Ordinarily, I have a lot of time for Rebecca Solinit. The stuff I've read about people organising in the context of disaster is inspiring. E.g.
Personal gain is the last thing most people are thinking about in the aftermath of a disaster. In that phase, the survivors are almost invariably more altruistic and less attached to their own property, less concerned with the long-term questions of acquisition, status, wealth, and security, than just about anyone not in such situations imagines possible.
In this piece, she excoriates what is, I think, fundamentally a straw man - those who presume 'the job at hand is to figure out what’s wrong, even when dealing with an actual victory, or a constructive development'. She probably has a point when it comes to the kind of rhetoric most usefully deployed in discussion with liberals and other reformists. She is probably right if what she's saying is that these are among those we need to break from their lethargy and involve in actual movements. If all we have to say to the liberals is how wrong they are, as I confess I'm inclined to do, it may not help to mobilise them.
But she points to an advance or two in American society and conflates the actual movements that brought them about with electoral politics. She trots out the old saw about the perfect being the enemy of the good, but what she's really talking about, as is usually the case, is that slight, contingent improvement is actually the enemy of fundamental change, or even significant improvement. Her metaphor - 'every four years we are asked if we want to have our foot trod upon or sawed off at the ankle without anesthetic' - is not only grotesque, but a gross exaggeration. I'll refrain from trying to come up with a more accurate metaphor.
Ultimately, the issue is not which of the two principal candidates will do the least harm, much less which will do the most good. It is which will open the greatest opportunities to organise. Howard Zinn was right when he typed the oft-quoted (but unsourced) aphorism, 'What matters most is not who is sitting in the White House, but "who is sitting in" -- and who is marching outside the White House, pushing for change.' Or, in much the same vein, 'Voting is easy and marginally useful, but it is a poor substitute for democracy, which requires direct action by concerned citizens.' And Rebecca Solnit knows that as well as anybody.
There is a traditional conceit on the left that it is only when Labor is in office that their supporters can observe and experience their sellouts and attacks, which can lead them to break to the left. If that applies to the Democrats, you'd expect those who supported Obama so enthusiastically in 2008 to have moved left by now. In fact, many of those who anticipated hope and change have somehow not noticed what Obama has done to them, or made excuses for his 'failure to achieve his objectives', as if his objectives were theirs. Most have been demoralised.
Another view is that a marginally more right wing government is likely to attack workers more vigorously and arouse a more determined fightback, particularly as the Tories, the Liberals, the Republicans don't bother trying to don the camouflage of a workers' party. This raises the ultimately unanswerable question, 'What is the last straw?' How much will we tolerate before we pull our fingers out and organise a fightback?
Yet another factor is which government will leave the most space for organisation by tolerating dissent and so forth. I don't think anybody anticipated that Obama would be the one to set new records for victimising whistleblowers or to organise the nationwide crackdown on Occupy. But there you go. We can only speculate about how draconian a Romney regime would be. Much less how people would respond.
The received wisdom is that in the primitive and undemocratic US first past the post electoral system, a vote for a candidate to the left of the Democrats is a gift to the Republicans. There are still people going around blaming Nader for the election Bush stole with the connivance of the Supreme Court in 2000. Gore, of course, would never have invaded Iraq, they allege, as if 'would never have' is some kind of evidence. Perhaps he wouldn't have invaded Afghanistan? Perhaps 9/11 would never have happened? Or perhaps 9/11 was just a convenient pretext for adventures long in the planning that had more to do with control of petroleum supplies and pipeline routes than with Islamist terrorism? Perhaps there were more powerful forces at work than Al Gore could or would have been able to resist, even if he had been that way inclined?
At the end of the day, then, we don't really know whether a Romney administration is more or less likely to propel Americans onto the streets than another four years of Obama. I couldn't entirely rule out the possibility that the Occupy Wall Street movement, the fightback in Wisconsin, or the Chicago teachers' strike might not have happened under a Republican president. But in terms of November's election, I think a respectable showing for a third party candidate would be the best outcome. If four or five percent of American voters were prepared to abjure the received wisdom and endure their liberal mates' censure to vote for the Greens candidates, it would be a clear sign of a break from the two party lesser evil orthodoxy and perhaps even from electoralism itself. Beyond that, it might even enhance our confidence to get out there and fight on the streets, on the campuses and in the workplaces.