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David Sirota
David Sirota
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In Defense of the Undecided Voter


A confession: I recently received my Colorado ballot but, even though my state will play a key role in the presidential election, I still haven't voted. Yes, I'm one of the oft-ridiculed undecideds, and here's why:

I am a left-leaner who previously voted for Barack Obama with clear eyes. Having looked at his record, I knew he was no progressive, much less a Marxist, as his conservative detractors claim. He has always been a thumb-to-the-wind politician who shrouds corporate-backed policies in the veneer of altruistic liberalism. But I voted for him because in 2008 he presented the best opportunity for change.

Sadly, that opportunity was missed. Obama betrayed many of his campaign promises, not merely by turning over his economic policymaking to corporate-connected insiders, but, as the Washington Post this week documents, by additionally championing more-extreme versions of the Bush-era civil liberties and national security policies that he once criticized from his platform as a venerated "constitutional lawyer."

Now, four years later, Obama and Democratic Party-affiliated media outlets are demanding that voters ignore this record, or at least believe that a President Mitt Romney will automatically make things worse.

For liberals, that belief certainly has some merit. On economics, Romney proposes punitive trickle-down policies to reward the wealthy "makers" with new tax cuts and punish impoverished "takers" with cuts to public services. Likewise on social issues, he stands against same-sex marriage and a woman's right to choose an abortion.

That said, there are far more similarities between the candidates than differences. They both support entitlement cuts, corporate tax cuts, the Drug War, expanded fossil fuel drilling, privatizing education, warrantless surveillance, extra-judicial assassinations, drone warfare, increased military spending and continued foreign interventions. Hence, my undecided status, and my perseveration on a prospective question: Does America need an opposition or not?

Based on the last four years, we know that when pushing his Romney-like priorities, President Obama in his second term would face almost no serious opposition from Democratic-aligned organizations, media outlets, politicians and activists.

Those forces have repeatedly proven they put party over principle. Indeed, just like first-term Obama passed extreme civil liberties policies and a national version of Romney's insurance-industry-coddling health care bill without much liberal pushback, second-term Obama would be able to freely legislate those priorities upon which he and Republicans agree. Worse, fellow Democratic politicians would see Obama's electoral success as further proof that they, too, can support those conservative initiatives without fear of losing liberal voters' support in the future.

By contrast, we know from George W. Bush's second term that a President Romney will likely face a massive organized opposition. Why? Because the same Democratic apparatus that gives Obama a pass will suddenly see a partisan self-interest in frustrating the Republican president.

This, of course, is not to encourage liberal votes for Romney. After all, I'm floating just one possible — though likely — scenario. Additionally, the reason I still lean toward Obama (or a third-party candidate) is because, as mentioned above, Romney is decidedly worse than the current president on a few critical issues.

However, the overriding point is that for left-leaning voters, this election choice should not be seen as easy. It should be viewed as a complex decision about policy outcomes within the context of opposition politics. And here's the inconvenient truth: with such similar presidential candidates, a lack of liberal opposition to a reelected Obama is arguably as frightening a prospect as a Romney presidency.

Sure, like the pundits, you can smugly ridicule us undecided voters as stupid - but with the stakes so high, the rubes are those who make such an impossible choice out to be so simple.

David Sirota is a best-selling author of the new book "Back to Our Future: How the 1980s Explain the World We Live In Now." He co-hosts "The Rundown" on AM630 KHOW in Colorado. E-mail him at, follow him on Twitter @davidsirota or visit his website at



7 Comments | Post Comment
David might be more left leaning that I, but I greatly respect his position and admire him for looking at the real Obama record instead of the propoganda. We both know there are more similarities between Mittens and BHO than they would let on. This election is different from all others. No one really likes either candidate, they just hate the other one. But David and I are the same in the sense that just because one candidate is worse, that dosen't mean the other one has earned our vote. Because of Davids leftist tendancies, I would encourage him to vote for Jill Stein. I, on the other hand, will vote for Gary Johnson.
Comment: #1
Posted by: Chris McCoy
Fri Oct 26, 2012 9:30 AM
David, I totally understand where you are coming from, having had many of the same thoughts as you over the last 4 years, and I agree with much of what you write.

However, you are missing a few key points that I think makes this "impossible choice" at least a little simpler:

1) You say you believe that, with a Romney presidency, suddenly this massive organized opposition will rise up to thwart him. Really? Where was this organized opposition during the Bush administration and how well did that turn out in stopping his disastrous agenda? The only example I can think of was stopping his scheme to privatize our Social Security. But look at all the other stuff that he got away with, including two wars and the "Patriot" Act!

2) The Supreme Court. If Romney gets to appoint any new, younger Corporatist justices to push this fascist court even further to the right, we can just kiss everything we care about goodbye. No matter how bad Obama has been for progressives, he would never appoint the same kind of anti-American a**holes that Romney would.

3) You can bet that if Republicans gain control of Congress as well (or spineless Democrats refuse to use the Filibuster as often as Republicans did) they will roll back the voting rights act and enshrine their voter suppression tactics because they know full well that this is their last chance to steel another election. They will do whatever they can to make sure no Democrat (and surely no progressive) will ever be able to get elected again.

The fact that Obama and Romney are similar in many areas only makes the decision that much easier because those policies can be ignored. What you need to focus on is what make each candidate worse than the other. Is there anything that Obama would be to the right of Romney on? Highly doubtful. Now, in what areas would Romney be worse than Obama? Can you say "World War 3 and the total destruction of the working class"?

When you look at it that way, the choice sure seems simple to me! Whatever you think of Obama as a liberal/progressive, the fact is we don't have a choice: we have to vote for him because the alternative is so much worse. I hate it as much as you but that is the reality we have to deal with. Please don't throw your vote away!
Comment: #2
Posted by: A Smith
Fri Oct 26, 2012 11:55 AM
Voting for someone you believe in is never throwing your vote away. I would argue however that voting for someone without honor or merit just cause you think the other guy is worse IS throwing your vote away. Obama and Romney both set out to destroy the very freedoms that made America great and will destroy the currency with their deficet spending. Every other issue is mute of our liberty and money is destroyed.
Comment: #3
Posted by: Chris McCoy
Fri Oct 26, 2012 3:12 PM
Even some of the best upstanding, outstanding liberal men seem to have no understanding of the importance of women's reproductive rights when the men make their political decisions.

As in this instance, they display not a beginning of a tiny notion of how ignorant - and oblivious - they so very often reveal themselves to be when they either trivialize or, as Dave Sirota did this time around, totally ignore the radical difference for women that lies in the outcome of the presidential race, and what the U.S. Senate will be like, if the Republicans gain control.

Reproductive rights govern women's autonomy in every other aspect of their lives health, education, employment, economic status you name it, reproductive decisions govern everything else that a woman can strive for.

Republican success at the presidential and congressional levels promise promise to degrade every woman's life in every way if she is of child-bearing age, as well as all women in the economic sphere.

I voted with open eyes for Obama in 2008. I did not think he would be as far to the right-of-center as he turned out to be. From the appointment of his cabinet, then his inauguration all portended a disappointingly rightward direction.

But unlike the undecided liberal males, I know, as an incontrovertible fact, that Obama is the only one of the two who actually respects women and will never assist or participate in rendering them helpless to assert themselves as fully-endowed citizens of a democracy.

That is why I will vote for Obama and I am an FDR/Wellstone liberal woman, who feels as if liberal men still do not get it.
Comment: #4
Posted by: Elaine Phelps
Fri Oct 26, 2012 4:17 PM
David Sirota left one BIG factor out of his Undecided Voter column, the factor that should convince him and all liberal Undecideds to vote for President Obama: THE SUPREME COURT.
No matter how disappointed we may be in President Obama's first term, the likelihood that the next president will appoint new justices to the Supreme Court means he could have a profound impact on our country for decades to come. If you think the Citizens United decision was bad for democracy, why would you contribute to letting Romney get into a position to appoint more conservative judges?
Don't let your disappointment with President Obama lead you to decline to vote or to vote for a third party candidate. Vote for Obama and consider your vote to be just for the next Supreme Court appointments. We can trust Obama with this critical presidential prerogative.
Comment: #5
Posted by: Elizabeth Horowitz
Fri Oct 26, 2012 7:20 PM
Everyone has a bad day now and then. A bad debate, and in this case, a bad column. Maybe this is David's version of an early April Fools column. If not, most of the previous comments nailed the supreme court issue. If nothing else, consider the right wing pundits that have said "If Romney can't win in this economic times, the republican party should disappear". (not an exact quote, just my recollection). That alone is enough reason to reelect the president. We need a two party system; the Dems, and something new.
Comment: #6
Posted by: Comment
Sat Oct 27, 2012 12:16 PM
This column continues a hallowed tradition among liberals in the US: a Medea-like compulsion to kill (if not eat) their own. It also betrays an apparent blindness--most often associated with the Tea Party and other extremists--to the fact that effective governance in our system requires compromise. But mostly, this column attempts to assert the absurd notion that there is really no difference between Obama and Romney. David, please spare the rest of us liberals and progressives your tortured reservations. I for one will vote for Obama with a clear conscience despite the fact that I do not agree with all of his policies. He is moving the country in the right direction. As to the suggestion that one might entertain a third party candidate, we have only to recall how Nader's candidacy affected the New Hampshire vote in 2000 and cost Gore the election. Next you will tell me that Gore would have followed the same disastrous policies as Bush anyway. Please!
Comment: #7
Posted by: Harry Merryman
Sun Oct 28, 2012 9:34 AM
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