UPDATE: Chris Bertram writes:
It isn't stopping [@delong] doing his selective quotation thing, even in his "correction" 30 Sep
For the record, I quote the first three paragraphs of Scott Lemieux's post and then stopped not because I want to misrepresent Lemieux or Farrell but rather because it seems to me that that was all--two paragraphs from Lemieux, one requoted paragraph from Farrell--that it was appropriate to.
For the record, the remaining paragraphs in Scott Lemieux's post are:
Erik made this point and I have discussed it recently at great length, so I won’t reiterate the whole argument. But I will make a couple of additional points.
First, I would note that the heighten-the-contradictions argument being made here [by Henry Farrell] is very weak tea indeed. Henry [Farrell] concedes that Romney is no better on the issues under discussion and is probably worse. But, the argument seems to run, at least Romney would generate more opposition from Democrats when he committed similar and worse abuses.
I believe this is true. But to carry any weight that would justify the repeal of the ACA, the overruling of Roe v. Wade, the gutting of environmental and civil rights enforcement, massive upper-class tax cuts, etc. etc. etc. it’s not enough that there be more opposition; it must be the case that this opposition be effectual. And it’s overwhelmingly clear that, in fact, this increased opposition would be extremely ineffectual. The liberal opposition to Bush over his stupid wars and egregious civil liberties abuses didn’t create the first powerful pro-civil liberties faction in American history, and it should be pretty obvious that this wouldn’t happen as a result of a Romney administration either.
Second, as a follow-up to djw’s point about the fallacy focusing on “deal-breakers” rather than engaging in a holistic evaluation of the consequences of electoral outcomes, I could understand the argument more if Obama was some kind of outlier on these issues among moderately progressive American presidents. But, to state the obvious, this is very much not true.
Even the few presidents with greater records of progressive accomplishment than Obama have much more egregious deal-breakers to their discredit. LBJ, of course, was responsible for far, far more needless deaths than Obama (although it must be conceded that these deaths generally didn’t involve unmanned planes, which is apparently relevant for reasons I’ve never understood.) FDR had not only the horrors of the Japanese internment but the fact that the already insufficient social welfare programs that represent the enduring legacy of the New Deal were structured so that African Americans received grotesquely lesser benefits. Lincoln was a white supremacist, wasn’t an abolitionist, and even if we give him a pass on most Civil War deaths because it was a just cause it’s hard to argue that, say, all of the property destruction in Georgia was strictly necessary.
And these are the good presidents.
There’s no president that doesn’t have any number of potential “deal-breakers,” and as djw says this is inevitable given that American political culture and constitutionalism have always been saturated with any number of evils and injustices.
So, to be clear, to believe in this kind of logic is to permanently abstain from American electoral politics. All meaningful votes for president are at best a choice for a lesser evil. What abstinence or voting for nothing but vanity candidates is supposed to accomplish I have no idea, but nothing good and much bad would come from it. (Like Henry [Farrell], I’m assuming that we’re not discussing “how any individual should cast her meaningless vote” but are making an argument about how progressives should vote. If any individual wants not to vote for Obama as a moral statement on the grounds that it won’t actually have any consequences, knock yourself out. I’ll only note that the ineffectuality argument cuts both ways — if your vote doesn’t matter, abstaining doesn’t somehow morally insulate yourself from the consequences of bad American policy either. Refusing to vote for Obama because you’d prefer to wait for Godot isn’t actually any kind of meaningful moral statement, and you can’t escape moral consequences by refusing to vote for anyone who might actually become president.)
I also quote one short passage from Henry Farrell's post "Is It Moral for Lefties to Vote for Obama". The short passage is:
weighs the balance in favor of voting against Democrats who you know are going to sell out. Personally, I am on the fence…
Henry Farrell's full paragraph surrounding that quote is:
The last of these [three reasons Friedersdorf advances for there being a moral duty to abstain from the Obama-Romney choice] seems weaker to me than the first two (I was, and still am, against the Libya intervention, but don’t think that the War Powers Resolution question is a moral one). But the first two are pretty damn awful. On key foreign policy and human rights issues, Obama hasn’t been a disappointment. He’s been a disaster. You can make a good case, obviously, that his main opponent, Mitt Romney, would be even worse. But it isn’t at all clear that the consequences of voting for Romney over the longer term, would be any worse than the consequences of voting for the guy who was supposed to be better on these issues, and was not. Indeed, the unwillingness of American left-liberals to criticize the opprobrious foreign policy of a Democratic president (and the consequent lack of real public debate over this policy, since most of the right tacitly agrees with the bad stuff) weighs the balance in favor of voting against Democrats who you know are going to sell out. Personally, I’m on the fence, if only because the current Republican party is so extraordinarily horrible. But I think that there is a very strong case to be made for not voting for Obama, and I wish that there were more publicly prominent lefties making it.
I believe that the context does not change the natural meaning: Farrell says (a) that he wishes there were more publicly-prominent lefties arguing that American left-liberals should not vote for Obama, (b) that the case for voting against Democrats who you know are going to sell out" is the stronger case, and (c ) that he personally is on the fence.
I thought, initially, that it would be unfair and untrue to summarize this as "Farrell opposes Obama", but that "Farrell calls for people to abstain from voting for Obama" would be a fair and true summary.
Now Farrell says that that is not what he meant.
But I do not believe I took the quotation out of context.
Original post now moved to after the break.
ORIGINAL POST: I followed Scott Lemieux:
I concur with pretty much everything in djw and Erik’s posts about the inexplicably celebrated Conor Friedersdorf essay in which he congratulates himself for being too good for the compromises of electoral politics. (With, to be sure, some protesting-too-much about he’s no purist.) With Friedersdorf, though, his trivialization of the issues other than his selected pet ones is internally consistent; as a libertarian, he presumably doesn’t care about the evisceration of the American welfare and regulatory states that would likely follow a Romney/Ryan win or sees it as a feature. That any progressive would take this seriously, though, is beyond belief. So I was dismayed by this Henry Farrell post:
It isn’t at all clear that the consequences of voting for Romney over the longer term, would be any worse than the consequences of voting for the guy [Obama] who was supposed to be better on these issues, and was not. Indeed, the unwillingness of American left-liberals to criticize the opprobrious foreign policy of a Democratic president (and the consequent lack of real public debate over this policy, since most of the right tacitly agrees with the bad stuff) weighs the balance in favor of voting against Democrats who you know are going to sell out...
Obviously, the fact that [Farrell] is simply placing no weight at all on the many issues on which Romney/Ryan would be far worse than a second Obama term, virtually all of the consequences of which would be disproportionately borne by America’s most vulnerable citizens in exchange for no actual benefits — is frankly appalling...
And I understood that Henry Farrell's writing that the situation "weighs the balance in favor of voting against Democrats who you know are going to sell out. I personally am on the fence…" meant that Farrell had weighed the balance and concluded that the reasons for voting against Obama were the stronger--that he was planning to (a) at least abstain from voting for Obama, and (b) urge other Democratic voters not to support Obama.
Now Henry Farrell says that my conclusion was wrong.
He calls for me to:
please correct immediately your post claiming I "called for people to abstain from voting for Obama". This is completely untrue, and in the kindest interpretation entirely sloppy...
Glad to learn that those of us who understood "weighs the balance in favor of voting against Democrats who you know are going to sell out" was not a call for people to abstain from voting for Obama. I am sorry for and apologize for my misunderstanding.
I am happy that Henry Farrell is on the right side of this argument.