Sunday, September 23, 2012

Todd Gitlin in 2000 – It makes a lot of difference who gets elected President

I know that some of you have well-considered reasons for believing that it makes more sense to vote for Mitt Romney than for Barack Obama in the rapidly approaching presidential election.  Obviously, I disagree strongly with that conclusion, but it's a free country.  This post is not directed primarily at you, though you may find it of interest.

=> On the other hand, I also know people who are not at all enamored of Mitt Romney, Paul Ryan, and the Congressional Republicans ... but who feel so upset or disappointed with Obama, for various reasons, that they're not sure it would really make a big difference who wins in November. So why bother?  Well, if you're one of those people, you're wrong, and you should get a grip on yourself.

Anyone who feels the slightest temptation to sit out the 2012 presidential election because they can't bring themselves to vote for Barack Obama should carefully read this piece that Todd Gitlin wrote in 2000, when many people who thought of themselves as "progressives" convinced themselves that it wouldn't make much difference whether Bush or Gore won the election. (And in Florida enough of those people voted for Ralph Nader to eliminate what would have been a clear Gore majority and thus allowed the Republicans, with some help from the Supreme Court, to steal the election—yes, that's strong language, but I'm not using it lightly—and deliver the presidency to Bush.)

Unsafe in any state

Read the whole thing, but here are some highlights:
[....] I was the third president of Students for a Democratic Society, active in New Left politics thereafter, frequently critical of Clinton-Gore politics from the left. I think the drug war is a disaster, the Colombia intervention wrongheaded, insurance companies and HMOs cruel and unnecessary punishment, big-money giveaways to media tycoons indefensible, free trade oversold, labor underprotected. Oh yes: Along the way, I stayed out of the 1968 vote — and therefore, in the light of unforgiving history, did my tiny bit to help Nixon win, and all for the best of reasons, namely, emotions in revolt, disgust for Humphrey’s pro-war position, and willful blindness about the left’s marginality and the political payoff that could be expected for going it alone. Here we go again. [....]

We hear, first of all, the notion that Gore and Bush, or Democrats and Republicans, are essentially the same — two names for the same Republicrats. Yet how a thoughtful person can think the differences are negligible boggles the mind.

• Global warming? Gore knows it’s happening, Bush isn’t sure. Gore wanted a tax on fossil-fuel energy — a tax that was blocked by Republicans and always will be — while Bush governs over the worst air in the country and justifies it on the grounds of industrial growth. Gore knows the arguments against oil drilling; Bush looks at Alaska and sees barrels. Gore’s an environmentalist who makes political deals; Bush is half of an all-oil-company team. No difference?

• The Supreme Court? Bush’s favorite justices are Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas. He owes the Christian right bigger than big-time. The Bush court, one-third of whose membership he might get to appoint, might not repeal Roe vs. Wade, not quite, not yet, but would surely tilt mightily toward states’ rights and corporate power, against labor, against gun control, against affirmative action.

• The nitty-gritty government that shapes public life in a thousand ways outside public attention? The National Labor Relations Board, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the Civil Rights Commission and hundreds of other boards that make crucial decisions, most of them outside the glare of sound-bite-besotted media, affecting every aspect of everyday life. See above. Bush will owe the fundamentalists, the union-busters, the South Carolina Confederate flag-fliers.

• Labor? Gore owes the AFL-CIO for its early support; Bush doesn’t owe a thing — to the contrary. Gore’s party has pushed up the minimum wage (not nearly high enough), Bush’s couldn’t care less. Despite the NAFTA loss, labor has started to regain strength because the Labor Relations Board has been more hospitable to organizers. Now? The Republican Party — who might well end up controlling both houses of Congress as well as the White House — have negative interest in organized labor. They’ll rig what they can for the bosses. That’s what Republicans do.

• Poverty? Inequality? The Republicans practice class warfare from above. The Democrats are divided, but despite inconsistencies, President Clinton is responsible for an earned income tax credit, and finally, belatedly, the appalling inequality between rich and poor is shrinking, unemployment is low (and for African-Americans and Latinos, unprecedentedly so).

• Nuclear weapons? Bush is for abrogating the anti-ballistic-missile treaty. He loves Star Wars. His party crushed the nuclear test ban. Gore has been flabby, alas, on these issues, but he is budgeable. Bush lacks even Reagan’s nutty antinuclear utopianism.

I have not even mentioned the limited (but scarcely unimportant) issues the candidates talk about: the Social Security hoax Bush wants to perpetrate; the Bush tax cut that Puts Billionaires First; affirmative action, which Bush wants to end, not mend; campaign corruption (sorry, “finance”), the auctioning off of access and bias at which W. is so spectacular that he did not even need the Lincoln Bedroom — he could offer an entire government.[....]
A lot of that sounds eerily up-to-the-minute, even in details. But even where the details have changed, the general point is obvious (at least, to me). Bush II at least claimed to be a "compassionate conservative". This time around, the Republican presidential candidates competed all through the primaries to show who was most callous, hard-hearted, xenophobic, and plutocratic ... and although Romney was not the worst in those respects, and sometimes tried to hint that his outlook is really more decent and inclusive than his campaign rhetoric, he gave the game away with his selection of Paul Ryan as his running-mate and his recent remarks calling for class warfare against the (imaginary) 47% of Americans who are allegedly parasites with no moral character. (Did Romney fully believe that, or was he simply repeating standard right-wing talking-points to pander to his audience of arrogant but resentful plutocrats? In practical terms, it almost doesn't matter.)
In limited and belated recognition that there are real costs to a Green vote, some now propose “strategic voting” and urge people who live in states where Gore-Bush poll margins are great to cast their ballots for Nader believing that they will not thereby be spoiling Gore’s electoral vote. This is supposed to be a free vote, but there is no such thing as a free vote. That calculated vote is both morally problematic and politically short-sighted. Letting the polls make up your mind for you conditions a moral choice on the presupposition that polls are reliable (when in fact they are swinging all over the place), and amounts, moreover, to a sudden burst of pragmatism from people who ordinarily despise the pragmatism of Gore support.[....]

There’s worse. The so-called strategic vote, by lowering Gore’s popular vote, helps undermine his popular mandate if he does win, thus dashing the prospects for progressive hopes — as Clinton’s 43 percent victory in 1992 weakened his own popular base for egalitarian policies like “don’t ask, don’t tell.” Like Bush, Nader supporters choose to forget that many of Clinton’s stronger initiatives — even his small, earnest “stimulus package” of 1993 — banged up against a Republican wall in Congress. Had Clinton been bolstered by an electoral majority — not to mention a better Congress, many of whose Democrats were barely that — he could have made better use of the bully pulpit. (He should have tried anyway.) [....]

Of course the parties are corrupt fundraising machines. Of course corporate lobbies run amok. Of course the Democrats need pressure. The question is, Whom do we want to put in a position to press? The choice of who will write the agenda, appoint the judges, negotiate (or tear up) the treaties, starting Jan. 20, 2001, is not between Al Gore and Jesus Christ, or, in fact, between Al Gore or Ralph Nader. In America, we’re not going to get a president better than Gore. We may well get a lot worse: a country-club airhead whose occasional rhetoric of compassion obscures the fact that his deepest, most abiding, most consistent compassion is for untrammeled business. We could slam a lot of doors. Consider the choice uninspiring, but there it is, and will not be wished away — not by fulminating against corporations, not by imagining a mass movement, not by assuming that one shirks responsibility for bad consequences because others have a monopoly on evil while we, we noble ones, we happy new, are pure, as George W. Bush would say, of heart.[....]
And, of course, in 2012 the Republican Party is even more extremist and more monolithically committed to a rule-or-ruin strategy than it was in 2000. Draw your own conclusions.

Yours for reality-based discourse,
Jeff Weintraub