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Voting for Biden Without Lying to Yourself

Voting for Biden is worthwhile because it's a vote against somebody who's actively trying to destroy all the good or even semi-okay parts of the government. Including voting itself. And we'll need those bits to still exist, including voting, if we ever hope to have a real democracy. That's it. That's the reason.

A protestor interrupts Democratic presidential candidate, former vice President Joe Biden during a town hall on November 21, 2019 in Greenwood, South Carolina. (Photo: Sean Rayford/Getty Images)

A protestor interrupts Democratic presidential candidate, former vice President Joe Biden during a town hall on November 21, 2019 in Greenwood, South Carolina. (Photo: Sean Rayford/Getty Images)

That’s the first lie. That you have to vote, I mean. That if you don’t vote you don’t have a right to complain or you’re personally deeply responsible for the evil person getting elected or whatever.

It’s just not true.

It would sort of be true IF an election came down to one single vote’s difference AND IF the voting system created a meaningful connection between public preferences and actual policy.

The former is virtually impossible, though, which means that the moral weight of each vote is fractional. At most, you’re a teeny-tiny bit responsible for shitty outcomes (also for good ones!) if you decide not to vote (also if you decide to vote!). It’s like recycling: you really should do it, but if you fail to, you’re pretty far down the chain of causes of our environmental catastrophe. (NB: I recycle pretty religiously. Why be an asshole?)

"If you want democracy, you’ll have to make it yourself. So, vote to salvage some of the pieces we’ll need down the way, then do the real work of organizing with comrades."

As importantly, voting isn’t a pathway to producing political outcomes for regular people. In the United States, voting (in federal elections especially) is basically decoupled from real policy. It doesn’t matter what you want, in other words. Voting is to a large extent a hostage situation, and you’re both the hostage and the one paying.

Which is why roughly half the electorate doesn’t vote at all.

I can’t say it doesn’t matter whether YOU vote, though, or that you shouldn’t vote. It does matter, and you probably should. I’m just saying you don’t have to.

Morally speaking, voting in a system that keeps making your life worse is ambiguous and complex. The people saying you simply have to vote are lying.

They’re lying to themselves, too, so try not get too offended about it.

Voting for a Bunch of Shitty Democrats

Still, I think you should vote. And I think you should vote in a particular way.

If you do vote, you don’t have to inform yourself about the candidates. People say that you do, but they are also lying.

If you do vote, and you don’t decide to inform yourself, you may want to vote a party line. It’s not ideal, but millions of people do it. If so, you’ll probably do more good than harm with Democrats. Certainly, you won’t be the only one who went in uninformed about who was on the ballot but voted anyhow. And that really might be better than not voting at all.

If you’re going to spend a limited amount of intellectual energy learning about politics, you may be better served reading Teen Vogue on Marx and racial capitalism than poring over candidate bios and positions.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t research candidates. You really should and it doesn’t take as much time as you’d maybe think. I’m just saying, at this exact moment, that if election day rolls around and you haven’t done the research yet, laying bets on a bunch of shitty Democrat candidates you don’t know over a bunch of horrible Republican candidates you don’t know is a sound wager.

Unless you’re super-racist, Christian in a mean-spirited way where you want life to be more unpleasant for anyone who isn’t your type of Christian, or a billionaire with a bunker who doesn’t care about other people. If you’re one of those things, your interests probably align well with the Republican slate.

For everyone else, it’s do your own candidate-by-candidate research or vote Democrat. If you have a Working Families Party or Green or, even better, a Democratic Socialists of America option, that may be winnable for state and local stuff and is worth looking into ahead of time, but for anything federal that isn’t pretty well known to you, almost any shitty Democrat is a better bet than almost any especially good Republican.

This isn’t because the Democrats are good, mind. They’re mostly shit. I’ll come back to that at the end.

Voting for Shitty Biden

If you do decide to vote, it’s important for somebody to acknowledge directly that you don’t have to vote for Joe Biden.

You probably should vote for him at the top of the ticket, but you don’t have to. You’re not a shitty person if you don’t.

Or, at least, you’re no shittier than the millions of people who ensured the Democratic establishment would foist Biden on you by loudly proclaiming #BlueNoMatterWho a year and more in advance of elections.

Remember how it was that you ended up with this terrible option the next time people ask you to give away all of your political leverage in advance.

That said, I’m going to offer some reasons why you should vote for Joe Biden, prefaced by common lies about why Joe Biden is great or at least not shit. For each, I repeat the common lie, explain why it’s a lie, and suggest a reason you should probably vote for Biden anyhow.

For the sake of brevity, I’ll skip over a bunch of ways people talk about Joe Biden that aren’t exactly lies, but are just ugly and gross and complete turn-offs in every way. (Like when they did the quick hypocritical turnabout from believing women in general to adamantly not believing the specific woman who accused Biden of sexual assault, Tara Reade, which made them all sound awfully like Republicans.) I’ll also skip over a bunch of things people get super unhappy about when Republicans do it, but basically refuse to notice when Democrats do it. (Like the fact that the cages Trump put those kids in were built by Obama and Biden.)

Some Lies about Why Biden Is Good

Lie #1: Biden fights for the “little guy” and is a “straight shooter.”

This is an idiotic and obvious lie. Biden fights for big pharma and for the banking industry and for the war manufacturers and for the insurance companies. He fights for the CEOs and the Boards of Directors. And they fight for him. He’s a terrible candidate for the little guy, like nearly everyone in both major parties. He’s not a lesser evil. He’s also a giant liar. Not as big a liar as his opponent, who basically never says anything true except that politicians lie, but still: when you vote Joe, you get lots and lots of malarkey. Voting for Biden is worthwhile because it’s a vote against somebody who’s actively trying to destroy all the good or even semi-okay parts of the government. Including voting itself. And we’ll need those bits to still exist, including voting, if we ever hope to have a real democracy. That’s it. That’s the reason.

Lie #2: Biden is good for Black Americans.

No, he’s not. He’s terrible for Black Americans. He’s spent most of his career locking up Black Americans and lying about being part of the Civil Rights movement. Joe Biden is good at ingratiating himself with a subset of wealthy and politically strong Black Americans, but at the level of both policy and communication style (both past and present) he is just normal American white supremacist bad. His opponent is no better—much uglier in his personal racism, but about equally bad for Black Americans at the level of policy. They’re both worse. Voting for Biden is worthwhile because it’s a vote against somebody who’s actively trying to destroy all the good or even semi-okay parts of the government. Including voting itself.

Lie #3: Biden’s platform is the most progressive in American history.

Not even close. Basically all of the left-wing third-party platforms have been more progressive. Go ahead and start with Eugene Debs. Biden’s might be the most progressive Democratic Party platform ever, but it also might not. If it is, this is also the highest-numbered year in American history. Shouldn’t the platform of the party that supposedly believes in progress by definition be more progressive than ever? More importantly, saying you’ll do nice things doesn’t mean you’ll actually do them—especially when you’ve spent your whole life not doing them and have already begun assuring all of your shitty major donors that you won’t do them. Past behavior is an indicator of future performance. Still, on this one Biden is genuinely better than his opponent, who is incoherent and malicious, and so mostly says he’ll do mean things for no good reason. If there’s enough popular pressure AND widespread disaster, a Biden presidency might end up being very modestly left, but that’s a pretty big “if.” A better bet is that voting for Biden is worthwhile because it’s a vote against somebody who’s actively trying to destroy all the good or even semi-okay parts of the government. Including voting itself.

Lie #4: Biden is mentally fit.

He’s in extremely clear cognitive decline. Democrats should be embarrassed to be running him as a candidate. They’re trying to make you feel bad by lying about it, pretending his obvious mental lapses are a stutter and you’re a jerk for noticing and not understanding it. But watch videos of the guy from when he was pushing with a stutter but also great lucidity the crime bill that has destroyed so many lives since he got it through in 1994 (he was still lying about how great it was in 2016, by the way). Biden’s had a stutter all his life, but the speaker in older videos--all the way up through his time as a vice president--is a highly effective orator. Gaffes, sure, a carefully managed stutter, sure, but not clear cognitive breaks and big confusion like nowadays. In fairness, Joe Biden’s opponent is equally obviously unfit, not only cognitively in decline but seriously deranged. Once more, they’re both worse. Voting for Biden is worthwhile because it’s a vote against somebody who’s actively trying to destroy all the good or even semi-okay parts of the government. Including voting itself.

Lie #5: Biden will “pivot left" in office if we push him.

No, he won’t. They never do. And this one especially not. He’s a cozy, clubby shithead who likes to be comfortable and feel important, and who relies entirely on the ultra-wealthy to make that possible for him. Unless the ultra-wealthy decide a little left pivoting is necessary to save themselves from the guillotine, Joe Biden will stay true to the shitty course he’s followed for many decades. The guy he’s running against is a lot worse still, in terms of I-got-mine-so-fuck-you personal ideology, but electing Biden runs the real risk that all the millions of people who stopped sleepwalking for ten seconds here recently will go right back to sleep once “their” guy is in the White House. So, it’s a wash again who’s worse: they both are. Still, voting for Biden is worthwhile because it’s a vote against somebody who’s actively trying to destroy all the good or even semi-okay parts of the government. Including voting itself.

And so okay, fine, I did lie about the one thing. I said there would be reasons plural. There’s basically just one solid reason to vote for Biden.

Voting for Biden is worthwhile because it’s a vote against somebody who’s actively trying to destroy all the good or even semi-okay parts of the government. Including voting itself. And we’ll need those bits to still exist, including voting, if we ever hope to have a real democracy. That’s it. That’s the reason.


Betting on the Shitty Democrats

Voting for Biden is a wager. It’s not a slam-dunk. People who tell you it’s the obvious or only choice are lying. There’s a big risk to Biden.

Under Trump, millions of normally politically apathetic Americans have been mobilized. These are people who usually do vote, but don’t think seriously about the structure of society. Now, they’ve gotten political, learned more about the system of government they live under in three years than in the thirty before. They’ve been outraged, ready for action. Hell, they’ve even taken seriously the idea that black lives matter. They’ve agreed on that idea in greater numbers than at any point during the nation’s history, including during the Civil Rights movement or the Civil War.

What happens if and when Trump goes away?

Does all that ardor vanish? Probably.

At least for the newly political older generations—X and up—who hate how Trump makes them feel even as they’re basically comfortable in the world in many ways, a Biden win will probably mean a vanishing of critical thought. Those folks can’t be relied upon. They’re desperate to get back to a “normal" that, for them, was on the whole niceish.

They will probably be just fine with the Democratic Party being characteristically shitty, as long as it doesn’t make them feel too bad about themselves, their country, their future.

Characteristically shitty, by the way, includes lack of or itsy-bitsy-relative-to-the-emergency fake-pragmatic action on healthcare, student loans, endless war, the climate, massive inequality, and all the rest. If Biden is elected, the (very real) risk is that people who are a little progressive right now will go back to acquiescing to all manner of awfulness while patting themselves on the back for how good they are.

Try not to be too disappointed in or angry with them if that happens.

Celebrate the ones who get it right despite the lulling temptation of their not having to be honest about the realities that make your life needlessly painful.

They’ve been awake for a quick second, and if you help them elect Biden, most of them will go right back to sleep and then will be extremely salty with you if you try to rouse them. That’s the danger of Biden. He’s shitty, and his party is shitty, and most of his backers are shitty.

That’s why they’re so ready to lie to you now.

Still, though, don’t be too hard on them. If you had the option of pretending everything was okay and getting away with it, be honest: you very likely would. It’s hard to be real about how fucked everything is, especially when you don’t absolutely have to be, especially when it’s really, really, really, really fucked.

(Yeah, I’m talking about global climate catastrophe and societal collapse.)

The thing is, the other guys are actively working to destroy pieces of the government that we need. Trump and the Republican Party are not just indifferent or mildly hostile to democracy, like the Democrats. They’re in the process of blowing up as many useful institutions as they can.

We need those institutions. The only electoral option for stopping them being blown up is Biden at the top and (mostly) Democrats down the ticket.

As arch Biden-hater Nathan Robinson cogently put it,

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“I am not Team Joe. I will never be Team Joe. I do not Vote Blue No Matter Who. I vote blue when the consequences of not voting blue are worse than the consequences of voting blue. This election must be thought of as a war to stop an authoritarian government from consolidating power. We must assume we are likely to lose that war until we are certain we have won it. Otherwise, we will look back in a few years and wonder why the hell we let our hatred of Joe Biden lead us to an immediate, outright slide into fascism.”

If you do decide to vote, don’t let shitty Dem backers buffalo you into joining them in lying about the state of our emergency or the shittiness of their party and presidential candidate.

You’re voting to safeguard some democratically useful institutions. The rest is all pretty debatable as to how it will cash out.

Institutions for a Future Democracy

Biden is basically worthless. The party he reps is decaying garbage, and its backers—the wealthy above all, but also most of the moderately well-heeled in the punditry and professoriate—are too committed to feeling good to hold him or the party to account. And, personally, he’s just shit.

He’s still the better bet. Not because he’s the “lesser evil”--jury’s out on that, and it’s a lousy principle for political decision-making anyhow.

Biden, along with Democrats at large, is an okayish bet because, literally right now, Republicans, headed by Trump, are actively working to dismantle the institutions of democratic possibility, and electing him will interfere with that, and there is now no one else who can be elected who will interfere with that.

A separation of powers, checks and balances, limits on corruption, hell, the post office: shit you learned about in a civics or government class or on YouTube at some point. It’s all democratically useful.

We may not have a real democracy (spoiler: we definitely don’t have a real democracy), but we do have some pretty good starts on democratic possibility. These are political institutions that, while bad and flawed in any number of ways, genuinely can be used to build equality, freedom, people power (demos + kratia). If we hope to have a democracy someday, we’ll probably want to do what we can now to stop those institutions being completely destroyed.

A first Trump administration has left a lot of the good and semi-okay pieces of the American system of governance pretty well fucked. A second Trump administration threatens to destroy them entirely.

There’s one very good reason to vote for Joe Biden, and it has nothing to do with Joe Biden.

If we’re going to make a democracy, or even lurch toward the less horrible versions of climate emergency arrayed before us, we’re going to need a lot of the institutions that insulate the general public from the worst impulses of ruling elites. Those institutions form a basis for collective action that, though largely controlled by the ultra-wealthy, has legitimate democratic utility. On some level, most Americans understand this fact.

For now.

Voting for Joe Biden, and for Democrats down-ticket, is a responsible bet because those people, with their fake and bullshitty idea of normalcy, are trying to stop the current president and the GOP from building a doomsday device out of bits and pieces stripped off of our framework for the possibility of democracy.

Biden’s a responsible piece-of-shit bet, if and if only if you don’t let the liars get you twisted.

So yeah, vote for the guy, and for his cop VP Kamala Harris, who’s also pretty terrible.

And keep in mind that he’s shit, and his party is shit, and the rising stars the shit party’s shit big donors have waiting in the wings—the Eric Swalwells and Pete Buttigiegs and that one Kennedy boy—are all shit.

Vote to save some pieces of government that will be handy down the road. Vote with an eye to a different kind of future, and with honesty about how shit the option is.

If you want democracy, you’ll have to make it yourself. So, vote to salvage some of the pieces we’ll need down the way, then do the real work of organizing with comrades.

Folk singer and left activist Joan Baez put it best when she said, many decades ago, “Ain’t gonna let nobody turn me around.”

Don’t let the fuckers turn you around.

Ira Allen

Ira Allen

Ira Allen is an Associate Professor of Rhetoric, Writing, and Digital Media Studies at Northern Arizona University.

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