Are you still feeling euphoric? Joyous? I can understand that. Your guy won. Your team. Can I ask you to do something? I want you to remember this afterglow, to remember how you feel this morning as best you can for the next four years. And I also want you to remember how utterly important it was to you that Obama win, how seriously you argued, with friends and with yourself, that this was the right, the only thing to do. And to remember that you've done it.
Now, I want you to remember something else--someone else, actually. I want you to remember yourself on election night in 2008. I remember the euphoria of that night well. Although I never campaigned for Obama or had high hopes for him, I voted for him. (My horse in that race was John Edwards--he actually talked about poor people!--and what a horse he turned out to be). Still, that night, after it was clear we had elected a black president, I went out, like so many, and I danced. I danced all night.
Do you remember yourself then? Probably you do. If someone had asked that person (you circa November 2008): "Would you vote for a candidate who would deport a record number of immigrants, smash social movements and government whistle-blowers, stall or shut down international global climate change talks, prosecute neither torturers nor bankers, end habeas corpus with indefinite detention, bail out the banks but not the homeowners, assassinate US citizens at executive fiat, increase domestic oil drilling and fracking, continue war in Afghanistan, start wars in Somalia, Yemen, Libya and Pakistan, and fail to close Guantanamo Bay?" You would have probably responded: "That's exactly what I'm voting against!" At least, I would have.
Many of these issues were opposed on the 2008 Democratic Party platform, so perhaps we could be forgiven for voting Obama, even if we were being naive. But to vote for him in 2012 is to vote for all these things, and more: in the next four years, we will see an expansion of free trade via the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a cornerstone of future Obama legislation which will more or less give international corporations sovereignty over the US government, a $4 trillion cut to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid via his Deficit Reduction Committee, and who knows what else.
Have you really changed so much in the last four years? Are your beliefs so easily turned on their head?
In the coming years, as you watch Obama double down on austerity, spread global violence and further foreclose civil liberties you will probably tell yourself that Romney would have been worse. And maybe you'll be right.
But that's why I'm most interested in one thing: your euphoria from last night, your feeling of accomplishment, your sense of duty, citizenship, of being part of something important. Because, although your vote didn't matter, that feeling does. You are not responsible for everything Obama does, or anything he does, really, but you have affirmed it, and, not only that, you've felt deep, abounding joy for his ability to continue doing it.
Where does this joy come from? From the exuberant sense that his victory is an incredibly important political outcome, and that you participated in it. That good feeling, that feeling of contributing, of winning? It's not false consciousness, it's the most important thing you will receive for voting yesterday. (And if you lived in a non-swing state, you knew before hand that it would be all you would receive.)
In exchange for a ballot, you received a tiny shred of Obama's freedom, a tiny piece of his power. That is what you get for your vote, not the policies you desire, not a say in the way the country is governed, but rather a single share in winning, one stock in the power of the most powerful nation on Earth. That is the 'empowerment' of voting. You voted for him, and no one can take that away, and you won.
This joy of victory is the thing in you that will always agree to his most abhorrent actions. It is the part of you that directly identifies with his power, that most craves to be led. It is also a mere shadow of the joy of real freedom, real liberatory struggle, real power, but that shadow is the only socially legitimated route to freedom's joys most Americans will ever be allowed to take.
You may not be responsible, but you are complicit. No matter how loudly you disavow specific actions, until you stop getting joy and pleasure from electing these people, you will always be the legitimacy behind their violence.
I don't care that you voted. But if you liked it? Well...
Who Was Here