For eight years now progressive voters have labored under a single oppressive paradigm. That is that if they make any movement of rebellion against a corrupt and ineffective Democratic party then they will be stigmatized for aiding the enemy, for killing millions of Iraqis, for perpetuating a fascist state. The paradox that these apparently indispensable voters of 2000, rather than being courted to stay on board were shamed to the point of dropping out of the electoral process completely never seemed to register with party leaders. It was as if the most important consideration wasn't rallying voters to actually win elections but rather to smother any evidence that the Democrats were less than they claimed to be.
This arrangement was locked in place through the Bush years with the Democrats acquiescing to more and more outrageous assaults by the Republicans and keeping their base in a position of subordination. In 2004 an energized anti-war movement was virtually wiped out by the insistence that they put no pressure on John Kerry to actually stand for an end to the war. By 2006 it was too apparent that Republican foreign policy had failed, so the Democrats skillfully maneuvered to present themselves as change agents on the Iraq issue. This worked to get them elected but unfortunately they had failed to disclose that once again they didn't really intend to end the war.
Of course it isn't true that the Democrats don't stand for anything. They stand for continued corporate hegemony and the status quo of the foreign policy establishment. They want to be seen as the more competent and human-faced representatives of these interests. Even though these aren't particularly winning positions with the American people, they held out hope that if the Republicans were given enough rope they would eventually hang themselves and the Democrats could take power by default.
In 2008, in spite of a huge majority of Americans who felt the country was headed in the wrong direction, the Democrats have been anemic about articulating a new direction. They promised to tinker with foreign policy, but were careful not to alienate any corporate interests, especially on issues like healthcare and energy. So even with a dismal record to run on, Republicans have managed to stay neck and neck for most of the year.
Finally the bottom fell out completely on Republican policy. The spectre of a new depression has at last been enough to turn the electorate irrevocably toward the Democrats. The Bush led bailout was too much for voters to stomach and even though the Democrats once again failed to stand up for citizen's interests, Obama's polished consistency has managed to steer this outrage toward an inevitable victory. Republican performance has finally sunk below the low threshold of Democratic expectations.
Progressive voters are now liberated by these culminating developments of the campaign. The rationale of the lesser-of-two-evils has collapsed. The greater of the two evils is in mortal retreat. The runner-up evil can now be called evil. Not for the purpose of keeping Obama out of office but to aggressively shape the direction his administration will take.
Some, out of sheer weariness may decide to jump onto the Obama bandwagon as an inevitability. Others who live in swing states will caution against a pre-mature complacency. But this is a concern in only a shrinking number of states; my brother in Indiana, which is in play for the first time in decades is not about to let his guard down. But across most of the country progressives are now free to vote their priority issues and consciences without any risk of turning the election to the Republicans.
Another argument is that if progressives coalesce around Obama now then they will strengthen his mandate to govern. It certainly is true that progressive support and a wide margin of victory will allow him to do what he wants. But what has he said repeatedly that he wants to do in office? This list bears running down again, lest we forget the work we have ahead of us.
He wants to increase the military budget by billions of dollars. He wants to continue the occupation of Iraq, escalate the war in Afghanistan and possibly expand it to Pakistan and Iran. He wants to dole out taxpayer dollars to the nuclear industry, to the coal industry, to the biofuels industry, to the health insurance industry. He wants to install more Wall Street insiders into the Treasury department. He wants to continue breaking down the separation between church and state and strengthen the death penalty. He has made no promises to restore lost civil and privacy rights or bring members of the Bush administration to justice.
This is what progressives will be voting for if they now acquiesce to the bandwagon mentality. We will be just as helpless to stop these bad outcomes as we were under Bush, even though they might be slightly less egregious.
Conversely, if progressives, now free of the stigma of spoilers, let themselves be heard, identifying themselves as a viable voting bloc, then it's a whole new game. If there is a significant third party turnout accompanying a solid Obama victory then the Democrats will know where the outrage is going to come from in the future if they attempt to install Robert Rubin as Treasury Secretary; if they attempt to give health insurance companies tax-payer dollars. They will know that a revitalized anti-war movement won't be giving them any respite.
And let's think big for a second. This could be the moment in history when the two party duopoly starts to break down and realign. Who knows how demoralized the Republicans might become after this? Disillusioned anti-establishmentarians could start flocking to the Ron Paul wing. At which point there would be an opening for an anti-corporate, anti-imperialist left-right coalition.
That may be an unlikely scenario, but we can be certain that nothing like that will happen if progressives make themselves invisible under the stifling corporate/Obama blanket.