Glenn Greenwald Versus Noam Chomsky on Voting in Elections, Noam Wins

Glenn Greenwald breaks from lifelong activist Noam Chomsky on a very basic issue: To vote or not to vote for a candidate who can win. Noam says vote. Glenn says don’t vote. If we support representative democracy, the answer is obvious. But Glenn rants on…

I’m as big of a fan of Noam Chomsky as it gets. He’s a good friend of mine. I have nothing but the highest admiration for him.

Glenn is a huge friend of Noam, every little thing he says. But his best and most basic synthesis from his lifetime of activism going back to before World War II? Maybe not so much. (article continues below)


But he’s — this idea that it’s the moral responsibility of every citizen to vote for the lesser of two evils, which means in every case the Democratic Party, no matter who they nominate, is not a new view of his.

It is true that Noam Chomsky didn’t wake up yesterday and pop out a new hot take on elections and representative democracy. He’s known the basics for generations. Put it this way: it doesn’t take a Noam Chomsky to figure out that all people are unique and that there is always one who could be chosen over another. Anyone who has ever had two parents or siblings or children — anyone who has ever known a few people in the world — knows people are all different. No two people are alike.


Glenn suggests less difference between the parties now than in the past:

It’s been one that he’s been advocating and articulating for years going back at least to the 1980s when I think it was more defensible, when you had Ronald Reagan and this far right movement that was very much devoted to laissez-faire economics, to corporate power, to eliminate government social programs that were designed to help the poorest and most marginalized, to attack labor unions…

In reality, today’s Republicans are similar to Republicans of Ronald Reagan days, reactionary, only more emboldened after so many years of so much power — which has made them worse.

In recent times, Republicans gave a fifth huge tax cut to the rich, placed more corporate stooges in power at agencies than ever before, continued support of corporate personhood, corporate free speech as censorship, corporate discrimination as a protected religious right, continued to cut out the poorest and to attack labor by taking away legal remedies for workers and union ability to collect dues, to name a few things, all of which Democrats oppose. Also, deregulation is out of control. But Glenn doesn’t see enough difference.

In fact, Democrats have liberalized their views on social issues since those days, as Republicans removed the veil of the Southern strategy and went full Jim Crow. That’s more different, not less.


Consider every election from 1968 through 1988. In five out of six straight elections, Republicans won. Four of those were landslides. The one squeaker for a Democrat came after the biggest American political scandal in history to that time — the resignation of an executive. It was called Watergate.

Now, after you have the 1990’s in which Bill Clinton very successfully led the effort to transform the Democratic Party from one of the working class to one of Wall Street, Silicon Valley, banks, credit card companies, and the military industrial complex — those differences have diminished greatly, which isn’t to say they don’t exist any longer.

Bill Clinton was moderate, no doubt. He was moderate because the people of America had chosen Republicans in five of the past six elections. That’s literally called representative democracy. If Democrats wanted to regain power, they had to do what the people told them — be more like Republicans. I don’t like it, but that’s how it works.

In the next election, for the first time in forty years, people chose to give the Congress to Republicans — at least those who bothered to vote. The list of bad laws passed over the next six years is long, from the telecom act to the federal anti-terrorism and death penalty expansion to copyright extension and banking reform, and on and on. This is what the American people ordered — the worse evil — and evil got worse.

Twelve years — for twelve long years — people rubber-stamped the evil even as it took steps to purge and suppress voters, thereby entrenching itself deeper than the people wanted.

Let’s assume that Trump really is the worst of the two evils which I think can be debated at least in some sectors though not in others.

Republicans are the ‘worse evil’ in every major area, and that includes war. The obvious example is that Democrats are against war with Iran. Republicans are for it, including Donald Trump the fake outsider and antiwar LARP who salivates over mass murder in Iran after the election just like Richard Nixon pretended to be against Vietnam until he got in and widened the war.

I think it’s a generational divide now where a lot of people on the left are looking and saying, ‘Wait a minute, we’ve been doing this — we’ve been following this advice for decades, right?

Some people are saying this, some people are saying that. Rhetorical tool. Got numbers? My numbers say that young people are heavily anti-Republican. They turned out in record numbers to vote for the other party against the Trump party in 2018, and they will do it again in 2020.

We’ve been following this advice that says even though we can’t stand the Democratic leader, the Democratic Party leadership, even though they believe in things completely inapposite of what we believe in, it’s still our duty at the end of the day to pledge our unconditional support to them.

Speak for yourself. “We” have not been tied to “pledge our unconditional support” to Democrats as anyone can see plainly by electoral results of the past forty years. People chose Ronald Reagan and a Republican Senate for him. People chose 12 years of a Republican Congress. People finally chose to oust Republicans in 2006 and 2008, but then let them get right back into power in 2010 to implement a policy of total obstruction. We as a collective have chosen in recent times to stay home and let the greater evil run America into the ground.

Each time we choose to give Republicans power, they make changes that advantage their party. Ronald Reagan’s FCC sold the big three networks to multinational conglomerates, but you complain about corporate media. Republicans created and expanded corporate personhood, but you complain about Wall Street funding. And in the past twenty years, Republicans have obliterated voting rights, making it harder for Democrats to even get back into power. These structural advantages for oligarchy make progress harder and harder.

And I think what people are starting to realize is two things. Number one: When you pledge your unconditional support to politicians, meaning when you say like Chomsky does, no matter who you pick, no matter how adverse he is to my political ideology and my set of policy preferences, I’m gonna vote for you, I’m gonna support you. They start to realize that you have no leverage.

In reality, “people are starting to realize” that they need to vote in elections. There was record turnout in election 2018.

And there’s that rhetorical phrase a second time: “pledge your unconditional support.” At the moment of an election, there are usually exactly two choices who can get into power. Recall from earlier the basic fact that no two humans are alike. Pick one. Pick someone who can win. Pick the ‘lesser of two evils’ or the ‘better of two goods.’ That is the only choice we have.

I’ll give you this. Progress is not won merely by elections. Progress is made by the same timeless tools that have always been used: political activity, protests, civil disobedience, strikes, boycotts, and legal actions. It’s work. Here is a video by longtime activist Bill Moyers to explain.

Bill Moyers Essay: A Behind-the-Scenes Look at the Civil Rights Act of 1964 from on Vimeo.

But Glenn Greenwald continues:

There’s no reason for them to do anything but ignore you with contempt ’cause you’re basically in the subservient position you put yourself in where you say, I don’t care how much you trample on my values, I’m still gonna vote for you.

We are in the “subservient” position because the greater evil is in power, so the lesser evil mimics the greater evil to win power back from people who are known to vote. It works like this: we vote and then they take notice, not the other way around. When FDR’s agenda was not moving fast enough, people voted in more Democrats. That helped.

Put yourself in the position of Bill Clinton after the 1994 Republican slaughter. Why should he care to cater to Democrats, liberals, progressives, or leftists? They abandoned him. At that point, only Republicans mattered. This is not a one-off phenomenon either. Richard Nixon conceded to many Democratic policies for the same reason: the party out of power copies the party in power. It’s called competition.

Election 2018 record turnout gave Democrats a majority in the House including fresh progressive faces. Seeing this excitement, Democrats have already moved toward progress with the most aggressive agenda since Lyndon Johnson.

If we do not keep up the support and appropriate pressure, Democrats will once again abandon progressive policies and return to moderation.

Noam Chomsky is correct. He was always correct on this. We can’t keep permitting this 40 years of back and forth to continue. We did that. It failed. Time to take Republicans out of power for a long time and pressure Democrats to move further and faster.