On One Hand

August 5, 2008


Filed under: Uncategorized — ononehand @ 12:36 am

I’m talking about those 20-something hipsters who don’t vote, out of “principle,” as if they’re above politics. I see them every day in equal proportions in Boulder and Denver, so often as to be able to predict who’s gonna be one when I’m trying to register new voters. They wear tight dirty white printed t-shirts or flannel, have messy short hair, and beards. They are always very skinny and male and white. They have glasses thirty percent of the time.

When I ask them if they’re already registered, they’re smug. They’ll snort “I don’t vote” with a shit-eating grin or scoff, “I’m not real big on voting. I’m not big on politics.” They sometimes go into an unsolicited speech about how both parties suck and oligarchy sucks and how the system is rigged and voting means you’re being duped by it.

I hate to break it to you, but you are not a leftist revolutionary. Revolutionaries do not carry ipods, like, ever. And your righteous indignation counts for nothing since they don’t tally non-voters – they don’t even make a list. You are in the same category as those who don’t vote because they are just lazy or incapacitated by brain injury. You are priveleged enough to be economically comfortable and healthy and white so don’t care if black kids grow up with improper nutrition or get sick of preventable disease because they don’t have health insurance, or about ending the war (even though you insist its awful) because you are not the one being bombed. I doubt you’ve ever thought that through, really, but there it is – your non-voter resolve is not based on society’s oppression of your rugged individualism, it is because of your fortune and privelege gives you the luxury of not caring.

So smoke your damn Parliments, which, by the way, are made by a company you consider evil.

You say you intend to wait it out for the “perfect” candidate, which none of them are, which is why, you insist, you abstain from voting. Or why you vote for Ralph Nader – OK – same thing.

But could you really describe the perfect candidate? Seriously, tell me what the platform would be – since you’re so apt to point out what’s not, let us imagine what is. Enlighten me. Don’t stutter.

I want to see politicians drive around with bumber stickers that say this:


Because they do. It’s exactly what they do. It is why American politicians are more conservative than the public – because conservatives vote reliably, others do not. Because, why the hell should any elected official brake for those who don’t vote? I know they don’t “pay attention to your views” but why should they if you’re never going to hold them accountable? Why lose real voters by trying to appeal to you, when you aren’t going to vote? That’s a recipe for a failed candidacy.



  1. I think you’ll REALLY like this article: http://www.adbusters.org/magazine/79/hipster.html

    Comment by randomcha — August 5, 2008 @ 6:56 pm | Reply

  2. General comments

    Just a few general comments and questions:

    Based on your comment about Nader, do you object to voting for third party candidates?

    I’m entirely cognizant that the U.S. runs a two-party system (as a consequence of the first-past-the-post structure). So it’s not a pragmatic choice to vote outside the two parties.

    But, voting for a third party candidate does register discontent – it does signal to the political system that some constituency is not being addressed. That’s perfectly in line with your sentiments regarding the importance of voting. And, voting outside the mainstream registers discontent in a way that differs from those who abstain from voting due to laziness or ignorance. It at least suggests that a person has taken the time to vote and is civically engaged.

    In light of that, I am curious to your views on third party candidacy.

    Second, if you do oppose voting for a third party candidate, what do you think is the ideal situation for a potential voter who has strong disagreements with both major parties and/or candidates? Is this purely a matter of voting for the “lesser of two evils” i.e. voicing total support (1 vote is 1 vote) for a candidate that you still strongly object to, just to a somewhat lesser extent?

    Comment by sleepyreaderz — August 5, 2008 @ 8:20 pm | Reply

    • Re: General comments

      I don’t mind of anyone wants to register and vote for Nader. I get people who refuse to register to vote because they hate “both candidates” and I want to hold them by both ears and shout that there are probably going to be over 30 things on the ballot this year below the line for President. Including an initiative to make minimum wage irrelevant, including an initiative to abolish affirmative action, including an initiative to classify fertilized eggs as citizens of the state of Colorado.

      I especially don’t mind anyone who registers and votes for Nader if they are open to voting for Barack Obama for pragmatic reasons.

      I don’t, however, have any respect for the argument that a vote for either of the main two party candidates would constitute “the same thing” as if Gore in 2000 would have started the same war in Iraq that Bush did. The privelege of voting for a third party candidate because neither the Democrats nor the Republicans are leftist enough is a convenience of privelege and luxury for one who is comfortable enough that the two partys really are identical, inasmuch as neither is Marxist. Because you can bet that those making less than $10,000 a year feel the difference between John Kerry and George W. Bush. Putting principle before the hunger and quality of life of real suffering people is hardly compassionate, liberal, or progressive.

      I also don’t see any merit in the argument that the two-party system is some kind of oligarcy or fundementally unfair. John McCain and Barack Obama are the two main candidates because the members of their party voted for them and they each represent the greatest convergence of views. You can vote for a third party if you want – but voters maintain the two-party system with their votes, and therefore by their own mandate. If you don’t beleive in the views of either party you are free to register as a Democrat or as a Republican and vote in the primaries. Every single item on the official platform of the Democratic party was voted on by primary voters – there are countless items and endorsements that have no significance except to become part of the party’s “official” positioning. I am guessing that very few anti-voters even know how much control they can have but refuse to take advantage of.

      Comment by ononehand — August 6, 2008 @ 2:06 am | Reply

      • Re: General comments

        Thanks for your reply – it answered my questions.

        First, I do agree that “very few anti-voters even know how much control they can have but refuse to take advantage of” in most of the senses that I presume this to mean.

        Second, just to clarify, I did not attempt to represent or suggest the arugment that I think American democracy is “unfair” – I hope that I did not convey any normative claims onto the state of our government. [I just want to make sure that’s clear.] To be honest, I don’t try to assign detailed legitmacy to any of version of classical liberal government. I only assume that it is much more litigimate than any alternative (totalitarian, monarchist, whatever). So, I’m not trying to prop up the idea that people should avoid voting because the structure of government or the two parties is unacceptable.

        Third, I do agree with you on the “other things on the ballot” besides President that might be of interest to some nonvoters.

        Fourth, I do agree that in the most recent period, voting for either of the main candidates would not constitute “the same thing”. Iraq, as you note, is the main issue there. Further, I appreciate that you recognize that there is a spectrum subtext to all political conversation. That is, compared to Marxists, Democrats and Republicans have much in common – they both live and breath the versions of classical liberalism.

        But, (and I’ll end on this), I do differ with you on the point that “those making less than $10,000 a year feel….” etc. I think – and I could be overstretching – that we have different weights on the impact of public policy on the economic sphere. In my view, I would say that most of the immediate economic problems facing the bottom quartile of the income distribution, would be present regardless of Kerry or Bush. To be specific, economic hardships related to headline inflation would be present even if we had a Kerry administration.

        Oil and food (which is linked to oil) price pressure over the last year is due to economic fundamentals. Marginal pressures are related to exchange rates, speculative trading, and a few other factors. But, again, those are marginal pressures. Higher global demand, more effective bartering amongst OPEC countries and droughts are significant forces. And a Kerry administration would not have blunted those forces. The American working class which spends a much higher fraction of their income on gasoline and food would still be hurting.

        To be clear, in general I acknowledge that public policy has an impact on the shape of our economy. In some ways more substantially than others. And in some of the most substantive economic policy issues, the parties tend to have similiar views. Both Democrats and Republicans respect the sphere of the Federal Reserve – which is the most direct short term channel for government impact on the economy. Free trade, pioneered by Democrats during earlier in the 20th century, has drawn bipartisian support in the past. These and probably a handful of other policy measures have the most impact on the U.S. economy. And, I would argue that in the recent period neither party differs along these lines.

        Comment by sleepyreaderz — August 6, 2008 @ 5:59 am

      • Re: General comments

        Now, where the two parties currently differ in terms of economic policy, I would say the scale of impact is much smaller. A Kerry or Gore administration may have different views of minimum wage, welfare, educational iniatives and some number of other issues. (I’m not counting healthcare, because I honestly can’t remember what Kerry said about healthcare when he was running.) But, again, relative to scale, these would represent marginal improvements over large aggregates. The poor in this country would still have fundamental issues to deal with that do not change significantly under an alternative administration.

        Certainly, marginal improvements count. I’m not trying to demean that point. But, I say this for the sake of countering the politically common idea (not necessarily suggested by you) that each election dramatically reshapes our economics. Shifts on significant economic policies are not usually ushered through solely by one party or individual but instead by a wider climate of change.

        A Gore Administration would probably have avoided Iraq, but it would not have represented a significant shift in the current economic fortunes for those at the bottom of the American income demographic.

        Comment by sleepyreaderz — August 6, 2008 @ 5:59 am

      • Re: General comments

        I think we’re generally on the same page, but your focus on “economics” seems to be on the health of the economy as a whole (which I see as sort of an abstract social construction that generally works as a point of analysis but not always) and on the existence of some social stratification, whereas I’m talking about the basics. Those basics, right now, are free healthcare, living wages, and public transportation. Working in low-income communities I’ve come to observe that these are the factors that make or break an acceptable quality of life for those living at low income levels – I include transportation because it’s one of the most basic expenditures that allows a low-income person to enter the workforce or not, and bus faires may go up as gas prices rise, but going from four dollars a day for transport to eight is still much less of a difference than going from twenty dollars a day to forty. And when it comes to there being a complete public transportation infrastructure that allows you to go from anywhere to anywhere at reasonable cost without owning a vehicle, the difference is between that being possible with Democratic policies and that not being possible with Republican policies.

        I don’t think Barack Obama or McCain or any government can really fix “the economy” or that any government at all can have a big impact on factors that almost always take place outside government – such as the economic growth in the 1990s being spurred by private technology and the current recession being driven by the price of foreign oil – but the federal government can make a big difference on whether a low-income sick person is likely to get treatment for a disease early or to wait until the last minute and die of that disease.

        I work for a labor union, which puts its focus on low-income people and their most pressing concerns, not the economy as a whole, and those concerns, everyone seems to agree, are living wages, healthcare, and transportation. I’m glad to see that the Democratic party has recognized these issues as not only important, but also as their most achievable goals worth fighting for. So while aboloshing corporations or raising high-end income tax to 80 percent to eliminate the super-rich class may be non-goals that Democrats and Republicans agree on, the most important things, in my opinion, are absolutely in play. And what I’m saying is, basically, that it is a privelege of a comfortable and relatively wealthy person (at least compared to those at the very bottom) to not care about these issues and not vote because the candidates to choose from are not quite socialist enough.

        Comment by ononehand — August 6, 2008 @ 8:04 am

      • Re: General comments

        Again, thanks for your post. It further clarified your position.

        Now, with the more specific elaboration, I think we’re on the same page in terms of “economic picture” – your welfare concerns are tightly targetted (toward a specific grouping of low-income households). And, in my vision, finely targetted public policies are tractable – I was trying to refer to this when I was talking about margins, etc.

        And, on a related note, we are in the same camp on the issue that believes neither McCain nor Obama can “fix” the economy. But, on your subsequent comment I would make one modification. “I don’t think…or that any government at all can have a big impact on factors that almost always take place outside government.” In a positive sense, I agree – that is, in most normal cases, I don’t think that in the short-term public policy can really amplify economic performance at the largest scales.

        However, in a negative sense, I disagree. Some types of eggregious public policy can in both the short and long-run be extremely detrimental. Now, this generally applies to non-market economy cases, so it’s a minor point if it’s understood that we are talking about the developed world. But, I’d still like to emphasize that government does have the potential to completely cripple the economy, no matter how strong the independent economic fundamentals are. To this point, I would cite India and China, which in the long-term suffered mightily under pseudo-socialism and Soviet-style communism in the decades prior to the 1980s. You can also cite a short-term example with Zimbabwe which has had a bout with hyperinflation as a direct result of poor governance. These are extreme examples perhaps and do not necessarily conflict in any way with your views (as I assume most of our conversation pertained to the market-oriented economies of the developed world.)

        Next, I’m in total agreement that “it is a privelege of a comfortable and relatively wealthy person (at least compared to those at the very bottom) to not care about these issues and not vote because the candidates to choose from are not quite socialist enough.” This was the main point of your original post, and I take no issue with it.

        Finally, it’s interesting that you work at a labor union – which one, if I may ask? In general, I have issues with labor union interests in the developed world. To elaborate, I want to emphasize that I entirely respect the right of workers to organize and have a voice. And, in earlier periods and some specific cases, I do sympathize with labor concerns – early capitalism is generally brutal, see the U.S. in the early 20th and 19th century or Britain during the 18th. In general, I think one of the main issues is a matter of interests.

        Thanks again for the conversation, I appreciate your point of view and the manner in which you hold debate.

        Comment by sleepyreaderz — August 8, 2008 @ 6:46 pm

      • Re: General comments

        I work for the SEIU, Service Employees International Union, which is predominantly made up of janitors, healtchare workers (like nurses) and hotel workers. It is dominated by non-white people and the issues it emphasises tend to be affordable healthcare and living wage, which happen to be my own biggest issues, so it was a good fit for me.

        Comment by ononehand — August 8, 2008 @ 6:55 pm

      • Re: General comments

        Ah yes. The SEIU. I live in DC and I used to walk by their building off DuPont Circle. We probably differ on the living wage issue – I tend to focus on the economic literature that shows an inverse relation between higher minimum wage and employment, although David Card has written to the contrary on this and he’s a very impressive guy.

        On the other hand, we could probably have a constructive conversation about health care. Political polls sometime show this issue slipping in terms of voter priorities, but I think it’s one of the more tangible voter concerns today. And both parties have put some effort into thinking about workable solutions. I tend to think there’s good ideas in both camps, it’s an incredible economic issue in substance. The scale is going to make this sticky. It’s too bad the old public policy solution (tax-free health care benefits thru employment) has broken down.

        Is your SEIU position permanent or is it tied to the election season? I have friends whose jobs were tied elections and the time after voting seems a little stressful (finding a new job, etc).

        Comment by sleepyreaderz — August 11, 2008 @ 2:41 am

      • Re: General comments

        I work through the election and this position ends, but I’ll continue with my second job. The election was important to me so I needed to get involved, even if temporarily and even if I won’t earn as much as I could have elsewhere. But labor unions pay well, and it will be no emergency to get a new job in November.

        Even if living wages lower employment, I still consider them necessary. Unemployment figures give us the opportunity to look at the economic picture and see where it is lacking. Below-living wages present the guise of employment but are insufficient if working full time doesn’t cover living expenses – are we supposed to pay for food stamps even for those who work 40+ hours a week? That’s basically a tax-subsidized Wal-Mart employee. The working population suffers just as much – but we look at the unemployment figures and think everything is OK.

        We ascribe working hard to economic success and tend to accuse those who are unsuccessful of not working as hard. In light of that, the idea that working full time should be able to pay for rent, food, utilities, and healtchare is pretty much a basic human right in this cultural setting.

        Businesses aren’t going to put their employees up for health care anymore, and aside from that, the way we do careers is changing – everyone wants to do a lot of little jobs rather than sticking to one career forever. That seems to me to provide the opportunity for people to have wholer lives and more diverse experiences, but it requires a re-structuring of healtcare (that’s not the basic reason I support universal healtcare, but it happens to coincide).

        Comment by ononehand — August 11, 2008 @ 5:06 pm

      • Re: General comments

        1) Yeah, we agree on the priority of healthcare, if that wasn’t already apparent.

        2) I agree in a very strongly with much of this:

        “Below-living wages present the guise of employment but are insufficient if working full time doesn’t cover living expenses – are we supposed to pay for food stamps even for those who work 40+ hours a week? That’s basically a tax-subsidized Wal-Mart employee. The working population suffers just as much – but we look at the unemployment figures and think everything is OK.”

        3) I’m not sure how far apart we are on the living wage issue. There doesn’t seem to be an issue with our normative stances. I think that in terms of public policy, we (our society) should consider quality of living for the working poor and those unemployed. So, there are a variety of means to address that concern.

        Now, on the living wage issue, we agree that this measure will eliminate some employment. With that in mind, I see good enough alternatives that avoid this cost while also seeking to enhance the quality of living for the working poor, etc. Thus, I would rather provide direct subsidies (earned income tax credits, etc) to those working 40 hrs a week, if their standard of living is undesirable.

        (Your comments regarding a Wal-Mart employee are related to this. It’s clear that we already do subsidize Wal-Mart workers through things like the current earned income tax credit. If we deem it necessary, we can always expand this effort without a living wage and still enhance individual welfare.)

        I see this as trying to get the best of both worlds – better welfare and employment. I don’t want to interfer with the market mechanism because it discriminates against those whose productivity is priced out by the market. Not to mention the additional welfare gains that come through lower price pressures on firms.

        Comment by sleepyreaderz — August 12, 2008 @ 7:07 pm

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