Vexing Electoral Realities

by Gilles d'Aymery

October 21, 2002


Whereas the House of Representatives and the Senate passed the January 1991 resolution authorizing the US president to go to war against Iraq with a thin majority -- 250-183 in the House and 52-47 in the Senate, some congress people having been swayed to vote yes after hearing the incubator story -- a story that turned out to have been entirely fabricated; this time around the vote was not even close (133 representatives and 23 senators voted no). Notwithstanding the emotional, yet highly reasoned appeals of Robert Byrd, the senior Senator of West Virginia, a substantial majority ignored the blatant obfuscations from the Bush II Administration and gladly abdicated the Congress's supreme constitutional responsibility, the grave and sobering power of the people to declare war; the people, not one individual; and particularly not that one individual who, unable to win the popular vote, was installed into the presidency by a Supreme Court filled with a majority of very conservative judges appointed for life by previous Republican administrations.

With the mid-term US elections in sight the possibility of having all the branches of government in the hands of the Republicans looks like a doom-day scenario to many observers. But is it really? Does it truly make a difference?

Anti-nuclear and political activist Harvey Wasserman recently wrote, "Never in US history have we ever been closer to an unchecked one-man one-party rule than right now." He continued, "Should Congress go Republican in November, there will be no institutional check or balance left to guarantee that the democracy born here two centuries ago will survive." (1)

Wasserman may be factually correct but I fail to recall the last time when the "loyal" opposition blocked one of the 200 or so US military interventions abroad. Some 30 years ago, the Johnson administration's Gulf of Tonkin resolution was opposed by only two senators even though the Democrats were firmly in control of the state. Stephen Zunes, the associate professor of Politics and chair of the Peace & Justice Studies Program at the University of San Francisco, reminded us in "Carter's Less-Known Legacy" (2) that before becoming an agent of peaceful change, Jimmy Carter, when he was president, had a poor record in terms of peace and human rights, from East Timor/Indonesia, to Turkey/Cyprus, El Salvador, Zaire, Morocco, etc. His administration also "vetoed consecutive UN Security Council resolutions to impose sanctions against the apartheid regime in South Africa;" and let it not be forgotten that it is Carter who, in Zunes' words "sent military aid to the Islamic fundamentalist mujahadeen to fight the leftist government in Afghanistan in the full knowledge that it could prompt a Soviet invasion. According to his National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski, it was hoped that by forcing the Soviets into such a counter-insurgency war would weaken America's superpower rival. This decision, however, not only destroyed much of Afghanistan, but the entire world is feeling the ramifications to this day." The other great democrat and pacifist, former president Clinton, brought us among other friendly interventions, Haiti, Somalia, Bosnia, Afghanistan, Sudan, Yugoslavia and Colombia. As far as I know the genocidal economic sanctions imposed against Iraq have been handily voted time and again by both sides of the aisle.

Does Wasserman think that had Al Gore become president as he fully deserved to, at least from a voting perspective, Afghanistan would not have been attacked (when the plans had already been drawn long before 9/11), or that the USA would not be keyed on Iraq and the Gulf Peninsula's black gold? Was it not under the Clinton Administration that the official policy of regime change in Iraq got formulated and institutionalized in the first place?

Should it be necessary to review the democratic record in regard to the domestic agenda, from health care to education, welfare and other economic policies? Is it not a democratic administration that presided over the making of one of the biggest, if not the biggest financial swindle since the Great Depression, with shattering consequences yet to fully materialize? Did the obscene transfer of wealth from the elderly and the lower middle class start with Bush II? When did the drastic erosion of our civil liberties begin, in 1996 under president Clinton or with the 2001 USA PATRIOT Act?

I may be blind or ignorant, but in the past 20-some years, I have bore witness to a logical continuum of increasingly reactionary politics incubated in the belly of a bicephalous oligarchy bound to rapaciously ravage the planet in the name of profits, with no particular creativity nor imagination; only repeating aggressive and destructive strategies with a savagery that would have left the Marquis de Sade speechless. I have witnessed a country increasingly led by democratic or republican fundamentalists, of the religious or free-market sort, where the so-called liberal opposition is as conservative and patriarchal as those it decries, abjectly absconding responsibility and entrenched in its sense of pretentious moral superiority and ostentatious material comfort.

To see the three branches of government in the hands of the Republicans will not alter this logical continuum. It may slightly accelerate the pendulum but even this is doubtful. The pendulum is accelerating due to phenomena by and large out of the control of the oligarchy, such as the forthcoming end of the fossil fuels era, the incapacity of the system to reinvent itself, the flabbergasting impoverishment of half of humanity, the ecological genocide and the testosterone-loaded craving for violent solutions to human conundrums.

Yet, I would submit that hope is still a powerful common denominator of our species. Wasserman may hyperbolically warn of "skyrocketing oil prices, economic collapse, and terrorism escalated beyond our wildest nightmares, with the final demise of liberty and peace," and of a coming era of "endless procession of Orwellian enemies, conjured at will, [and] a permanent pretext for martial law;" and the dastardly right-wingers -- who would applaud every word of Wasserman catechism -- may talk of home-brewed barbarism and imminent apocalypse, it remains that many sane and sound people are proud members, though much maligned, of the US construct.

After all, 23 senators and 133 representatives voted against this Iraq absurdity and this constitutional evisceration. Considering the present war fever and factoring in the security fears obnoxiously amplified by the media (Iraq, Al Qaeda resurgence, the "sniper"...) that 156 elected officials refused to bow to the pressures and the lies is no small potato. Most of them had their communication offices overwhelmed by messages from their constituents. To listen to Senator Byrd pleading with the American people to call their representatives and to witness the massive response was quite an uplifting moment and proved that numbers count and voices are heard. (Remember, a few weeks ago the media was clamoring that only a handful of representatives would oppose the resolution.)

So let's those voices be heard.

The most compelling issue at hand is not the Iraqi war, North Korea, and all the fabricated enemies. It's about making people understand that whether they vote for a "democrat" or for a "republican" they vote for the same system, the status quo. The issue is about convincing people to express their voices at the polls and request that real alternatives be offered. It's about voting and it's about presenting workable alternatives.

Voting for different candidates, neither republicans nor democrats, even with the knowledge that they will quite unlikely be elected, is a positive strategy. If, when over a series of elections the tally begins to show an increasing willingness from the electorate to shun the "system," to refuse to cast one's vote for the "lesser evil," then the "system" will take notice. At that time, the 156 congress people, or their successors, will be more than happy to change their party affiliation. Meantime, at least, you won't be voting for the status quo.

It can't and will not happen if the voices, out of despair, dejection or mere resignation, keep silent and the voters stay home. A silent voice is by default another vote for the status quo.

Remember, voting is not just a right; it's a duty.

· · · · · ·


1.  Harvey Wasserman, "In the 2002 Election, The Issue is Unchecked Power;" October 9, 2002, CommonDreams.org  (back)

2.  Stephen Zunes, "Carter's Less-Known Legacy;" October 18, 2002, CommonDreams.org  (back)


Finding The Strength To Love And Dream - by Robin D.G. Kelley (June 2002)


Gilles d'Aymery is Swans' publisher and co-editor.

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Published October 21, 2002
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