I know the pain and frustration of losing in a primary race (dare I say, “I feel your pain”). In 2004, I spent much of November and December writing letters to Iowa voters on behalf of Howard Dean through coffeehouse meet-ups, telling them of the importance of caucus participation and why I believed that Dean’s progressive agenda was what the nation needed in that time of war and economic depravity. We all know how that ended. I loved Wes Clark’s expertise on the Republican-owned issue of national defense, though I knocked on California doors and made nation-wide calls on behalf of the most populist message of John Edwards. When John Kerry became the presumptive nominee, I was not my most satisfied, though I liked him and his strong environmental and foreign policy credentials (not to mention affection for Springsteen),and I worked anywhere from 15 to 30 hours per week on his campaign – making calls, knocking on doors, registering voters, putting up signs, helping with house parties and the coordination of events at which he or Edwards (or even Clinton himself) would speak, and turning out the vote tirelessly during GOTV (later dubbed GOTMFV) until the minute that the polls closed. I had my second drink ever while curled up in a ball on the floor crying that night, dismayed by the Ohio voter disenfranchisement at the hands of Ken Blackwell and devastated that our hard work and faith had not been rewarded but rather left us with a second Bush Administration that turned out to be worse than the first, which we had not at the time imagined possible.
In 2007 and 2008, I worked locally on behalf of Hillary Clinton, believing her to be the most electable and qualified candidate, with a policy agenda whose progressivism exceeded that of her husband. I made calls on her behalf and had booked a flight to Iowa for GOTV, though unfortunately had to forgo the opportunity on account of emergency wisdom tooth extraction. I twisted the arms of Nader 2000 voters who I claimed (rightly!) that they owed me and owed the nation for their prior poor reckless judgment as to throwing away their votes. When Obama became the presumptive and then official nominee, I returned to house party organizing, door knocking, and phone banking, and took an overnight Greyhound bus from Washington, DC to Winston Salem, NC, where I mobilized voters in housing projects and other poor communities and ran Election Day Phone banks for over 50 precincts in a state that Obama won by a mere 25,000 votes. I did the same thing in State College, PA at Pennsylvania State University in the 2012 election cycle, which garnered a more substantial statewide victory, despite winning the county by only 100 votes. Do not let anyone tell you that your vote does not matter.
The point here is not to flaunt my campaign experience (which for the record I have vastly abbreviated), but rather to emphasize the valuable work that can be done for one’s own party even if not working for one’s candidate of choice. After all, despite my love for politics, my primary record is not the best as I have just shown you. The fact is, if we array candidates on an ideological spectrum from -1 to 1 in keeping with NOMINATE ideological space (McCarty, Poole, and Rosenthal), where -1 is the most liberal and 1 is the most conservative and our dream candidate is located at -.88, to sit out the election is in effect one less vote for a candidate who is at -.70 and who is being made electorally vulnerable and susceptible to letting the election go to a conservative candidate whose ideal point is at, say, .72, thus a radical rightward shift from the status quo policy location.
The reality in a separation of powers system is that presidents rarely obtain policies are actually at their actual ideal points. Politics is the product of compromise with Congress (currently controlled by the party opposing the president) as well as considerations about the courts and interest groups, and thus a president’s platform is rarely a 1 to 1 mapping with policies ultimately produced. Rather than holding uncompromisingly to the particulars of certain policies to which one holds dear, one should consider broad-based policies and values – pro-environment versus supporting environmental deregulation, pro-choice versus pro-life, pro- or anti-Affordable Care Act expansion, civil rights protection, business regulation, tax policy (especially with respect to the wealthy), etc. – and the political tenacity and bargaining power to accomplish the maximal degree of that policy agenda. The extremism espoused by Susan Sarandon and others epitomizes the narrow-mindedness of those on the far left (and to be sure, there are equivalents on the far right with respect to Trump) that leads to an unproductive campaign of misinformation and intra-party squabbling that can produce outcomes vastly contrary to the preferences of those spouting that very all-or-nothing ideology that is nothing short of immature (if not negligent). If people insist on being so vocal in their political convictions, they should consider more squarely the longer-term consequences of their public statements, so as not to mobilize ill-advised non-participation in politics or else participation contrary to the principles for which they purport to advocate.