This election year, as the ever-thinning population of registered voters drag themselves dutifully to the ballot box, the operative question for most is not, "what your country can do for you, " nor is it, "what you can do for your country." For the vast majority of working voters, the more pertinent question is whether or not they can even afford to live here.
The Balanced Budget Amendment, campaign finance reform, even critical environmental issues are likely to seem peripheral by comparison, to those who struggle daily to keep their children under a decent roof in a decent neighborhood wearing decent clothing to a decent school.
The presidential debates reminded those who were tempted to think otherwise, that the political arena with its purposefully obscure rhetoric and euphemisms, has little to do with the day-to-day trials faced by the rest of the world.
The logical next question, "how do we turn things around?" will not likely get answered this election year. A vote for Bill Clinton does little to threaten the Dole-Gingrich agenda.
Bill Clinton, architect of the Telecommunications Bill, deemed by political observers on both sides of the aisle, "the most corporate-friendly bill in American history;" Bill Clinton, who in the interest of political compromise signed a Republican-sponsored bill that goes further than even Ronald Reagan dared, to gut "welfare as we know it;"
Bill Clinton, whose idea of "job creation" (for all those unfortunates who stand to lose their welfare benefits next year) is enterprise zones wherein corporations capitalize on the glut of cheap labor provided by same; Bill Clinton, who believes with an almost religious zeal, that, "free trade is the key to economic security in the coming century-"workers be damned;" Bill Clinton, whose "bridge to the 21st century," includes an obsolete defense budget $7 billion in excess of what even the Pentagon requested.
Bill Clinton, who recently signed a bill that would allow the timber industry to further ravage what is left of our forests and another that watered down the Delaney Clause, which kept carcinogens out of our food: Bill Clinton, in whose hands hopeful Democrats will entrust their hopes and dreams for a better future, will likely win the 1996 election.
The idea of a Dole-Kemp election victory, however unlikely, is a chilling one. Those concerned with civil rights, social and economic justice, the environment, women's' right to choose, and the biggie-Supreme Court appointments-are right to be alarmed. It was, however, Justices appointed by Reagan and Bush who a few months ago led the Court to its first recognition of discrimination against gays, and paved the way for Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's ruling striking down the exclusion of women from Virginia Military Institute.
Nonetheless, the Supreme Court functions as an effective last ditch argument put forth by Democrats in order to insure the votes of women and disillusioned liberals. For that reason alone, the Clinton-Gore ticket will get the reluctant votes of thousands of otherwise clear-headed Americans.
Thus framed, their logic makes sense as far as it goes. But that kind of election year compromise predicates itself on the same fear-based logic that, in 1980, won liberal votes for Jimmy Carter. It's the likely reason that Mondale received any votes at all in 1984; it's one of the reasons Clinton defeated Bush in 1992, and will probably get us another four years of Clinton in 1996. Corporate America has reason to gloat. The top twenty percent knows that the rest of us have lost our courage.
Although Republicans have won all but two of the last seven presidential elections, Democrats have to a great extent dominated elections and public policy since the New Deal. In those years the New Deal has degenerated into a Bad Deal for American workers and their counterparts around the world-as much because of Democrats as Republicans. NAFTA may have been George Bush's baby, but it was Bill Clinton who gave birth to it.
Those who remember Barry Commoner (an ecologist who ran for president in 1980) probably also remember his language in condemning "the giant corporations (that) have, with the acquiescence of both parties, poisoned the air, water and soil, the two-party system and government itself." Of course hardly anyone voted for him then for the same reason hardly anyone will vote for Ralph Nader in 1996.
But the mass pathology that resurrects itself every four years at the polls only to recede into disgruntled passivism until the next election year, extracts from its purveyors a high asking price. It represents an attitude of resignation that over the years has whittled away at what little integrity is left in our electoral system.
This election year Americans again have the opportunity to make a statement. The future direction of health care, welfare benefits, immigration, the environment and Affirmative Action programs hangs in the balance. Before trudging off to their polling places to vote for another four years of corporate control and wage enslavement, working Americans would be wise to ask themselves some pertinent questions.
A good start would be a simple analysis of terms. What, for example, does "economic growth," mean? Who gains from it and how is it relevant to the quality of an individual's life? Voters should demand to know exactly what their taxes are paying for since that money is clearly not paying for education, health care or meaningful security for old age-and why the IRS makes it virtually impossible for them to find out. They might also ask why it is that corporate profits soar every time unemployment figures go up. How about terms like "family values," "economic recovery," "full employment" and "living wage?"
History has already exposed dramatically how euphemisms like "acceptable losses" and "collateral damage" can and are used to lull the public into deadly complacency.
They should ask why it is that corporations pay far less in taxes in 1996 than they did in 1966. Californians and others should be seriously questioning the economic operatives that have caused real estate prices to soar and families to be forced to move from a county or neighborhood perhaps inhabited by them for generations. They should ask why it is that the "education president" presides over a time when high school honor students are turned away from prestigious universities as a matter of course, because they are unable to get sufficient financial aid. While they're at it they should ask why there is money for metal detectors in schools when none can be found for books and building maintenance
Democratic voters should be asking why their candidate doesn't' address these and other issues that are so relevant to the quality of their lives and those of their children. By not demanding answers to these questions, voters only serve to perpetuate the very injustices they like to think they are voting against.
Contrary to what has been represented by the mainstream media, Ross Perot is not the only presidential alternative to Bob Dole and Bill Clinton. Green Party candidate Ralph Nader does offer a viable alternative to status-quo politics. Most progressives are familiar with the Green Party platform and Ralph Nader's pro-consumer, pro-environment, pro-worker agenda. It is unfortunate that the old fear-based logic ("a vote for an independent is a vote for Bob Dole") will likely keep them from voting their consciences.
It is possible that there has never been a "safer" time for a third-party vote. Even if Clinton lost the election -which he won't -a Green Party vote in a few key states-like California-could be the beginning of the end of the four year cycle of promises, betrayal and cynicism that presently afflicts our political system..
Nader is now hovering at about 5 percent in polls that have bothered to include him. He accepts no corporate funding which accounts for the scant media attention given his campaign. He has however received a fair amount of attention from "alternative media," like KPFA and even KQED as well as other print media. If that 5 percent of polled voters actually turned out, it would translate into millions of dollars in federal funding that could be used by the Green Party in the next election.
The differences between Dole and Clinton are only by degree and are far overshadowed by what they have in common. It would be well worth the risk to vote for Nader in order to begin to buildan independent political movement that stands for something besides corporate profit.
It's Election Day-Do You Know Where Your Vote Is Going?
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