One More Time ... Who to Vote For

[I originally sent this post on October 15 and, as we're just about at Election Day, it goes out once again. This is partly to re-affirm my "cynicism with reservations" about the whole electoral process, but also to urge everyone to vote for Howie Hawkins for Governor, as well as the other Green Party candidates who are running for office. Since my original October 15 post it seems that Cuomo has hardened his anti-labor, anti-union line and is going after state and public sector workers with a renewed vehemence. Increasingly, this Wall Street favorite son is sounding more and more like Paladino-lite; there is little of progressive substance offered by him and a vote for Cuomo--whether on the Democratic line or the Working Families line, which some delusional folks think is a progressive antidote to the Democrats--is a vote for finance capital, big business and big real estate. As to Charles Barron, running on the Freedom Party, I had written that he "is an acceptable--though iffy--second choice", after Hawkins. Now, I'm not so sure--he seems more "iffy" than "acceptable". First, his closeness to Workers World and the International Action Center, and the disgustingly opportunistic politics both represent leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Second, Barron has not repudiated the endorsement made by Lenora Fulani (who simultaneously endorsed Andrew Cuomo--both are excellent choices, she said), and this makes the taste even worse. What is, however, especially disturbing about Barron is his embrace of "traditional family values" and his subtle homophobia. During the gubernatorial "debate" he refused to take a position on the rights of gays and lesbians to marry; since then I have learned that he does *not* support this right and he has been quoted as saying "My conviction on gay marriage is based on my definition of marriage, which is between a man and a woman” and "Marriage is an institution I hold in high value. I define it as a union of a man and a woman”, and if the right to marry came up for a vote he would vote No ( This echoing of the right-wing Christian fundamentalist world-view compromises his entire campaign despite a number of of laudable progressive, even radical, positions which are formally part of his election platform. LGBT rights--and oppression of LGBT people--is a critical social issue, not a side-distraction, but in his public statements Barron seems to have trivialized it and dismissed it as something not particularly essential to a radical or progressive agenda, or critique of capitalist society. The Greens fully support LGBT rights and between the two most serious gubernatorial candidates in this election race--Howie Hawkins and Charles Barron--Hawkins has the definite edge. --BK]




Who to Vote For


The anarchist quip, "If voting could change the system it would be made illegal", contains more than a grain of truth. Once again, we're at the acme of the silly season, and in US politics the discourse (if what passes for political discussion can even be labeled "discourse") is tightly controlled by the media and presented as an entertainment extravaganza, the pool of candidates running for this office or that is largely peopled by a pathetic collection of assholes who have absolutely nothing of any use to offer, and in the national political realm mediocre and truly stupid people have have been elevated to the status of great leaders and statesmen.


Following the 2008 election I was taking bets over how long it would be before Obama would keenly and demonstrably prove himself to be an abject failure and lackey of the ruling elite. My guess was six months, maybe a year if we were lucky. I was wrong. Within less than a month he began making bellicose noises toward Pakistan and sent in the drones, and he continued--and expanded- George Bush's extreme right-wing "economic recovery" program which offeried bailouts and issued generous welfare checks to the beleaguered banks and wounded billionaires. Obama's sizable base of supporters were far to his left, and he himself was left of where he is now. (This does not mean that he was ever actually on, or part of, the left.) In his ongoing, hurried move rightward Obama has capitulated on just about every issue that's been on the boards and over and over has betrayed the gullible base of dreamers and blindfolded idealists who naively believed that "Yes We Can" meant "Yes He Will".


Should we be surprised? Of course not. This is the historical pattern of US politics. What distinguishes "left" from right within the Republicratic Party has nothing to do with substance and everything to do with form and superficial appearance. While a candidate might occasionally come along to administer some soothing balm to our collective social wounds and bring about some limited relief, in the end, no matter who is sworn into office--liberal or conservative--things will go on merrily as they have before. "If voting could change the system it would be made illegal."


The electoral system is self-perpetuating, designed to prevent any kind of systemic change. Under capitalism, the issue of election reform is a perverted charade; "reform" is primarily about campaign financing and spending limits, and not about democracy, empowerment and participation. The real, concrete issues concerning reform are beyond consideration because to meaningfully address them would require that an infusion of democratic process be introduced into the game, and truly popular democratic participation would have to be the starting point of such reform. First, there must be proportional representation, not winner take all. Second, the right to vote must be extended to non-US citizens who have established residency in this country. Third, all campaigns should be publicly financed, with equal funding going to all political parties, not just the Republicratic Party, and private contributions, individual and corporate, must be outlawed. Fourth, there should be a strict limit on the length of the campaign season, and all candidates and parties must have equal media time and access. This will not happen, of course. The Republicrats own both the ball and the stadium, making it their game. Not a chance in hell that they would act inimically toward capital.


So then why bother voting?


Despite my cynicism toward and distaste for the US electoral system, I do see a useful educational and organizing potential behind it. In local elections, voting can sometimes make a difference; in state and national elections, campaigns can be used as a mobilizing device. Here, the issue of false versus real election reform can be played out, and it is here where the work of creating viable left and progressive third parties begins and plays out. Elections can be used as starting points for social organizing and movement building, as long as it is understood that such efforts do not remain within the electoral realm or come to an end when an election is over.


I've been a registered Green for many years--I'm not particularly active in the Party, but have worked on some of the campaigns from time to time. I'll be voting Green in this election too.


This silly season's Green candidates are Howie Hawkins for Governor and Gloria Mattera for Lieutenant Governor. Julia Willebrand is running for Comptroller. In this current election, both US Senate seats are up for grabs and the two Green candidates are Cecile Lawrence (to fill a two-year unexpired term) and Colia Clark. Close to home, Anthony Gronowicz is running for the House of Representatives in the 7th Congressional district (parts of the Bronx and Queens) and Hank Bardel is doing the same in the 13th (Staten Island and parts of Brooklyn). Ann Roos is running for State Senate in Manhattan's 31st district and John Reynolds is running in the 33rd in the Bronx. State Assembly candidates are Walter Nestler in the 76th Assembly district (Bronx), Carl Lundgren in the 82nd (Bronx), Trevor Archer in the 83rd (Bronx) and Daniel Zuger in the 85th (Bronx), I think as a write-in candidate. Upstate, Mike Donelly is running in the 119th, in Onondaga County.


In addition to candidates there will be a referendum on the ballot (in New York City) which would roll term limits back to two from the current three (following the Bloomberg/Quinn annulment of of the two-term limit democratically mandated by the voters more than a decade ago). Vote Yes on this. (If approved, this referendum would prohibit the City Council from "altering the term limits of elected city officials".)


~ Bill Koehnlein
October 15, 2010


What about Charles Barron, who is running for Governor on the Freedom Party line? Barron is an acceptable--though iffy--second choice, after the Greens' Howie Hawkins, despite several lapses of sound political judgment (such as praising and defending Robert Mugabe several years ago) and some bad votes in the City Council. What is most problematic about Barron is that the Freedom Party is more focused on its candidate and less on the party itself. In the absence of those few exceptionally remarkable people who come along but once--or less--in a generation, a party can embody or give voice to a social movement in ways a mere candidate cannot, and with greater cohesion and some degree of permanence. Additionally, if we are to do away with bourgeois personality cults and the adulation of celebrity, left electoral activists should concentrate on creating strong institutions, and not on manufacturing famous people for media consumption. Perhaps it is inevitable that a fledgling party would have a high-profile candidate during its first go at electoral politicking, and while the Freedom Party is running a small number of candidates for other offices it does, nonetheless, remain essentially a one-man show. (Similar criticisms should be leveled at the Green Party too. Its nomination several years ago of Al Lewis--who I thought was a real jerk--reeked of opportunism, and while Lewis' candidacy garnered the requisite number of votes to ensure the party's ballot status for four years, once he faded from the picture so too did the Green Party itself, becoming a dysfunctional entity with barely any public visibility, energized temporarily only by Cynthia McKinney's presidential bid in 2008. I'm hoping--and trusting--that candidates like Hawkins and Colia Clark understand this organizational dynamic and help turn the Greens into something useful for the left.) Finally, Barron's long-time association with the Republicrats makes me hesitate when it comes to supporting him. During his tenure in the City Council, while carefully cultivating his stature as a maverick within the Republicratic machine, he made no moves to break with that party. Independent politics means allying with an independent organization and not one or another faction within the Republicrats. That Barron finally chose to break with the political machinery of capitalism is to his credit, but the Green Party--despite its fractures, warts and numerous imperfections--has a bit of longevity and a documented track record in independent politics, so I will, therefore, go with it.

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