Perspectives on Party Politics: Part 1
In the Pepsi Challenge, Democrats Taste Ill
I voted for Ralph Nader. But I take no responsibility for George W. Bush’s election. Had Nader not run, most of his voters (and certainly myself) would have opted for a different third-party candidate, or not voted at all, rather than support Gore, a candidate so uninspiring that he couldn’t even win his home state.
This seemingly never-ending debate, however, is a mask for the real issue: the need of so many liberals to cling to the doctrine of lesser-evilism. “If only we knew how extreme Bush was; if only I voted for Gore everything would be different,” our downcast liberals moan, wishing that a political priest could assign them a few Our Fathers and allow them to atone for their electoral sins.
There are problems with this confessional-booth thesis. Most important, even as Bush’s extremism has become abundantly clear, the Democrats have not exactly fallen over themselves to oppose any of administration’s agenda. Yes, the Democratic Party may be the only method by which George Bush can be ejected from the White House. But if you’re going to follow the logic of voting “the lesser evil,” beware of how appallingly evil the official alternative is.
For example, after the untimely death of Paul Wellstone, Russ Feingold is the most liberal Democrat in the Senate, yet it was Feingold who cast the deciding vote for Ashcroft’s confirmation. And remember Bush’s war on Afghanistan? More civilians were killed in the first two months of that one-sided slaughter than were killed on September 11th. And even though we all knew that would be the outcome, only one member of the House of Representatives had the courage to vote against Bush’s war on Afghanistan. The Senate voted for the latest illegal war in Iraq by a vote of 77-23, meaning that less than half of the Senate’s 48 Democrats stood for principle.
The offices of Senators Hillary Clinton and Chuck Schumer tallied calls for and against the war, and despite anti-war calls reportedly outnumbering pro-war calls by a 100-to-1 ratio, both cravenly refused to say one even word of opposition. And who has been the most vocal senator in support of George Bush’s claim that he was “only following bad intelligence” (hmm…) in leading the nation into war? That great liberal, Hillary Clinton.
The Department of Homeland Security provides another example of “lesser-evilism” in action. The D.H.S. was the idea of a Democrat, Joe Lieberman. And while still holding a majority in the days immediately following the election, the Democrats handed the Republicans everything they wanted on “Homeland Security,” including union-busting provisions that the White House rammed through.
We might also recall the less-than-stellar civil rights record of Bill Clinton. His legacy includes the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996, which drastically reduced habeas corpus, in part by instituting a one-year deadline after which it becomes impossible to file for a federal habeas appeal.
This notorious act came into being thanks to exploitation of the Oklahoma City bombing. The Clinton White House had the bill waiting, and after the bombing, they quickly pulled it off the shelf and rammed it through Congress.
Slick plays like that helped Ashcroft force-feed the U.S.A. Patriot Act to a largely unwitting nation. One of the most dramatic reductions of civil liberties in the country’s history, this bundle of legal changes ran hundreds of pages in length, yet received hardly a few weeks debate before passage. Only one senator voted against it after Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle demanded it be passed unanimously, without debate or amendments. In the House, only 66 of 435 representatives voted against it. It is doubtful that any voter actually read through it, and Texas Republican representative Ron Paul says that no representatives read it at all before the vote.
Earlier in 2003, someone inside the Justice Department leaked details of Ashcroft’s U.S.A. Patriot Act II, which would implement even harsher laws if passed. Among this law’s provisions are measures allowing the Justice Department to strip Americans of their citizenship; prohibiting the disclosure of any information on, including the location of, detainees; and the termination of almost all law enforcement consent decrees. Have you heard any Democrats say much about it?
We can be sure the Bush White House is biding its time until another crisis appears and can be exploited, then the Democrats will once again meekly comply. Schumer, meanwhile, has introduced a bill that would make it easier for federal agents to monitor individuals in the U.S. using secret foreign-intelligence surveillance warrants.
Locally, it’s no better. There has been almost no press coverage, but a mere eight days after the September 11th attacks, the New York State Legislature passed an “anti-terrorism” bill that would punish as terrorism, among other things, calling for a change in government. Demonstrators for peace didn’t realize they became terrorists when calling for “regime change” in the White House. The bill couldn’t have been passed without Democratic support.
In Oakland, California, a darling of Democrats, Mayor Jerry Brown, okayed his police opening fire with wooden bullets and concussion grenades on a peaceful demonstration on April 7th. And the courts? Eleven Democrats voted to put Clarence Thomas on the Supreme Court and Antonin Scalia was approved by a vote of 98-0.
Nor did the Democrats have any problem with starting wars against countries incapable of mounting much of a fight. The Clinton White House bombed Iraq on and off for eight years, kept the sanctions in place that killed possibly a half million children, and prevented the reconstruction of Iraq’s civilian infrastructure. The resulting plagues of dysentery and other diseases killed far more than the war of 1991.
The same administration bombed Serbia and backed Croatia, even though Croatian strongman Franjo Tudjman carried out the same “ethnic cleansing” policies that Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic did. Tudjman, however, opened his country to U.S.-based multinational corporations and Milosevic didn’t, thus spelling the different fates of the two countries.
Clinton also kept funding “Star Wars”— a boondoggle that has cost tens of billions of dollars— and pushed for NATO expansion, which is greatly profiting the expansion’s biggest cheerleaders, American defense contractors who are selling the weapons that must be bought by the new NATO members.
Voting for the lesser evil led to Bill Clinton, a man who governed to the right of Richard Nixon. Clinton begot a Democrat even more conservative, Al Gore, who then moved still further to the right by running with Joe Lieberman. The same Joe Lieberman who, in the days leading up to the latest war on Iraq, attacked Bush for not being tough enough.
Vote for this? No thank you.
Voting on its own, however, means little. The major concessions won in the 1930s and the relatively smaller concessions won in the 1960s were not the result of Democratic Party niceness, but occurred as a result of agitation in the streets. Democrats will not get the Pentagon out of other countries; history amply demonstrates otherwise. Only millions of angry people in the streets can accomplish a goal at odds with the will of the ruling classes; even Nixon was eventually forced to bring the Vietnam War to an end.
Removing Bush because he is an arrogant, spoiled rich kid who wants to own all the world’s toys and force his simple-minded religious extremism on the rest of us, is certainly necessary. So, if removing Bush is the only goal, then voting for a Democrat is the only reasonable strategy in 2004. But if the aim is to actually change the conditions of the United States which inevitably will lift a George W. Bush to power, then we will have to do far more than pull a lever in the voting booth.
Pete Dolack, a Brooklyn-based activist, poet, and essayist, is the former editor of the New York State Green Party newspaper, the G.