Don't Vote Lesser Evil Politics!

By Lerner, Michael | Tikkun, September/October 2000 | Go to article overview

Don't Vote Lesser Evil Politics!


Lerner, Michael, Tikkun


Don't Vote Lesser Evil Politics!

Michael Lerner

I know that many people in our community feel divided in themselves about whether to support Al Gore or one of the various protest candidates like Ralph Nader or John Hagelin. I respect whatever position you take. And as a non-profit magazine, of course, we do not ever endorse candidates. But we do want to encourage a national debate about the morality and social consequences of what could best be described as "lesser evilism" in politics.

Many people talk about the presidential elections of 2000 with a mixture of indifference, contempt, and despair. They tell us that they are not excited about voting for Al Gore given their perception of his slavish subordination to corporate interests, his cheerleading for the military, his flip-flops and lack of a moral center, and his betrayal of environmental causes for the sake of political self-interest. Yet, although they do not feel that Gore represents their own worldview or that he is likely to fight for most of the things they believe in, they nevertheless feel that they have no alternative: in their eyes, George W. Bush is even worse and would enact policies and make appointments which are dangerous and must be avoided.

Many people on the Right feel a similar tension supporting Bush.

When we challenge lesser evilism we are not addressing or critiquing those who feel that Gore or Bush do in fact represent them. They should enthusiastically support their candidate. By "lesser evilism" we refer to the proposition that you must choose the candidate most likely to win who will do the least harm, rather than choosing the candidate who comes closest to expressing your own views and attitudes.

You are choosing the lesser evil if some candidate who the media and the polls indicate has little chance to win actually represents your own views or comes very close to them on many issues (for example, Ralph Nader or John Hagelin or David McReynold) but you don't vote for that candidate because the media has convinced you that he can't win and you are scared of what will happen if the worse of the two "front runners" does win.

So let me make it clear that if, for example, you think that Al Gore or George W. Bush comes closer to actually representing your ideas and attitudes in this campaign than any of the "minority candidates," nothing in what I'm writing here is meant to be an argument against that conclusion. But if that is not the case, then I want to present some arguments for why you shouldn't throw your vote away by authorizing someone you don't believe in to represent you:

1. Moral and spiritual corruption of our souls.

When we become used to accepting the lesser evil, we begin to give our stamp of approval to a social reality that we in fact deplore. This is a slippery slope that leads us to accommodate ourselves to moral corruption in other aspects of our lives. Many people perceive that the "reality" of our economic marketplace is that people are willing to cheat and hurt others and make environmentally destructive or morally insensitive choices to advance themselves. The more you teach people to make their major electoral choices on the basis of accommodating a reality that they detest, the more likely they are to similarly accommodate themselves to morally insensitive ways of acting in the world of work and in other aspects of daily life.

Powerlessness corrupts. To the extent that we come to believe we have no alternative but to accept the lesser evil, we lose the inner quality of soul that makes it possible to fight for anything against the odds. In short, we become idolaters, bowing to reality rather than asking how we can change reality. And that inevitably leads us to accommodate evil everywhere. We may take a cynical attitude toward the current world, but as long as we've adopted the attitude that we can't really fight it and must accept its terms, we have cast our vote in favor of keeping what is. …

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