Is there a social work perspective on the presidential election?

Social work is generally considered a politically “progressive” profession, and there’s no hotter topic among political progressives than whether or not to support the Biden-Harris Democratic ticket in November.

There’s little question that no self-respecting progressive could ever vote to re-elect Trump.  There may have been a handful of social workers fooled by Trump in 2016 into taking his populist, “drain-the-swamp,” “forgotten man” rhetoric seriously (remember the narrative of the “blue-collar billionaire” who was going to bring back all those jobs that the insatiable corporate thirst for maximum profits had shipped overseas?).  But by now it’s painfully clear that Trump, when he’s not obsessing over his own grandiosity, stands opposed to every humane value that the profession holds dear.

Rather, the debate among progressives centers on three principal options:

  1. Hold your nose and vote for Biden and Harris, even though both are “corporate Democrats,” far more centrist than progressive in their policy commitments, and carrying a lot of bad baggage from their histories in political office.  Quite simply, Trump must be stopped.  Once he’s out of office, progressives at least have a chance with a Biden administration to make policy changes that move in the right direction (e.g. some expansion of Medicare and Medicaid coverage), even if they’re more modest and less structural than they should be (e.g. “Medicare for All”).  This is probably the view held by a majority of progressives at this point.
  2. Vote third party (notably, the Green Party, promoting an “eco-socialist” policy platform, is on the November ballot in more than half the states, with a theoretical possibility of earning enough electoral college votes to win), or vote only “down ticket,” using your non-vote for president and vice-president as a statement of conscience.  The rationale here is that every four years in our two-party “duopoly,” progressives are extorted by the Democratic party, browbeaten into submission with the argument that the Republican candidates are so much worse that the Democratic ones, and not to vote Democratic is in effect to help elect the Republican candidates.  This charade of a “choice” must end, and it won’t until progressives deliver a decisive message that they will no longer be taken for granted by a disingenuous Democratic Party establishment.  This is a view held not only by long-time third-party advocates, but by many deeply disenchanted supporters of Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign.
  3. Vote according to whether you’re in a “swing state” or not.  Progressive voters in California (solidly Democratic) and Mississippi (equally solidly Republican), for example, share certainty already of where their state’s electoral college votes are going.  In such states, voting for Biden/Harris cannot affect their election prospects, given the reality of our archaic electoral college system.  But if you’re registered to vote in a swing, or “battleground” state, such as Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, or Florida (as well as perhaps a half-dozen other states that might go either way), then by all means vote the “lesser of the evils.”  It’s true, as option #1 contends, that Trump must be stopped.

So how should social workers vote in November, in what some are calling literally the most important election ever?  Maybe it’s at least partly because I live and vote in Mississippi, and so don’t bear the burden of conscience that a social worker in a swing state might, but I find the third option the most nuanced, and overall the most reasonable.  Because I know Mississippi’s six electoral college votes are already in the Republican column, I may well vote Green for Howie Hawkins and Angela Walker.  But if they weren’t, I’d indeed vote Biden and Harris, and urge every other social worker to do the same.

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