that has us so passionately defending or attacking red or blue that we never stop and ask, What about yellow? What about purple? What about green with orange polka-dots?; that makes us forget (because it is in the best interest of both red and blue that we do forget) that this is really not much of a choice at all.
You want a shit sandwich or a crap-kebab? Choose! And remember that if you don’t choose a shit sandwich, then that’s just as good as choosing a crap-kebab. Is that what you want??!
This is how the two-party system is set up. It’s a trap and we’re stuck in it. If we don’t vote for Obama, we’ll get Romney, and it will be bad. If we vote for Obama, we’ll get Obama, and it will be bad. Maybe not quite as bad on the surface. Which, I guess, is enough for a lot of people, especially those who don’t look beneath the surface.
I wonder what it would be like to have a President who was more than not quite as bad on the surface. More than just the very slightly better of two extremely shitty options. I wonder what it would be like to feel genuine, critically-sound, eyes-wide-open approval of my country’s President and his or her or their practices. I can’t even imagine that, let alone what it would be like to have a President who was my ideal, my dream of a leader. If I were to fantasize about such a person, I might imagine this:
A person who wouldn’t drop bombs on helpless brown children under the guise of “fighting terror”, when in fact there are few things more terror-inducing than dropping bombs on children.
A person who wouldn’t ignore the specific reality of black poverty and unemployment because, politically, he can’t appear to care too much about black people (ironically, the same black people who support him no matter what).
A person who wouldn’t redefine war as being defined by the extent of U.S. casualties, no matter how many thousands of foreigners are killed.
A person who, instead of attending $10,000-a-plate dinners with wealthy, white, powerful gays where he pledges personal support for their right to marry each other, would know and say out loud the names of people like Cece McDonald and Brandi Martell.
Sigh. If only.
But no. My “choices” are Obama and Romney. Blue and red. And maybe some third-party candidate who doesn’t even have a shot. And if I don’t vote for Obama, if I let the fact that I am physically sickened by the idea of casting a vote for someone who perpetuates so much violence in the world deter me from casting that vote, then I am wrong because I “might as well be voting for Romney”.
Something is very, very wrong here.
I am tired, too, of the idea that unless I have a solution for these extremely complicated problems that I should stop “complaining”. That’s an argument of the oppressor. I’m not a political policy scholar. That doesn’t mean I don’t have a right to identify the wrong I see in the political system, and in the world around me, and to express my feelings about it.
That said, here’s what I think we should be doing: dismantling the two-party system.
John Adams said of the two-party system:
“There is nothing which I dread so much as a division of the republic into two great parties, each arranged under its leader, and concerting measures in opposition to each other. This, in my humble apprehension, is to be dreaded as the greatest political evil under our Constitution.”
Now, he and I disagree on what, precisely, should have been dreaded as the greatest political evil under our Constitution. But still. His point is otherwise valid.
At the risk of sounding overly-intellectual, the two-party system is uber yucky. And, honestly, I don’t know any way to change it that doesn’t involve many years of serious political turmoil. What I do know is that the alternative to that is a system that continues to fail us, in perpetuity, forever and ever, a system in which we never get free of poverty and inequality and corporate personhood and the control of women’s bodies, in which we are still fighting these things twenty and thirty and forty years from now (if we don’t blow each other up or get eaten by zombies before then), and still demanding of each other that we cast a vote for the slightly less awful candidate who will do slightly less awful things in the world. The kind of change that is needed (desperately) to prevent this is a change that it would take a long time to affect, but we have to start in order to ever get there.
I think we have to start by changing our thinking around the “lesser of two evils” approach and by writing and talking about this much, much more. It’s unfortunate that these conversations only ever come up in election years, when people are so afraid of the “greater of two evils” ending up in the White House that they don’t even want to have this discussion. Because it needs to be had.
We need to, at the very least, not criticize people who dare to suggest that they don’t feel good about voting for either candidate. The reasons for such hesitation are good and sound and should be understandable to anyone who takes the time to educate themselves on the policies and practices of these two political parties, which are incredibly similar and in many cases incredibly scary. It makes sense for someone to not want to vote for either of these dudes, it really does. So instead of knee-jerk reactions, how about some careful thought and consideration of this issue? Because twenty-five years from now, when it’s Willow Palin vs. Tavis Smiley, Jr., with no alternative in sight, we’re gonna be salty as hell.
*Mia McKenzie dreams of a world without Presidents, but that world isn’t here yet.
Mia McKenzie is a writer and a smart, scrappy Philadelphian with a deep love of vegan pomegranate ice cream and fake fur collars. She is a black feminist and a freaking queer, facts that are often reflected in her writings, which have won her some awards and grants, such as the Astraea Foundation’s Writers Fund Award and the Leeway Foundation’s Transformation Award. She has a novel debuting in the fall and has a short story forthcoming in The Kenyon Review. Her work has been published at Jezebel.com, and recommended by The Root, Colorlines, Feministing, Angry Asian Man, and Crunk Feminist Collective. She is a nerd, and the creator of Black Girl Dangerous, a revolutionary blog.
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