The 'I Voted' Edition
In this edition: Ramblings on the ballot: (1). Should you bother voting if you’re marginalized or left-leaning?; (2). The debate was not better. Stop saying it was; (3). A shocking lack of accountability in local elections; (4). Should ‘App-based drivers’ be contractors and not employees?; (5). Vital tech questions on the ballots, (6). and California’s stabs at criminal ‘justice’ reform.
I dropped off my ballot last week. As the calendar crawls toward November, the election deadline looms. I was glad for the mail ballot because it allowed me to sit with it open in front of a computer which allowed me to more thoroughly research questions before inking in the bubbles. It felt less like a test and more like an exercise in informed decision-making. Of course, whether or not it will “count” in the abstract sense is still an open and contested question. And this is something to be upset about.
Some semi-collected thoughts:
(1) Should ‘the left’ vote?
One exchange on the left struck me as interesting on the question of voting. The progressive end of the left spectrum has been alienated by the losses of the Sanders’ campaigns in 2016 and 2020, which have been interpreted as rebuffs to the progressive agenda. Joe Biden, in particular, is an unappetizing candidate for progressives, and his vp-pick Kamala Harris is not much more mouth-watering. The problem with Sloppy Joe, from their perspective, is not the gaffes or the incipient dementia, or even the corruption, but what he does when he’s alert and attentive. His record can not plausibly be described as “progressive-friendly” or even “progressive -compatible” in any meaningful way, and accusations of secret-socialism from the right are laughable. This means that the only argument for Biden, for a certain segment of the left, is one based on negative partisanship. Trump is poison.
You have to eat. Suck it up and slop down Sloppy Joe.
And some on the left have been making this argument. Noam Chomsky, former MIT linguist and celebrated political commentator, hopped on the Bad Faith Podcast, run by Briahna Joy Gray, former National Press Secretary for Bernie Sanders, and Virgil Texas, a co-host of Chapo Trap House. The exchange was brutally repetitive. Brutally repetitive. Brutally…
Chomsky’s main talking point these days is that climate change is an existential threat and since Biden is undeniably better on climate than President Trump— who once again reminded us during the debate that he does not consider climate change a real threat— there is no question who to vote for.
This, I should admit, is the most compelling argument in favor of Biden for me next to the disastrous mishandling of coronavirus, judicial appointments, the rampant out of control lying, and sheer incompetence.
Texas and Gray countered with a few dissatisfactions, mainly that Biden has not shown an openness to responding to activist pressures, meaning that pre-committing the left vote ensures that Biden doesn’t have to do anything to earn it, and that other questions are “existential” for marginalized voters.
Chomsky’s counterpoint was that these questions, while valid, simply “don’t arise” in this election. It is a conservative position, he argued, that politics is reducible to voting in elections. The left has always engaged in other activist exertions, which for the left is where the real politics occurs. As such, you do what you can with your vote but don’t expect it to do the work of politics for you (and in this case, what you can “do” is framed as reject Trump).
For me, this disagreement exposes who takes the environmental question more seriously. However, I am not entirely convinced by the idea that Biden is necessarily going to do better for the environment. At least in theory, he is the one of that is more open to it, but there’s a large, hanging question mark there. And yet, not voting seems like a tragically bad way to express voter preference, one that would harm the progressive movement for years as it would legitimize what centrists in the party said about them following Hilary Clinton’s self-imposed loss.
Chomsky may not have been eloquent in his defense, which included merciless repetition and a little bad faith even, but if one really does believe that we are rats on a downing ship if the environmental question does not get solved, then we should be open to make that the single issue. Not to mention there are other issues that separate the two candidates, anyway. On that enviro question, though: The left never wants to be accused of being heartless but politics is not all-inclusive by definition. Stand for everything and you’ll change nothing. Certainly for Texas and Gray who actually advocate for the downfall of capitalism, it is strange that they think they can accomplish a putsch through voting alone. For the record, I am being descriptive here and not prescriptive. I was recently told that there is no difference between a social democrat and a socialist, an attempt to say there is no distinction among ideology at this end of the spectrum (Chomsky is, of course, neither. He is an anarcho-syndicalist). But this distinction is worth preserving: The difference between a socialist and a social democrat, for those on the right and center, is that one wants to destroy capitalism and the other wants to save it.
(2) The silence deafens
As for a couple quick notes on ballot content: One potentially dark sign for me was that it was extremely hard to find information concerning several local candidates. It was surprisingly hard, with an open laptop in front of me, to find any real information on candidates for school district and another similarly local position. The news coverage that did name these candidates only mentioned that these candidates were running and did not offer interviews or opinions, the candidates did not respond to questionnaires from places like Ballotopedia, and they had no official campaign websites. In one case, I had to turn to LinkedIn to guess at probable positions. It is perhaps boring to point to the lack of real coverage, particularly in poor communities, where food deserts share an ecosystem with news deserts. But there you go.
(3) Content, not formalism.
The presidential election, as it usually does, soaked up most of the airtime as the last presidential debate came and, mercifully, went. Anyone praising this debate for relative “civility,” and complaining about the last one, knows very little and cares even less about politics. When was the last debate where the content of what was said matters less than this last one? It strikes me that the thing people are responding to is appearances. If the debate felt more adult, it was better. I don’t have time to explain all the reasons that is boneheaded and stupid and empty.
(4) Are ‘app drivers’ contractors?
However, interesting questions face voters across the country.
In California, for instance, my current state of residence, Proposition 22 asked voters whether companies like Uber and Lyft should be allowed to classify “app-based drivers” as contractors (not employees), which would allow them to not pay out benefits, among other things. This is a very common distinction in the gig economy. Tech companies reportedly spent hundreds of millions in favor of this proposition. I voted no. However, this issue is potentially a little more nuanced than it appears. California has a tendency to push too far against gig economy workarounds without solving the underlying structural problems which actually just punishes the workers.
(5) Vital tech issues are on the ballots
Proposition 24, even more contentious, raised the question of California’s Privacy Rights Act. I voted yes. It’s a compromised bill, and I am certainly sympathetic to the ALCU position statement which condemned the bill on the grounds that it creates a tiered system of privacy. However, I follow view of Ashkan Soltani, distinguished fellow at Georgetown Law, who played a part in the bill, as expressed in an interview the Markup, that this is about whether or not the CPRA will be gutted by tech lobbyists. If it is gutted, this could harm the incipient federal legislation. The fight now turns to making sure the burden of protection is not on the consumer, which I tend to think will be easier with the CPRA in force, especially since it sets up an enforcement agency, assuming, of course, that it passes which is not a given.
(6) Criminal “justice” reform
Sticking with just the tech/crime reform theme, there are other notable policy questions on ballots across the country, including releasing police body cam footage in Ohio, disallowing the use of facial recognition by police in Maine, and throwing out warrantless searches of electronic data in Michigan.