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Dear Fellow Leftist:

I’m not talking to the average liberal, or to undecided voters. I’m talking to you, a fellow member of what is sometimes called “the hard left.” Before I begin, I’m tempted to recap some of the legitimate grievances you and I have against the Democratic Party, if only to show that I know where you’re coming from. But I’ll skip it, because time is short.

Instead, I’m going to tell you why I plan to vote Democratic anyway and why I think you should, too.

Leftists like us have been asked to vote Democratic before. But the party’s divisive history and its tendency to blame the left for its own shortcomings have poisoned many of these requests. Too often they resonate with an unspoken (or open) sense of judgement, as in, “Don’t be self-indulgent, or lazy, or (insert judgement here) like you were last time.”

That’s not how I see it. I see third-party voters, and many non-voters as well, as smart and ethical people who feel that the failings and misdeeds of Democrats are too grave for them to support in good conscience. Illegal drone strikes, tech censorship, neoliberalism, actions that heighten a New Cold War atmosphere ... if you’re in my political camp, you know the list as well as I do.

I’m not going to insult you for not voting Democratic in past elections. I respect you. But if you’re planning to do the same thing this year, here’s why I’m asking you to reconsider.

1. Democracy

Do you believe we need a major transformation of our political and economic systems if we are to survive? Do you believe we need to demilitarize our government by massively reducing the military/industrial complex and ending mass incarceration? Do you think we need to end the ongoing class war the rich are conducting against the poor? Do you think we need to reorganize our economy to save lives, end structural racism, ensure a living wage for all, and prepare for a green future?

Yeah, me too.

Do you think the Democrats are doing 1/10th of what’s needed to make those things happen?

Me neither.

Here’s the thing: without a working democracy, none of the things we believe in will ever be achievable. I don’t know about you, but I don’t see anything like the preconditions for a militant workers’ revolution. That leaves democracy.

The Republicans aren’t kidding about dismantling democracy. During the height of Russiagate, which inflated the foreign threat as another attempt to deflect blame, I wrote a Common Dreams column titled “While Democrats Chase Russians, Republicans Keep Rigging Elections.” Democrats know they’re a threat now, but they keep making their case in the wrong way. For one thing, they keep personalizing the threat in Donald Trump. They seem to have forgotten the stolen election of 2000 (or perhaps they forgave it when George W. Bush gave Michelle Obama a piece of candy). Fortunately, they’re finally emphasizing the GOP’s race-driven voter suppression.

The historian Lewis L. Gould, whom I recently cited for an American Prospect article on Social Security, is perhaps our leading authority on the Republican Party. In 2003, Gould wrote of an “ingrained Republican sense of entitlement as the natural governing party,” a quality he traced back to McKinley and the presidential election of 1896. Mix that with the delusion that God is on your side and you have a recipe for authoritarianism.

This is a party that lets its politicians laugh and joke about violence, including a hammer attack on an 82-year-old man. As Maya Angelou said, “When someone tells you who they are, believe them.”

Perhaps the biggest mistake Democrats make when they talk about democracy is that they talk like we had it once, before Trump came along. That’s out of touch. Even before Bush v Gore, even before the Supreme Court gave free rein to donor-driven corruption, our democracy was failing most voters. And voters know it.

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But the GOP is planning to take a broken system and make it worse, as part of a worldwide totalitarian movement. That would leave the left with very little space to organize. Change at the ballot box will be impossible, and street organizing will be met with vigilante violence. The bloodshed of past months would merely be the prelude to something much more horrifying.

“They got the guns,” said Jim Morrison, “but we got the numbers.” Maybe, but they’ve got lots more guns now than they had in Jim’s day. What happens when they have the government, too?

2. Incremental Dems and Extremist Republicans

What about policy? People here in Washington DC think I’m impossible to please, but I thought the original, $3.5 trillion Build Back Better package was too small. You probably did, too. Still, it was much more than any Democratic president had offered in at least fifty years. Yes, it was cut back dramatically. But it shows the growing power of the left – which is why some people hate us.

I debated a prominent Democratic economist once who proudly said, “I’m an incrementalist.” I thought that was odd, and misguided. Incrementalism is a tactic, not an ideology or an identity. Now, the party is slowly discovering that the time for incrementalism-as-ideology has passed.

I don’t want to oversell what the party has done or will do. But I do know that the Republicans are anything but incrementalist in their approach. House Republicans have made it clear that, if they win next week, they will begin the process of cutting Social Security and Medicare. That’s not scare rhetoric; it’s reality. They’ll go after a whole range of other social programs, too.

I don’t know about you, but I’m not confident in a scenario that says a big Democratic loss today will result in a better world tomorrow. I’m not cosmic enough to accept a potential wave of death and misery on the theory that something better will emerge from it later on.

3. Wars, Cold and Hot

Some friends of mine have argued that a Republican victory would, at least, slow the march to war we’ve seen in the last two years. If Biden’s domestic policy has exceeded expectations, his foreign policy has fallen far short of them.

I think the Democrats’ bellicose rhetoric, China-baiting, proxy war, and over-funding of the Pentagon are disastrous. And they’re probably hurting themselves with a war-weary and economically battered electorate. But I don’t believe the Republicans will slow the war machine; they’ve always voted en masse for expanding the defense budget. Ukrainians don’t believe it, either, according to reporting from Politico. Ukraine expects even more weaponry from a Republican Congress; they expect cuts to humanitarian aid instead.

Closing Arguments

Am I sure that democracy will die if the Republicans win? No. Like I said, I’m not cosmic enough to know the future. But the threat is real.

I also know that neither party is entirely innocent on the question of democracy. Democratic moves to censor social media platforms are wrong, as are some of the party’s internal rules and the use of dark money in its primaries. But I believe that the Republicans represent the more immediate and probable threat to democratic process. And I’m 100 percent certain that more people will suffer, and more will die, if they win.

I know many Democratic officials. I like and respect some of them; I disagree with many of them, frequently and sometimes profoundly. I’ve met likeable Republican officials, too, while I find my state’s Democratic candidate for governor a distasteful Wall Street type. This is not about personalities; it never was.

People ask me if the Democrats will lose. It looks bad but, nope, I’m still not psychic. Upsets happen. But either way, it’s important to be on record as an opponent of this extreme agenda.

This isn’t an emotional or sentimental choice. It’s a tactical one. However powerless we may feel here on the left, we have more leverage with Democrats than it seems. After all, most of their voters agree with us on issues like Medicare For All.

But you don’t have to like Democrats to understand that voting for them will result in less misery, and that defending today’s tattered democracy will give the left more space to grow – and perhaps, one day, to win.

That’s why I’m voting Democratic. Please join me.

Absolute Zero