When Are People Going to Learn? Voter-Shaming Does Not Work.

voter-shaming, Barack Obama, Oprah Winfrey, Farron Cousins, Democrats, 2018 midterms, absolving the powerful, voting
Unfortunately, former President Barack Obama has engaged in some voter-shaming. That’s why I felt compelled to say that I disagree with his line of attack. I also want to point out that voter-shaming absolves the powerful.

I believe that voter-shaming is a futile exercise and you cannot change my mind.

The 2018 midterms are largely over, but not all races have been decided yet. For example, there is at a runoff in Mississippi today for the last undecided U.S. Senate seat. In the meantime, I’m making a few extra posts this year about voting and this is the second.

If you’ve been following this blog for over a year or looked through my archives, you may have read the posts I made about the general disdain Americans Democrats have for non-voters and third-party voters. In general, Democrats usually blame non-voters and third-party voters for their losses because it is assumed that people from both groups would otherwise for Democrats. Third parties are mocked as being spoilers, jokers, and dreamers. Non-voters are also told that they have no right to complain if they don’t vote.

As I’ve said before, I generally disagree with these assessments, although something must be said about first-past-the-post voting. In such a system, it would behoove one party (usually the Democrats) to only have two choices on the ballot. However, I believe that people should be able to vote the way they want without being guilted.

That said, this post is generally pointed at things said by some people aligned with Democrats (at least in this election, for one person): former President Barack Obama, Oprah Winfrey, and Farron Cousins. The former president supported a plethora of Democrats running in this year’s midterms. Oprah once supported the former (in 2008) and Stacey Abrams (this year). Cousins prefers Democrats, but he went off the handle (again) and went after other lefties because of two results in his state (Florida).


What Barack Obama Said

In October, Obama took digs at voters and only talked about 7 reasons people choose not to vote. A month earlier he stated his position that voter apathy was the greatest threat to democracy.

What Obama Said in September

On Friday, September 7, 2018, former President Barack Obama addressed students at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign to talk about the state of American Democracy. The meat of Obama’s speech began with a discussion of discord in the United States, especially the kind fomented by people in power. Obama said that Trump was a symptom of this, but not the cause, but Obama went on to criticize Trump and his staff. Yet Obama also said that he believed that Trump was not the biggest threat to democracy, but indifference was.

[T]he [greatest] threat to our democracy doesn’t just come from Donald Trump, or the current batch of Republicans in Congress, or the Koch Brothers and their lobbyists, or too much compromise from Democrats, or Russian hacking. The biggest threat to our democracy is indifference.

The biggest threat to our democracy is cynicism. The cynicism led too many people to turn away from politics and stay home on Election Day.

He also repeated the line, “Don’t boo. Vote,” that he uttered at the 2016 Democratic National Convention.

What He Said for ATTN: My Breakdown

In October, Obama urged voters once again to go out and vote during the midterms in a video for ATTN:

I shared this news before, but I would like to talk about in depth because much of the content raised my eyebrows.

1. “I don’t care about politics.”

Obama took a dig at Pokémon.

Look, I don’t care about Pokémon, but that doesn’t meant that it won’t keep on coming back.

He did finish up this section with a valid point about out-of-touch politicians who feel free to do what they want, voters be damned. Voting is a good way to throw out politicians like these, where money isn’t the deciding factor.

2. “Why bother voting when I can’t relate to the candidates?”

Obama said that this was “actually a good question,” because most politicians failed to adequately represent the American people, but that was changing in 2018 because more women were running, for instance.

Now, the following was an acceptable joke:

You remember those hearings where members of Congress were asking Mark Zuckerberg questions like they’d never used the Internet before? That’s because they haven’t. Here’s your chance to vote for people who actually know what the Internet is.

3. “My vote doesn’t matter.”

Obama took digs at concert-goers and people who vote for Dancing with the stars.

The last presidential election turned on less than 100,000 votes in three states. More people go to Coachella.

Look, when it comes to something like Dancing with the Stars, people actually think their vote matters. But a vote in this November’s election actually does matter.

While making some valid points about electing people who would try to make the justice system fairer or student loans more affordable, Obama took another dig at old people.

And by the way, you wouldn’t let your grandparents pick your playlist. Why would you let them pick your representative who’s going to determine your future?

4. “Midterm elections are boring. Let me know when we’re talking about a presidential race.”

Most of this section was filled with valid points. For instance, Obama mentioned that 36 states were voting for governor and all seats in the U.S. House of Representatives were up for grabs. However, he marred this section at the end by saying this:

Elections, by the way, aren’t boring. You know what’s boring? Scrolling through endless photos of your dinner on Instagram. That’s boring.

5. “I don’t know the candidates well enough. I’m uninformed.”

This section was relatively fine. Obama told the viewers that they needed to do research on their candidates and find out which ones had reprehensible views, like not wanting women to vote and believing that climate change was a hoax. However, per the norm of this video, he said so in such a dickish way.

Also, this thing has something called Google …

6. “I don’t know where I’m supposed to vote.”

Obama pointed people toward Vote.org.

7. “I don’t have time to vote.”

Obama pointed out that people could vote absentee or vote early (but only in 37 states).

Which is like going to a private Jay-Z/Beyoncé Concert.

What Obama Said at UNLV

Later in October, Obama made a stop at the University of Nevada Las Vegas to stump for Democrats running in the state. There, Democrat Jacky Rosen was challenging Republican Dean Heller for his seat and Democrats Steve Sisolak was going against Republican Adam Laxalt in the open race for governor. Obama and others stressed that voter turnout was key.

During his speech, Obama took jabs at the Republicans, especially in terms of their plans for health care, which became a central factor in Rosen’s campaign. Obama also said that the greatest threat to American democracy was voter apathy.

Why Obama Was Wrong

I will grant that Obama added a lot of substance to his rhetoric (which is understandable, given that Obama was a president and he knows how to run a campaign). However, in all these appearances Obama made, I didn’t feel that he was being entirely fair to his audience. In particular, the ATTN: video was aimed at younger voters, but it was very condescending, so I didn’t like it.

Now, while Obama made some valid points in that video, he downplayed all the reasons for people not voting that he mentioned, and he ignored the glaring reasons people choose not to vote or can’t vote. There is a tactful way of reaching viewers, even with jokes, but this wasn’t the way to go about it. However, I will say that the best jokes he made were the ones where he took digs at politicians.

Reasons Why People Don’t Vote

I think that most, if not all, of the reasons Obama listed for people not voting are valid, but he ignored that people don’t vote because they don’t like any of the candidates running in their city, county, state, or for president based on policy. If people are only allowed to vote for two shades of evil, whoever is elected will have a net-negative effect on their city, county, state, or country. And that doesn’t even begin to explain the type of negative effect Congress and the president can have on the world.

Another valid reason people have for not voting is voter disenfranchisement. I delved into this topic before.

Even if someone can legally vote, they might have their voting rights taken away due to voter purges, or changes in their party affiliation (which will prevent them from weighing in on closed primaries). If they’ve been incarcerated, they may have their voting rights taken away indefinitely, if not permanently. And even if the people who were disenfranchised are allowed to vote in general elections, the fight to get those rights back and the things that transpired during the primaries may dampen their enthusiasm for participating in the electoral process.

It is beyond disappointing for Obama to ignore this.

Additionally …

Obama sidestepped the effect that the Koch Brothers had on the electoral process, which is a non-starter. He is essentially defending “Libertarian” oligarchs, who fund Democratic opponents.

The Kochs have a tremendous effect on our elections, in the form of their donations. Not only do they donate millions of dollars to Republican candidates annually, but they fund ALEC, which in turn writes right-wing legislation. Voter ID laws are a problem and so are right-to-work laws because the former further disenfranchises voters and the latter takes away the bargaining power of workers by weakening unions. By the way, unions generally support Democrats.

The Kochs also donated to the now-defunct Democratic Leadership Council, which pulled the Democratic Party to the right and corporatized it. When I talk about the rift on the left, this is part of the problem. Progressives are fighting against corporatists who have in large part been influenced and corrupted by the DLC.

In addition, the Koch brothers are also funding programs in colleges to indoctrinate students. This is bad for liberals because young people tend to vote with Democrats and more university staff tends to be liberal. The Kochs want to claim the postsecondary universe for conservatives and miseducate students to believe in corporatism and other lies.

Is Obama honestly telling people that this has no effect on the electorate? Doesn’t he think that putting blame on the voters will make them even more resentful?


What Oprah Winfrey Said

On Thursday, November 1, 2018, Oprah Winfrey addressed a crowd in Georgia in support of Stacey Abrams, the Democrats state senator and voters’ rights activist who was running for governor. During Winfrey’s speech, she made it clear that she was not gearing up to make a presidential run, but she remarked on the history that was being made and the history that Abrams was fighting against.

Winfrey signaled to the level of oppression people of color had suffered in Southern states:

Every single one of us has something that, if done in numbers too big to tamper with, cannot be suppressed and cannot be denied.

The one place where we’re all equal — where is it? It’s at the polls

Winfrey also made a direct appeal to women, telling them that they had a moral imperative to vote because of the women before them who fought for the right to vote.

If you’re a woman — let me just talk to the women for a minute. You need to recognize, it hasn’t even been 100 years since we even had the right to vote, since we were considered a piece of property.

Why Oprah Was Wrong

There isn’t much to say about Oprah’s comments beyond saying that they were kinda cheap. I’m not downplaying the effect racism and sexism has had in this country, especially since I am a black woman. Yet I don’t appreciate it when someone uses identity to guilt people into voting a certain way.

One shouldn’t need to use guilt to push someone into voting, especially for a certain candidate. It’s best if someone can tie the issues to that candidate, but when someone uses identity and only identity, it signals to the listener that the speaker can find substantive reasons to support a candidate. That does someone like Stacey Adams a disservice because she was a vastly superior candidate to Brian Kemp and she advocated for disadvantaged people.


What Farron Cousins Said

On November 7, 2018, Farron Cousins made a video for The Ring of Fire and he went off when talking about two Democrats who were running for office in Florida. The two politicians were U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson (who was up for re-election) and Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum (who was running for governor). The results weren’t official at the time, but unfortunately, these two men lost to worse candidates.

The way those races were going pissed Cousins off and understandably so. Not only was Sen. Nelson losing to perhaps the most corrupt governor in Florida’s history, but Gillum was losing to a Trump sycophant. But Cousins’ rant took a strange turn as he pointed his ire toward lefty commentators, namely Jimmy Dore and Kulinski.

You had people out there — not in Florida — you know, those outsiders who came and fucked up our election for us. People out there spreading nonsense that, “Oh Andrew Gillum’s backed off. He’s not a progressive anymore. He doesn’t support Medicare for All anymore. He changed his talking point in one friggin’ tweet, so now we don’t support him. I’m not voting for him anymore.”

Thanks for pointing this out, people like Jimmy Dore and Kyle Kulinski, and all you people who have your litmus tests. And you screwed with a state that you don’t live in and that you don’t understand.

What Cousins Was Wrong

As I stated above, Farron Cousins had good reason to be mad about the results in Florida. However, Cousins was out of line and ultimately refuted his own points when he talked about the demographics of Florida voters, especially those in the county where he lived.

Let me make this so friggin’ clear for you idiots: I’ve lived here my whole life. And I have lived in one of the reddest parts of the state of Florida for my entire life. And both Bill Nelson and Andrew Gillum were winning their elections — until this little area where I live, unfortunately — until they started counting those votes and this solidly red area is what put them over the top.

It wasn’t because he [Gillum] wasn’t progressive enough. It was because this area was solidly Republican, hugely racist … According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, we have a huge concentration of hate groups in this area. So, you look at that and you tell me that a black Democrat could have won over those people by being ‘more progressive,’ which he already was. You just misconstrued what he said because it didn’t fit into your ideal of what a candidate has to be.

There was a point to be made about how Gillum campaigned in Florida. He did back off talking about Medicare for All even though he campaigned on it in the Democratic primary. It wasn’t just one tweet, many more before and after Gillum won the primary.1

Gillum didn’t really advocate for Medicare for all when he was interviewed in September or during any of the debates with DeSantis.

Gillum also campaigned with Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Hillary Clinton, two women who are despised by progressives — you know, the same people who helped Gillum win the Democratic nomination. That was a slap in the face. Still, lefties preferred Gillum over DeSantis and his loss hurt even those who had valid criticisms of Gillum.

What Dore and Kulinski Actually Said

To get back to what Cousins said about these two: Neither Kulinski nor Dore told people not to vote for Andrew Gillum. In fact, both signaled that they preferred Gillum to win. Kulinski said this implicitly and Dore only expressed concern that the Democratic establishment was trying to hurt Gillum’s chances.

To think about it, Dore’s concerns were at least partly justified. During last Sunday’s (November 19) Status Coup Super Chat, Jordan Chariton’s guest, activist Peter Hager, said something that made me think: Gillum had virtually no surrogates in localities to help him. While national candidates like Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Ben Nelson were leaning on Gillum to give them some of his juice, there were no Democrats on the group to get out the vote for him.

Now, to be fair, neither Kulinski or Dore said much if anything about Bill Nelson. If pressed on the issues, Kulinski would say that he preferred Nelson winning to Rick Scott winning. Dore would likely be noncommittal, but he would not tell people to vote for the Republican.

Cousins had to realize this because he at least apologized to Kulinski after the latter reached out to him. Still, that was no excuse for the way Cousins flew off the handle and accused others of being ignorant while making comments about them was were just as ignorant. This was worse than his July ran about the DNC servers.

By the Way …

Another bit of irony about at play is that the Democratic establishment has its own litmus test. It prefers centrists and it continues to meddle in primaries and abandon progressives who win primaries.

Look at what happened in California and Maryland. Democrats won big in CA, but Ammar Campa-Najjar was left for dead in the state’s 50th Congressional District and Duncan Hunter, who’s been indicted for misappropriation of campaign funds, won there. Ben Jealous lost soundly in MD’s governor’s race. These guys did not primary any Democrats but they were trying to take Republican seats, yet they had no institutional support from Democrats.


What I Took Away from These Comments

Barack Obama, Farron Cousins, and Oprah Winfrey all had unspoken messages, but they used guilt to convey them. Oprah and Obama’s unspoken message was this: “Vote for Democrats, especially those we approve of.” Cousins’ message was this: “Shut up lefties, or the Democrats will lose.”2 I despise both messages because they are patronizing and again, they absolve bad Democrats of their misdeeds.

Another message I get from guilt-trippers, in general, is this: “The Democrats are entitled to your vote.” The sad thing is the #BlueNoMatterWho crowd sees things this way.3 Just ask them.

I need to ask more people, but I asked one person point-blank if he thought that Democrats were entitled to people’s votes, and he said, yes. I was incredulous, much like Glenn Greenwald was in this segment:

No, the Democrats are not entitled to anyone’s vote, especially when certain ones don’t actually represent the people. Something to take into account is how Democrats like Bill Nelson lost this year after voting with conservatives on key issues, like the Bank Bailout Bill. All of the Democratic U.S. Senators who lost this year voted in favor of that bill, which will likely rush any coming financial collapse.


To Expand on Glenn Greenwald’s Points …

You know, the funny thing is that Republicans never act like this. Even though they demean everyone who doesn’t think like them, they don’t try to guilt-trip people into voting Republican. No, instead, they would like fewer people to vote, so they disenfranchise those who won’t vote for them.

The Republicans’ tactics are a tacit admission that they and their batshit, reactionary agenda are unpopular. That’s why they go to the lengths that they do to suppress the vote.

When you look at the numbers from year to year, there may be a higher percentage of Republicans who vote (at least during the midterms), but more Democrats overall participate in elections and more people vote for Democrats. So, yes, Democrats feel they should win, but gerrymandering and other shenanigans keep them from winning as much as they should be winning.

Thus, shouldn’t Democrats do something to make sure more of their base is able to vote and that everyone has more representational results? That they don’t means they deserve more of the blame than they’d have everyone believe. Personally, I feel that Democrats should have won more seats this year, but years of neglect have given Republicans better results than they deserve.


If Anyone Should Be Ashamed …

It should be the politicians for being awful, yet most of them feel no shame. The voters who vote for awful politicians deserve a stern talking to, as well.

However, shaming these voters will have no real effect, either, besides making them angry at the messenger. Thus, voter-shaming is futile, no matter who does it. Doing this might feel cathartic in the moment, but it doesn’t really help anyone.


In Summary

Obama and Oprah were wrong because the two were guilt-tripping people and thus shaming those who didn’t vote. Also, the onus was for their listeners to, “Vote for Democrats.” The last part was understandable, given where they stood, but it is all disingenuous.

Cousins’ rant was an entirely different animal, but it was also a form of voter-shaming. Instead of going after nonvoters, though, he was going after concerned citizens who used their platform to report on how Gillum campaigned and offer their opinions. Cousins wrongfully blamed commentators for swaying the opinions of voters and he largely ignored the effect of voter suppression in his state.

On top of that, all three were absolving the worst Democrats running in these races. Sure, the Democrats need more voters to participate in order to have a greater chance of winning. However, it is the job of Democrats to inspire people to vote for them and to make sure more of their people can make it to the polls.

When voters don’t really have something or someone to vote for, they will be discouraged from voting. They will also be discouraged from voting if there are unnecessary barriers. Blaming the voters doesn’t fix any of this, and in fact, makes them more resentful. It absolves those in power, who have a greater effect on the vote than Obama, Oprah, and others will admit.

In the end, we are better off talking to people about the issues and trying to sway them to our side that way. In fact, they may end up respecting us more, too.

Now, I’m not done with this topic. In fact, I have a few more bones to pick with Obama, so that will become yet another post.


Footnotes

1. Whenever someone says, “affordable health care,” it’s often prefaced by “access to.” For the record, “access to affordable health care” is not the same as Medicare for All or Single-Payer. Instead, it’s some mealy-mouth BS corporatists say in order to signal that they want people to still give money to health insurance companies. Under such a system, people will still pay out of pocket and HMOs will continue to squeeze all the money that they can out of people.

2. I don’t care to be told that any criticism of a Democrats will hurt them. When that thought is expanded, a Democratic loyalist will say that it makes Republicans “look good.” The truth is, if a Democrat can be hurt by (valid) criticisms, that candidate must be extremely weak. Strong candidates take the criticism head-on, adapt, and shoot down the BS, much like Lee Carter and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez have done.

3. As I’ve said before, the #BlueNoMatterWho crowd is intellectually dishonest. While they jump at any chance to support the Democratic establishment, they have no problem throwing progressive Democrats under the bus. The truth is these people support the status quo and their fears are grounded in the same “reasoning” that drives them to fight against third parties.

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2 thoughts on “When Are People Going to Learn? Voter-Shaming Does Not Work.

  1. In this country, we seem to be too quick to label someone as liberal or conservative which exacerbates the move further to the far left or right politically. If a more moderate candidate than Andrew Gillum had been on the Democrat ballot in Florida, the voting results might have been entirely different.

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    1. I disagree. Gillum won the Democratic nomination because he was unapologetically progressive and he advocated for Medicare for All. Overall, Gillum was a far superior candidate than DeSantis and he was an excellent speaker.

      I think there were a lot of factors at play in Florida. A big factor is racism. Another is that Gillum didn’t have the surrogates in localities and yet another is voter suppression. Before the midterms, Gov. Rick Scott purged thousands of voters. If you look at the vote totals in the governor’s race, those voter purgers made a huge difference.

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