Daniel Ellsberg debates David Swanson: Lesser of Two Evils Voting in Swing States

The Unknown Transcriptionist was been at work again, and donates the following transcript to the NC community. Older vs. younger, Voting vs. Movement Building, Lesser Of Two Evils vs. If Not Now, When? Lots to consider here. There’s are some interpersonal issues at the start, and I’m leaving that material in, those who study debates understand that such issues come up all the time, and practice in dealing with them is required. Emjoy!

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KPFK radio program cite;audio file;

Daniel Ellsberg debates David Swanson
KPFK – Connect the Dots with Lila Garrett
November 5, 2012

Partial transcript – last half

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27:30 DANIEL ELLSBERG: …In fact, the impression would be given to a reader that this is an election between Jill Stein and Barack Obama. Now if that were the case, there’d be no problem for me, I’d be on the side of Jill Stein, absolutely. But that isn’t the case, actually. In fact, when we talk about conscience here, I think that conscience that tells you “pay no attention to the consequences of your actions for other people” is an ill-formed conscience giving some bad advice here.

I would say that the consequence of progressives, who know the crimes of Obama, to be led by those, that awareness, not to vote at all – and it’s a very understandable reaction humanly – or to vote for Jill Stein in a swing state, but much more important, to encourage other people not to vote for Obama – that’s the message that my friend Dave gave to Albright, not to vote – and the people listening, of course, you didn’t care about Albright – “Don’t vote for Obama.”

My question there is – and again, I didn’t like the challenge to me here, what would you, Daniel, have said to Albright. I would have had no problem raising that. But if I were picking that thing to raise in this week in Virginia in a close election, a week away from election – or you may have been a couple of weeks away – and not go to the Republicans and ask a similar question, is simply telling people, “Don’t vote for Obama, do anything else, stay home, or as I prefer, you should vote for Stein.” That’s not without consequences.

By letting Romney off, as you do in this piece, failing to say – oh, I’m sorry, I take it back. Toward the end of the piece – I take it back. I formed that opinion before I got to the very end. In the very end you do at last bring in Romney – and we’ll get to that – and you do acknowledge that he would be worse – and that’s another matter we need to get to, because I think the implication of what you’re saying is there, “Yes, I’ll stipulate that Romney would be worse,” but the implication of what you’re saying is, “but worse is better.”

DAVID SWANSON: Dan, could I get in a word that might be helpful here?

ELLSBERG: Yeah, go ahead.

LILA GARRETT: By all means.

SWANSON: Well, I’m sorry, Dan, that you didn’t receive the e-mail from me late last night in which I sent this article to you and Lila before I sent it to anyone else, and I did so in response to your having sent me numerous past communications with me and other writings of yours on this subject that you wanted me to read. I did not intend a preemptive strike. I did not intend an attack. I did not intend anything –

ELLSBERG: [inaudible]

SWANSON: – open-ended or aggressive. I intended to be doing what I understood you and Lila to be asking me to do. I was writing an article in –

ELLSBERG: Okay, I see it here. It was late at night. I didn’t see it. I’m looking at it at my computer now. I didn’t see it. It was about 10 o’clock at night.

GARRETT: Well, let’s let David continue his point. Go ahead, David.

SWANSON: So, again, I’m very sorry for the bad feelings here and the ill will, because what I actually like about this debate that you and I have been having through various media, and I had hoped would be having here today on this radio show, is that we are doing it as friends, as people who respect each other’s intentions.

If you look at the actual website, Firedoglake, which for whatever bizarre reason is the one place that you’re citing for this article that is all over the Internet, you look at comments that are endlessly focused, rather oddly, not on the debate at hand but on praising me for the incredible respect for you in the article, and additional comments expressing other people’s sincere respect for you. I mean, that’s the takeaway that the people on Firedoglake have from the article is, what a wonderful thing that these two individuals are debating this topic in this extremely unusual manner in which they respect each other.

And I do appreciate the kind words you had for me before you got to the misunderstandings, and I have nothing but the highest respect for you and for that group of people that I consider relatively small who really understand the need for the serious mass movement that we need in this country if we are to survive – not if we are to reach Utopia, but if we are to survive, environmentally, in terms of weaponry and so forth, and believe that such a mass movement is compatible with lesser-evil voting. My argument is that the two have not proven compatible.

ELLSBERG: Okay, I accept that. If you want to, we can move right to your actual substance if you want. I do appreciate –

SWANSON: So my concerns with what you said, very briefly. Number one, Romney is mentioned by name numerous times and is a huge focus of the article. I’m sorry you missed that, but maybe we shouldn’t discuss an article you haven’t had time to read. You have been addressing e-mails to me and conversations to me and to others on this topic for many months, so this is not something limited to the week before the election, but you do say, in your comments just before these, that when it is the week before the election in a swing state, our behavior should change. I shouldn’t address that kind of question to Madeleine Albright –

ELLSBERG: I don’t say that. But go ahead.

SWANSON: – in a Democratic campaign office unless –

ELLSBERG: I don’t object to your raising it, period. I’m asking you whether you addressed such a thing to Romney as well. Did you? To a Romney person.

SWANSON: I have encouraged protests of both Romney and Paul. Paul has been here many times. I protest these challengers to power and I protest those in power and I protest former officials who come to this town, Republican and Democratic alike. There is evenhanded protest of bad policy from me.


ELLSBERG: See, now, it’s a swing state. That’s a battleground state. There must have been a lot of Romney people in Virginia. Have you actually done to one of them what you did to Albright – which I would encourage, fine, [inaudible] – have you done that?

SWANSON: There is no Romney office in Charlottesville. There have been Romney events in Virginia to which I have encouraged people to go and protest. I have not been able to make it myself. But when I ask what would you have done yesterday in that office in Charlottesville, it’s not meant to be an attack or an assault or some sort of violence directed at you. Dan, it’s a serious question, because I can’t go and work with that office and join in their phone calling and their door knocking and carry around posters objecting to Obama’s kill list. I cannot do both. They won’t allow it, they won’t stand for it, they won’t have any idea what I’m talking about. They’ve never heard of Obama’s kill list.


ELLSBERG: If you are –

SWANSON: I have to choose.

ELLSBERG: – campaigning right now, you’re campaigning against Obama, which is very like campaigning for Romney, but you’re doing it of course for Stein. The only effect is, as you know, and we both agree, Stein is not going to win even Virginia or any one state, but the effect is that what you’re saying – and I do object to this, and no, I do hope we will remain friends, and I certainly will read your pieces with very great respect. But I am saying that someone, a progressive like yourself, who tells people in a swing state like Virginia – and that’s what counts, not how you vote.

You by the way said that I would think that your voting for Jill Stein yourself in Virginia was catastrophic. Well, that would be stupid, and I’m not stupid. I don’t think that, as you’ve said yourself, and I agree with you, your vote will have any real-world consequences whatever, or anybody else’s vote, yours or mine, in any state. These elections are not won by one vote. So that’s not a matter for conscience. It doesn’t have real-world consequences.

Now you’ve said very well in this piece – and I agree with it – that what does matter, what has consequences, is what you do actively to, and communicate your views and try to influence other people. You and I both could influence 500 people – and that by the way is what the election turned on in the year 2000 in a swing state. We can perhaps influence a thousand people. Normally, in many elections, you and I would not have any effect because it’s not that close. That’s true in at least half the elections or more. In some states where there’s a close election like this year, then what a relatively few people do in a relatively few states makes a difference, and your influence and my influence can actually make the difference there, or at least contribute, or, you know, if there’s a dozen of us talking this way.

Now, a dozen people in Virginia, or in Florida, or Ohio, who generally agree with you and me – and we agree with each other on everything I think outside this particular discussion – I haven’t found any other disagreement – but a few dozen people who say to such people, “Obama is so bad, you can’t vote for him,” so that either means – which you do say, correct me if I’m wrong – then I can’t vote for him but you can’t vote for him, it’s wrong, in fact you’re voting for a murderer and it’s in effect agreeing support for murder or something.

Then that leaves them a couple of choices. Most of them will stay home. Most of the people who agree with Jill Stein and her program will not bother to vote. Some will vote for her, and some of those would have voted for a Republican, as in the case of Nader. But most of them, if they would have voted otherwise without her on the ballot, would have voted for Obama. So it is on balance stealing votes away from the Obama column in a close state.

That has the consequence – it’s the same consequence as if they’d voted for Romney. And since you and I are agreeing – not everybody would – that there is a difference between them, that means that the world, I think, will be a worse place. Not so much on some of the very worst things that Obama does – it won’t be that much worse – but war with Iran, which I think Romney is much more likely to do than Obama, even though Obama sadly might end up – not sadly, horribly – might end up doing it, but much more likely; Romney has practically promised that.

Roe versus Wade? Women’s choice? Romney has virtually promised that he will put judges on that will bring that about, and I expect him to keep that promise.

I think that the Republican economic program would have put us into depression if McCain or Romney had been in instead of Obama the last four years, not just a recession. And I think that right now Romney is very likely, with his absolute eschewing of stimulus and total reliance on tax cuts for the rich, essentially – I think he might very well prolong this recession and cause depression. That’s not a minor problem. And for the world.

So I am critical, though I know it’s done with the best intentions, I’m critical of this 50 states program campaign for a third party as opposed to a campaign that emphasized the 35 or so safe states, raised all the problems that you’re talking about, the issues that you’re talking about, but did not offer itself as tipping the election to Romney.

SWANSON: Well, let me be clear once again that I agree with all of that. I agree with everything you’ve said. It’s an argument that is crystal clear, I think, to just about anyone, that if a candidate is worse and you either vote for him or her, or you vote for an independent third party candidate in our corrupt system, or you don’t vote, then you are in those terms making things worse.

I mean, we just have to get beyond thinking that anyone doesn’t understand that, and to grant it, and then hear my argument, because my argument is that to the extent that you must expend energy on these elections, you should do so in a way that doesn’t handicap the creation of the sort of movement we need against this kind of agenda of both of these parties, one a little bit worse than the other in some ways, or we are done for.

ELLSBERG: I agree.

SWANSON: We are done for environmentally, we are done for in terms of militarism, we are done for in terms of the loss of civil liberties and the loss of representative government.

Here we have a president who has come in and expanded all of the abusive powers of the last guy, and the next president could come in and Romney could conceivably expand them further faster than Obama. We have to grant that.

But the two evil candidates – and you have to grant that they are both remarkably evil as individuals or as collections of teams of partisans – are going to be worse four years hence, and then four years after that we make this rational calculation, we vote for the lesser evil of the two, and we get a pair of choices that again are worse. And every four years, every eight years, we’re staring at two choices that are demonstrably worse than the two choices before, even when we have chosen the lesser evil the times before. And so something else is needed or we’re going toward disaster; it’s a question of what speed.

And so we have to build a movement. And we cannot do it, we cannot do it, whether it’s for a w– again, I’m still completely unclear on this from you, but is it a week, is it six months, is it a year and a half? – but we cannot do it when we take these breaks for whatever period it is and do it only in the non-swing states, which are absolutely devoid of candidates, of journalists, and apparently people in the non-swing states have got a moral duty to spend a significant amount of time trying to recruit the people in the swing states to vote for the Democrat. I mean, you cannot deny that you have spent a great deal of time on this in the past months, as someone in a non-swing state, trying to recruit people in the swing states to vote for Obama.

We cannot build a movement against lawless imprisonment, drone wars, rendition, the concentration of wealth, the attacks on Social Security and Medicare, the destruction of our environment –

ELLSBERG: We agree on all that.

SWANSON: No, we don’t agree! I’m saying we cannot build the movement we need to survive –


SWANSON: – if we do this lesser-evil strategic voting routine. It is too much of a hindrance.

GARRETT: Just a moment, gentlemen. My turn. Are you saying that we cannot survive – you have just said, we cannot survive if we spend our energy on this election, on the lesser-of-two-evils concept, we cannot survive unless we build a movement. Are you saying it’s one choice or the other? Or are you saying that in swing states it is all right to vote for Obama, it is preferable to vote for Obama because Romney is worse, as long as you promise that you don’t mean it, and that what you really want is to build a movement. So now that the election is over, onward with the movement. Is that what you mean?

SWANSON: Well, I prefer someone who the next day is out pushing for peace and justice to someone who isn’t. But I think to the extent that we’re going to be involved in wasting energy on these elections at all – and by the way, I sincerely wish we had elections. I’m not anti-elections. I wish that we had elections free of the money, with access to the media and the ballot and without the gerrymandering and the electoral college and so forth – we aren’t going to get those changes through elections. We aren’t going to vote them in.

Women didn’t vote themselves the right to vote. When the labor unions used to not focus on dumping all their money into Democratic campaigns asking nothing in return but went out and struggled and striked, that’s when they grew. I mean, this is how change happens in the world.

And so to the extent that you’re going to put time into these elections, you’re going to be forced to take a position on these elections, it ought to be in the way that encourages independent activism and a principled, uncompromising stance –


SWANSON: – and access to information by the greater group of people.

And so I say vote for Jill Stein. Because it’s easier for most people to vote for a legitimately great candidate like Jill Stein and not tie their hands behind their backs.

I mean, we had a peace movement in ’05-’06, we had a peace movement, because the people who opposed wars when the president’s a Republican were lined up with the people who actually opposed wars. And we were large enough that we were beginning to have a major influence. I mean, still pathetically small, immorally, disgracefully small, but we were having a significant impact on Washington. We ended the war in Iraq, together with the Iraqis and the rest of the world, and we shut it down. We shut it down because it was time, it was inappropriate, it was the wrong week or the wrong year. We can’t keep doing that.

GARRETT: David, I must have a clear answer on this for our listeners, and by the way for myself. Are you saying that even in swing states, do not do this to yourself, do not vote for the lesser of two evils?


GARRETT: So, vote for Jill Stein or someone of your choice or Rocky Anderson, despite the fact that you are in a swing state. Do not compromise your position. Is that what you’re saying?

SWANSON: Yes! That is what I am saying.

GARRETT: Okay, now.

SWANSON: Do not imagine you’re fixing the world that way. Understand that I’m telling you to do that so that you can move on to important work and not handicap that work in the meantime. That’s why I’m telling you to do that.

GARRETT: Okay, now. Now, Dan Ellsberg, what he’s saying is do not compromise your position, because in the end it diverts your energy and somehow or other you are never able to get that moment back and propel yourself forward sufficiently. What’s your response to that?

ELLSBERG: Well, first of all, I’m sure that Dave did not mean to include me in those who are corrupted by my work this month and last month so that I won’t be getting arrested or resisting or protesting next month as before. He can correct me if I’m wrong here, but I’m sure –

SWANSON: You’re right.

ELLSBERG: – he didn’t mean to include me in that. Now, he has said sometimes, rather flatteringly, that Dan Ellsberg can do this, as he said, both criticize and protest Obama and protest Romney to the point of urging a vote for Obama in swing states – he says that it takes an Ellsberg to do that, and he mentions a couple of– That’s not my experience at all. Virtually everyone I know, not only the people I get arrested with, like Hedges or Dave Swanson or whoever, and protest – they all do manage to be very clear-sighted about Obama, that I know – I don’t, maybe the circles I run in.

But let me get to the precise point that Dave has been making, because we do have a disagreement here, despite the fact that we have a very fundamental agreement, and that is, things can’t go on this way. They can’t go on the way we’re going, toward climate change, which is not a factor in this election in the major candidates, nuclear proliferation, the doomsday machines that I’m spending my time writing about right now, that are missing even from the progressive agenda on the whole, the inequality, the poverty, the very many things here in this society that will not be cured by this election, that we have to find a way to transform this society and really the world in many ways. It will not happen quickly and it will not happen within the parties without outside pressure.

So we absolutely agree, there has to be a movement to do this of a kind that doesn’t exist now and a kind incomparably greater than the peace movement that Dave says he perceived in 2005-2006. I was part of that movement, such as it was. I’m sorry, we need something an awful lot bigger than that. And the idea that putting Democrats in office in the House in 2006 killed the movement seems to me absurd, absolutely absurd. We didn’t have anywhere near what we needed then and there wasn’t that big a chance; it just didn’t cure anything. I would have hoped it would make a difference, and it didn’t.

Now, I am saying, though, that here’s where we do disagree. In building that movement, I do not believe that a third party which is reasonably blamed, as was Nader in 2000, despite his denials of this – it was reasonably blamed as having made a difference – not being solely responsible, but having facilitated the election of George W. Bush, the election of definitely a worse candidate here which led to the Iraq war and other matters, and the civil liberties abuses which Obama has continued. A party that is blamed for that, with reason or without reason, is not going to be the core of a growing movement. In fact, it’s going to be pretty much the end of that party, as happened to the Greens, who went from 2.7%, small enough, in 2000, down to half a percent plus another half a percent for Nader in 2004. The idea that worse is better because it will wake up the Democrats to criticism, it will wake up the public because they’ll get to the verge of nonviolent revolution –

SWANSON: Yeah, these aren’t my arguments, Dan.

ELLSBERG: – where the Democrats – and you may not be saying that – where the Democrats will be forced to move left by this outside pressure, that was tested in 2000. We had all that. We had the third party there, with Nader. It did in fact show the Democrats that such a party could have clout and could affect the election. And did it move the Democrats to the left? No, we know that it didn’t.

I would say that that would happen again, that if Romney were elected and did cause, let’s say – if he had no effect, then it doesn’t help or hurt the movement. If he is worse, in fact – as Dave is ready to concede, as not all third party people are, by any means, but Dave does, we agree on that – if Romney is worse than that, will that move the Democrats to the left, or will it say to our side, or will it, as in the past, always in the past, move them to try to win back some of those independents, undecideds, centrists supposedly in the left by moving further to the right?

If we have four years of Romney, the effect will be like eight years of Bush. Anybody but Bush, anybody but Romney, if he does turn out to be as bad as I expect. And that will not be Jill Stein, it will not be Rocky Anderson or a Kucinich, it will be somebody like Obama. It’ll be another centrist.

In other words, I think that it could be doom for a movement to earn blame for making the world worse, as happened in the year 2000, only 12 years ago. That does not help a movement.

And that the movement we need has to be done by other means – that is, everything else, everything that Dave and I do do in the way of – he does a lot more writing than I do; I wish I had the eloquence and facility that he does – but writing, lobbying, protesting, demonstrating, strikes – which, by the way, I think would have been very appropriate in the year 2000 about the election – but a general strike, and demonstrations – all that sort of thing, everything else is what’s needed. Remember, neither the civil rights movement nor the union movement joined a new party or started a new party. When we talk about the effect they had –

SWANSON: Or an old one.

ELLSBERG: – if they had it without that – if the Tea Party right now had started a new party, which they were, I would say, wise enough tactically not to do, Obama would have a walk-in right now, a landslide. But they took over one of the parties, which is I think what I would like to see progressives do to the Democratic Party.

GARRETT: Let me interrupt you at this point, Dan Ellsberg. You made the very cogent point that if in fact Obama loses this election, that in four years or in eight years we will be facing the same problem and it may become even worse, that we will not have a choice of someone who is really good, of a Dennis Kucinich for example, and therefore you feel that in swing states – please reiterate your position, we should do what?

ELLSBERG: In swing states recognize that Romney is even worse – it doesn’t involve saying anything good about Obama – that Romney is even worse and that you should vote against Romney and Ryan by voting for the only real alternative, which is Barack Obama. And I will spend the rest of my life, and Dave will too, working for a society in which – let me put it this way – a George McGovern, or a Stein, or a Dave Swanson, could be the Democratic nominee and could win, could win. That’s the society we need to have. That’ll take a while and it’ll take a lot of work and it will not be advanced by this having on your shoulders this stigma of electing Romney-Ryan.

GARRETT: Now, let me ask you this question, and I just want a yes or no answer. If in fact we do follow your suggestion, and in swing states people do vote for Barack Obama in the hope that in the next four years a better person will come along rather than forcing us to make this same lesser-of-two-evil decision again, do you think that we will be able to accomplish during the next four years of Obama a movement which will make it possible for us to nominate such a person? Daniel Ellsberg, answer that question.

ELLSBERG: It’s hard to say. If I had to say one word, if you said – I would have to say no, because it’s too difficult. It’s not likely. It’s what we need to work at. Dave is quite right. Whatever he or I or anybody else does, four years from now I don’t foresee enormous change. What I do want to see on November 7th and 8th are progressives and other people working immediately on President Obama to avoid the austerity program that’s going to be pressed on him, to avoid moving in the direction of compromise with the Republicans in favor of no taxes for the rich and taxes for everybody else. We’ve got our work cut out for us, November 8th, whoever wins. That’s what is important. And I agree totally with Dave on that point.

What is more important for us to do in the next four years – he keeps asking me how many months. I would say for the next three years and ten months, roughly – is that a precise answer to you, Dave? – that I would think not to think about elections – putting aside congressional, which are very important, but let me say on presidential. Two months four years from now is not too much to be working to avert the worst.

SWANSON: Can I correct the record on a couple points?


GARRETT: Wait a minute, David. I’m going to ask you the same question, because time is really of the essence at this point. If in the next four years we do in fact elect Obama – same question – is that enough time to develop a candidate whom we really want, and if not, how much time do you think it will take? Short answer, please.

SWANSON: It – is – the – wrong – question. We do not want to develop a candidate, a messiah, a savior, or a leader. We want to develop a people’s movement. And I want –

ELLSBERG: I agree. I agree with that.

SWANSON: And I know you do, Dan, and I think it’s right and I think you’re absolutely right that we need to build a massive movement unlike what we’ve seen. And I don’t want people to vote against evil candidates in swing states in order to get the worst guy in and fantasize that that will bring people around. I want people, as I’ve said repeatedly, to begin now, today, thinking of themselves as independent, principled activists, including in elections.

And if you look at the citation in that article I wrote from Michael Heaney and Fabio Rojas, they document the partisan basis for the collapse of the peace movement in recent years. It’s a study that is at least worthy of looking at. We’ve tried taking over the Democratic Party for many years. It’s not a new idea. It hasn’t worked yet. I think if anything of value could be produced by those of us in this conversation, it is a book on nuclear weapons by Dan Ellsberg. And every time I’ve heard from you, Dan, in recent months on topics I agree with –

ELLSBERG: Two months.

SWANSON: – and topics like this that I think are a distraction, I have said I would prefer to see you writing that book because I think we need it.

GARRETT: Gentlemen, thank you so much for joining me. Where is Candy Crowley when I need her? Thank you, Dan Ellsberg. Thank you, David Swanson. It was a very lively, exciting discussion. Daniel, I forgive you for being angry at the beginning of the show and taking it out on me, and David, for saying that I asked the wrong question, I may forgive you.

SWANSON: (laughing) Thanks, Lila.

ELLSBERG: Okay, Lila.

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About Lambert Strether

Readers, I have had a correspondent characterize my views as realistic cynical. Let me briefly explain them. I believe in universal programs that provide concrete material benefits, especially to the working class. Medicare for All is the prime example, but tuition-free college and a Post Office Bank also fall under this heading. So do a Jobs Guarantee and a Debt Jubilee. Clearly, neither liberal Democrats nor conservative Republicans can deliver on such programs, because the two are different flavors of neoliberalism (“Because markets”). I don’t much care about the “ism” that delivers the benefits, although whichever one does have to put common humanity first, as opposed to markets. Could be a second FDR saving capitalism, democratic socialism leashing and collaring it, or communism razing it. I don’t much care, as long as the benefits are delivered. To me, the key issue — and this is why Medicare for All is always first with me — is the tens of thousands of excess “deaths from despair,” as described by the Case-Deaton study, and other recent studies. That enormous body count makes Medicare for All, at the very least, a moral and strategic imperative. And that level of suffering and organic damage makes the concerns of identity politics — even the worthy fight to help the refugees Bush, Obama, and Clinton’s wars created — bright shiny objects by comparison. Hence my frustration with the news flow — currently in my view the swirling intersection of two, separate Shock Doctrine campaigns, one by the Administration, and the other by out-of-power liberals and their allies in the State and in the press — a news flow that constantly forces me to focus on matters that I regard as of secondary importance to the excess deaths. What kind of political economy is it that halts or even reverses the increases in life expectancy that civilized societies have achieved? I am also very hopeful that the continuing destruction of both party establishments will open the space for voices supporting programs similar to those I have listed; let’s call such voices “the left.” Volatility creates opportunity, especially if the Democrat establishment, which puts markets first and opposes all such programs, isn’t allowed to get back into the saddle. Eyes on the prize! I love the tactical level, and secretly love even the horse race, since I’ve been blogging about it daily for fourteen years, but everything I write has this perspective at the back of it.


  1. TK421

    If Obama were president in 1972, Ellsberg would be rotting in solitary confinement today, yet he endorses Obama. What a screwed up country this is.

    1. athena1

      “But the two evil candidates – and you have to grant that they are both remarkably evil as individuals or as collections of teams of partisans”

      I love David so much.

  2. citalopram

    Let’s see in the next few years if your Jill Stein vote matters. Surely, that 2 percent she gets will mean a shift to the left for the Dems, right? Suddenly, the whole system will come flying apart and will be home. Glory!

    1. Lambert Strether Post author

      If Stein makes 5% the Greens will get Federal funding and that might create more options. Journey of a thousand miles, single step, and so forth.

      Also too Ursule Rozum is running a nifty little campaign in NY.

  3. Jill

    This is difficult to make sense of. Evidently here is Dan’s bottom line: “If we have four years of Romney, the effect will be like eight years of Bush. Anybody but Bush, anybody but Romney, if he does turn out to be as bad as I expect. And that will not be Jill Stein, it will not be Rocky Anderson or a Kucinich, it will be somebody like Obama. It’ll be another centrist.”

    I want to know why Dan believes Obama is a “centrist”. That is a counter-factual belief. Dan used to protest Obama on behalf of Bradley Manning. What part of Obama’s treatment towards Manning does Dan believe is “centrist”?

    Here are the known facts. Obama does not support the rule of law. People who vote for Obama because they believe he supports women, labor and the LBGT community fail to understand the significance of the rule of law. They are also not paying attention to Obama’s actions with regards to these groups of people.

    Rights are not given to the people by a beneficent leader. Obama has dribbled out a few crumbs here, a few there, all just before the election. What is given may be taken away. The rule of law puts the break on the “taking away” of basic rights. The other thing that puts a break on the abridgment of rights is a strong movement by the people on behalf of those rights.

    A vote for Obama destroys both the rule of law and decimates a strong movement of the people. It does the latter by telling people to remain silent, or worse, assent to injustice. It does the latter because it says STFU and say nothing as the president does one lawless, cruel act after another. It forces people to assent to that which they should not assent. It forces people to be part of the message that a president may do anything and people will still support him or her. That is a very destructive message both to the person in power and to the people who have the right to redress injustice.

    Voting can be one part of being an activist. To vote is to express one’s values and voice. This fact remains true in swing states, as true as the reasons given for not voting for Obama in other states.

    1. just me

      “This is difficult to make sense of.”

      I think it’s brilliant, and that’s part of it. Because these two guys love each other and are committed to humanity and peace and they agree on just about everything except way to go. They are each pushing opposing corners of the voting box as hard as they can trying to find the way out. Each is going around the world the other way, and they both break up on rocks.

      If you do as Swanson says, vote your principles — if you’re hoping to affect the election results and move the conversation and the Democrats to the left, Ellsberg says look at 2000, it’s been done, Nader did it, and the result killed the nascent third party because it got blamed for the terrible result: Bush.

      If you do as Ellsberg says, vote Romney, hoping to avert war with Iran and other devastations, Swanson says look at history too: We just get a progression of worse and worse lesser-evil elections.

      Hello, it’s hopeless either way. For which I give Swanson great credit:

      GARRETT: …If in the next four years we do in fact elect Obama – same question – is that enough time to develop a candidate whom we really want, and if not, how much time do you think it will take? Short answer, please.

      SWANSON: It – is – the – wrong – question. We do not want to develop a candidate, a messiah, a savior, or a leader. We want to develop a people’s movement. And I want –

      ELLSBERG: I agree. I agree with that.

      I love both these guys. They do us such honor and I am so grateful.

      We’re going to get a president either way, evil this or evil that. And anything can happen, things could get better either way in ways we’re not imagining. But to put our apples in that cart — is that really the best that WE can do?

      1. n

        arguably Nader killed any chance for a movement post election by being all about himself as messiahs tend to be.

      2. Brooklin Bridge

        I think you put “Romney” where you meant to put “Obama”:

        If you do as Ellsberg says, vote Romney Obama, hoping to avert war with Iran and other[…]

      3. just me

        In the Constitution, elections weren’t the only way for citizens to vote. “We the People … jury … jury … jury …”


        Like someone said, when you vote in an election, you’re voting for a hypothetical – a campaign promise, but when you vote on a jury, that’s the only time you’re casting a vote about a real thing, a nonhypothetical.

        The first Supreme Court sat with a jury and the first Chief Justice told the jury the law was whatever it decided; both the facts and the law were its to judge. See Georgia v. Brailsford, 1794.


        In this case, the first Chief Justice, John Jay, wrote: “It is presumed, that juries are the best judges of facts; it is, on the other hand, presumed that courts are the best judges of law. But still both objects are within your power of decision… you [juries] have a right to take it upon yourselves to judge both, and to determine the law as well as the fact in controversy”.[3]

        In 1895 in Sparf v. United States, the Court said that courts need not inform jurors of their de facto right of juror nullification although jurors’ inherent right to judge the law remains unchallenged.

        So without amending the Constitution, juries have been disabled, by the courts. With broken elections and broken courts, all the idiot lights have been broken, as if that would fix government idiocy.

        I wonder… juries go back at least to the Magna Carta and were part of the English common law colonists carried to America. Are we so different now from those British trying to check and balance an unjust, out-of-control King?

        Swanson and Ellsberg think the answer is a movement, convincing enough people to act as a big enough wave. But maybe that’s the wrong fix:

        …they’re all broken branches now, Congress, the Executive, the Judicial. If juries were restored, would the broken branches heal and things fall in place, naturally? You wouldn’t need millions of people [all at once] to turn a bad government decision, it’d take any 12, any time, all the time. Case by case, bunches of little decisions, perpetual maintenance of citizens and law, instead of godlike pronouncements from on high. People would think of themselves and their government differently. The relationship, citizenship would be changed. Just think, the return of conscience and reason…

        The world could change, naturally, reasonably, humanly.

        1. just me

          Heck. Reading this a day later I think I didn’t make it clear that between the good first and the bad second paragraphs of my wikipedia quote, something went wrong.

          Try this:


          In this case, the first Chief Justice, John Jay, wrote: “It is presumed, that juries are the best judges of facts; it is, on the other hand, presumed that courts are the best judges of law. But still both objects are within your power of decision… you [juries] have a right to take it upon yourselves to judge both, and to determine the law as well as the fact in controversy”.[3]

          Insert: Then a miracle occurs. http://socsci2.ucsd.edu/~aronatas/project/cartoon.math.miracle.3.12.htmOh no!:

          In 1895 in Sparf v. United States, the Court said that courts need not inform jurors of their de facto right of juror nullification although jurors’ inherent right to judge the law remains unchallenged.

          And then could have gone on to how things are now, where jurors are specifically dismissed in voir dire if they do not agree to set aside their own consciences and accept the instructions and siphonings of the court, thus totally defeating the original check-and-balancing point of a jury.


      4. ZygmuntFraud

        It gets very complicated when one tries to
        figure out “the man/men behind the curtain” …
        So maybe Republican minions are more likely
        to do war soon, but I don’t really know.

        Peter Dale Scott has written about what he calls
        “deep events”, the “deep state” and “deep politics”.

        It’s a Byzantine story, from what I remember.

        There’s a video of a talk by Peter Dale Scott,
        “Peter Dale Scott uncovers deep events”,


    2. TK21

      Great post, Jill. It would be fascinating to pump some truth serum into these people like Ellsberg or Chomsky who think there is some way Obama is better than Romney. Is it because he is black? Do they think that if we vote Democrat enough, Harry Truman will come back to life and run again? What is it with these people?

      1. Jill


        Thank you. How can any rational person call Obama a centrist? He’s to the right of Bush. What is up with left wing “leaders” that they cannot see Obama for who he is.

        I don’t remember these people urging me to vote Bush in 2004 so why am I supposed to vote for the same policies and worse in 2012?

        Fear? I think you offer good explanations. We need to answer your question because it’s very obvious that too many on the left are doing that which is destructive of our society. Left wing authoritarians have arisen in other societies and they are here, now.

  4. Birch

    This voting thing is like using the credit union, or buying Cargill-free food. You don’t condone the forces of evil in your actions, which is where it counts. It makes a big difference in how you view yourself and your relationship with the world as you go about your daily business.

    You can’t make them irrelevant if you acknowledge their existence.

  5. wbgonne

    I know this isn’t the election-prediction thread but it seems appropriate to express my concern here. With Stein and Anderson more-ore-less splitting the Progressive Third Party vote, it is possible that Gary Johnson and the Libertarian Party will emerge from this election as the pre-eminent American Third Party. While the the Libertarian Party is fine on questions of personal liberty (and therefore a decided improvement over the Obama Democrats), libertarians hate government regulation and enfeebling government in that regard will allow corporatism to grow even more dangerous. There is a reason why the Koch Brothers have been the main financial backers of the Libertarian Party (at least until they were able to purchase the GOP as they now have). Should this occur, we will then have a political system with two mainstream corporatist parties challenged by an upstart libertarian party that is ALSO corporatist in effect, if not philosophy. IOW: it is conceivable that our political system tomorrow will be even further entrenched in corporatism than it is today. What to do? Progressives should vote for Jill Stein and not Rocky Anderson. And no one should vote Libertarian. IMHO, of course.

    1. Brooklin Bridge

      Voting one way or another has remarkably little effect on any of this. As France has demonstrated over and over again, no matter how many parties you create, or what you call them, they all end up being just slightly different reflections of the owners. During periods when the owners are a little more enlightened, that works out OK. Most of the time, however, such as right now, not so much.

        1. athena1

          I agree. I’ve been confused about why Stein and Anderson haven’t joined forces for a while, actually.
          Also, side note: I’ve tried to reach out to the libertarians to see if they’d be willing to COMPROMISE on economics and form a short-term coalition to get our civil liberties back, but they’re 100% unwilling. It’s Austrian economics or nothing for them. Gah. Maddening.

    2. Aquifer

      I agree completely – Anderson was invited to contest in the Green primary, but he declined – had to go off and start his own party that had exactly the same platform as the Greens – he could have pursued his principles just as easily as a Green – i.e. ISTM there was no PRINCIPLED reason for him to oppose them – so what was it? Was “Rocky” afraid of losing to a woman, i mean seriously, what was the issue here? I have never gotten an answer when i have asked in various venues …

      Shucks, not that Anderson kept Jill from winning, of course, but precisely because of what you point out – the Libertarians are unified and moving forward – the progs seem to have personality issues and shooting each other, that’s all i can come up with … How ironic, isn’t it, that the 2nd amendment party is the one that keeps from shooting itself in the foot (maybe it’s because it learned how to shoot??)

      It is depressing and frustrating and I don’t know what to do …

  6. Winston

    UNTIL people who vote for a particular politician DON’T vote for him next time when he doesn’t fulfill or even seriously attempt to fulfill his campaign promises and let him KNOW why they didn’t vote for him the second time, NOTHING about the candidate or his party will EVER change since they know they can count on their voters to vote for them no matter how much they LIE during their campaign.

    PERIOD. END of story.

    1. TK21

      Yup. That’s basically the only way to force accountability on a politician, unless you happen to have several million dollars in disposable income lying around.

    2. Aquifer

      That’s the point that Ellsburg completely misses – amazing that something so simple and so obvious eludes him.

      A politician has no power unless (s)he is elected. To get elected you need votes. No votes no election. They court money for several reasons, personal and to buy media, they buy media in order to get votes.

      If a politician can get votes and money (s)he is a happy dude(tte), indeed, but if it is clear a choice must be made they will choose the votes, because without them the size of the war chest doesn’t matter …

      So what do we, the 99% have – well we don’t have money, that’s for sure, but we do have the most important currency in an election – votes. But we will not get what we want until we use those votes for the purpose of getting what we want as opposed to keeping out what we don’t – and we haven’t used them for the former for a long time, which is why we are in the pickle we are in …

      Ellsburg gives himself away in 2 areas – 2 big “tells” as they say; 1) he revives that old “Nader had a hand in electing Bush in ’00” BS and he even goes on to suggest that as a result the Greens have been fatally wounded for all time as a potential opposition party! (amazing isn’t it that the Dems aren’t condemned for crimes considerably greater …) 2) he suggests that we work on getting someone like Stein advanced as a Dem nominee! So he doesn’t dislike her, he even suggests he could support her – as long as she is a Dem! Astonishing that he is so openly and apparently unconsciously identifying not as a principled player, but a “team” player – just like Kucinich …

      He claims that the “result” of Nader’s effort was not to turn Dems left but to bring them further right to catch those “indys”. What a crock – the Dems response to Nader was “gotta nip this in the bud lickety split” and used, and apparently are still using, folks like Ellsburg to do it. Nader’s 3% in ’00 was a potential tipping point – the key was ’04 – the Dems held their breath – would he get more or less? They won, they had killed the momentum – if Nader had done better in ’04 and certainly by ’08 you would indeed have a much more left leaning Dem party – it would be clear it would be “go left” old man, or you will be assigned to the dust bin of history … It is the trend, not the absolute number – the writing on the wall that is etched not inked, that is heeded …

      I think Ellsburg was so blinded by his experience with Reps that he would do anything to keep them out – if that means spiking the prog movement again – so be it … His arguments fail, IMO for lack of logic – he was a hero against Reps and now a goat for Dems – what a shame …..

  7. Brooklin Bridge

    This transcript as well as the arguments are indeed hard to follow. It sounds as though they haven’t any more of a clue on the lessor-of-evil debates than anyone else has.

    A stray rhetorical bit I picked up is the frequently and almost sub-consciously used, “unwilling to compromise” charge as in this snippet by Garrett:
    GARRETT: So, vote for Jill Stein or someone of your choice or Rocky Anderson, despite the fact that you are in a swing state. Do not compromise your position. Is that what you’re saying?

    And then once he gets Swanson to agree to that little insert do not compromise your position, even though Swanson never put any “don’t compromise” spin in his argument, Garrett continues by taking over Swanson’s argument all together with his own assumptions of what such an unbending position is:

    GARRETT: Okay, now. Now, Dan Ellsberg, what he’s saying is do not compromise your position, because in the end it diverts your energy [vital bodily fluids?] and somehow or other you are never able to get that moment back and propel yourself forward sufficiently. What’s your response to that? [emphasis mine]

    In other words, Garrett is calling Swanson a “purist” with the usual derision that always accompanies that charge. So it sounds like both Ellesberg and Garrett are ganging on Swanson who is saying don’t vote for someone, no matter the party, swing state or no, who goes into the territory of judicial process free assassination by presidential whim. As Jill points out above, what is “centrist” about such a claim of authority? And likewise, what is “purist” about not voting for such a scoundrel?

    Oh well, no need to resolve any of this today. The owners want Obama to win and so Obama is going to win. Anything else, right now, is just air.

    1. wbgonne

      “The owners want Obama to win and so Obama is going to win.”


      We should have just used the campaign money to pay down the debt.

        1. wbgonne

          Thanks, Wendy. I still read your blogs and many of the other MyFDLs. Kevin G and Jon Walker are righteous and DDay is priceless of course. Keep the faith (and I know you will)!

          I’m calling this election for someone I don’t want. Later.

          1. wendy davis

            I do know, mon ami. And I can’t wait until it’s over; pretty uninteresting, all in all. Two corporate lackeys, one vanilla in a red tie, the other…vanilla in a blue tie. Though I confess I’d sincerely not have to look at Obomba *ever* again.

            Peace, and stay strong. We’re gonna need it.

    2. athena1

      I agree. We’re really in a Brave New World with the dems, so everyone’s kind of at a loss for now, I think. Unfortunate, but true.

  8. Me

    You know what is always missing from the “lets turn the Democratic Party into a progressive force” type of message? An analysis of how that can realistically happen. It wouldn’t be any easier, all things considered, than creating a third party on the left.

    If you got rid of the Obamas, the Ben Nelsons and the like, you could have a more progressive party. Would you not however have to do a clean sweep, including the brain trust? How exactly would that be accomplished without the type of massive organizational drive you would see in a third party candidacy? If you did that, in this Citizens United world, you would have to go up against even more money from moneyed interests. The Ben Nelsons of the world, and his followers, wouldn’t (at least in the short term) vote for a Kucinich type of candidate and the moneyed interests would also put even more money into the Republicans. In order to counter all of that you would have to have a massive organizational campaign and a well-organized social movement pushing that through and beating back the money, on the streets. How is any of this any easier than voting for Stein and building for future elections within the Green or Socialist Party (it still exists)?

    Does the left in Mexico say, hey, lets turn the PRI back towards the left? Does the left in Colombia say the same about Gaitan’s old Liberal Party? Are there any illusions in France or Spain about the Socialist Partys in those countries being actually socialist on economic issues? It’s just a silly idea, will never work.

    The only hope is to organize outside of electoral politics all together, to organize people, set up alternative institutions and to start up the radical spirit that died decades ago. Factory takeovers, general strikes, union organizing. Let the soulless political creeps follow along. Eventually the Democrats would have to adopt some of this, if it were successful, or they would slowly die. I wish they would. In the early 20th century the Socialist Party was getting about 6% of the vote and had support from more people in the country than that. Other left of center parties had support, unions were stronger and more radical and many on the left didn’t bother with electoral politics at all. The Democrats couldn’t take the left for granted.
    They can now though. The left doesn’t exist as far as economic issues really and the rest of the “left” doesn’t have any respect for itself any damn way. I don’t believe in giving up, I just think giving up on the Democrats would be better now than later. Voting for that horrible party has gotten us very bad policy and it has been a disaster for working people for decades now. It won’t be any different moving forward.

    I have to say too, I don’t think “progressive” minded people have any damn ideas outside of supporting Democrats and making them “more progressive”, whatever the hell that means. They literally have nothing else, nothing. When, not if, the next Democratic nominee for president is just like Obama, we will be in the same position, only the country will continue to crumble from neoliberal madness. It will never end, until the economy completely implodes.

    1. chris

      This is the most important point that is never made and I agree whole-heartedly. I’ve also made no bones about it.

      My vote for Jill Stein is not a vote to elect her, it is motivated specifically by my hope that Obama loses and the Democratic Party is destroyed.

      I am unafraid of a Romney presidency because I refuse to be afraid. Whatever “worse” he might bring it, is no where near worse enough to succumb to the fear tactics by Democrats who have promised to deliver a milder (by what standards “milder?”) version of the same.

      Emma Goldberg famously said that if elections mattered they’d be illegal. It had the ring of truth then but that ship has sailed. That dog don’t hunt anymore. The Rights of Man have now been made illegal and the party most egregiously responsible is the Democratic Party, a point that can not be clearer given Obama’s gleeful celebration and execution of his now codified (NDAA) right to assassinate citizens extra-judicially, sans due process. I’ve been hearing the GOP rail against the New Deal, abortion rights, etc, while trumpeting pro-corporate “free market” neo-liberalism my entire adult life (35 years). That’s not a new message no matter how much the Democrats try to scare us with it. It’s the same old same old. And in those 35 years, have those rights been strengthened? No. The Democrats have had the WH for nearly half of my adult life (Carter, Clinton and Obama) and strong majorities in Congress for more than half of it. The New Deal is weaker, abortion rights are less secure (Obama’s extension of the Hyde amendment, etc) SCOTUS is more conservative and both parties are fully on board (like SCOTUS) with the neo-liberalism that is destroying democracy globally. The Democrats, especially Obama, have willingly compromised while the GOP doubled down on their agenda and have seen it legislated into law by the Obama WH. It isn’t the GOP that made Romneycare Obamacare, it was Obama, who celebrates his betrayal to national healthcare. The Democrats have demonstrated time and time again – and never so strongly as with Obama – that the only changes they are willing to make are changes for the worse. And if Obama wins we will see more of them.

      It is not easier to make changes within the Democratic party. It is easier, and necessary, to destroy the Democratic Party from the outside, with third party votes that win nothing. One can not build upon bad to create good, one needs to destroy bad and give good a decent chance to re-establish based on a clean slate.

      I am a classical singer and teach many young aspirants at the University level. When I encounter young singers who’ve developed bad and destructive habits (muscle meomory) I tell them it is not enough to believe they can replace the bad with the good, that first and foremost the old habits need to vanish, to be forgotten so as to establish a neutral condition upon which the old habits no longer can have any influence. Old habits (muscle memory) can not be built upon with any expectation of new results. New results can only fully be achieved when the old habits are GONE, erased, forgotten.

      The last time our political culture changed significantly was when the Whigs disappeared.

      The modern Democratic party needs to whig-out before any of its pernicious anddeadly bad influence can be rectified.

      1. Aquifer

        You forget that it wasn’t just that the Whigs left, it was that they were replaced by something – so what do you want to replace the Dems with? You wouldn’t want to replace them with the Greens? Your vote for Stein was not a vote FOR Stein? Then why didn’t you vote for what you did want?

  9. Alan O

    The U.S.’s apparent downfall is the buildup of the security and war state. The costs of funding the worldwide police state is the cause of America’s problems. Why should we the people pay for our own demise? The loss of freedom is the primary agitater to not vote Dems or GOP.

  10. Barmitt O'Bamney

    Barack Obama is NOT the so-called Lesser Evil.

    He is the MODERATE Evil – get it right.

  11. Politicjock

    Ellsberg: “I think that it could be doom for a movement to earn blame for making the world worse.” And then he proceeds to ask people to do exactly that by voting for Obama.

    1. b.

      Agreed. This “you should vote my conscience” appeal from the privileged opposition is more detestable than even the unenlightened self-interest of the “as long as I get mine” self-triangulation (insert special interest here). If we do not vote together, we surely will stand apart.

  12. Vernon

    As Glen Ford stated in his, in my opinion, much better debate with Michael Eric Dyson – Obama may be the lesser evil, but he is the more effective evil. Don’t let anyone dissuade you from voting your conscience.

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