Friday, March 28, 2008

The Election and Progressive Politics.

(This is cross-posted at Dakota Women.)


This is a guest post by my good friend and fellow activist, Ricky Baldwin. Actually, I feel silly saying "fellow activist" when it comes to Ricky, who puts the "act" in activism, as in, this guy knows all about organizing and the hard work that is standing up for your principles. He certainly puts me to shame. He's done labor organizing, he's worked for pro-choice organizations in *Mississippi* (which is even more of an experience than doing it in South Dakota, I'll bet), he's protested unfair treatment of migrant workers and he's done work in the Peace Movement, just for starters. I asked him if he'd like to write something on the current political situation, and he has. He will also be stopping by to answer comments, if anyone wants to leave any.

Here he is (the bolding at the end is my doing, but the words are his):

In my opinion, thinking about the elections we sometimes forget to start with what we know. We don’t know who’s going to win or what they will do – or try to do when it comes down to it. We do have a pretty good idea what they won’t do. Suffice it to say, what they won’t do includes some of the most important things the American people want (not to mention the rest of the world so deeply affected by US policies).

In every poll I know of, for example, a majority of Americans – or at the very least a strong plurality – always prefer some kind of 'universal health care' system such as what we call 'single-payer' (more or less the Canadian or British system). But there are powerful interests that want just the opposite, so we will not get it any time soon no matter who wins in November. Of the three remaining possibilities Clinton probably comes closest to at least proposing something like what we want, but that's not really very close. Besides, she has been weighed in that balance already, when Bill was prez, and found wanting. By that I mean she championed a miserable charade of a healthcare plan, which became infamous even in the mainstream for its potential to enrich our vampiric health insurance companies. Maybe this is one reason that, among all the candidates, Hillary is the number one recipient of donations from the health insurance industry. Who knows? Anyway, it didn't fly despite her long-famous abilities as an aggressive negotiator (when she was a big-time corporate lawyer). Now it seems she has tamed her proposal considerably. Single-payer ain’t happenin.

Also, one of the leading bones of contention this year promises to be the so-called "war on terror" – especially the war in Iraq – for another example. Most Americans pretty clearly want us out of Iraq (at least) sometime around yesterday, whatever the pundits tell us we are supposed to think. In dozens of local referenda across the country voters, even Republicans who supported Bush and other hawks in previous elections, virtually always say they want withdrawal "as soon as possible" or "with all due haste" or words to that effect. Nancy Pelosi and the Democratic leadership have been very clear since election nite/morning 06: that's off the table, right along with impeaching Bush or Cheney, right along with Hillary Clinton's earlier swagger about getting rid of the phenomenally anti-democratic idea of the Electoral College (she's been silent on that for some time now, I notice). On the war, Obama probably looks best, although he has been pretty clear from the beginning of his campaign that the sort of immediate withdrawal actually favored by the American people was not on his agenda. It's true that Obama was outspoken against the US invasion of Iraq from before it happened, while Clinton supported and voted for it (a vicious hawk for some time), and McCain thinks we should stay there 100 years – only without torturing prisoners. But Obama has voted along with the others to continue funding the war, and he's mostly followed the line that 'the invasion was a mistake, but now that we're there we can't just leave.' (How would he feel if someone broke into his house and started smashing up the place, killing and maiming, and his neighbors responded this way?)

Neither of the Dems will rule out the sort of Bush-style unilateral aggression that got so many Nazis hanged at Nuremburg. McCain, of course, is a cheerleader for that sort of thing. None of them will challenge Israel's brutal policy of apartheid against the Palestinian Arabs – certainly not to the point of cutting off military aid to this beligerent European colony – they've made that very clear.

Judging from our three remaining candidates' actions, we are also unlikely to see the reversals we might hope for on NAFTA, the USA PATRIOT Act (all 3 voted to reauthorize) or the heinous 'No Child Left Behind' attack on public education. Speaking of NAFTA, we do also have significant circumstantial evidence besides the candidates' own voting records and campaign promises. Clinton was of course part of the administration that presided over passage of that longtime GOP wet dream, NAFTA, not to mention "the end of welfare as we know it," and "don't ask, don't tell" soon thereafter responsible for more military discharges for homosexuality than the earlier prohibition. Bill also promised to end the first Bush Admin's illegal policy of returning political refugees to Haiti, which his admin actually accelerated once in office. In fact, besides gutting the US welfare system as I mentioned, we might paraphrase an important Native American leader: the Clinton campaign made a lot of promises, but they kept only one – they promised to bomb Iraq and they bombed it. Hillary, we now know, pushed that policy of bombing as well as the Admin's cruise missile attacks on Afghanistan and the baby formula factory they blew up at the same time. Their Admin also specifically fought gay marriage as well as medical marijuana. Some liberals!

It's hardly surprising, given Hillary's background in one of the highest profile law firms in the country – now renamed Rose Law Firm – representing Wal-Mart, Tyson Foods and the like. Obama, on the other hand, not only was a community organizer himself, but apparently as a bright young lawyer he turned down offers from more prestigious firms than Miner's to specialize in civil rights and social advocacy law, representing ACORN and the League of Women Voters and others (trouncing the Illinois governor and winning a 'Motor Voter' law), fighting red-lining (Citibank), and supporting whistleblowers and such. I claim it doesn't really matter if Clinton 'comes from money' and Obama doesn't, for example. Sen. Inouye (D-Hawaii), a Clinton supporter, who noted earlier this month that Obama attended an elite elementary school in an attempt to influence his state’s primary (Obama attended on a scholarship, while being raised by his single mom and grandmother) is beside the point, as is Rev. Wright's insight that Hillary Clinton is not black. What does matter is what, and what interests, the candidates represent. And on this score, their histories are telling.

McCain of course has an atrocious track record, no matter what Herr Limbaugh and Frau Coulter say. Maybe that's why Henry Kissinger is working for his campaign, not to mention a gaggle of war criminals and other miscreants including Lawrence Eagleburger, Alexander Haig, George Schultz and Colin Powell. It's a group that shares a lot, including – in a just world – a seat in the dock at the Hague. But the world is not that just. Hillary has of course Bill, as well as their former partner in state terror Madeleine Albright, as well as Richard Holbrooke (ugh!) and Bush Jr's "surge" plan co-author John Keane. Obama has the evil Zbigniew Brzezinski in his corner, but fewer big-name sociopaths as far as I can tell. Obama is, however, favored by others in the nefarious Council on Foreign Relations, as a recent Z article points out, because he is supposed to have the best grasp of the "historical moment", a sort of Machiavellian term as I understand it that is not at all a good sign. Of course other CFR spindoctors support Hillary or McCain (e.g. all those I mentioned above). Not the candidate with the most CFR votes wins, but the three with the strongest CFR cheerleading are in fact now the only contenders left.

The Z article is actually refreshing in that it talks about the way in which ruling class interests, altho they don't strictly speaking choose the next prez, do narrow the field to the point that any candidate still standing when the music stops will serve their minority needs well enough. One way they do this is, not surprisingly, money. What may be surprising, tho, at least to many good liberals, is the particulars. Over 80 percent of all presidential campaign donations as of fall '07 went to six candidates: Clinton, Obama, Romney, Giuliani, McCain and Edwards (in that order). Almost 70 percent were over $1000 (i.e. not from you or me or probably anybody we know). The author goes into great detail, and it's fascinating, breaking out groups of big donors. "Big Capital" (finance, real estate, insurance) favors Clinton, then Giuliani, Romney and Obama. The big law firms favor Clinton, Edwards then Obama. Etc. Again, it's not that the one with the most 'high class' donations wins, but the proverbial 'playing field' is thereby tilted (and, as the author emphasizes, many potential candidates are eliminated).

So are they all the same? Not if you're one of the working class millions. None of them are great, but I'd argue that, overall, tho I'm not happy about our choices and want to emphasize that above all we must not confuse simple voting with democracy – we have to organize and fight for the rights of ordinary people if we are to have any hope of even modest gains – but voting is an opportunity to at least sway government policy this way or that. It's not the only one, or even the most effective (at least not on the national level, for sure), but we skip it to our cost.

The Greens won't win. But of course owing to the anti-democratic structure of our electoral system, in most states a Green vote is a good protest and that's it. (My
mother called me in 2000 to ask if I thought she could vote for Nader. My response: You're in Mississippi, you vote for whoever you want and don't let anybody bug you. Mississippi is going for Bush.) If you live in one of those swing states, however, anything but a Democratic vote is dangerous brinksmanship.

So I'm saying I'd vote for Hillary if she gets the nomination? Of course – if it seemed close in Illinois, [Ricky's home - PF] I'd vote for Donald Duck if he ran as a viable candidate. I worked on Hillary Clinton’s first campaign in New York because she was running against a rightwing nut. But I think you can tell by now I hope she doesn't get it. (I voted for Obama in the primary, just to minimize Hillary's delegates relative to Obama. My man Kucinich was out by then.) The policies of the last eight years at least must be repudiated, but a vote for Clinton doesn't really accomplish that all that well. Oh, I've heard all the arguments, most of which aren't serious. She's a woman – yes, and so was Thatcher. She's earned it (!) – and what have the American people earned? (Obama, by the way, has a much better record of working for the good and welfare.) Oh, yes, and speaking of arguments for Hillary that make no sense, there's one that needs special attention. I'll quote a friend of mine who's in charge of the excellent news service After Hillary repeated Bush’s transparent lie that Saddam Hussein kicked out the weapons inspectors (the US withdrew them, preparing to bomb), my friend quipped: "Hillary, ready to lie from Day 1." Indeed.

Sure, she's familiar with all the (evil) people. She's comfy sending planes to bomb women, children and sick people for elite purposes. And she'd have no problem selling out health care or whatever interest of the poor/working class comes before her, if it helped her stay in office or in some other way. I'm sure her reputation as a ruthless negotiator is well deserved, and her corporate clients were happy with her, but is that a pattern we want her to continue in the White House? The world needs something very different, and it's up to US citizens – who are the only ones who get to vote, unfortunately – to get the most we can out of our government.

What we need, of course, is an immediate withdrawal of all US troops and reparations to Iraq and Afghanstan, unconditional release of all POWs and reparations to their families, closure and evacuation of Guantanamo Bay as well as the School of the Americas and all US military bases around the world. We need to stop backing Israel, Saudi Arabia, Colombia and other repressive states and instead start standing up for what we say we support – democracy – even if the results are not what we'd like. We need someone who will fight for single-payer healthcare, a living wage, free abortion on demand and gay marriage (if we can't get the state out of the marriage business altogether). We need the right of civilian review for every person who alleges mistreatment by any law enforcement rep. We need to put an end to corporate welfare and reverse the policy that corporations are people with Constitutional rights (it would probably take an amendment). And so many other things that we will not get. But we have an obligation, on behalf of all the less powerful people of the world, to get what we can. Our comfort levels as voters, our disgust, our desires to touch symbolic base and feel good about ourselves, are nothing beside the deep suffering that so many billions on the planet endure largely at the hands of a world order dominated by our government.

The good news is, the Dems have a decent chance of winning, and both at least promise to get out of Iraq – eventually – tho I'm sure they'll maintain that gargantuan military base there and the 'quagmire' will continue. I doubt either one would hack away at welfare much more – Bill did enuf – or follow Bush-Cheney on international agreements like the Kyoto Accords, etc. We might even get a decent land-mine treaty! But will we get another Kosovo in Sudan? Maybe Iraq has lefta bad enuf taste to prevent it, if we fight. And hopefully we can get someone decent on the Supreme Court in the next four years. (Four is about all we can hope for; we have to make hay while the sun shines, like the Republicans do and the Dems usually don't.)

For labor, it's just possible, of course, with a Democrat in the Oval Office and Dems running both houses of Congress, to pass a much-needed reform authorizing card check to replace the gauntlet-running election system we have now for joining a union. McCain would certainly never let that happen. Obama or Clinton just might, Obama more likely in my book. But that's far from given and would require a bitter, hard struggle. I hope it happens. Maybe at least we'll get a raise in the min wage and some extention of SCHIP, stuff like that. Who knows, maybe we can revive that ergonomics standard? Obama promises to ax "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell." Clinton says she wouldn't fight gay marriage, tho she opposes it, like Obama. Neither would attack abortion rights, at least, but it seems the real battles there are at the state level at the moment.

In education, maybe we can at least see some changes in that awful "No Child’s Behind Left". But what we really need is a massive federal expenditure (way short of what we're spending on Iraq, of course) to put one more teacher in every classroom in the US. Now THAT would be a campaign to get excited about!

There are many such changes that we need, and campaigns for any of them would be well worth our time. But elections will not get them for us – and this one may yet prove that to some of us. The work we need to be about is much less glamorous. It involves knocking on doors, talking on the phone when you'd rather be chillin, talking to people sometimes awkwardly outside activist circles, sitting in long meetings, speaking up "even when your voice shakes," tolerating quirky people with strange ideas, and sometimes a lot of study (newspapers, voting records, etc.). It involves some flexibility, too, especially when two or more good causes compete or conflict, and yet some focus to remember our basic purposes and the people who need change the most. Whatever we do, however we disagree, I hope we always keep them in mind.


Ravenmn said...

So I'm saying I'd vote for Hillary if she gets the nomination? Of course – if it seemed close in Illinois, [Ricky's home - PF] I'd vote for Donald Duck if he ran as a viable candidate.

I've come to a different conclusion personally. I simply cannot do the "lesser evil" any more. Somewhere along the line I decided that since voting is something my foremothers fought for desperately. I should honor them by limiting my vote to people who I believe in. There are plenty of candidates running who are neither Democrat nor Republican. There are candidates beyond the Green Party. You can be of almost any political persuasion and find a candidate who comes much closer to your point of view than any of the mainstream candidates. I say, let's do ourselves a favor and vote for someone we can believe in.

After the election, you and I will be back on the street doing the work that makes a difference. The difference is, I'll be proud of the person I voted for. It's not much, but it's something I owe to those came before us.

Lynn Gazis-Sax said...

I'm in Ricky's camp on "lesser evil" voting. Politics is the art of the possible; I feel I honor my foremothers just as well by making my the vote that most effectively advances my goals given current circumstances as I would looking at third party candidates to pick whatever candidate I'd consider best in absolute terms. Also I come as close to believing in Obama as I have to any candidate that's had a snowball's chance in hell of winning in my lifetime. Though Ricky's also right about the ways many of the things I'd want are placed out of the set of viable candidates, and about the importance of organizing beyond just voting.

Daisy said...

Great piece--I'll be quoting this excellent essay some time during the next week.

For me, the whole thing has come down to John McCain's terrifying promise of "100 years" in Iraq. He is not simply estimating and neither are the neocons. They mean it--it's a fight to take the middle east; they want to totally invest the USA in that, and damn the consequences.

He isn't exaggerating. He MEANS IT.

World war, with no end in sight? Or an end in sight? That's the whole thing in a nutshell, to me, and Obama is the only person on the horizon actually discussing any kind of timetable for troop withdrawal. Hillary "refuses to be precise"--and says you can't promise anything. Well, of course you can't PROMISE EXACTITUDES, but could we get SOME idea of what she has in mind, please? Hmm, I just don't trust her, I'm afraid. I want precise answers, and if "18 months" is the best we can get (from Obama), I guess we have to take it.

Great piece, again, I'll be talking about it some more next week!

Kelsey said...

I guess I don't see it as voting for the lesser evil so much as cooperating with my fellow citizens. Most people in the U.S. are not as far left as I am, so to effect change and be part of the electoral process, I need to build coalitions with people that I share values with, even if we don't agree on every issue. We in turn support a candidate who most closely represents our coalition, not our beliefs as individuals.

Obviously, there are some issues that I would be unwilling to compromise on, in which case, I'd have to find a new coalition to align myself with.

I think the idea that we should only support candidates that agree with us completely reflects this American idea that the individual comes before the group -- any group exercise is going to require compromise. And unless we suddenly become a direct democracy, it just doesn't work.

Ravenmn said...

Kelsey, those are good points, and I can see that I come off as an individualist jerk.

I argue something different. I honestly don't believe that voting is effective. I think the election game is totally corrupt. If so, then any argument we make to ourselves about compromising, or supporting like-minded people or doing whatever is necessary to prevent McCain from becoming president, are empty discussions. We've already been prevented, by the monied elite, from being able to choose a viable candidate who differs from the mainstream in any significant way.

So I do vote, but I don't support their rigged game. I support those who participate without compromising.

I'm also extremely active. I form coalitions, I fight for justice globally and locally. I have a profound respect for my fellow citizens and their willingness to work together to create a better world.

These days, voting doesn't get us to that space. Someday it might. Until then, I keep doing the good work that Ricky and you and Plains and a lot of other courageous and awesome people are doing today.

Daisy said...

I never did learn how to do proper trackbacks, my profound apologies!

Consider this one:

Odds and Sods: Stella Blue edition

Kelsey said...

I certainly wasn't trying to say that you're an individualist jerk, but that individualist thinking can inform the decision not to support a major party candidate. I know a lot of people like yourself who have other reasons to support a third party candidate (or not to vote at all) and I can respect that even if it's not the angle I take:)