I think Ralph Nader is kinda an asshole, but he's still right when he says the lesser of two evils is still evil.
In presidential elections, with our shitty two-party system, you don't really have a choice (and when those two parties are barely distinguishable, you have even less of a choice). Did I vote for Obama? Yes. Am I ashamed that I voted for Obama, because I think he is just terrible? Yes. But would I go back and change my vote to McCain? Of course not. And part of why I voted Obama and not a third-party candidate was McCain was so fucking awful (and DO NOT EVEN GET ME STARTED on Sarah motherfuckin' Palin) that imagining him president made me begin to tremble involuntarily. So, in elections, we do what we have to do; and it doesn't sit well with me, but I see no other options at the moment.
In policy debates, however, there's a lot more wiggle room. And I at the moment am trying to figure out if I will be contributing to some of the evil.
To give an example of this bind: healthcare debate. Ok, so, when the Senate bill came out, it was bad. No, it was REALLY bad. It may have helped some people, but far, far less than everyone had hoped, it was actually just mandating all of us to buy shitty private insurance, it had no legal mechanism and no punishments to hold companies accountable for when they denied you coverage/denied you for ridiculous "pre-existing conditions," and without a public option (which HAD A SUPERMAJORITY of the American people for it), it was only a matter of time before the ruthless insurance industry lawyers (I hate lawyers, I know I'm in law school, but I do) figured out how to fuck everyone over. Like they do.
On the left, there was serious disagreement about how to proceed. Some very smart people were arguing to kill the bill; other very smart people were arguing it made sense, even if it was a shitty bill, to keep it. There were a lot of fairly nasty recriminations being sent around amongst the factions, but that was silly: both sides had very smart people, who in the end, had always wanted the same thing. It was merely a debate about the best way to get there.
I fell on the kill the bill side. And it is not because I am a ridiculous idealist with no understanding of reality (although I am a ridiculous idealist). It is because I saw some very bad real-world implications of this bill, and thought it could be more dangerous than good. You can see in the above paragraph everything that was wrong with the bill, but there is the fear that later on, we will never have this kind of momentum to actually FIX healthcare in any real, substantive way for gods know how long. And lots of people that we essentially gave up on and said, well, sorry we couldn't help you, but this is the best we could do, would keep dying. And then, of course, when there is an inevitable swing in public politics, there is always the chance that when this bill fails to do enough, or hardly any, good, conservatives can come along and say, see? We tried to do it the liberal way, with the socialism, and it didn't work! Let's privatize more, to the point where only really rich people can get health care because the rest of us have been dropped for such pre-exiting conditions such as the need to blink occasionally!
So, see? Smart, rational minds disagree here about what to do. I had conversations with people who were against killing the bill, and one who even thought it was completely insane to take that position, until he talked to me, and I managed to get my argument across without, I don't know, screaming or flinging poo. Everyone was in good faith here. It's just . . . hard to know what will be best.
I mean, look: I expect more. I KNOW we can do better. Always. My faith in humanity is in fact that strong (and you'd think that faith would have been extinguished by now, what with, you know, EVERYTHING, but surprisingly, even to me, no). I get mad when people say, well, that's just how things are, because no, that's just how things are because you've already accepted that that's just how things are. That kind of thinking is lazy, and unsupportable, and dangerous.
But also, because I DO live in reality and engage with the consequences of my actions, I am always afraid to capitulate and admit, well, ok, maybe this is at least better, maybe the lesser of two evils is still less evil and I can still sleep at night, because then, with no one yelling from the other end of the spectrum, the debate shifts (and, to see evidence of that, turn on your computer/read a newspaper/talk to anyone. Republicans frame the debate now). You end up having an Overton window problem, and that is something to really consider when you are deciding how to situate yourself in the present.
But then: here I am.
I have been working in national security law, counterterrorism law, and human rights. I worked for a brilliant non-profit last semester as an intern, and I just started at a new brilliant non-profit as an intern for the rest of the semester and this summer doing similar types of things (I will be working on everything to do with this). But there is a fairly large disagreement between these two organizations, and it's about policy, and although everyone wants civil liberties and human rights to be respected, there is argument about how to do that. Mostly, the problem is over military commissions (also, about detention and law-of-war powers to detain and then how those detained will be labeled under jus in bello and the scope of the battlefield, but this post is already too long, so: military commissions).
I am anti-military commissions. I have a lot of historical, legal, and practical reasons for being so. I think they are a terrible, awful, no good, really bad idea. And the organization I worked for last semester was completely in alignment with my beliefs. We all thought that this new system of justice, which Bush thought up to simply get guilty verdicts for every detainee at Guantanamo, whether they were guilty or not (and mostly of them are not guilty) was unjust, and unnecessary, and unconstitutional. The Supreme Court has agreed. There are already two fully functional and successful court systems in this country: Article III courts, which are the federal courts terrorists have always been, very successfully, tried in, and the military court system, under the UCMJ, which was used for soldiers during wartime (the Nuremberg trials were UCMJ trials). Bush's military commissions did NOT follow any of the constitutional and due process provisions under Art. III courts or the UCMJ (these are extremely, extremely similar - both require all statements admissible to courts to be voluntary, a version of Miranda to be read, lawyers to be provided, etc.). Military commissions are, in all ways, illegitimate (there have been congressional overhauls in 2006 and 2009, but they are still unconstitutional, and global opinion does not regard them as just).
And my last organization, being anti-military commissions as well, surprised me - when I asked about the newest incarnation of these commissions (passed last year), I was told they had been involved in the process, to advocate for the rule of law and to make them as just as possible. The thinking was, well, there are going to be military commissions anyway, and while we'll keep advocating against them, we'll sit down at the table and at least try to make them as just as possible, given their inevitability.
Which: fine. I totally get that. And I think I agree? But what about the fact that just sitting at that table lends the military commissions legitimacy that they don't deserve at all? What if sitting down and debating people over military commissions undermines YOUR point that there IS NOTHING to debate, because these are completely unsupportable?
Guys, there is no way to win here. Either you are shut out of a debate and do not have the chance to try and make evil less evil, or you legitimize the evil in the first place. Nobody wins. And how did those end up being the rules of the game, when we are all just trying to do what's right?
I am finding myself conflicted, now, because my current place of work accepts that there is a place for military commissions in the current detention/trial scheme. The organization absolutely believes that Art. III courts should be used first and foremost, and on this issue, my current workplace and my last workplace are actually working together. But I think that accepting military commissions undermines the strength of your argument for Art. III trials for terrorists. Also, Audre Lorde lives in my head, and she reminds me, always, that the master's tools will never dismantle the master's house. And I think, if ANYONE is right here, it is Audre Lorde.
So: I think I am suddenly on the side of lesser evil. And I don't really want to be on the side of any evil. And I think I am ok working at my current job, legitimizing and lending my labor to an organization that backs a policy argument I don't totally agree with, because everyone wants justice and the rule of law, and wants human rights and civil liberties to be respected in the end, and we are just smart, reasonable people disagreeing on how best to get there.
I think I am ok with this. I mean, after all, I have no other choices - my former organization doesn't take repeat interns, and no other organization which has really, strongly, been working on issues of law and national security and human rights has, you know, agreed to hire me.
But I can't help feeling just a little bit evil. And I can't help feeling like, being on the side of the angels, maybe the dice were loaded from the start. And this is why the angels? Never seem to win.