'Lesser of two evils' is a trap

Obviously, in a once-off, compulsory and exhaustive etc choice, you do in fact pick the lesser of two evils. But when the choice is iterated, the approach just normalises ‘evil’, aka bad policy.

The LoTE position is rooted in outcomes. But it’s a short-term perspective — only the next outcome, only the next election. If you believe that accepting the LoTE this time means you’ll have to do so the next time, and the time after that etc, then you can justify refusing to accept it without having to stand on high-minded principle. Your position is just as outcome-oriented as the LoTE. It’s just thinking further ahead.

“But if the greater evil is so evil, then…” Well sure. Does a Trump victory mean no more elections? If that were true, what would you expect a Trump defeat to achieve? Peaceful handover? Why?

Maybe Biden ends kids in cages (some kids in some cages). I have my doubts. He doesn’t abolish ICE, he doesn’t end adventurism. I don’t even believe he brings meaningful healthcare reform — if he brings any. The difference between the lesser and the greater evil seems to me very slight when I look at the consequences of keeping on this path.


So the most important thing I think as a decision maker is the frequency with which you’re making these sorts of decisions. I think that, assuming you have some degree of agency in your role and get to chart your own course, that if you’re constantly making these LoTE choices you’ve got some major flaws in planning/execution. If you’re a good operator you should be making a lot of decisions where you’re trying to get as many good things onto your plate as possible… because you put yourself in good situations repeatedly.

That being said I think there are a lot of idealists who conflate a choice having any negative ramifications as it being ‘evil’. I think being a perfectionist is a good way to never get much done…

But yeah since we’re talking about the Democratic Party it’s painfully obvious that they are wildly incompetent, and that leads them to constantly being forced to make these ugly ‘eat a shit sandwich or a cyanide sandwich’ situations… which they don’t seem to be learning anything from.

When you’re in pain that generally means you’re supposed to be learning something. I don’t think the Democratic establishment learned much of anything from 2016. I think they refused to process the fact that they had lost 3 out of the last 5 elections to the worst candidates the other party had literally ever run (and run very good on Barrack Obama the candidate). And lost all 3 elections with a bland centrist candidate that nobody was particularly excited about. These candidates aren’t safe, they’re massively risky and borderline suicidal. Come to think of it the Dems haven’t won an election with a candidate like this since ever. All of the Democratic Presidents since Kennedy had a certain it factor to them utterly missing from Dukakis, Gore, Kerry, Clinton, AND Biden. Even Carter was a weird outsider peanut farmer who was very clearly just a good person. Going back further still the story stays the same basically.

I’m pretty convinced that any healthy political party would have figured out how to arm twist both Bernie and Biden out of running in 2019 and conducted a star search style primary for the next Barry O. Instead they let the two old guys with the highest name recognition suck up all the oxygen, and that error has somehow against all odds made 2020 something they could actually lose.

Obama was a LoTE. He was just a very successful one electorally.

Nah. Obama was fine. He did what he could do. Most of what went wrong with his presidency was deciding to try to do healthcare instead of financial reform and then losing the midterms in 2010.

You gotta remember with Obama that we didn’t know that Mitch McConnell was going to Mitch McConnell yet. We were still a country with norms and standards.

I know all the arguments against Obama because I’ve made a lot of them myself. I don’t agree with putting him on a pedestal like some perfect being… but I also don’t think he was a bad chief executive. I think he had a very difficult hand and played it semi well.

The big key error was doing healthcare instead of something broadly popular like major financial reform in 2009 and then going hard on the midterms. Once Obamacare turned into a tar baby his presidency was over legislatively.

If you’re going to criticize his foreign policy wrt blowing up brown people I’ll agree with you. Of course I’ll also point out that every president since Carter (at the earliest) has been blowing up brown people on the regular, and the war on terror is hardly something that Obama started.

Of course I totally understand trying to do healthcare. It’s the biggest problem the country has to this day. He was self sacrificing enough that he was willing to go all in on fixing that big problem politically. Unfortunately he went all in and then lost the pot. And make no mistake Obamacare was a total failure. The bill they ended up producing was a face saving device for the politicians (mostly Obama let’s be clear) whose careers were wasted pushing that rock up that hill only to watch it roll back down again. It did nothing about the core problem of cost, and because of that it was pretty much irrelevant. It saved some people and it killed some people. It gave some people coverage and it took some people’s coverage away. It left insurance tied to the employer and it did nothing about the cost of medical care in the US.

There’s little use in re-litigating Obama’s presidency. My point is that you’re talking about the horse-race when I’m talking about whether winning it is even going to get us what we want.

For winning to get us what we want we have to win, not just once, but repeatedly. We needed to win in 2008, do popular shit, win in 2010, do more popular shit, win in 2012, do more popular shit… and have all three branches of government locked down so we could execute the whole agenda.

There was a time in living memory when you could negotiate with the GOP and get worthwhile stuff done. That’s been over for a long while now.

I don’t think a horse race is the right metaphor at all anymore. This is a war. Each election is a battle. Losing battles prolongs the war, and the war is doing enormous harm to the population of the country. We need to finish it ASAP even if that means making some sacrifices.

One of the key things we have to do to win the war is run better candidates, and to get those better candidates we have to offer them the opportunity to really get something worthwhile done. Talented people want to do stuff, not sit in stuffy rooms watching the paint dry waiting for their turn in the congressional call center to lick donors shoes for petty cash. Thank god for AOC showing talented people everywhere that they can run for office and have a rewarding experience beating up establishment cans.

What is the long term benefit of rejecting “the LoTE” approach?

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The lessor of two evils is like trying to get to the mountain top by always going up.

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You avoid the normalisation of bad policies and change the calculus where your lesser evil is rewarded for tracking as closely as possible to the greater evil without ceasing to be at all distinguishable.

Not sure you’re not arguing about the good sense of choosing the lesser of two evils, but that freely choosing an option out of many based solely on it not being evil is a terrible method for choosing something actually good. That seems a completely sensible point, though I agree seems to have escaped the Democratic party.

I get the idea here, but I’m not real sure this is what would actually happen in the US. If a large portion of the progressive wing of the Democratic party ceased to vote for non-progressive-approved Democratic candidates, it’s not clear to me at all that this would cause the party to move in a direction to win them back, versus moving in the direction that you think they are already going (“tracking as closely as possible to the greater evil”). Although I do think the Democratic party has moved to the left on many issues over the last decade, due to the influence of the left.

I don’t know, of course, so it’s difficult to argue. I guess all I would say is that I think there is a lot of risk involved in this calculus, given Duverger’s law. I agree that the LoTE calculus is focused often on shorter term outcomes, but it’s also an evaluation of risk. I can see where it might make sense to take the higher-risk longer-term-focused strategy from a more radical perspective, e.g. a socialist arguing about accelerationism. Or, in a different system I would definitely argue for the left just forming a new party. But it doesn’t seem plausible here, yet. I guess that’s one reason I like the idea of advocating for changes in our voting systems in particular.

Hard to do financial reform when Citigroup has a say in the cabinet and then gets over $45 billion in the bailout


I’m talking about a very typical argument presented for why people have to hold their nose and vote for Biden/Clinton/whoever, even though B/C/W is clearly bad. Obviously there are other choices: third party, don’t vote etc. The argument is that any of these other choices is ‘functionally’ a vote for the greater evil, and since obviously the lesser evil is preferable to the greater evil, you must vote for the LoTE.

What I’m saying is that it’s similar to one-shot versus iterated prisoner’s dilemma. Iteration changes the game. If we’re just deciding once and that’s it, then sure, vote for the LoTE. If you’re going to be asked again and again to vote for an increasingly unsatisfactory LoTE, you can refuse to do so without your justification requiring a moral principle divorced from consequence. Consequence is the crux of the LoTE argument and laying out a case against it that’s also rooted in consequence is stronger than standing solely on detached moral principle.

Some states, notably New York IIRC, allow fusion. This would allow the progressive donkeys a mechanism to fuse -vs- or withhold fusing, to leverage the conservative donkeys.

That’s exactly why they didn’t do financial reform. From a political perspective though there was never a better moment to burn a banker at the stake than then. They did what they did hoping to prevent a depression… but I think we’re discovering now that they only put it off. This country needed a reckoning but instead they papered it over for one more round of musical chairs.

The midterms likely would have turned out differently if financial reform had been the big legislative victory to come out of 09’-10’. Probably would have been way harder to block given how politically damaged the financial sector was right then. It also would have forced the GOP to defend the banksters which would have been awful for them politically.

Instead the narrative was they crashed the economy and got off scott free… because that’s what happened. These are choices that got made by the Democratic establishment that were disastrous IMO. Obama ultimately made the call and it was really quite wrong. I understand choosing healthcare instead, but the easier higher % shot was the better choice. Healthcare was super risky and a pretty major blunder without a ton more political capital and a substantially stronger legislative majority.

The lack of effect from 2016 to 2020 is probably the biggest vulnerability in my case. Someone might say that Clinton’s loss and the eDems’ continued rejection of actual left-wing policies, their popularity notwithstanding, proves that nothing can be done.

I’d respond that Clinton did still win the popular vote, and it’s not hard to imagine the eDems giving themselves a mulligan on that basis alone. I do think, though, that rejecting the LoTE will ultimately involve rejecting those who’ve offered it. If that means the breakup of the Democratic Party, fine. It’s happened before and will happen again. Let’s have an actual left-wing party and let the LoTErs go to the GOP, if they’ll have them. NeverTrumpers leaving the GOP for the donkeys just moves both parties further right; let’s get a little of the reverse going on, why not?

You can’t do game theory without understanding the payoffs of all the players. When you vote, what game are you playing, who are the other players, and what are their incentives?

As you’ve conceded, it’s obviously correct for you to vote Biden from a short-term EV perspective (not you, obviously, since you’re not an American and are just theory crafting, but you generically). If your hypothesis is that there are long-term strategic benefits to letting Trump manage the next crisis, what are they? How will they be achieved? If we assume that the other players are also strategic, how are you going to beat their counter-moves?

This is a mis-framing of the argument, which is not that benefits are derived from Trump winning, but from rendering the eDems’ electoral strategy unviable.

Ok, so if there are strategic benefits to a strategy that is expected and intended to put Trump in a position to manage the next crisis, etc.?

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If you want to ask a proper question, ask one and I’ll answer it. If you just want to call me a Trump supporter, go ahead and get it out of your system.