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October 27, 2010


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Jodi - To the extent that you're arguing for other forms of politics, I couldn't agree more. But...

"The more we vote, the worse it gets. [...] if voting is what has gotten the criminals into office and given them the chance to plunder and exploit, then why should we think that voting will do something different?"

Criminals get into office in all kinds of ways: by preventing people from voting (happens all the time), by forcing people to vote, by encouraging cynicism so that people think their vote is worthless (then the criminals don't even need a majority; Hitler, for instance, didn't), by ignoring voting and just taking power directly, etc.

A mass strike isn't "doing nothing"; a rally isn't just "standing around". It's easy not to exercise one's political options, especially if we convince ourselves that it's useless to try. But that just gives the game away.


Jodi Dean

Adrian--I agree with you on the strike and the rally; that was the point I was trying to make, how those add up to more than the sum of individual actions. On criminals in office: sure, I didn't say that there were not other ways that criminals get into office. I said that voting the present ones into office.

Giving the game away--presumes there is a game and that the one being played in Nov is the one that matters. My point is that with the candidates we have, the game of the current election is not the one that matters. One way to make it matter--forfeit, boycott, ignore, doing something else.

Matt Christie

In my opinion, and with all due sympathy and respect, that's just incredibly irresponsible, Jodi.


Jodi Dean

Irresponsible? Incredibly irresponsible? That's an exaggeration that borders on incoherence. My options for Congress and for governor are a fascist or a neoliberal. If the neoliberal wins, the country continues the same descent into fascism that the fascist is fighting for.

Matt Christie

It's not incoherent at all. There are lots of good Progressive candidates out there worth fighting for, and not being able to vote for them is no excuse whatsoever for not helping. And some neoliberals (like our own despicable Heath Shuler) will also occasionally vote with them on *incredibly* important legislation. No shit. It turns my stomach too, but that's what voting amounts to as a politically pragmatic act. It is neither pure, nor insignificant.

Maybe not legislation that will install a new political system overnight, but you can be damn sure what will happen if people like Ann Kuster, Alan Grayson, Russ Feingold, etc. etc. (not to mention their counterparts in the Senate) are kicked out.

We've been phone-banking, donating, canvassing...read Digby if you think this isn't important.

Jodi Dean

so your point actually isn't about voting at all--it's about 'helping' (on voting for neoliberals--I'm not going to vote for a neoliberal again. I decided never to vote for Clinton after her war vote; I decided not to vote for folks who are pro life; and now I choose not to vote for neoliberals)

Mark Olague

I respect your decision, though I had a tiresome argument with someone on Facebook about this thing--specifically, not voting for Democrats in the upcoming election. My response is that I'm Latino and a barely employed adjunct at a public institution in California: I don't have the luxury of opting out without seriously threatening my interests and commitments. Because Conservatives have made Latinos scapegoats in most of the border states in the west and southwest and the threats to public education, it is really irresponsible for me to not vote (though if there were a truly leftist and progressive candidate on the ballot I would; they don't even have to be necessarily viable, just sincerely leftist and progressive). I'm not comfortable with "pragmatic" voting either but, considering the alternative, how can we really do otherwise.

Robert Allen

All the Digby article proves is that the fascists know what the Progressives still don't realize: electoralism is over, and physical struggle on the horizon. Not voting is still a vote; a vote of no confidence. The whole system is done, almost played out. It is developing into a pre revolutionary situation. Historically the rightists will strike first. The Democrats were in power and did nothing to help gays, Latinos, working class people who lost their homes, the list goes on. There is more to politics than just voting for right wing politicians, which is your only choice. I got to vote early, absentee ballots were set up at my local library, and I seriously wanted to see the Republicans defeated as with so many times before. But I ended up voting straight ticket Socialist Worker's Party because I thought of all the betrayals and double talk of the Democrats and the awfulness of the Progressive radio talkers on America Left Sirius XM channel I listen to way too much (I thought of how the Dem candidates are all millionaires too). Ed Schultz is especially nauseating, as he trots out the old Buy American B.S, and sneers at the idea of socialism and tries to convince everybody the Dems are friends of small businessmen, like him (and it's true, they love business and hate labor. Even the labor leaders they have on as guests sound like opportunist ignoramuses spouting slogans like "a fair day's pay for a fair day's work", which is an old discredited bromide relic of the failures of the past which I don't have time to discuss how theoretically bankrupt that slogan is. No, Jodi has it right, voting is worse than standing around. However I did make it to Chicago for the recent anti war demonstration. The dem party is sort of like NPR, a gutted nothing of a rotted carcass that really isn't worth anything anymore.

Matt Christie

"Not voting is still a vote; a vote of no confidence. "

I'm sorry, this is just breathtakingly stupid.

Not voting is an act that amounts, both politically and symbolically, to endorsing the right-wing train wreck.

Also you sound no different than a loon with a gun, or the kind of person loons plant among the left to constantly discredit it (or discourage otherwise intelligent people from voting, or getting informed about real issues and involved in the process).

The implication is that people like Bernie Sanders, Patrick Leahy, Al Franken, Alan Grayson, Peter DeFazio, Marcy Kaptur, Dennis Kucinnich, Ann Kuster, Jared Polis, Chellie Pingree, Alexi Giannoulias, Mary Jo Kilroy, Elizabeth Warren, Jim McGovern, Bill Hendrick, Russ Feingold, etc. etc. etc. are all somehow less patriotic and enlightened than you for dedicating their lives and efforts to something inherently worthless, when in reality they have accomplished a great deal of real-world good (and prevented a lot of real-world bad) and deserve a hell of a lot of credit for still fighting with real courage today.


"Not voting is an act that amounts, both politically and symbolically, to endorsing the right-wing train wreck" --so does voting. that is the point. it is all just a stupid joke. robert and jodi are right. and we are all fucked.


Writing as a native of a country where, despite innumerable political scandals (fiscal and otherwise), the ruling party has been in government for twenty of the last twenty three years (Ireland), and living in a country where, despite an unprecedented collapse in capitalist infrastructure and confidence, exorbitant and ridiculous capitalists have just been voted in (the UK), I have to agree with Jocelyn.

Robert Allen

"....Russ Feingold, etc. etc. etc. are all somehow less patriotic and enlightened than you for dedicating their lives and efforts to something inherently worthless"

well. yes, if their lives are devoted to patriotism and bourgeois idealism then those things are inherently worthless to me as a member of the working class. The "loon with a gun" smear is just a way to delegitamize those who advocate revolutionary, as opposed to electoral solutions. No, we are not "fucked", but we need to understand the class forces arrayed against us, is what I'm trying to say. Not advocating terrorism here. The progressives may be talking about a different "we", a case of "decline of symbolic efficiency" if there ever was one...

Mook Lay

Anybody familiar with Jodi's work cannot be surprised by this decision not to cast a vote. Her theory of communicative capitalism and her recent innovative work around Lacanian/Žižek desire and drive is interesting. Jodi I hope you continue to think more about desire/drive. I myself am not optimistic about desire, and think drive more capable of openings for change, however I find reading your work that you tend to nail down drive as an incessant dumb repetition. Do you find any optimism in thinking drive at all? Thanks in advance

Jodi Dean

Thanks, everyone, for the lively discussion.

One of my earlier comments didn't make it:

to Mark: I don't know a lot about the politics of race in the west; it strikes me as stupid for Republicans to alienate Latino voters, particularly insofar as they may be likely to vote Republican for religious reasons and are growing in number; anti-immigrant rhetoric and policies mobilizes that section of the white vote that is already likely to vote Republican (by already I mean since the late 60s when the Republicans began attracting more middle and lower income white men); the repercussion is that moderate or even liberal democrats end up voting for the neoliberals whose policies screw them, the working class, and the rest of the country (minus the rich), and then this screwing over enrages the far right, who become more fascistic. The choice between neoliberalism and fascism ends up being fascism no matter which candidate one chooses.

Matt's rage is interesting--Matt, why don't you concede at least that for those of us not in the districts of the candidates you mention, a no vote is a vote of no confidence?

Fury at those who don't vote, who see a scam and name it, seems a lot like displaced rage.


The implication is that people like Bernie Sanders, Patrick Leahy, Al Franken, Alan Grayson, Peter DeFazio, Marcy Kaptur, Dennis Kucinnich, Ann Kuster, Jared Polis, Chellie Pingree, Alexi Giannoulias, Mary Jo Kilroy, Elizabeth Warren, Jim McGovern, Bill Hendrick, Russ Feingold, etc. etc. etc. are all somehow less patriotic and enlightened than you for dedicating their lives and efforts to something inherently worthless, when in reality they have accomplished a great deal of real-world good (and prevented a lot of real-world bad) and deserve a hell of a lot of credit for still fighting with real courage today.

Anyone who believes that politicians are serving out of patriotism or a desire to do good is so misguided about the role that money and big money interests play in our politics that there isn't even any point to discussion with them. Look at the polls on particular issues and then look at the actions of the democrats. Again and again there's large popular support for progressive policy proposals and again and again the democrats have refused to even consider these proposals. Why do you think that is? Healthcare? Obama and crew didn't even consider single payer, and never substantially fought for a public option. Education? Attack the teachers and destroy the unions while implementing massive standardized testing and privatized schooling. Financial reform? A slap on the wrist and nearly all the money going to big business. The environment? Nibbling around the edges. The BP Oil spill? No new regulation or attempt to raise environmental awareness about our dependence on fossil fuels, while putting them in charge of everything. See a pattern here? Wherever there's the opportunity to side with big money interests, the democrats side with big money interests. "Oh but they face so much opposition and the republicans are obstructionist!" So this means that they can't even bother to put things on the table? That they can't even begin to fight for a set of policies that isn't framed in terms of neo-liberal, anti-working and middle class policies? Give me a break.

As I said over at Larval Subjects, I'm with Jodi here. I don't yet know whether or not I'll vote (though I'm in Texas so it doesn't much matter), but for too long the American left has been held hostage by a sort of political blackmail by establishment democrats that say "vote for us or you'll get them!" First the argument runs that not voting is a vote for the scary right. Then the argument becomes that if you do vote yet vote for a third party candidate it's a vote for the scary right. Like Lacan's vel of alienation, it's a "money or your life!" scenario and is intentionally designed to be such. The democrats are just the less crazy conservatives, but they are conservatives nonetheless. Until leftists cease behaving like weenies and learn how to organize an alternative there's really not much hope. Buyers remorse indeed.


Ack, the first paragraph of the post above should have quotation marks around it.

Jodi Dean

thanks, Levi, and for the link. I am sick and tired of being played by the Dems. Why pretend that they are an opposition party? why pretend that their policies benefit the majority? the latest business on not stopping foreclosures is a total slap in the face (I also thought Obama's lame cite Bush's 'heck-of-a job' remark--last night on the Daily Show--was shockingly insensitive, less a self mockery than a mockery of the rest of us for thinking he would bring change)


I agree with you Jodi, but whould add a reminder to those who don't vote (as a legit vote of no confidence) to then go out and participate in some other way. Don't vote, ok, but DO SOMETHING. Cheers~

Matt Christie

"Matt, why don't you concede at least that for those of us not in the districts of the candidates you mention, a no vote is a vote of no confidence?"

Sure, in some sense of course it is. Although I don't hear that argument being made very convincingly here. Also I never had "confidence" per se in the Blue Dogs to begin with, so there's a bit more involved there maybe.

I have this debate with friends all the time (and as you know, usually argue the other side, against mainstream big tent Democrats). But I voted for Heath Shuler, despite the fact that he's a Blue Dog recruiter, voted against the health care bill and against the stimulus, because he's actually done more than nearly anybody else in North Carolina's recent political history to protect the environment and support renewable energy. Which is not to say it wasn't an act that turned my stomach, or that for me isn't deeply conditional. I've spoken out, and called his office numerous times to express my deep resentment at being held hostage by this future environmental vote, when in my estimation he's an even more sorry excuse for a real (pre-DNC/Clintonian/third way/triangulating) Democrat than he was a quarterback in the NFL, and that if he doesn't deliver I will work tirelessly to help punish and defeat him. But despite the center of Asheville being largely progressive, he represents a district that is overwhelmingly "conservative" and that's just the reality. Until you convince those people not to vote Tea Bagger or Blue Dog, you've got a fundamental problem. Now you could argue that having a smaller, but more tightly-knit progressive Democratic party with a more historically-aware and relentlessly persuasive anti-corporate, pro-working class message backed up by more uncompromising action would be more effective, and I think that's a more than fair argument to make. Digby actually does so, here:


Similarly in a more precise vein, as someone who lives and whose children will live in this area I am persuaded, against the tendencies of my own well-earned rage and anger and pent-up resentment at the larger reality of the last several decades, by specific arguments such as this (apologies if this is boring to anyone):


Believe me, I am just as aware of "the class forces arrayed against us" as you, or anyone on the far left, Robert.

Actually, my honest feeling is that a lot of the sneering here is a direct result of not being involved in some tangible, on-the-ground (as opposed to theoretical) way in local or national politics...and believe me there are *plenty* of ways for a social progressive democrat to get off their butt and do precisely that, with tangible results for real people. There is no reason why a more nuanced, Lacanian or Marxist critique can't co-exist with such practical involvement. Indeed I'd say it was a distinct obligation.

Or, I suppose, you could just kick up your heels, sneer and moan and wait for the impending violence (whether an actual revolution is even possible these days, let alone one that would in any way benefit the left is to say the least, highly questionable).

Jodi Dean

Matt--Robert is active (he mentions attending an anti-war demonstration in Chicago in his first comment). My partner is vice pres of our Geneva city democrats; the argument I'm making here is directly connected with the split in Geneva over Arcuri and whether to support him (which means go door to door, not just vote). So, I think your assumption of inactivity is misplaced. Although it isn't the same thing, I've been giving a lot of lectures lately on communist themes--the mood feels different, more exciting and alive and actual than it has in a couple of decades. I don't think that is merely theoretical at all; I think it is a component of a struggle around hegemony.

Robert Allen

I'm definitely not sneering, I had every intention of going into that voting booth (yes, they had booths even though it was an absentee ballot) and voting Democratic for all the reasons Matt mentioned, and I do not mean to dishonor his efforts in any way. It's just that when it came to that moment, even though I knew a vote for the SWP was meaningless on many levels as electoral politics is just a means of agitation for them, I thought "these SWP candidates are people I actually know. And people like Leonard Boswell and Chet Culver will go back to their McMansions, win or lose, and live out comfortable lives while my friends and family try to eke out a bare existence in this becoming-horror of working class daily life. Although I don't belong to their party, I wouldn't know beans about class struggle or any hope for the future if it wasn't for them"-- or something like that, I certainly wouldn't be having this discussion with all you wonderful people, Matt included if it weren't for them, so I just ran with the horses that brung me.


For what its worth I would have agreed with Matt back in 2003 with the invasion of Iraq. I was so convinced that however lame and corporatist Gore was, he wouldn't have dreamed of doing something so reckless as invading a middle eastern country unprovoked. But look at where we are today - we have a democratic administration siding with big business at every opportunity, whether it is health care, the environment, financial regulation. Ofcourse, the oligarchy has backed the republicans because they want no resistance at all, but ultimately neoliberalism isn't any different whether implemented by an R or a D.

But ofcourse Matt is right the local elections can make a huge difference. In Minnesota the democratic candidate has declared he will tax the rich, the incumbent attourny general is investigating forclosure fraud, and I could go on but you see the point. Individual candidates in specific areas do make a difference in people's lives. And my congressman is Keith Ellison, who generally in on the right side of most issues. But even he plays ball too often.

I believe we are on the verge of a catastrophic economic collapse. Not just for the working smucks like me but for everybody except the elite. I hope I am wrong but if I am not, electoral politics are the last thing we will have to worry about. There are extreme elements of the right that are armed and ready for the conflagration. I thiink it is time for the rest of us to prepare - and I am not what that means but I am personally trying to figure it out.

The Mathmos

A tremendous decision. I'm with you on this. The intellectual capture of the left by the Dems has to stop. It's getting absurd.


Matt I wonder if you have seen the recent truthdig piece from Chris Hedges. I usually think he is abit apocalyptic but his general diagnosis rings true today, particularly this summary of the death of the liberal class:

"As long as the liberal class had even limited influence, whether through the press or the legislative process, liberals were tolerated and even respected. But once the liberal class lost all influence it became a class of parasites. The liberal class, like the déclassé French aristocracy, has no real function within the power elite. And the rising right-wing populists, correctly, ask why liberals should be tolerated when their rhetoric bears no relation to reality and their presence has no influence on power."

One must agree that true liberals have no power on Washington. And if so are they nothing more than ineffectual puppets? Whither shall the people go without a leader?

Jodi Dean

the article sounds interesting--I'm going to look for it

Eileen O'Connor Casey

I didn't vote either. I think voting gives people a false feeling of control over who governs them and how. Like, "we can choose fascism now or fascism later. Look at all our power!" And I linked to this post on Facebook. Man was that ever an unpopular status update. People seemed genuinely threatened by my non-vote.

I got the tired old argument--which I am surprised I don't see here--that by not voting I concede my "right to criticize" the government. What idiot came up with that? How in the world should one of my rights depend on whether or not I exercise another? I'm sure they mean that I don't have *grounds* to criticize, but still, the opposite is at least more logical. In agreeing to play a win/lose game, one gives implicit consent to accept either outcome. Taking part in the game is much closer to conceding the right to criticize than opting out.

Robert Allen

right to criticize" the government

yes, one of the reasons I was driven off Fascistbook (under threat of losing my job, yet again) was because I was critical of the military (I guess even hired killers have thin skins!) and one friend surprised me with the old canard "well, since you served you have the right to criticize". Huh? As if, if I hadn't "served" I didn't have the right to criticize. I was seventeen years old fer chrissakes, a high school dropout with a pregnant girlfriend, we did the right thing and got married cuz we didn't believe in abortion (a view that's changed radically!) yadda yadda, had nothing to do with patriotism, wanting to kill Charlie Cong, blah.
Nowadays the military is highly fetishized, but back when I was in, it was where the judge sent you.

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