THE MONEY, MEDIA, AND LIBERAL-LEFT ROLE IN PLUTOCRATIC ELECTIONS
In many ways the system is working beautifully right now. First of all, money dominates the initial selection and weeding out of presidential candidates, so that only those who will serve the corporate interest on the basics--advancing "free trade," keeping the lid on or shrinking the welfare state, and preserving and strengthening the military establishment and pursuing the ongoing imperial strategies--can qualify as credible and electable. While there is a fair amount of grumbling about soft and hard money and the essentiality of big bucks for election status, the mainstream media normalize this and accept the process as entirely legitimate. And the public, or at least half of the public, also goes along and participates with their vote.
As part of the normalization process the media argue vociferously that the two candidates on the take offer adequate options, have sufficient and important differences, so that nobody else even needs to be heard by the public.
The New York Times made the first point in its editorial of August 20 ("Two Visions of Government"), where it contested Ralph Nader's claim that there are no meaningful differences between Gore and Bush, arguing that there are "measurable differences" on how to deploy federal resources that "may not be enough to satisfy Mr. Nader's aggressively populist inclinations, but if the election were held now, they would give the voters a real choice." So if the editors are satisfied with the choices offered by Gore and Bush, the general public should be as well; no "aggressive populism" need enter the lists. (I wonder if there is such a thing as an "aggressive centrism," or an "aggressively pro-corporate agenda"?)
The Times has supported this position by completely marginalizing Nader (and Buchanan as well), refusing to allow him to make his case while inundating its readers with trivia on the money-election candidates. Effectively, they declared Nader's candidacy illegitimate and by their fiat ruled him out of contention. Then in its editorial of August 22 ("Stop Arguing and Start Debating"), after having refused to allow Nader to make his substantive case and develop any constituency, the paper justified Nader's and Buchanan's exclusion from the debates on the ground that they had no "demonstrated national support"! This is a remarkable combination of media authoritarianism and chutzpah.
Of course, the rest of the mainstream media did the same as the Times, producing a self-fulfilling prophecy of lack of mass support by marginalization and some degree of trashing.
In the abysmal Philadelphia Inquirer, their chief election commentator Larry Eichel finally devoted a column to Nader entitled: "The bench is the key," with subtitle "Democrats call Ralph Nader 'dishonest' for discounting the Supreme Court as an election issue." Eichel himself had never discussed Supreme Court appointments as a key issue or indicated any dissatisfaction with a Bush win in this regard, but for the sake of disposing of Nader he effectively turns his column over to Gore protagonists to make what they believe is their strongest case against Nader, with no Nader right to reply. Nader is not only declared to be wrong, he is "dishonest" for disagreeing with a Gore support position. (The last time Eichel was strenuously upset over election candidates was back in 1987-1988, when the populist threat of Jesse Jackson caused him to depart from his usual focus on horse-racing and take some nasty swipes at that earlier deviant.)
But the beauty of the system is most manifest in the reaction of liberals and leftists to the monied versus principled and populist candidates. It is an all-or-nothing election, and there is always the argument for the Democratic lesser evil, so in each election we see vast liberal-left abandonment of the principled and populist in favor of the lesser evil. As with the media's process we have another contribution to a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Remember the allegation that business corporations have too short a time horizon? Could this not be said of the liberals and leftists who jump on the lesser evil bandwagon? Maybe this is a national trait.
A number of liberals and leftists have argued vigorously that a vote for Nader is virtually immoral, given the differences between Gore and Bush and the costs of a wasted vote. But the counter-immorality position seems to me more potent: a classic moral rule laid down by Immanuel Kant was his "categorical imperative": act in a way that you would want generalized. If you act on the basis of calculating what others are likely to do this can not only assure an immoral result, it erodes the basis of moral action altogether. Furthermore, as I watch Clinton in action in Colombia, enlarging exactly the kind of policies this country carried out in Guatemala and El Salvador, and putting more pressure again on Iraq in implementing the most genocidal policy carried out in recent times, and competing with the Republicans in urging an increase in "defense," I am intrigued by the ability of liberals and leftists to consider candidates and parties supporting these actions as legitimate authority. Could they vote between candidates on the basis of their offering different rates of incineration in gas chambers? If living in Yugoslavia could they vote for Milosevic as a lesser evil if his opponent was even worse than he?
Part of the answer gets us back to the power of the mainstream media and the virtual absence of a left media.
Voting for Milosevic would be tough because his badness has been driven home thousands of times, with photos of streams of refugees, women and children in pain, dead bodies, and supportive analyses, accusations, and war crimes tribunal indictments. Clinton-Gore have been responsible for far more suffering in Iraq, East Timor, and Turkey, among other places (see Chomsky's New Military Humanism, chap 3, or my "Clinton Is The World's Leading Active War Criminal," Z, Dec. 1999), and if there were photos of the victims, weeping women and children, generous details of the terror, analyses of the source of the criminal behavior, indignant charges, and war crimes indictments proportional to the victimization for which Clinton-Gore bear heavy responsibility, I suspect that the lesser evil contingent's numbers would quickly erode. I think even honest reporting of the pain of the hungry and homeless folks "empowered" by the 1996 Personal Responsibility Act, and the condition and histories of the prisoners victimized by the drug war, would take a heavy lesser evil toll.
In short, I find myself unable to accept the candidacies of spokespersons for the ongoing range of policies and must protest these horrors in some manner. Joel Bleifuss in In These Times tells us to vote for Gore because it is important that we "Win This One First" (Sept. 18). Joel seems to think that "we" will win if Gore wins, despite the Clinton-Gore record and Gore's selection of Lieberman. I feel that we will lose if Gore-Lieberman OR Bush-Cheney win.
And if Gore-Lieberman do win, and Al From and the more-pro-business-than-thou crowd of the DNC consolidate their position in the Democratic Party, where is political change supposed to come from in the future?