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Voting for War

Liberal internationalists are worried an American election might get in the way of their crusade.

Wisconsin Voters Head To The Polls On State's Primary Day
Voters fill out ballots on Wisconsins state primary day on August 9, 2022 at Concord Community Center in Sullivan, WI. (Photo by Alex Wroblewski/Getty Images)

It’s a midterm election; it is not supposed to be complicated. A commercial republic or a representative democracy, the United States, at least in aspiration, has always meant to be the sort of place where you can pull the lever for the incumbent if you and your family are doing well and punch it for the other guy if the forecast is looking poor. Our federal system is not a direct democracy, and our citizenship is not supposed to be primarily exercised in participation at the federal level. Elections, for ordinary Americans, are supposed to be little check-ins while we get on with the important American stuff, high and low: worshiping God as we feel called to, or making obscene amounts of money. 

That, of course, was probably always more theory than practice. And as the federal government has collected client classes left and right over the last century its regulations have filled in any space for an ordinary citizen to live life without it, to limit their interaction to a vote every couple years and focus on spiritual and material health. But from square deals to new deals through great societies, vestiges of that relationship between citizens and feds remain, and even considering the traditional self-justification of the non-American, non-regime “liberal democracy” we are all meant to care so much about, we see an emphasis on quality of life, law and order, and material abundance. It is good because more of us won’t go hungry, or cold. 

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So it is worth pointing out that American voters are not only not unusual, but actually right in the system’s own terms—whatever you are calling this regime—to care a lot about inflation, energy, and crime going into this midterm election. But that has not stopped liberal internationalists from declaring November a referendum not on the United States Congress, but on Ukraine and the idea of democracy itself. It is a clumsy and ludicrous attempt at moral blackmail by an influential federal client class against every other American, and, while transparent, deserves to be recognized and dismissed. From the Washington Post to the Pentagon, from CNN to NGOs, unctuous pigs nuzzling at the trough of U.S. defense spending demand their fellow citizens care about the arsenal of “democracy” abroad more than feeding their children at home.

The Washington Post opinion page might have a tighter relationship with the military industrial complex and its ideological emanations than anyone. This week saw a couple doozies from the “it’s very nearly fascism to care about the price of gas” crowd over there. Greg Sargent, a columnist, had an interview with, get this, an expert, who says Vladimir Putin wants the GOP to win next month (subtext: so you had better not, or what does that make you?). Even less surprising, Max Boot (who—along with Samantha Power, Victoria Nuland, and let’s add Chad Wolf to be bipartisan—reminds us that nominative determinism is very real, especially in D.C.) wrote his usual face-stomping column again, this time with a midterm hook. 

Sargent’s conversation was with ​​Timothy Snyder, “a historian of Europe who has become one of the leading thinkers on the rise of authoritarianism around the globe.” How that will help the reader navigate the complexities of American party politics, or the needs of the United States for the next couple years, is not explained. Indeed, those don’t appear to be the stakes Sargent or Snyder care about at all. Instead, Synder declares, “democracy around the world depends on Ukrainians winning this war.” Thus we are initiated into a whole world of faith, with its own dogma and doctrines, such that Snyder can “talk to quite a few Republicans who say and do exactly the right things regarding Ukraine,” and, “We could throw it all away if we do the wrong thing after November.” 

All this pessimism about democracy should be a little puzzling, considering November represents a democratic election. But we can’t expect too much logic from these fundamentalists when they make arguments like this: “Iran is supplying Russia with drones,” and the Ukrainians “are shooting down the Iranian drones” (forcing Russia to buy more of them), therefore, “If your line is that you’re going to be tough on Iran, that’s one more reason you should be supporting Ukraine.” Yes, that’s really in the interview. 

Meanwhile, always willing to spell out what others only suggest, Boot kicks off by explicitly dismissing Americans worried about the economy. Nevermind the polls, he writes, “a lot of voters are missing the point. These elections are actually a referendum on whether you favor the continuation of democracy in America — and Ukraine.” Boot worries that surveys show American citizens are inclined to democratically elect the wrong sort of democratic representative, the wrong sort being those who aren’t sufficiently committed to risking general nuclear war in central Europe. The nuclear risk on Boot’s mind is metaphorical, even if the geography is the same: “The fallout,” he writes, of a red wave here in the U.S. midterm, “could reach all the way to Ukraine.” 

Our warmonger subjects California’s Kevin McCarthy, who is set to become House majority leader, to particular resentment, because McCarthy, as a democratically elected representative, would like to listen to the people he represents. McCarthy has said, sensibly enough: “I think people are going to be sitting in a recession and they’re not going to write a blank check to Ukraine.” To concede a point to Boot, if McCarthy “faces a choice between the loss of his speakership and the loss of Ukraine, you can guess which he would choose.” Yes, he is a U.S. congressman. 

The Democrats have long been the party of federal client classes, and when they run out of clients they invent new classes subject to their patronage. It was only a matter of time before the military industrial complex President Dwight D. Eisenhower warned America of—having recognized itself for what it is, a federal client class par excellence—would see which party would make sure its bread stayed buttered. There has ever been a fist of iron in the velvet glove we call “liberal democracy,” and plenty Republicans are eager to see it strengthened, in Ukraine and elsewhere. But Boot, and Sargent, and Snyder, and McCarthy are all quite right: in a time of domestic upheaval and poor economic prospects, in a midterm election of federal representatives in a Democratic administration, ordinary Americans are looking for change and close to home.

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