Posted by: JanF | March 30, 2015

Democrats can’t afford to lose the presidency.

I sat down at my keyboard this morning ready to write about the 2016 presidential election, this time to weigh in on the Democratic Party’s nominating contest. I had read a troubling interview, from the Sunday morning talk shows, given by one of the not-quite-announced Democratic candidates and it reminded me of how important it is to keep our eye on the big picture.

After scanning my news feed, I found I didn’t have to start from scratch because Michael Tomasky, in an article in the 150th Anniversary Edition of The Nation, had already made many of my points for me. His piece, snarkily titled “Lesser-Evilism We Can Believe In” included a sub-heading that asks this important question: “Should we put government in the hands of a party determined to subvert it, or a party — however flawed — that believes it still has a role to play in securing the common good?”

(p.s. I chose the latter)

Mr. Tomasky begins with a story from his time working for a Democratic legislator during the Reagan Administration, specifically trying to find someone in the Labor Department who was willing to enforce government regulations. Then he pivoted to 2016:

When we on the broad liberal-left have one of our quadrennial debates about whether to support the sellout Democratic presidential nominee or cast a “strategic” vote of protest for a Green or other third-party candidate, the debate is almost entirely about the personal and political merits and demerits of the two individuals. And the two usual tentpoles of the conversation are that the putative nominee is a timorous corporate hack who won’t come anywhere near bringing about the needed fundamental change, and that, yes, the nominee may well be that, but he or she is in numerous ways far better than the Republican alternative and thus the “lesser of two evils,” in the argot. […]

But the right way to think about one’s vote for president is to think about the presidency not as a person, but as a thing—a huge, sprawling, complex, cumbrous, many-tentacled thing. The executive branch is … thousands of people doing thousands of things: big things, like setting Middle East policy, and small things, like making sure a few painters in central West Virginia are getting a fair wage for federal contract work.

(Bolding mine)

Why is this so important to keep front and center? Because one party does not believe in the value of government and one party does. And because we can’t afford to waste a vote in protest, or really, waste our time bemoaning a lack of perfect alignment with our nominee:

When you think of the presidency in these terms (thousands of people making many thousands of decisions, across all federal agencies and departments), Hillary Clinton’s various and real ideological impurities become less central, and the idea that the executive branch will be staffed either by people who think they ought to carry out the mission of the agency they work for, or by people who are scheming to subvert that mission, becomes pivotal. And this is why I say that no matter who the candidate is—no matter how deeply in hock to Wall Street, no matter how tepid her (ahem) inequality platform—the responsible person of the left must vote for the Democrat. Not strategically, but on principle. And not sometimes, or only in the states where it might truly matter. Everywhere, and every time.

That bears repeating:

the responsible person of the left must vote for the Democrat … Everywhere, and every time.

One theme often heard from the purity-at-all-costs wing of the Democratic Party is the scenario where the party nominates the purest candidate, that candidate goes down in flames in the general election, the Republicans take over and destroy all that we hold dear, and then the masses clamor for the left to save them. What actually happens when the Republicans are put in charge (see Bush, George W.) is that they drag us into foreign wars of choice, the economy is destroyed for all but the .01%, people die and/or lose their homes and life savings … and the next Democratic president has to spend all of his political capitol keeping the country from falling into a deep depression and extricating our country from the foreign wars.

Back to the present. Tomasky doesn’t think we should give up on nudging our party to the left. Strong liberal ideas and intelligent men and women developing good government programs to make people’s lives better are the bedrock of our party. He simply thinks that we should use other methods to get our point across:

Build a labor movement. Elect more Sherrod Browns, where possible. Apply whatever pressure you possibly can to Democrats to make them tackle issues like inequality more directly. There are ways. But casting a protest vote is probably the single least effective way to nudge Democrats to the left. […] There are many ways to protest in this country. People should pursue them all with zeal — except in the presidential voting booth.

(I recommend reading the entire piece for more backstory and some additional excellent advice)

What is at stake? Those thousands of bureaucratic jobs, the agencies that people desperately need to survive, and the Supreme Court where good laws passed by Democratic Congresses are being hacked up by ideologues (a Democratic president elected in 2016 will likely have 3 or 4 Supreme Court choices and hundreds of district and appellate court selections). Without Congress, we won’t have much forward momentum on our agenda. But without the executive branch and the judicial branch, good government programs will simply get dismantled, something we cannot afford.

The author leaves us with this:

No Democratic president is ever going to be everything one wants. But too many millions of Americans need the many-tentacled presidency to be working for them rather than against them.

We need to nominate the candidate with the best chance of winning. Period.

Elections matter. And in 2016, losing the presidency is not an option.



  1. “Lesser-Evilism We Can Believe In”

    Perhaps not as inspiring as “Change We Can Believe In”.

    But maybe we can learn to live without the inspiration when the option is losing everything important to us.


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