Monday, August 1, 2016

What Accepting The Lesser Of Two Evils Got Me

<"To The Bernie Or Bust people,
you're being ridiculous!">

"He who would trade his freedom

 for his security
deserves to lose both."

<George Washington>

It’s a mistake to think the lesser of two evils will fix things. A lot of people are in the target hairs of a neoliberalist nightmare. Wars are bankrupting us morally and financially. At least when Republicans are elected, people fight – when Democrats are elected, people are lulled into complacency and fall asleep.”
(Jill Stein, 2016 Green Party presidential nominee)
"If this is Really is the land of the free, then we should be free to cast our ballots for whoever we feel actually represents us."
(Official Bernie Or Bust Facebook Page)

It's not hard to imagine the excitement when Hillary Clinton took the podium last week to accept the Democratic Party's nomination for President. No, I don't mean the voters, as the New York Times acknowledged, with its usual man-bites-dog understatement: "Poll after poll after shows that a startlingly wide cross-section of voters simply do not her trust her" (67 percent, to be exact).

It's not hard to imagine the exultation that sweeps through Clinton: finally, after eight years, she's getting the shot that should have been hers all along, as she and her surrogates see it (y'know, before What'is'name'then from Illinois popped up, and sucked the oxygen out of that scenario). The fat cats behind her campaign's curtain are undoubtedly the giddiest of all, as they begin ticking off the chits they expect to cash in from a Clinton return to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Spirited as it was, Bernie Sanders' challenge simply couldn't overcome the terminally binary nature of American politics (chocolate or vanilla ice cream? Coke or Pepsi? Democratic or Republican?), which still poses a major obstacle to upending the "same old, same old" carousel of flat wages, lack of health insurance, and rocketing cost of living expenses that leave most Americans feeling entrapped and embittered. Not that our nation's political class loses any sleep about such matters, as House Speaker Paul Ryan recently observed: "You don't get a third choice."

I originally planned on posting this piece in time for Clinton's nomination. But my near-empty refrigerator suggested that I needed to make other plans, which is why I spent two hours of it at my Friendly Neighborhood Pantry, in temperatures that sweltered into the upper 80s. About 150 of us lined up at 2 p.m., waiting to get a number that we'd need to present when the food truck rolled up two hours later.

For obvious reasons, I avoid this scenario, if I can -- but the phone company also wanted its pound of flesh ($78), which I had to cough up by Friday (7/29). 
Otherwise, I could have bought my own groceries, instead of leaning against a tree, asking myself: how did I get here? How did life get this way? One phrase springs to mind: "The lesser of two evils." But a little background is in order first.

>Bye, Bye, Debbie, Bye, Bye....<

In 1999, my wife and I looked around our crappy North Side apartment, checked out our household balance sheet, and came to a decision, the same one that the Animals celebrated in their classic song, "We Gotta Get Out Of This Place." In our case, "this place" was Chicago, where the mice had overrun our crackerbox palace, because the slumlord was too chintzy to put a metal plate under the front door....a simple device that would have stopped the rodent army in its tracks. 

We looked at the wannabe hipsters obediently cramming themselves into crumbling apartments and houses, paying way too much for the privilege of living there, growing older and poorer amid stacks and stacks of esoteric books -- the sole item they ever owned in abundance, usually -- and figured, 
get the hell out, or you'll end up replacing them

Thanks to some fast hustling and footwork, I managed to find a small town newspaper gig in mid-Michigan. It paid little better than my suburban Chicago shit job -- a whopping quarter more, to be exact -- but I felt too weary to sweat those particular details. At least, we were getting out of Chicago, so things would get better, right? We chose the lesser of two evils.

Within six months, my initial enthusiasm had collided with the stench of corporate politics and staff turnover. When the head sales rep was suddenly elevated to publisher, the managing editor quit. She didn't like (and/or trust him), and vice versa. Two writers quickly followed. Both ditched the industry for higher-paying teaching jobs outside of it. Hmm, I caught myself thinking, doesn't look like we'll enjoy a long lease on life around here

Still, I figured it was better to gut it out, until something better came along. My wife and I loved the community. I kept doing freelance writing at night, which subsidized day trips to places like Ann Arbor, or Lansing....the chance to eat out a few times a month...and small pleasures like used books, comics, magazines and records. We weren't living it up, but we paying our bills, and we didn't feel overly stressed or besieged.

But those snakes kept poking their heads into our Garden of Eden. Five years after our arrival, the town's economy -- one largely built around mostly auto-related manufacturing -- flatlined, taking 1,000 jobs with it, which was only the beginning. (Our mini-economic tsunami arrived four years before the so-called "Great Recession" of 2008, giving us a glimpse of the collective pain that everybody else would feel.)

Inevitably, that exodus out the door included me. I, too, lost my job amid all these economic convulsions, but -- as lucky would have it -- managed to hook up with our major out-of-county rival, 25 miles away, as a night editor. The pay was essentially the same, and while we had health insurance, the co-pays would notable bites out of what little I'd bring home. Nor did the vacation calendar inspire me to break out the confetti (wow, dude, we get a whole week off with pay -- just like the other place!). But what else could we do? Decent jobs were nonexistent, so if I wanted one, we'd have to move. Neither of us had the will (nor the energy), so I crossed my fingers, and signed on. I chose the lesser of two evils.

My new job didn't pay well, but the atmosphere felt a lot more positive. Unlike the place I'd left, everyone got along better, and even socialized outside of work -- a phenomenon that I'd never encountered before. Besides finishing up the last pages every night, my responsibilities included editing and writing for a weekly entertainment section, which allowed me to keep my pulse on the local music scene (and even participate in it). Life felt good, for awhile.

But  those snakes soon gatecrashed my new Garden of Eden, too. About a year or so later, the publisher called  a meeting, and ran down some figures on a dry erase board. We were losing money, he said, and unless that trend turned around soon, budget cuts would follow -- meaning, staff cuts. I don't recall feeling too shocked or shook up, as I'd seen those rumblings before. (At my last paper, for instance, I remember interviewing a court clerk who said, rather breezily: "I don't know anyone under 35 who reads under a newspaper. Oh, shit, I thought, we're in big trouble.)

Six months later, the string pulled taut again: I got laid off. In one sense, I felt relieved, because gas had shot up to $4 per gallon for the first time. This development proved distinctly unsettling to my coworkers, many of whom drove long distances (like I did). I remember people crying and yelling, "What happened to the national interest?" My wife and I figured I was losing about $10 a day, or $300 a month, before I even got to work. Not exactly a morale booster.

On the other hand, I also felt a distinct lurch in the pit of my stomach. Now what? I welcomed the chance to do things that my second/third shift schedule hadn't previously playing music, getting involved with our local peace and justice group, and helping behind the scenes at a local coffeehouse. My wife enjoyed seeing more of me again, but sooner or later, I figured, all this fun has to stop some time, right? I'd have to hold my nose, swallow hard, know....accept the lesser of two evils.


And that's what I did, once again, in 2006, after riding out my original unemployment benefits (plus two extensions). In an odd twist of fate, a copywriting job had opened up in my old hometown, just as those days of collecting unemployment were drawing to an end. I wasn't sure about making the move, because advertising seemed worlds apart from my chosen field, but I didn't have any other offers. I faced yet another binary choice: sign up now, or see your prospects evaporate under the threat of starvation. What else could we do? We buckled, and swallowed hard....once again....and chose the lesser of two evils.

This time, however, the greater evil pushed back: I wound up being fired after several months, allegedly because I made too many proofreading errors on the rough ad layouts. But I suspect baser motives, since my wife and myself had only just gotten our health insurance. Since then, I've counted at least 17 similar classifieds this company has run, which leads me to believe that turnover is just part of their overall M.O. (Think how much money these outfits save on salaries and benefits, once they send their latest bright-eyed, bushy-tailed newbie away with a giant screw through their back. But I digress.)

Or maybe I should have raised more questions when my supervisors insisted on giving me a three-month evaluation. Or maybe I should have walked out after the second interview, when I was presented a "pay secrecy" policy to sign -- in which you promise not to discuss what you're making, and is typically aimed at union organizing. Or maybe I should have just packed up, and taken the wife back to our previous hometown, once I realized that too many loose lips were lying about too many things for my comfort. Whatever: it's too late to protest these things now. But I really wish I had. And that's why I don't accept the "lesser evil" argument anymore.

Want to have some sick fun online?Try searches like "I'm not with her," "Never Hillary," or, "Won't back Hillary." You'll undoubtedly get variations like, "John McCain with a uterus," "Thatcher in a pantsuit," and jokes like this one: "Hillary has put her foot in her mouth so many times her dentist is also her podiatrist. She has to open her mouth just to get a pedicure." As I've been telling people lately, you'll have to go back to the 1920s, maybe even the 1880s or 1890s, to find a nominee or chief executive-in-waiting who's so widely loathed.

Then again, Clinton often provides ample ammunition. Her acceptance speech was larded with all the bromides you've come to expect from her, whether it's her usual vague promises to stop selling out so blatantly ("I will carry all of your voices and stories with me to the White House"), rally the troops to cure the nation's ills ("We will fix it together"), or somehow, muster excitement about a future that most people no longer see coming ("When there are no ceilings, the sky's the limit"). Say what you will about Clinton, she didn't busk it before, so don't look for her to do that now.

All the past week's yodeling about "party unity" misses a crucial point -- that the Clinton and Sanders camps don't have a great deal in common binding them together (if they ever did). It's also worth remembering that Clinton, in 2008, only had to give up the idea she'd make a better president. In 2016, Sanders supporters are being asked to trust someone whose record, quite frankly, suggests a slippery sense of follow-through (at best). 

Take the $15 minimum wage proposal that made the Democratic Party platform. Clinton's mega-donors include the likes of McDonalds and Walmart, two companies with a long, well-documented hostility to such ideas. Does anyone honestly believe that Clinton, if she wins, will really tell them, "Greed should have limits"? If you really think so, I've got a lot of great Florida swampland and foreign lottery tickets that I can't wait to unload.

So, no, from a purely rational standpoint, the "Bernie Or Bust" movement isn't being anymore ridiculous than previous insurgents who prefer to tread cautiously, especially when the wolf tells them: "But we can coexist, man...". Let's state the dilemma in simpler terms. Years ago, I remember a small town mayor who dished out this piece of advice: "A good compromise is one where both sides come out hurting a little bit." Does the recent dog and pony interplay between the Clnton-Sanders camps last week in Philadelphia offer that impression? How much swampland will you buy? How many Nigerian lottery tickets do you need?

What's truly maddening is that the Democratic National Committee leadership doesn't want to acknowledge any of these things -- faced with an avalanche of youthful energy, and long-pent-up frustration, the DNC leadership's response comes to, "So what? Take a hike. We got you this time. Where else are you gonna go?" A party that practically swoons at people's lack of real choices -- is what those Washington, Jefferson and all those other Guys In Stockings And Wigs fought the revolution for?

I think not. But I can safely say this: all the dogged tone deafness that's been displayed by the DNC and its Republican counterparts won't make our problems magically disappear. I am, like millions of other Americans, patching together various jobs and projects to get from today to tomorrow, from this week to next week, from this month to next month, from this year to next year. I have not had health insurance in a decade. I do not expect more from another extended job search than a pile of form letters and resumes that just quietly gather dust. 

I do not expect the donor class to listen, let alone give a shit, about  my troubles. However, like millions of other struggling Americans, I've watched all of our noxious social ills build up steam over than half a lifetime, without letup, without the glimmer of something better coming along the horizon, or without the possibility of a different result, however faint it may seem.

I'm tired of hearing platitudes. I'm tired of being fobbed off with the usual excuses. I'm tired of waiting for something to change, or being told to wait a little longer, because the political realities just don't allow it (as JFK infamously did, when he asked Martin Luther King to put off his March on Washington till 1965, or '66). That's why I don't accept the lesser of two evils anymore, because I know what it got me, and where I ended up. Stand up for a better tomorrow now, and don't let anyone tell you that it can wait. I speak from experience. --The Reckoner

Links To Go (No Third Ice Cream Flavor For You):
Independent Voter Project:
Nearly 8 In 10 Respondents
Do Not Want To Vote For Trump Or Clinton:

Independent Voter Project:
Why Independent Candidates Are Not "Spoilers":

[Dated, news-wise, but contains some good points]

Paste: DNC, Day 4:
The Rise Of The Berniecrats:

Rolling Stone:

The Return Of Lesser Evilism:

Salon: Enough Of The Us V.s Them Binary....