Authorial Note: Most of this was written at my work place [Starbucks] one evening, so properly, this is a musing- meaning all of this is open to correction and reformation. They are more notes, than arguments.
On the night of Canada’s 2015 election of supposedly historic proportions, the only word circling this observer’s thoughts was, ‘cynical’. Not with respect to those not voting whether out of apathy or principle, but for those who propound the importance of voting and either forget to vote or vote out of accord with their principles, and thus out of accord with the very principle of voting itself, in order to achieve the least objectionable outcome. The slogan of ‘#anyonebutharper’ is depressing, the notion of strategic voting is cynical, and the notion that voting will ultimately affect the make-up of a singular nation in the context of globalization is stupid. Drawing upon the experience of having attended the Munk Debate on Canadian Foreign Policy, and of actually caring about Canadian Politics due to the long present outrage against the out-going Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government, let us address each of these three theses in turn.
The slogan ‘#anyonebutharper’ is depressing because it doesn’t inspire faith in anything, it only inspires a false equivalence between all the other options. Imagine if a customer at a Starbucks asking her friend what she should have, and her friend says ‘anything but the salted carmel mocha’- it gives the false impression that that has somehow helped her make decision about anything else- not asking about caffeine intake, sugar, nutrition or anything else other than dismay at one option. The same with this election, which has the same vibe as the United States election of 2004 when everyone was saying ‘#anyonebutbush”- Bush deserved to win that election because the other candidate according to the opposition could have been anyone. Harper likewise deserved, deserved not ‘should’ or ‘it would have been desirable’, to win this election only if because he clearly is not posing himself as just anyone- some people actually had faith in him. However the lack of faith in any of the political candidates offered during out most recent election was made abundantly clear at the Munk Debate. For those who watched on TV or online, what you saw was very much a censored debate in terms of screening out the reaction of the audience. During the debate there were moments when each of the candidates were laughed at by the majority of the audience- at Harper when he argued that he had a great relationship with President Obama, at Mulcair when he argued that the NDP had the best record for balanced budgets (keep in mind that the debate took place in Toronto, Ontario, which under the then NDP premier Bob Rae experienced a tremendous deficit), and at Trudeau when he said he would stand up to Vladimir Putin, the ‘bully’. Some of the arguments were so manifestly untrue that the candidates were laughed at. The only time when the leader of your country should be laughed at is when they have done something comedic or purposely made a joke, not when they have been made a joke.
It is in this ideological depression of going for the least objectionable that we find the death of the idea of liberal democratic institutions, because in it we find out that the minimum requirement of love and care is only avoiding complete disaster. In this vein it is hard to argue with Slavoj Žižek who at the end of his introduction to his work Living in the End Times (Verso: 2010),
“To engage in this struggle means to endorse Badiou’s formula mieux vault un désastre qu’un desêtre [Better a disaster than a lack of being]…What Badiou rejects is thus the liberal ideology of victimhood, with its reduction of politics to a program of avoiding the worst, to renouncing all positive projects and pursuing the least bad option. Not least since, as Arthur Feldmann, a Viennese Jewish writer, bitterly noted: the price we usually pay for survival is our lives.” (xv)
But of course the opposition will argue that they don’t want just want anyone, they want anyone who can win—which brings us to the utterly cynical phenomenon of strategic voting.
If you talk to any of our ‘engaged’ political youth, they will tell you all about the importance and power of voting- that it is about having your voice heard, having the ability to change your circumstances, and honour those who defended and fought for our country. But then you ask them who you should vote for, and they will argue that while they would want such and such to win, it’s not going to happen so vote for the opposition most likely to win. Now ponder this for a moment- the very people who argued for the doctrine of voting, are now the very ones undermining the doctrine in order for you to support the institution. The message is, “ya you should vote your values and conscience, but those aren’t going to win- the goal is to win!” See, the doctrine of voting says you should vote your conscience but the institution of voting and liberal democracy require you to win- voting is not an act of expression of values anymore. Strategic voting is merely the exposure that the notion of representation in democracy has dissipated- the point is not to be represented, the point is win according to the parameters given to you. Look at the case of Ron Paul in the United States- regardless what you think of his political outlook, how he was treated was bizarre. You got the sense that he really represented a lot of people, but because the corporate media and institutions of Liberal Democracy said that he could not win, people who felt represented by him did not vote for him, not because he didn’t represent them but because he couldn’t win- ‘couldn’t win’, not because he would not get the votes, but because the parameters of our institutional liberal democracy, could not allow him to win. The LA Times conducted a poll in the 2012 election which showed that Obama would have beaten Ron Paul, only be a very small margin, and yet Paul was black-balled from the beginning mainly, without any need for speculation, because the military-industrial complex would have been in a moment of crisis with him in office. In our current liberal democratic institutions, the representation is not based entirely on the vote but on who the most powerful and wealthy give us as acceptable candidates. Representational democracy was based on the idea of confidence, that is why there is the option of ‘no confidence’ voting- confidence coming from the Latin fides, meaning faith, except now this fides has nothing to do with the candidate but with the institution. You don’t even have to have any faith in the candidate to represent you, you only have faith that if the candidate wins, that the system did it’s job. But the revolutionary faith of democracy, well embodied by the American Revolution was not faith in the political system of democracy but faith in the people to direct and represent themselves- so if you are voting out of a strategy to win and not represent yourself, you are betraying the very revolutionary faith upon which the institute of Liberal Democracy was based- faith in you.
But perhaps that is the point of these slogans of “#anyonebut____” that the candidate could be anyone. Perhaps also that is the point of strategic voting, to embrace the notion that representation is lost. Could it be that these depressing and cynical moves merely expose that the fact that the institutions themselves know that they are bankrupt of any idea of leadership or representation, that they are aware of how their myth in reality has been hollowed out, and in need of manipulation to keep itself going?
Here we are at our third thesis, the stupidity in believing in national elections in a globalized world. It is fashionable now for news commentators to show their international savy by talking about elections in countries other than their own. Take a look at John Oliver, who on his show Last Week Tonight, addressed the Canadian election, all the little while admitting what little he actually cares about Canada. But even on this they are still about a century behind, because what is absent from almost all mainstream media is discussion of the unelected international bodies of power that can either influence governments by private think tanks or sue governments in international courts to change their laws such as the IMF, World Bank, Trilateral Commission, Council on Foreign Relations, and the Bilderberg Group, along with innumerable others. See, behind the adorable notion that deciding upon which millionaire will represent your country to the rest of the world is the hope that at least they have the influence to bring about change within the boarders of the country in which they are elected- however they are limited even in these pursuits. Two basic recent events underline this quite well: (i) If you watched the Munk Debate on foreign policy, you may have noticed that the leaders often reverted back to domestic policy, and the reason is simple, Canada does not have an independent foreign policy, its foreign policy is set by its relationship to the UN, NATO, and most especially, the US. (ii) The Trans-Pacific Partnership will be perhaps the most important economic legislation passed this decade, which will have far and lasting ramifications upon both the Canadian economy and the international economy at large, and yet, its full-text has yet to be released to the public, with even Wikileaks putting up $100, ooo for the rest of the text. Why is this the case with regard to a piece of legislation that could affect up to as much as 40% of the world’s economy? The answer is really quite simple, the legislation, while affecting labor the world overall, is not for ‘regular’ people (you know, the ones that vote and supposedly have the power?), its for multi-national corporations and organizations, and their wealthy clients- it affects us, but we do not get a say. Foreign policy and the economy, two of the most central issues for any nation are not up for debate or vote by the members of the populous- we get to decide on whether a candidate is ‘authentic’.
The race for the least objectionable outcome, the faith in democracy as opposed to the faith in the demos, and the remains of the joke of national sovereignty- all point to the futility of voting.*
* Now it may be said, as I too thought, that ‘Well if voting is so futile, why have there been recent attempts to suppress it?’ Notice however that the recent attempts to suppress it in both Canada and the United States have been partisan- in 2011, the Conservative Party of Canada was trying to suppress the Liberal and NDP vote, not ‘voting’ as such. In the United States, the rolling back of the 1965 Voting Rights Act is a Republican move to limit the Democrat vote, again not ‘voting’ as such. The phenomenon of voter suppression is partisan bigotry, because the threat to an actual democracy has already taken place.