Is voting an act of revenge?

On Friday President Obama told his supporters “Voting is the best revenge”.

I participated in my first campaign by wearing buttons to the 6th grade in 1968, voted for the first time in 1976, volunteered or worked as paid staff in more than a dozen congressional, senate or presidential campaigns, paid close attention to all of the races for the past 40 years, watched every primary and general election debate this campaign season and tried to keep up with as many articles, blog posts, ads, editorials etc as humanly possible. In all of that, I have never heard as sad a commentary on the state of political discourse as the President of the United States advocating voting as an act of revenge.

How do we govern our communities from the smallest hamlet to the nation itself if the process of choosing our leaders is seen by the victors as an opportunity to revenge themselves on the vanquished? How do we come together following an election to gain popular acceptance of public policy if the defeated have heard the Chief Executive assure his followers that by supporting him those policies will become the instrument of their revenge?

Is this really what our nation has come to? What possible offense fills people’s hearts with such hatred for their fellow citizens that they would cheer with joy when told “Voting is the best revenge.”

Most of the people on Govloop are public employees, who tend to lean left of center. I’ve read some pretty angry, almost hateful, commentary on The Left Bank Discussion group. But I have yet to read anyone advocating choosing our leaders as an act of revenge.

So what do Govloopers think about this premise? Is voting really the best revenge?

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David B. Grinberg

Peter, I understand your points, however, it’s also possible that:

1) The President meant no harm but committed a rhetorical gaffe, like when Gov. Romney equated women with being office “binders” to about 60 million viewers during the presidential debate;

2) A sensational news media tyring to break news and make headlines took the phrase out of context and and purposely blew it out of proportion; and/or

3) The President used a poor phrase when he meant something else — something non-offensive.

Dannielle Blumenthal

This headline caught my eye because we are living through the worst campaign season in terms of divisiveness that I can remember.

With respect to this remark itself, I looked it up (see here for one story) and it seems to actually be the opposite of what it sounds like. In fact the President was saying, the best way to speak your voice is to vote.

“Speaking at Springfield High School in Ohio on Friday, Obama hailed former President Bill Clinton, saying that ‘his economic plan asked the wealthiest Americans to pay a little bit more so we could continue to invest in our people, continue to invest in ideas and innovation, invest in our infrastructure’.

“When he added: ‘And at the time the Republican Congress and a Senate candidate by the name of Mitt Romney’ the audience of some 2,800 began to boo.

“Obama responded with the standard ad lib he uses when crowds boo Romney on Republicans: ‘No, no, no. Don’t boo – vote. Vote!’ Then he added: ‘Voting is the best revenge.’” (Source: UK’s Daily Mail – read more)

Unfortunately what should only be an ideological war has turned into a war of words spawning bitterness and hatred among the people.

What I see on the ground (among friends, in the media, on Facebook and the like) is that people who are Democratic have an “of course” quality to them, as in “of course we are right.” If you dare to question, challenge, or disagree with them they quickly become angry. You can see this very clearly in most, not all, of the spokespeople for the President who appear on TV. At the same time, Democrats seem to be divided between the centrists (Clintonistas) and the far leftists (academic types), and right now the academic types seem to hold more sway in the party. It is not clear to me that the centrists are comfortable with the direction the party is taking.

On the other hand, it seems to me that many people who lean right today have a sort of unspoken attitude like, “No way, not another four years.” They may not have started off Republican (they could go either way), but they are turned off the Democratic party. They have a lot of issues with the Administration but they don’t feel comfortable talking about it, partly because they know it’s socially unpopular. They’re not necessarily ideologically convicted but they’re not open to debate, either. They’re just ‘through.’ (This analysis leaves out diehard Republicans, who are not totally comfortable with Governor Romney but think he is their best chance, so they’re backing him.0

And then there are people who don’t fit in either category. These people have a “live and let live philosophy” about social issues like gay marriage, they don’t like big government, they are into balancing the budget, and they dislike intervention overseas – e.g., Libertarians.

Obviously this is an attempt to step back and do some analysis and not an endorsement or non-endorsement of any candidate, party, etc. Thanks for sharing this post.

Peter Sperry


Thank you for your very good comments. I watched the video and am sorry but I believe the President said exactly what he meant and meant it in exactly the way it sounded. He may have been caught up in the emotion of the moment and the passion of the crowd and expressed himself more graphically than he would have otherwise; but the basic sentiment reflects his view of how to deal with those who oppose him. It is Saul Alinsky 101 and permeates the central chapters of “Dreams From My Father”. Ironically, when he steps away from the political, Obama the man seems to be a warm loving husband, caring father, good neighbor, non-judgmental community leader and all around nice guy. As President, he has only occasionally governed in the way he campaigns, although that might be due as much to the divided control of Congress as his own inclinations.

Your description of participants in political discourse closely tracks my own. I would add that during internal discussions among conservatives, the religious right often adopts the “of course” attitude, adding to it the “oppose me, oppose god” viewpoint. It becomes very old very fast. Currently, one of the most vexing aspects of conservative/Republican messaging is that we are more of a coalition of very loosely aligned ideologies than a single coherent movement. Excepting the pro-lifers, few groups within the coalition are very emotional. Even the Tea Partiers are fairly quiet when left alone. It took a lot to stir them up and they seem to have calmed down a great deal. In general only a small number of very radical religious fundamentalists hate anyone, and then only because they see a threat to their children.

Nevertheless, we recognize and react to hatred when it is directed at us. Although some professional loudmouths rapidly respond in kind, and ultimately progress to become a source of hate on their own (talk radio); most us simply shut down all interaction and communication with opponents. We simply see no point in continuing dialogue with those who see disagreement as an excuse for ugly animosity.

Unfortunately, communication and dialogue between ideologies is precisely what our nation needs most at this time. We cannot work together for the common good if we do not even talk with each other. But it is hard to talk openly with people who have lost our trust and respect by their hateful accusations regarding our motivations, intellect, etc. I am not sure how to bridge this gap.

I am confident the nation will survive another four years of President Obama without disastrous harm (he seems likely to be reflected). As a federal employee, I actually like many of the purely managerial changes he is bringing to government. But I do not think we will come together as a truly united people and his second term seems destined to be even less successful than GWB’s. Frankly, even as a Republican, I miss the Clinton’s. They know how to be fiercely partisan, even expressing anger at opponents, without describing the opposition as evil or inciting hatred. They also know how to work across the aisle to get things done. Maybe in 2016, although Rubio/Haley would still be my first choice.

Dale M. Posthumus

Unfortunately, it appears to be human nature to demonize and make fun of those who oppose us. We need to rise above that part of our nature, but it is difficult. I could lay blame, in my eyes, to a number of things, but I won’t get into that here.

I am not convinced that this election is more devisive than any other I have lived through and can remember. Bush/Kerry, Bush/Gore, Kennedy/Nixon, Johnson/Goldwater held as much negativity, but that is my opinion. What I think we have is more outlets for everybody’s opinion, so the number of voices and, thus, the volume have gone up.