In the fall of 2018, when Indiana was debating whether or not to reelect Senator Joe Donnelly, I had a discussion with a friend at a party, explaining that I was likely going to abstain from voting in the senatorial race because I did not feel either candidate had earned my vote. She replied, “that’s a pretty privileged position, don’t you think?”
In the moment, I laughed it off and moved on, but as the first Democratic Presidential Debate looms, I’ve started to hear this argument growing in prominence once again. To someone whose core issue is some domestic social problem like hate crime bills or abortion access, it makes sense to believe anyone who isn’t out voting for every single Democrat on the ticket must be so privileged that they cannot see the difference between right and left. That perspective, however, is not only incorrect but in and of itself rooted in immense socioeconomic and political advantages. It isn’t that leftists are so privileged our lives won’t change no matter who wins; it’s that moderates are so privileged that they can rely on any centrist Democrat to make their lives better.
If my main concern is press freedom for whistleblowers, Donald Trump and Pete Buttigieg are indistinguishable to me. If I care about prison reform, sex workers, or trans liberation, what’s the difference between Donald Trump and Kamala Harris? The education policy of Cory Booker and Donald Trump are virtually the same. I can’t tell the difference between where Joe Biden and Donald Trump stand on foreign policy. These examples are some of the issues which truly affect the world’s most disadvantaged: the non-American, non-white, non-wealthy human beings around the globe. By “voting blue no matter who,” I am telling the Democratic Party that it does not have to worry about such issues (or such people). I am sending the message that as long as one pays lip service to my reproductive rights, puts queer people in a commercial, or says the wall wouldn’t properly keep all those horrible illegal immigrants out, they have done enough. And, as a white person, despite being queer and female, my life would probably not change. It might even get better.
However, can I really then say that I care for my fellow women while I endorse a government that kills them en masse in Yemen? Can I truly argue that I fight for other queer folks when the party I signed my name for still deports them back to countries where their lives are in danger? Can I say I am an ally to Black Americans while I vote for someone whose policies will do nothing to fight their mass incarceration? Glossing over such realities and demanding that others fall in line regardless of who wins the Party’s nomination so you can rest easy with the knowledge that the pig is now wearing a thick coat of lipstick is the epitome of privilege.
As it stands, I feel there are about four or five Democrats who have earned my vote and, if they win the election, I will happily cast my ballot for them. It could change but, as of today, that’s it. To me, these are the compromises. None of them are perfect — I disagree with just about all of them on gun control, I worry they are disingenuous about wanting to divest from the war economy, and none of them are as strong on labor rights as I would like. On top of these disagreements, I also know that I will always have the option to cast my ballot for the Green Party candidate, someone I know I could feel proud of were they to win and who I trust unconditionally to enact an agenda I support. If I vote blue, despite all that, you can be sure that I am giving up all of the ground I can without losing my morals. So, when someone tells me to “vote blue no matter who,” they essentially say that not only are they incapable of distinguishing between the 20+ candidates currently running for president and don’t care to, but that they cannot conceive of someone who sees progressive candidates as the middle ground. The phrase itself gives away that its advocates do not have a full image of the political spectrum in their minds and, as such, can only think to criticize based on false assumptions.
In the United States, we teach folks from a young age that the political spectrum exists between right and left and that the Democratic Party is as good as it ever gets for the left side. Instead of educating each other about comprehensive ideologies, we talk about issues and emphasize those upon which Democrats and Republicans disagree. It can seem as though the spectrum is wide-ranging but in reality most folks fall outside of it — both ideologicially and because most Americans don’t vote. Why is it a leftist’s job to continue over and over to compromise their morals when they could so easily once again join that majority of people who leave the ballot blank or stay home? Why is it not the job of the candidate to convince leftists to vote for them? Isn’t that . . . the whole point of a campaign?
Democrats frequently talk about trying to move to the middle to catch Republicans (which doesn’t really work) because they have been deluded into believing that their base will support whoever they put up. They do things that make us unhappy because they face no consequences for doing so. We fall in line, they learn that we are expendable, and they no longer have a reason to keep us satisfied by making our lives better in the practical world. Why else would every other pundit say that farther left candidates are “risky” but moderate candidates are “safe?”
Donald Trump came to power in this country because he was able to excite voters in varied regions with xenophobic rhetoric and policy proposals, while Hillary Clinton could not excite voters. The majority of Sanders voters (including me) fell in line, “voted blue no matter who” and still couldn’t stop Trump. A large part of this result was fueled by the fact that Obama’s economic policies were so similar to moderate Republicans’ that life didn’t get better for working class people who truly were swing voters and the Party was thusly punished when folks switched to Trump. Why did I have to vote for a woman who bragged about using slave labor in her memoir to prove how “woke” I was? Whose lives are these “no matter who” voters really going to make better? To me, it seems like white, upper-class people are the only beneficiaries of a Democratic victory and, in order to earn that victory, they sacrifice the potential that things could get better for everyone else. That is, of course, assuming whichever mediocre centrist wins the primary could even beat Trump, something I highly doubt after watching 2016.
The Republican Party will never be on the side of the working class, the non-white, the non-American, or the non-male; if whipped into shape the Democratic Party could be. To continue conceding that we must support them unconditionally and never make them face consequences for their votes or policies is to say that you only see a “difference” if you are the one affected. You are telling the Party that small victories and eloquent speeches to placate the public are sufficient while people starve on the street and die at the hands of American weapons. It does not matter to the vast majority of people whether Donald Trump or Michael Bloomberg is president — their lives will remain bad in all the same ways and potentially get worse if that Bloomberg presidency brings a Trump 2.0 later on as Obama’s presidency brought the original. The life and welfare of human beings is too precious to continue demanding unquestioning authority for those who refuse again and again to actually fix the problems that truly make people’s lives worse. Now is not the time to tell politicians that “business as usual” and ignoring their constituents is the key to success — that’s the strategy that brought us where we are today.
I contend that the most selfish thing a white woman like me could do in 2020 is “vote blue no matter who.” We cannot afford those in relative positions of power continuing to endorse the flawed narrative that the Deporter-In-Chief’s party will save us. The American political imagination has been squelched by this myth and we cannot throw those most in need under the bus to make white women feel secure again. The next Democratic president will decide how the Party responds to the Trump presidency: is continuing the policies that bred Trump really the best we have to offer?
Every policy shift is either towards the left or towards the right and moving rightward should mean losing voters like me. The party can no longer keep ignoring everything progressives stand for and expecting our votes anyway; why bother having our own thoughts if we have to ignore them every time we voice our say in government? If the Party wants to campaign on returning to a status quo that didn’t support everyone, that is their prerogative. However, it should be prepared for the consequences.
When a candidate decides to waffle in the middle of our already-conservative political spectrum, that is said candidate’s decision; “vote blue no matter who” Democrats had just better hope the ensuing lost working class votes are accounted for in the candidate’s cost-benefit analysis. Who knows? Perhaps the Party truly will pick up two moderate Republicans when they say they want to build a different kind of wall or sign bills into law that ban abortion. Either way, I will no longer sit by and allow my votes for foreign wars, economic inequality, and horrendous immigration policies to weigh on my conscience because it was the “lesser of two evils.” There is a world where neither candidate is evil. The Democrats just need to learn they can no longer get away with being evil in the first place.