‘Lesser Evil’ Fallacy Upended by Obama, Now Sanders

Reports indicate Trump may pick one of Roger Ailes’ former lawyers to replace Bharara.

Today’s joke: know how Dubya’s final days produce more blessings than Obama’s finale? Answer: Dubya spawned reform while Obama aborted it. Dubya’s reign so jolted the world a multitude rose up and, swayed by campaign sizzle, elected a smiley face minority pledging systemic reform. Thus, the silver lining payoff for Dubya’s fiasco politics.

Then, when Obama, the liberal hustler turned mousy compromiser morphed fully into glaring anti-reformer, whoosh went any accountability for broken promises. “What,” cry faithful Dems, “vilify our first minority president while the right wants to tar and feather him.” In fact, BO won the trifecta: blocked reform, blew opportunities, and vetoed the “audacity of reform” movement that elected him.  Who knew that horrendous rightwing devils create more incentive for change than Democrats who compromise with the same devils?

Look no further for proof than wayward Democratic flocks going Hillaryish (gesundheit).  Not only is she allergic to reform but this Republican lite hawks continuity to last century’s status quo. The Great Obama Betrayal so discombobulated party faithful, millions have regressed: “we don’t need no stinking reform badges, just our first, pants suit woman president.”

If that’s how 60 million+ are rewarded for electing BO the  “lesser evil” (first against HC in ‘08, then McCain and Romney), that meme produces no more positives than Obama’s broken promises. Time to have our heads (and paradigms) examined. If no drama-no reform Obama “sheepdogs” the disappointed Clintonward, then this one-time lesser evil sets up for the left a much greater one.

No ‘Lesser Evil’ Trumps Reform

Agreed, on some social issues, plus the half-a-loaf of Obamacare, Republicans are worse, but Obama was late to the game on gay marriage, stymied on gun control, and ineffective confronting police violence or inevitable racial firestorms. Bottom line: if the longterm payoff from inability to reform core economic powers or Pentagon hegemony outlasts his presidency, then both the reform movement and reform candidates suffer badly (and demonizing Elizabeth Warren on the TPP suggests more to come).

Does that not make Obama the poster child who exposes any “lesser evil” fantasies.  And now, along comes Bernie Sanders with a potential coup de grace to this dead-end logic. There’s nothing “lesser” in this true independent, not beholden to Party corporatists, refusing both PAC money and negative campaigning against a foe awash with public negatives. Here’s a principled, fully-vetted populist, for decades heroically advancing the same progressive values, and that saves the center and the left from holding our noses when voting. If he simply topples Hillary, Sanders delivers an unabashed good, setting off an earthquake under the power elite on both sides. Not perfect on military and foreign affairs, let us give him a chance to set forth his overseas vision (far less imperial I suspect than any other candidate).

Even were Sanders to lose the primary, Revolt Against Plutocracy urges write-in options later on so no one has to stomach ever voting again for evil — lesser, equal or greater.  Find politicians who speak to your heart and mind and stay the course. How refreshing.  Even conservatives may write-in their favorites.

The real-world truth is the populace cannot reliably tell a pig in a poke from a pig with lipstick — nor predict the future when the “lesser” turns out the same or worse evil.  Even when critical evidence is apparent: character, record, and repeated, consistent declarations that respect complexity.

Change the belief system of cornered voters –– and the dead-end options they think they have — and together change can happen, inspiring more innovative activism. With her career of obfuscation, deceptions and betrayals, only the naive take Hillary at her vacuous word. Why taint your karma by backing known knowns who will say anything to win?  If Obama the great hope can turn, almost instantly, the expectations of millions into woeful lethargy, then what media-fabricated, party frontrunner won’t try to match his performance?

Precipice of Momentous Events

The center is not and cannot hold longer in its current formulation. Sanders isn’t simply providing a lightning rod for disheartened progressives. He is for the first time this generation introducing terms and frameworks about inequality and spying (and military over-reaching, yes, that, too).  A cannon ball across the plutocratic bow, Sanders is confronting with high clarity the epic abuses in the works long before Obama. On monumental issues, it is Sanders (and a dozen others) who confront the contagion of the age: the oligarchic Reagan-Bush-Clinton-Bush paradigms where an elite rules, concentrates wealth, then buys more shady power.

In another way, Sanders offers an unqualified good. Who else in recent memory refuses to do negative campaigning, nor take PAC money from multinational powerhouses? What a model to imitate. Virulently opposed to Citizens United, Sanders dramatizes that all those who suck up corporatist donations are suspect, thus aligned with enemy forces.  Just his “no corporate bribery” mantra cleans up, even revolutionizes campaign funding.

The challenge ultimately isn’t simply to defy rightwing ideologues slavish to the 1%: the task is to provide tectonic openings in the democratic wing of the Democratic Party.  That’s why Hillary is as great an obstacle to progressive politics as the rabid right. Some thus conclude, if we truly want to disrupt the entrenched status quo, forget Hillary (or voting major party) and let someone like Ted Cruz take over. Yes, then there will be great pain, as there was with Bush-Cheney, also inevitably calamitous revulsion, thus forced education across the boards.  It all depends whether we have the luxury of the long view.

The Slightly Less Horrendous

In short, we have a great, even tragic paradox: systemic change may depend on risking the greater evil for a period, as only shock and awe appear to awaken the least evolved citizenry.  Want less change but more of the awful present: elect corporate Democrats unable to reduce painful losses against GOP austerity or capable of revitalizing how good government can, as with the New Deal, serve the majority.

Obama proves what happens when a seemingly once-a-generation chance for reform is sabotaged. Sanders, with a cleaner, more progressive record, is grabbing the reform baton.  Even without taking the nomination, he puts another fat nail in what too many Democrats revere as “ironclad” logic: the lesser evil conundrum. How many faux reformers who reify the status quo must be found wanting before we move on to a better model for getting better leaders?

At least Bush-Cheney and Rove were perfectly clear about their agenda: that the end justified the means, and that ruthless means were what these diabolical “realists” most trusted. Bully for neocon consistency, but not virtue or respect for what America desperately needs.  Recognizing a manifestly greater evil obligates a humane voter to search out good and abandon any truck with lesser evils, however charming or slightly less horrendous.


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For over a decade, Robert S. Becker's independent, rebel-rousing essays on politics and culture analyze overall trends, history, implications, messaging and frameworks. He has been published widely, aside from Nation of Change and RSN, with extensive credits from OpEdNews (as senior editor), Alternet, Salon, Truthdig, Smirking Chimp, Dandelion Salad, Beyond Chron, and the SF Chronicle. Educated at Rutgers College, N.J. (B.A. English) and U.C. Berkeley (Ph.D. English), Becker left university teaching (Northwestern, then U. Chicago) for business, founding SOTA Industries, a top American high end audio company he ran from '80 to '92. From '92-02, he was an anti-gravel mining activist while doing marketing, business and writing consulting. Since then, he seeks out insight, even wit in the shadows, without ideology or righteousness across the current mayhem of American politics.