[sixties-l] Left Business Observer on the election

From: radman (resist@best.com)
Date: 11/30/00

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    by Doug Henwood
    from Left Business Observer #95, November 2000
    (c) Copyright 2000 by LBO. All rights reserved.
    This was originally going to be a bracing morning-after polemic. But
    days after the morning-after, there is still no president-elect,
    though it's looking like Bush will take the oath on January 20. Not a
    pretty prospect, but not the end of the world either.
    Before looking ahead, a few backward glances. Had this issue gone to
    press before November 7, it would have contained a Nader endorsement,
    something that would be deeply unpopular in some circles today. That
    endorsement would have come with a small truckload of reservations.
    The full catalog of reservations is available in a 1996 article on
    the LBO website; here's the one-paragraph version. Nader has no
    analysis of how normal capitalism works; he has only a vocabulary to
    describe the evils of monopoly and corporate welfare; competition he
    assumes to be good, as if it didn't take a toll on workers or human
    solidarity. He can be creepily nationalistic, denouncing the WTO as a
    threat to U.S. "sovereignty," as if the U.S. itself weren't the
    world's major abuser of the sovereignty of others. He seems inspired
    by litigation, an individualized substitute for politics. He's almost
    incapable of speaking about fundamental principles; most of what he
    says sounds like a legal brief. His fondness for unions is relatively
    recent; in the 1970s, his Raiders denounced them as monopolists, and
    in the early 1980s, he busted organizing attempts within his own
    Next to Gore, though, these are quibbles. As happens every four
    years, liberals vehemently pronounced this the most important
    election in history; should Bush be inaugurated, Kluxers will join
    the Supreme Court and the national forests will be turned into
    particleboard. No doubt if Clinton hadn't won two terms, welfare
    would have been ended, record numbers of people would be behind bars,
    inequality would be at record levels, Alaska would have been opened
    to oil drilling, and a million Iraqis would have died from sanctions.
    Oh, right -- those things happened!
    It's true that Gore probably was the lesser evil; to say there are
    minimal differences between the parties isn't to say there are none.
    Gore would have been less likely than Bush to appoint cretinous
    judges, though Clinton's appointments have been uninspiring; more
    likely to protect abortion rights, even though he once was a devout
    right-to-lifer; more likely to protect the rights of gays and
    lesbians, though he once denounced homosexuality as "abnormal," voted
    against repealing DC's sodomy law while in the Senate, and buddied up
    to the evil Rev. Fred "God Hates Fags" Phelps in 1988. Since Gore was
    the Clinton administration's most enthusiastic advocate for ending
    welfare, it's hard to argue he'd have been great for the poor. His
    "economic plan" consisted of little more than budget-balancing and
    largely symbolic tax breaks. Environmental reconstruction,
    infrastructure repair, income security, child care, national health
    insurance? Forget 'em! On foreign affairs, Gore sounded like more of
    an interventionist than Bush, and proposed twice the increase in
    military spending his Republican rival did.
    Still, despite all this, Gore is a bit less mean than Bush, a bit
    less stupid, a bit kinder to labor and to all those who aren't
    privileged straight white guys. But just how far right can the
    Democrats go without suffering any electoral punishment from their
    base? Pretty damned far, judging from the heated post-election
    rhetoric coming from the likes of The Nation's Eric Alterman (who
    took a more hostile position towards Nader than Business Week!).
    Every contest is always too important, and every Republican too
    terrifying to desert the Dems for -- even when the candidate is as
    charmless as Gore. But not everyone shared this limitless indulgence.
    If you read Nader's vote as Gore's margin of defeat -- though it was
    merely one factor among several -- then it's hard for conservative
    Democrats to argue that they'd run too far to the left.
    There's a lot of fire being directed at Nader and his supporters
    these days, as if Ralph were solely responsible for Gore's apparent
    loss. But that's to get Gore off the hook too easily. Had he managed
    the usually easy task of carrying his home state, he'd have won the
    More broadly, this election was Gore's to lose. The crackerjack
    proprietary LBO election model -- which has correctly "predicted" 11
    of the last 13 elections, based on just two inputs, the president's
    approval rating and real after-tax income growth in the second
    quarter of the election year -- had Gore winning the popular vote by
    7-8 percentage points. But he was clearly unable to trade on the
    economic good times. Half the electorate reported themselves better
    off than four years ago, but more than a third of those fortunates
    voted for Bush. Maybe party affiliation doesn't mean much anymore
    (Clinton, after all, triangulated the Congressional Democrats), or
    maybe people don't believe that Clinton had anything to do with the
    boom. One in ten self-identified Democrats -- over 4% of the
    electorate -- voted for Bush, twice the rate of party defection
    suffered by the Republicans. Had Gore been able to hold onto half of
    them, he'd have won handily.
    But he didn't, and it looks like Bush will be president. There are
    many horrors to anticipate in a W presidency. His proposals on
    missile defense and Social Security privatization are scary, and the
    prospect of being governed by an arrogant moron is depressing. But
    there's not much point in getting too depressed.
    Despite all the dire imaginings that Bush Fils will be a rerun of the
    Reagan years, unlike the early 1980s, right-wing politics has largely
    lost its popular appeal. It may be hard for liberals to accept this,
    since whipping up fear of fundies and brownshirts has been a staple
    of their direct mail as well as their electoral campaigns. The first
    evidence of the right's weakness was the failure of Gingrich; the
    second, their loss on impeachment; third, Bush's "inclusiveness" from
    the Republican Convention onwards. Under the surface of the election,
    there's even more evidence that the right-wing ascendancy is over:
    the defeat of the school voucher initiatives in Michigan and
    California, the defeat of several notorious Congressional cretins,
    and the victory of several medical marijuana initiatives.
    And there looks to be something of a legitimation crisis underway.
    Bush himself is clearly a dimwit, and the butt of jokes at home and
    abroad. Even better, the structural flaws of U.S. democracy are
    prominently on display. The two candidates themselves, born into
    their positions, were so utterly lackluster that they attracted
    almost no passionate support. The counting crisis in Florida has
    turned a spotlight on the many corruptions of the electoral process,
    ranging from fixed ballots to cooked counts to the harassment of
    black voters. And the abomination known as the Electoral College,
    which will probably deliver into office the candidate who came in
    second in the popular vote, is under its most serious scrutiny in a
    century. Now if people would start viewing the thing not as some
    archaic holdover, but an integral part of the antidemocratic
    architecture of governance designed by our madly overpraised
    Founders, then we'd be making some real progress. Like the Senate,
    it's supposed to frustrate popular will.
    Where to from here? Though Gore is awful, there would be some ways
    his presidency would offer a better environment for oppositional
    politics. With a Republican president, leftish types can fantasize
    about how much better things would be with a Democratic president.
    With a Democrat in the Oval Office, people can see that the ugliness
    of U.S. society is systemic. It's no accident that the movements that
    have developed in recent years, from the Seattle coalition to the
    campus anti-sweatshop movement, arose during the Clinton years.
    People started talking about "neoliberalism," even "capitalism,"
    rather than The Right. With Bush, we're likely to be confronted with
    more bad performance art about Jesse Helms and jokes about W's
    dimness. Structural horrors will be overlooked, and campaigning for
    Democrats will claim attention.
    No doubt the art and jokes will be justified. And no doubt Bush will
    make many terrible appointments. But as the saying goes, that
    shouldn't be an occasion to mourn, but to organize. Abortion didn't
    get legalized because a bunch of judges suddenly had an epiphany;
    abortion got legalized because there was a feminist movement. Workers
    won't get organized because there are some half-decent appointments
    to the NLRB; they'll get organized if unions are imaginative and
    militant. Unfortunately, liberals seem to have little faith in mass
    mobilization; they prefer to lobby and litigate instead. The
    reproductive rights movement has done little to prop up sagging
    popular support for abortion; that's a terrible mistake. And there
    are many others like it.
    Which should provide rich possibilities for Greens and other
    malcontents to repair the damage within the small world known as the
    left. We should very visibly push for abortion access and racial
    justice, and fight electoral fraud, police brutality, mass
    incarceration, and gay-bashing. It's been odd to see liberals like
    Alterman and Todd Gitlin, who normally hate "identity" politics,
    criticizing Nader & Co. for weak support among blacks, feminists, and
    same-sexers. But there's enough truth to the claim to make it bite.
    Beyond that, there must be a persistent effort to draw the better
    parts of the labor movement away from the Democrats -- the part of
    the movement that isn't lost in fantasies about Gore in '04. If
    there's ever going to be a meaningful oppositional politics in the
    U.S., it has to broaden its support beyond its current modest base.
    It's rare that the right thing to do is also the pragmatic thing to
    do, but right now, it is.
     >Left Business Observer
     >Village Station - PO Box 953
     >New York NY 10014-0704 USA
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