Ellsberg Warns of a Romney Victory

Many American progressives are angry with President Obama for his actions, including expanding the Afghan War and his drone assassinations. Some vow to not vote or to vote for a minor-party candidate. But Vietnam-era whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg warns of the far greater danger from a Romney-Ryan administration.

By Daniel Ellsberg

It is urgently important to prevent a Republican administration under Romney/Ryan from taking office in January 2013. The election is now just weeks away, and I want to urge those whose values are generally in line with mine — progressives, especially activists — to make this goal one of your priorities during this period.

An activist colleague recently said to me: “I hear you’re supporting Obama.”

Daniel Ellsberg, who risked a long imprisonment in the early 1970s when he leaked the Pentagon Papers, the secret history of the Vietnam War. (Photo credit: Jacob Appelbaum. cropped by MachoCarioca)

I was startled, and took offense.  “Supporting Obama?  Me?!”

“I lose no opportunity publicly,” I told him angrily, to identify Obama as a tool of Wall Street, a man who’s decriminalized torture and is still complicit in it, a drone assassin, someone who’s launched an unconstitutional war, supports kidnapping and indefinite detention without trial, and has prosecuted more whistleblowers like myself than all previous presidents put together. “Would you call that support?

My friend said, “But on Democracy Now you urged people in swing states to vote for him! How could you say that? I don’t live in a swing state, but I will not and could not vote for Obama under any circumstances.”

My answer was: a Romney/Ryan administration would be no better — no different — on any of the serious offenses I just mentioned or anything else, and it would be much worse, even catastrophically worse, on a number of other important issues: attacking Iran, Supreme Court appointments, the economy, women’s reproductive rights, health coverage, safety net, climate change, green energy, the environment.

I told him: “I don’t ‘support Obama.’ I oppose the current Republican Party. This is not a contest between Barack Obama and a progressive candidate. The voters in a handful or a dozen close-fought swing states are going to determine whether Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan are going to wield great political power for four, maybe eight years, or not.

As Noam Chomsky said recently, “The Republican organization today is extremely dangerous, not just to this country, but to the world. It’s worth expending some effort to prevent their rise to power, without sowing illusions about the Democratic alternatives.”

Following that logic, he’s said to an interviewer what my friend heard me say to Amy Goodman: “If I were a person in a swing state, I’d vote against Romney/Ryan, which means voting for Obama because there is no other choice.”

The election is at this moment a toss-up. That means this is one of the uncommon occasions when we progressives — a small minority of the electorate — could actually have a significant influence on the outcome of a national election, swinging it one way or the other.

The only way for progressives and Democrats to block Romney from office, at this date, is to persuade enough people in swing states to vote for Obama: not stay home, or vote for someone else.

And that has to include, in those states, progressives and disillusioned liberals who are at this moment inclined not to vote at all or to vote for a third-party candidate (because like me they’ve been not just disappointed but disgusted and enraged by much of what Obama has done in the last four years and will probably keep doing).

They have to be persuaded to vote, and to vote in a battleground state for Obama not anyone else, despite the terrible flaws of the less-bad candidate, the incumbent. That’s not easy. As I see it, that’s precisely the “effort” Noam is referring to as worth expending right now to prevent the Republicans’ rise to power. And it will take progressives — some of you reading this, I hope — to make that effort of persuasion effectively.

It will take someone these disheartened progressives and liberals will listen to. Someone manifestly without illusions about the Democrats, someone who sees what they see when they look at the President these days: but who can also see through candidates Romney or Ryan on the split-screen, and keep their real, disastrous policies in focus.

It’s true that the differences between the major parties are not nearly as large as they and their candidates claim, let alone what we would want. It’s even fair to use Gore Vidal’s metaphor that they form two wings (“two right wings” as some have put it) of a single party, the Property or Plutocracy Party, or as Justin Raimondo says, the War Party.

Still, the political reality is that there are two distinguishable wings, and one is reliably even worse than the other, currently much worse overallTo be in denial or to act in neglect of that reality serves only the possibly imminent, yet presently avoidable, victory of the worse.

The traditional third-party mantra, “There’s no significant difference between the major parties” amounts to saying: The Republicans are no worse, overall.” And that’s absurd. It constitutes shameless apologetics for the Republicans, however unintended. It’s crazily divorced from present reality.

And it’s not at all harmless to be propagating that absurd falsehood. It has the effect of encouraging progressives even in battleground states to refrain from voting or to vote in a close election for someone other than Obama, and more importantly, to influence others to act likewise. That’s an effect that serves no one but the Republicans, and ultimately the 1 percent.

It’s not merely understandable, it’s entirely appropriate to be enraged at Barack Obama. As I am. He has often acted outrageously, not merely timidly or “disappointingly.” If impeachment were politically imaginable on constitutional grounds, he’s earned it (like George W. Bush, and many of his predecessors!)

It is entirely human to want to punish him, not to “reward” him with another term or a vote that might be taken to express trust, hope or approval. But rage is not generally conducive to clear thinking. And it often gets worked out against innocent victims, as would be the case here domestically, if refusals to vote for him resulted in Romney’s taking key battleground states that decide the outcome of this election.

To punish Obama in this particular way, on Election Day — by depriving him of votes in swing states and hence of office in favor of Romney and Ryan — would punish most of all the poor and marginal in society, and workers and middle class as well: not only in the U.S. but worldwide in terms of the economy (I believe the Republicans could still convert this recession to a Great Depression), the environment, and climate change.

It could well lead to war with Iran (which Obama has been creditably resisting, against pressure from within his own party). And it would spell, via Supreme Court appointments, the end of Roe v. Wade and of the occasional five to four decisions in favor of the Constitution and Bill of Rights.

The reelection of Barack Obama, in itself, is not going to bring serious progressive change, end militarism and empire, or restore the Constitution and the rule of law. That’s for us and the rest of the people to bring about after this election and in the rest of our lives — through organizing, building movements and agitating.

In the eight to 12 close-fought states — especially Florida, Ohio, and Virginia, but also Colorado, Iowa, Michigan, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Wisconsin — for any progressive to encourage fellow progressives and others in those states to vote for a third-party candidate is, I would say, to be complicit in facilitating the election of Romney and Ryan, with all its consequences.

To think of that as urging people in swing states to “vote their conscience” is, I believe, dangerously misleading advice. I would say to a progressive that if your conscience tells you on Election Day to vote for someone other than Obama in a battleground state, you need a second opinion. Your conscience is giving you bad counsel.

I often quote a line by Thoreau that had great impact for me: “Cast your whole vote: not a strip of paper merely, but your whole influence.” He was referring, in that essay, to civil disobedience, or as he titled it himself, “Resistance to Civil Authority.”

It still means that to me. But this is a year when for people who think like me — and who, unlike me, live in battleground states — casting a strip of paper is also important. Using your whole influence this month to get others to do that, to best effect, is even more important.

That means for progressives in the next couple of weeks — in addition to the rallies, demonstrations, petitions, lobbying (largely against policies or prospective policies of President Obama, including austerity budgeting next month), movement-building and civil disobedience that are needed all year round and every year — using one’s voice and one’s e-mails and op-eds and social media to encourage citizens in swing states to vote against a Romney victory by voting for the only real alternative, Barack Obama.

Daniel Ellsberg is a former State and Defense Department official who has been arrested for acts of non-violent civil disobedience over eighty times, initially for copying and releasing the top secret Pentagon Papers, for which he faced 115 years in prison. Living in a non-swing state, he does not intend to vote for President Obama. [This essay originally appeared at Rootsaction.org.]

29 comments for “Ellsberg Warns of a Romney Victory

  1. Chris Jonsson
    October 24, 2012 at 02:47

    Mr. Ellsberg,
    I greatly admire your work and your judgment. Thank you for your thoughtful analysis of the election in blunt terms. At the end of your piece, after all your reasoning for voters to re-elect President Obama, you declare that you will not be voting for him because you don’t live in a swing state. That is not good advice in my opinion. You can’t predetermine the outcome of any election. Telling people it’s OK not to vote for Obama in a non-swing state could make a difference in this tight, manipulated, nerve racking voting process. Why take the risk? Do you want to make it any easier for the Koch brothers to buy the White House than it already is? Please do everything you can to keep the Republicans from destroying what is left of democracy in our country. If Obama and Biden win, we have our work cut out for us to make change. With Romney, dissent will be silenced and more people will die needlessly. You and those you care about will be chewed up and spat out by Romney/Ryan, Inc. Please vote for Obama /Biden no matter where you live.

    • elkern
      October 25, 2012 at 13:28

      As a Green living in a solidly Blue State, I have the luxury of casting a vote which might make my party a little stronger (future ballot access & matching funds, plus greater visibility). If Obama loses my state, the election will turn out to be a Mondale-scale blowout.

      My only concern about voting for Jill Stein is the likely right-wing backlash if Obama wins the Electoral College without winning the popular vote. Those crazy bastards have guns, and short memories – reminders that Bush/Cheney “won” under even worse circumstances will be brushed aside.

      The medium-term solution, of course, is to switch to IRV (Instant Runoff Voting) or something like it. Check it out, and talk to you State Reps about it!

  2. Vivek Jain
    October 21, 2012 at 04:51

    Greenwald said

    ” if you were a Democratic Party official, wouldn’t you also ignore — and, when desirable, step on — the people who you know will support you no matter what you do to them? That’s what a rational, calculating, self-interested, unprincipled Democratic politician should do: accommodate those factions which need accommodating (because their support is in question), while ignoring or scorning the ones whose support is not in question, either because they will never vote for them (the hard-core right) or will dutifully canvass, raise money, and vote for them no matter what (the Democratic base). Anyone who pledges unconditional, absolute fealty to a politician — especially 18 months before an election — is guaranteeing their own irrelevance.

    “It was often said that Bush/Cheney used fear as their principal political weapon — and they did — but that’s true of the Democratic Party as well. When it comes to their base, Democratic leaders know they will command undying, unbreakable support no matter how many times they kick their base, because of the fear that has been instilled in the base — not fear of Terrorists or Immigrants (that’s the GOP’s tactic), but fear of Sarah Palin, the Kochs and the Tea Party”

  3. Vivek Jain
    October 21, 2012 at 04:42

    Ellsberg’s an interesting guy. In his documentary, The Most Dangerous Man in America, he recalls how as a passenger in a car accident caused by his father, in which he lost his mother and sister, he realized that even the people you love and respect can make mistakes.

    I consider his lapse in judgment here an aberration. It doesn’t diminish the good he’s done. Though it is puzzling, right? One of the most passionate and courageous and principled defenders of Bradley Manning, actually asking people not to vote third party in swing states but instead for the guy who’s responsible for imprisoning and torturing Manning. It doesn’t make sense.

    He’s also one of the plaintiffs in the NDAA suit, along with Chris Hedges (who very much disagrees with Ellsberg). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=omiKV_6WnFg

    How meaningful is the ritual of casting ballots for the presidential election? When have votes for a candidate had any influence on policy?

    Like Calzone, I live in a swing state and refuse to vote for Obamaney. I denounce the bipartisan aggression toward the people of Iran. Obama should be indicted, not re-elected.

  4. Johnnie Favorite
    October 21, 2012 at 01:56

    Hey Elsberg don’t tell me what I am thinking or what my emotion is. An old Jedi (or CIA) mind trick. No one is enraged at Obama, it is a reasoned decision not to support someone who does not share your values. Not to mention someone who has lied and says he does. That is not rage, that is common sense.

  5. jg
    October 20, 2012 at 20:53

    This is an election for the next US Supreme Court majority. Our civil rights are under assault on a broad front and have been for four decades. We can either get another liberal judge to reverse the erosion of our constitutional rights under the Roberts Court or help empower the Scalia-Roberts-Alito-Thomas-Kennedy majority for another generation or more, by which point it will be irreversible because after another Bush v. Gore and Citizens’ United case it will be all over.

  6. borat
    October 19, 2012 at 17:59

    These antisemitic bastards still can’t accept that I love Israel, and hate Romney. They have to goose step with their crap comparing a democracy like Israel to a neo nazi state like their medievalist paradises like iran

  7. Alex Cox
    October 19, 2012 at 12:34

    Ellsberg is entitled to his opinion but it’s pretty lame.
    There is little if any difference between the two candidates.
    Both will start a war against Iran; both will support the use of drones and torture; both will bail out the banks again, and work dilligently to privatize social security.
    Ralph Nader & the Green party were not to blame for Gore’s failure: Gore was a lousy candidate who failed to carry his home state, then went running to the Greens for backup in his attempt to unseat Bush.
    Jill Stein and her VP candidate were arrested for attempting to participate in the ‘debate’ and held in chains for several hours. This alone suggests that they – unlike O’Bomber and Romney – are serious individuals who care about real democracy and deserve our support.

  8. Paul G.
    October 19, 2012 at 05:50

    Some of the above should read V.I. Lenin, Ultra-Leftism: An infantile disorder. The title says it all; effective political decisions are tactical not ideological. Yes, Lenin was a ruthless autocrat and thief; but he understood how to make effective politics.

  9. Carol
    October 19, 2012 at 00:54

    Sword of Damocles.

    How long do we continue to let them keep dangling that over our heads? How long to we continue to let Democrats impose right-wing agendas in the name of preventing Republicans from imposing right-wing agendas? Do we do this forever? Is there no end to it? Because every time we let presidents like Obama and Clinton (and Carter, and Johnson, and Kennedy) get away with it, we move ever further, ever more inevitably, to the right. How much further to the right do we go before we decide we’re going to go no further?

  10. Gusseppe
    October 18, 2012 at 20:44

    I have been on the sidelines, but, BORAT, you KIKE pussy, I will eat your organs for breakfast you fucking POS! You are lucky you are anonymous!

    • elkern
      October 20, 2012 at 13:31

      MODERATOR: CRAP LIKE THIS SHOULD BE DELETED. I’m NOT defending borat; he’s a hasbara troll. But this post is waaaay over the line. It pollutes your site. Get rid of it, and ban the poster forever.

  11. bobzz
    October 18, 2012 at 14:16

    If you want a good insight into who Romney is, take a look at this video at today’s Democracy Now: http://www.democracynow.org/2012/10/18/greg_palast_mitt_romneys_bailout_bonanza

    • bobzz
      October 18, 2012 at 14:22

      Forgot to mention: previous writers on CN recalled what happened when Ralph Nader took votes away from Al Gore: we got Bush. Think about it. Voters had better try a tourniquet with Obama before performing corrective surgery.

  12. Krito Athenian
    October 18, 2012 at 13:39

    Daniel Ellsberg’s political advice is certain to lead to the continuation of the de facto political dictatorship run by the Wall St.-Washington cabal; this isn’t a good idea. In the event that the disenchanted liberal-progressive residuals of the New Deal vote for a third party candidate they will have “called the question.” In order to “call the question” I’m voting for Jill Stein.

  13. David Hamilton
    October 18, 2012 at 11:47

    I would much rather be fighting Obama the next four years, than Romney/Ryan.

    • Jesse Schultz
      October 18, 2012 at 14:59

      That says it all in a nutshell.

    • isdivc
      October 21, 2012 at 00:33

      An amen to Mr. Hamilton. I think the whole “conscience” thing about lesser evils, etc., is equivalent to philosophical masturbation. You can make a tactical choice to vote Democratic (committing maybe an hour to it?) but strategically continue to put in your real time on fundamental change outside the electoral game show. In other words, hold your nose, vote for Obama, skip the guilt and then get back to the real work of organizing.

    • calzone
      October 22, 2012 at 11:51

      I would much rather be working with a Jill Stein administration for progress, than fighting Obama the next four years.

  14. Hillary
    October 18, 2012 at 10:55

    Its all about the forthcoming attack on Iran.

    Keeping us safe is what Lieberman and the pro war neocons both Democrat and Republican all say is what counts in the American Election .

    An emphasis on terror and how military killing is needed is good and should continue.

    On American TV Benjamin Netanyahu (Mileikowsky)the Polish European Jew tries to convince the ignorant that he is descended from ancient Hebrews with a mumbo jumbo Judeo/Christian Biblical connection promoting the election of Romney as the next US President mainly for a war on Iran on Israel’s behalf.


  15. Robert
    October 18, 2012 at 10:51

    A third party vote is a vote for Romney! I hope you’re satisfied by the outcome of this election. The president is a figurehead and party rules! The Republican party is out to destroy America in favor of a plutocracy! Instead of looking at what you gain with a Republican leadership , look at what you are ultimately going to lose with their austerity programs.

    • calzone
      October 18, 2012 at 11:14

      No, a vote for Romney is a vote for Romney. A vote for Obama is a vote for Obama and a vote for Jill Stein is a vote for Jill Stein.

  16. calzone
    October 18, 2012 at 09:31

    I vote in a swing state and I look forward to proudly casting my ballot for Jill Stein. Enough of this lesser-evilism crap, enough of the brow-beating and the guilt-tripping from people like Daniel Ellsberg.

    How could this man possibly advocate voting for Barack Obama after the deplorable treatment that Bradley Manning has endured, after the unprecedented war on whistleblowers that Obama has waged? It’s despicable that after the last four years of trampling civil liberties, of the impunity granted to torturers and to the corrupt banksters who crashed the global economy that someone like Daniel Ellsberg would have the gall to try to guilt-trip anyone into voting for this wolf in sheep’s clothing, Obomba.

    Don’t people realize that there is literally no end to this pathetic and defeatist lesser-evilism? What if the two choices we had were George W. Bush and Mitt Romney? Would Ellsberg advocate voting for Bush, on the assumption that Romney would be worse? What if the choices were Mussolini vs. Hitler? In that case, I guess we would have to vote for Mussolini, as we all know how bad Hitler is…

    You don’t have to fall for this false choice, don’t believe the lie that Obama is the only “real alternative”, as Ellsberg says in the closing line of this piece. It’s simply not true. There are plenty of alternatives, including the Green Party, the Justice Party and the Socialist Party. Feel free to vote for whoever you like, and don’t let these defeatists convince you otherwise.

    As long as you keep voting for Democrats out of fear of Republicans, everything will continue to get worse. They certainly won’t get better.

    • elmerfudzie
      October 18, 2012 at 12:57

      The essence of the problem seems to be fiat currency as an primary instigator of the next world war. For example, the USD has undergone several changes as to what functions as support for it’s underlying value. Initially it due to a fabulous spurt in manufacturing, followed by stores of precious metals but now the green back is red, red with blood and backed with outright military violence, coercion, blackmail and domination. Its might is dispatched by our largest corporations and not by the president and not on behalf of our national interest or people. Neither party or their candidates have said or done anything to steer the world away from imminent Armageddon. What good does it do the citizenry at large to go about debating health care or the Patriot Act, social security insolvency or the the bubble economies? when our very lives and future is now at stake? Let’s take a look at (some) of the indisputable acts of war. Drone attacks inside a sovereign and nuclear armed nation like Pakistan or statements to the effect that the government in Tel Aviv will soon be relocating to Jerusalem and will assume the shape of a Zionist equivalent to Washington DC (Romney). Don’t look now Romney, but there are a billion Muslims willing to do more than pray that that never becomes a reality. Perhaps the press-titutes have so distracted us that everyone has overlooked the largest US Army and Naval buildup in the Middle east since World War Two…and that only applies to what can be observed above the water line (and below the stratosphere). The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists must have fallen asleep, it’s One Minute to Midnight! Hello, hello anyone out there? anyone awake?

      • borat
        October 19, 2012 at 17:57

        elmer fuddzie is an asshole

        • elmerfudzie
          October 19, 2012 at 19:08

          Borat! please avoid attacking personalities. Stick to what you consider to be facts, if you indeed have something to share. Calling people names is childish and doing so lowers the credibility of this website. Let’s all work together to get closer to what is the- truth.

    • elkern
      October 18, 2012 at 19:04

      So you really are anti-Jewish, I guess. Jill Stein’s stated position on Israel/Palestine is 1001% better (whatever that means) than the D’s or R’s. Who ya gonna vote for? Yourself?

      You & borat deserve each other. Troll on.

    • Roger Thomas
      October 19, 2012 at 03:56

      Now, Calzone, just what sort of logic would have anyone voting for other than the lesser of two evils. You have pointed out Obama’s ‘horrors’ but would rather experience the worse excesses of a Romney (even more Zionist influenced) regime. Are you crazy or just stupid? You chose to vote for Mussolini on the basis of Hitler’s badness being worse so, by that standard, you should be voting democrat.

      There is, after all, some hope that Netanyahu’s hostility towards Obama’s reelection might turn Obama into pursuing true American interests and extirpate the Zionist-American traitors from the White House and government.

      • calzone
        October 22, 2012 at 11:44

        Don’t call me crazy or stupid. I simply recognize that there are in fact more choices than the two false choices we are presented with. If more people realized that we do not in fact have to vote for either of these two corrupt, morally bankrupt parties, we would not be in the mess we are in. We might have something resembling a democracy, rather than this dictatorship posing as a democracy that we have.

        You should take a look at any other functioning democracy in the world, and note the absence of these sorts of arguments. People simply vote for who they agree with, and do not feel compelled to justify their votes to anyone. It’s an amazing and powerful thing to vote for who you want to lead, rather than out of fear.

        That’s all you Democrats have, by the way, is fear. Well, you can take your fear and shove it up your ass. It’s not working on me anymore.

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