The conscience of a liberal: why I am considering abstaining in the Iraqi War Referendum vote…

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I wasn’t even sure I wanted to post anything about this.  In fact, despite strong opinions, I often will avoid talking about issues that I have strong feelings about if they criticize the left-of-center political movement because I really want progressives to create as large of a tent as possible. Part of that effort is acknowledging that some folks will not act in a way that I would to get the message out.

That said, I received my ballot this week for Helena’s municipal election and for the first time since I began voting, I am really struggling with my vote.  There are a number of interesting choices on this ballot that leave me both confused and conflicted but the one that I am struggling most with is referendum 2007-1, the Iraqi War Referendum.

Let me be clear.  I have not, at any point, supported this war.  I don’t support it now.  I believe in a quick and swift withdrawal and my vote in next year’s Democratic primary will reflect that.  This war has hurt my soul from the very start .

But the war itself is not the issue for me on that ballot. 

Don’t get me wrong…there are a lot of
silly arguments against these initiatives. Is it the city’s
business? Yeah, it is. Do I think this trivializes the
decision-making process (something the Missoulian claimed)? Nope.
And I certainly don’t believe that this referendum sends a message that we don’t support the troops. But, there are a number of reasons why I want anti-war advocates to
drop this effort and redirect its time and energy elsewhere… 

First, it is a misdirected effort.  There have been countless cities that have voted, either by the citizen’s voice or the voice of their elected officials, to condemn this war.  Yet, the war continues.  Despite the power of the symbolic gesture (which does seem late to me), it seems that these moments of citizen outcry have absolutely baring on the course of the war.

Second, it is a wasted effort.  I have been asked to donate on a number of occasions to local efforts to end this war, including fund raising efforts on behalf of this campaign.  I am not against spending money on politics, despite my general disgust of our campaign finance laws and the sheer amount.  But I don’t get the need to raise money to advertise against a war that hopefully a majority of citizens are already against.  At the risk of sounding naive, I am certain that money could be directed towards efforts that actually impact the war, including direct aid organizations that are supporting the plight of Iraqis or even better, organizations for veterans coming back after exposure to violence and toxins.

Next, could we direct this effort to the people that could end this war?  I am speaking of Baucus, Tester and Rehberg.  Tester has been a disappointment on ending this war and Max and Dennis voted for it without much public regret over the issue.  Couldn’t we spend time and effort on directing those folks to putting an end to this?

And…last…my biggest fear.  After the ballots are counted, if the citizens of Helena agree that this war should end, what happens?  I worry about the false sense of accomplishment that might exist in those that vote for this referendum.  If this referendum wins, even by a large majority, the war continues…  The senseless death continues…  The bottomless expense continues…

I know that I am in the minority among progressives.  I am certainly in the minority among progressive bloggers progressive bloggers (although Don and I agree when he points out his distaste of the “self importance of the promoters”).  After a long discussion with some very smart and intelligent friends of mine last night, the choice for me now is either “yes” or abstaining entirely.

In the dozens of ballots I have filled out, this is the first one that I have spent the most time considering.  Perhaps I am lucky that Helena opted for mail ballots.  It will probably sit in a prominent place on my desk right up to the deadline…

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J N

14 Comments

  • the dozens of ballots I have filled out

    …I think you are only supposed to fill out one ballot. 😉

    Seriously, it is entirely possible that the best thing to come out of this is just that it Helenan’s a false sense of accomplishment, at least they will feel like their voice has been heard at long last. That was not the results of the election last year, so maybe this one can give a few people just a little solace. Wouldn’t it be worth that? There is no comfort to be had in trying to heard Rehberg, Tester and Baucus to do the right thing.

    They wont sent me ballots way out here in the valley, so I don’t get to decide on this one. Dang it.

  • What’s the benefit of abstaining? And what’s the impact?

    If either Missoula or Helena ends up seeing a referendum fail, that will send a very bad message.

    As for the positive impact of the vote, it sends a message, it helps galvanize the issue a bit more, and it gives us a chance to identify more opponents of the war and step up the pressure on all of our federal representatives.

    Abstaining is a way of giving up hope, in my mind.

    “The future will not belong to those who sit on the sidelines. The future will not belong to the cynics. The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.” – Paul Wellstone

  • Matt…

    If the vote for it is an important symbol, to say there is no benefit or accomplishment to abstaining makes no sense.

    Who does it send a bad message to if it fails? The organizers? The Members of Congress who do have slightly more power than I do to end this atrocity? I think that Americans have been sending a very clear message that this war is wrong for a long time and that doesn’t seem to impact them. Do you worry that Baucus and Rehberg and Tester will be emboldened if these initiatives fail?

    And how does an anonymous vote help us identify those against the war?

    I am fairly certain that to say not participating in this exercise is sitting on the sidelines it a little too “you are with us or against us…”

  • Abstaining, by definition, is staying on the sidelines. Anyways, I don’t know what’s happening in Helena, but in Missoula, we’ve been using the referendum as a way to identify opponents of the war.

    And I don’t think I said there’s no benefit or advantage to abstention, I asked what the benefit is.

    Anyways — you say that you wish anti-war folks would do other things. I just think that’s not a great argument for refusing to vote on the measure itself. It seems to me that the fact that you’re spending time debating whether to vote your clearly deeply-held feelings when you’re being given a chance to do that is a bit odd.

    I’m not sure any of this will make a huge difference. Still, if you think it’s more important to send a message to the Helena Peace Seekers than to Congress, I guess that’s your prerogative.

  • I certainly don’t believe that if the referendums are successful in Missoula and Helena that the war will come to a screeching halt. Still, it’s important to weigh in whenever, where ever, however one can to voice opposition to the war. I’m not patting myself on the back for voting ‘yes’ on Missoula’s referendum and then saying “my work is done here.” This is just one avenue to pursue.

    As to your claim that money could be better spent, I don’t believe that a whole lot of money went into this effort. It has been pretty grassroots.

    I’ve said it before — it’s a momentum thing. Plus, I know that our Senators and Representative will be following the outcomes of these referendums.

    I’m proud of our city council and the anti-war activists that are advancing these referendums, and I’m voting ‘yes.’

  • you are not alone jason!! i am probably voting yes (although maybe not… i am tired of the “peaceseekers” using bully-group think tactics when i try to talk about this over beers) but i am angry that every time i want to have a discussion about this i get vilified and put squarely in the pro war camp. and… i have a lot of respect for you matt and the work that you do, but you need to be careful before you call out someone as odd, almost as if you are questioning their anti-war credibility, when they are just working on their concerns in an open environment.

  • Is it really “progressive” to abandon the democrats in Iraq?

    In my youth we had a president who said:

    Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty. – John F. Kennedy

    That used to be the progressive position.

    It is still mine.

  • I assume, Mr. Simon, by that logic, we should have troops on the ground in every country with a democratic movement.

    Just how many sincere advocates of democracy in the government do you think there are in Iraq? My guess is about 11.

  • I still just don’t see the real argument. It seems to me to be “I don’t like the backers of this measure. Therefore, I won’t vote on it.”

    That still strikes me as an odd way to take a position on issues.

    Alice — I didn’t call Jason odd. I called his reasoning odd. Actions can be odd without infecting an entire person. If I believed Jason generally did odd things, I might characterize him that way. I don’t think he generally does odd things, which is why I’m all the more confused by his position.

    Jason — If my tone appears harsh, that may just be the Internet muting the emotions. I’m really more perplexed than upset. And I still think the arguments I’ve seen so far are weak. If that makes me a dick, so be it.

  • Hey Matt, I am trying not to make this about the backers and truth be told, minus a few of the more prominent folks, I only know a few of the organizers. Saying that I don’t like the “backers” suggests I am against any and all of the backers of the measure and that is simply not true either. I am just thinking out loud about this effort. I don’t have much influence over it; in fact, other than my vote, I don’t much influence at all. And this is not about you being this or that (and for the record, I don’t think you are a dick), it’s about how questioning this effort out loud makes it suddenly that I am with the anti-war folks or against them. The last time I checked, we (progressives, anti-war folks, liberals, whoever) scoffed at the same attitude in the pro-war world…

  • I guess I’m just not understanding your argument.

    And the problem I had with the rush to war folks was that their mentality was “If you’re not with us, you’re against America.” I was perfectly content to be considered concerned about the rush to war (although, frankly, I was one of those idiots who straddled the question on Iraq up until the end, foolishly thinking I should trust the wise old men of Washington to not go to war without good reason).

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