by Louis Proyect
(Swans - October 23, 2006) The same liberal pundits who characterized the 2004 presidential election as a kind of Armageddon showdown against evil are now revved up in the same fashion for next month's elections. Voting for a Democrat is tantamount to saving one's soul, or more accurately, the soul of the nation. Since there is no Ralph Nader factor this go round, there is not the same kind of hysteria directed against the Greens or any other left-wing electoral challenge. Given this all too familiar scenario, it might be useful to restate what is wrong with voting for the lesser evil and why one should support third-party initiatives, no matter their flaws and weaknesses.
In the current issue of The Nation Magazine, always a bellwether of lesser-evil sentiment, William Greider confesses that he is worried about being robbed of certain victory:
Okay, I admit it. As the election approaches, I am feeling a creepy sense of paranoia. My right brain reads the newspapers, studies the polls and thinks we are looking at a blow-out next month -- Dems conquer at last. My left brain hoots in derision. Get real, sucker.
One wonders if Greider has been reading the newspapers carefully. If so, you'd think he'd be a bit more restrained in his enthusiasm for the party of donkeys given this profile of candidate Jack Davis running against incumbent Republican Congressman Tom Reynolds from upstate New York:
Mr. Davis is prone to overstatement. He has warned about "Red China," for example, and suggested he would take a bat to anyone who sent his sons sexually explicit e-mail messages like those a congressman sent to young male pages.
He defies liberal orthodoxies. He has said he wants to "seal" the nation's borders and has held memberships in conservative groups like the Cato Institute and the Heritage Foundation.
If the Democratic Party stood for any sort of progressive principles, it would have given Davis the boot. But in the eyes of Greider and company, one supposes that it suffices that he is not a Republican. If Richard Nixon rose from the grave and ran against Davis, however, there would be no question as to who was the "lesser evil." With his support for affirmative action and environmentalism, he looks much better than the Democrats who succeeded him. Even if TV faux conservative Stephen Colbert had tongue in cheek when he advised his New York Magazine interviewer that he was a big fan of Nixon, these words are still worth considering:
Here's something Colbertophiles might not know or might not want to know: He loves Richard Nixon. He has a 1972 Nixon campaign poster on the wall of his office. He points at it and says, "He was so liberal! Look at what he was running on. He started the EPA. He opened China. He gave 18-year-olds the vote. His issues were education, drugs, women, minorities, youth involvement, ending the draft, and improving the environment. John Kerry couldn't have run on this! What would I give for a Nixon?"
In the same issue, labor journalist David Moberg writes about challenge the AFL-CIO faces in unseating Republicans: "Despite anxieties that unions are not really gearing up adequately to exploit their opportunities, both anger at Bush and economic insecurity are spurring grassroots activism in many areas."
One candidate with star power is Elliot Spitzer, who seems a shoe-in to become New York State's next governor. As attorney general, Spitzer was always portrayed in the news as a fearless opponent of Wall Street criminals and now runs as a friend of working people. Greider referred to him in a February 2005 Nation Magazine piece as follows:
Like the earlier Progressives, Spitzer seeks to tame the abuses and excesses of American capitalism, using inventive approaches and toughness (who else is taking on his home state's most powerful industry?).
Actually, most of Spitzer's toughness seems reserved for those trade unionists that Moberg writes about. When Spitzer represented the Metropolitan Transit Authority earlier this year in court against the Transport Workers Union (TWU), the union of striking public transit workers, he was victorious. The judge fined the local $2.5 million, eliminated the dues check-off and threw union president Roger Toussaint into jail for ten days. Apparently the jail term must have endeared Spitzer to Toussaint, since he has persuaded the TWU to back Spitzer for governor. In psychiatric circles, they call this sort of thing masochism.
It is understandable why Toussaint would have no use for Spitzer's Green Party opponent Malachy McCourt. Since he has little chance of being elected, there is no possibility of a quid pro quo arrangement so often uppermost in the minds of the trade union bureaucracy. Before the 75-year-old McCourt (an Irish immigrant fleeing poverty) launched a successful career as an actor, he worked as a longshoreman, truck loader, and dishwasher. He has been endorsed by Cindy Sheehan and is not afraid to tell it like it is to the major media.
When MSNBC's Chris Matthews asked him how he stood on capital punishment (Spitzer favors it), he replied: "Capital punishment? I think that if - I have got to find that guy in Spain who indicted Pinochet and get him for war crimes, and I get him to do the same thing for Bush. And in that case, I would be for capital punishment. Otherwise, I am against it."
A search for "Malachy McCourt" on the Nation Magazine turns up nothing, of course.
It is not that difficult to understand the psychology of a William Greider, David Moberg, or Roger Toussaint. They are being "practical." Since the election will be won by either a Democrat or a Republican, one might as well vote for the candidate less hostile to your overall goals. If Spitzer would jail the TWU president 10 days rather than 30 days, this was grounds for the union to back him. This kind of slave mentality was ruthlessly exposed by Malcolm X, an opponent of both the jackass and the elephant. At a January 7, 1965 meeting billed as "Prospects for Freedom in 1965" (which I attended), the martyred black nationalist said:
In 1964, 97 per cent of the black American voters supported Lyndon B. Johnson, Hubert Humphrey and the Democratic Party. Ninety-seven per cent! No one minority group in the history of the world has ever given so much of its uncompromising support to one candidate and one party. No one people, no one group, has ever gone all the way to support a party and its candidate as did the black people in America in 1964 ....
And the first act of the Democratic Party, Lyndon B. included, in 1965, when the representatives from the state of Mississippi who refused to support Johnson came to Washington, D.C., and the black people of Mississippi sent representatives there to challenge the legality of these people being seated -- what did Johnson say? Nothing! What did Humphrey say? Nothing! What did Robert Pretty-Boy Kennedy say? Nothing! Nothing! Not one thing! These are the people that black people have supported. This is the party that they have supported. Where were they when the black man needed them a couple days ago in Washington, D.C.? They were where they always are -- twiddling their thumbs someplace in the poolroom, or in the gallery.
His courageous leadership eventually got him killed. The ruling class in the USA was desperately afraid of any black leader, including Martin Luther King Jr. as well, who showed a capacity to rouse the masses into action. Malcolm was especially dangerous because he refused to accept the "lesser evil" logic. A black political party led by somebody like Malcolm X would have certainly posed a significant challenge to the hegemony enjoyed by the Democrats.
With all proportions guarded, the Green Party represents the same kind of threat today. Any electoral formation that implicitly challenges the two-party system will soon run into all sorts of challenges no matter how tepid the leadership. In 1948, Henry Wallace ran as an independent favoring the continuation of the New Deal domestically and the wartime alliance with the USSR, while promoting desegregation -- something that FDR would never do as long as his party included the Dixiecrats. No matter how mild this program seemed, Wallace was subjected to fierce red-baiting attacks in the liberal press and outright violence in the South.
No matter the missteps of Green candidates like Ralph Nader or the presence inside the Greens of elements that refuse to conduct a serious struggle against Democrats and Republicans alike, the party is the only organized electoral formation in the USA today that has any sort of independence.
This remains as an irritant to the powers that be and, more importantly, a breach in the dike that is holding back a mighty torrent of discontent. If Bush is unpopular, the Congress fares little better in the eyes of the American voter. Last month the Zogby poll reported that only 19 percent give it a favorable rating, a number that cuts across geographical and party lines. The job of progressives would seem to be opening that breach in the dike rather than sticking one's thumb in it, like the Dutch boys of American liberalism.
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