"Obama is now a president who tortures. Gitmo and Quantico are his Abu Ghraibs. Can you support a president who tortures? How much of your soul do you have to sell to win this battle?"
How can people be so innocent after Chomsky and other left intellectuals have been publishing their exposes for decades (occasional errors of fact or judgment notwithstanding)? Honestly, just which American President since WW2 has not committed war crimes in your estimation? What kind of world do you think we are living in? Have you sold your soul because you were willing to prefer some Presidents as better than others for election despite this undeniable and undeniably debased state of affairs?
Let me add, that the absolutely intolerable abuse of whistleblower Bradley Manning consists of enforced solitary confinement, incredibly harsh treatment, extended nudity and exposure, harassment, deliberate humiliation and threats of violence -- all abuses taking place across the American prison system in state after state after state. Is it that you are unaware of this? Have you sold your soul by not prioritizing this issue in your consideration of Presidential politics hitherto? I am painfully aware of this issue, have read about it extensively, lecture about it when I teach Foucault and Angela Davis -- and yet knowledgeable though I am, appalled though I am, it is not something I blog about or prioritize as compared with many other also urgent issues.
My point is not to trivialize the war crimes of the American Executive and our crappy idiot Empire, my point is not to trivialize the criminal mistreatment of Manning, but to suggest that the address of such evils take incomparably more than declaring a plague on both your houses in the name of an "activism" that functionally acquiesces to an organized Republicanism now captured by the most energized reactionary elements in the country.
Pretending and then acting upon the pretense that Democrats and Republicans are the same just because they both palpably suck isn't actually engaging in either analysis or activism at a level that addresses the evil that presumably you are responding to here. That isn't exactly what you are advocating here (although you have flirted with just that in testifying to your righteous and proper indignation over the Administration's treatment of Manning and other civil rights abuses presumably "justified" by the lunacy of our so-called global war on terror), but at times like these you need to think clearly. It isn't only that the politics crystallized by the abuse of Manning is just one facet of the political constellation we need to keep in mind in supporting a political party and its candidates for election, it isn't even just a question of properly prioritizing these facets: to reject the Democrats for their failures in even this one facet is to functionally affirm Republicans vanishingly few of whom are any better and who together are incomparably worse not only on this very issue but on a host of others all of which contribute their measure to a larger anti-democratizing trajectory that would disempower those of us who do struggle on this and other issues, large and small, as a matter of practice rather than just sloganizing deduction.
Thinking politically this way isn't easy, I grant you, but trying to express this hardship through the metaphor of selling or keeping your soul does great violence to the political demands at hand, it seems to me. If Manning were to escape confinement and seek asylum in Europe or South America I would loudly and materially support those who aided him, and I hope I would have the courage to shelter him in his danger in my own home if it came to that, even at the risk of sharing his fate. I can't be sure, but that, at least, is a circumstance in which it makes sense to me to speak of "selling" or "keeping" one's soul. That would be a real moral and ethical moment.
Treating Obama's egregious failure in this issue of policy as a pretense to forsake the indispensable politics of the American Presidency (an Obama landslide will have coat-tails that would re-enable a Congressional landscape in which it would be possible to resume the struggle for carbon taxes, EFCA, a green stimulus, not to mention turn the tide at the state level demonstrated over the last weeks as so potentially transformative in the catastrophic fight against organized labor) looks to me like bad politics justified by righteous morals in a profoundly indulgent form that does no justice to the rectitude of the morals themselves.
By all means, support organizations that are fighting for Manning (are you? I am), demonstrate your rejection of the unitary executive in petitions, letters, education, agitation, organizing (do you? I do). I'll be right behind you in demanding a war crimes tribunal for Obama officials right along with Bush officials if it comes to that. But I still don't think it makes much sense to focus on that at the cost of Obama's election to some union-busting woman-hating climate-change denialist beholden to authoritarian christianists and white-racist gun-nuts.
America is a notionally representative corporate-militarist plutocracy and our Presidency reflects that reality. Progressive taxation, publicly funded elections, breaking up media monopolies are structural requirements that would create countervailing powers to the imperial executive and corporate-militarist drives against civil liberties. There are many vocal Democratic organizations and politicians actively devoted to precisely these sorts of campaigns. Do you believe that Obama and McCain (substitute any of the Republicans in the field for 2012) would be equally likely to veto legislation making taxes more progressive, enacting publicly funded elections, breaking up media monopolies? Be honest.
Majorities don't want America to be policeman for the world and screwing people who work for a living so that the rich few can be richer still, but incumbent-elites continue to profit from this state of affairs. Enabling the latter in the face of the former creates the structural conditions under which abiding anti-democratization flourishes in the Executive, come what may.
We live in a country for which it actually can be said that our President is at once the most progressive President since FDR and also that our President is engaging in war crimes (as did FDR). That the latter is true does not alter the urgent importance of the former in the midst of our terrible distress. The distinction isn't any less indispensable for being so ugly on the ground.
There's no such thing as a soul, anyway. That's what brains are for. You have a brain and a conscience, Martin, and that means you have work to do, seems to me, just like me. If you have to sell your soul or whatever to work for democratization with the materials actually at hand, so be it.
Politics are not the nursery.