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Updating of ZNet goes along as usual, with many new articles posted each
day. This free update mailing, however, is to convey one, in particular,
by Stephen Shalom, bearing on the upcoming U.S. election. 


Election Day 2004               
by Stephen R. Shalom    
The Bush administration is poised to steal this election as it did the
one in 2000. Thousands of voters, mostly African Americans, are in
danger of being illegally disenfranchised by Republican party

In the year 2000, tens of thousands of African Americans were improperly
purged from the voting rolls. Given that African Americans -- when they
did vote -- overwhelmingly cast their ballots for Gore, and given that
the margin in Florida was only 537 votes, it is clear that the last
presidential election was stolen.

Or was it? Imagine this defense of Republican scheming: "Gore didn't
lose because of any Republican machinations in Florida. If Gore had been
able to win his home state of Tennessee, he would have won the election
regardless of what happened in Florida. If he had been able to inspire a
marginally greater Democratic Party turn out in New Hampshire, he would
have won. If he had been able to appeal to Arab American voters in
Florida, he would have won. And so on."

Our response to this should be obvious: the disenfranchisement by
Republicans of Florida's Black voters was not a sufficient cause for
Bush to win the election, but it was a necessary cause. Without the
disenfranchisement, Gore would be president, and, therefore, it is
accurate to say that Bush stole the election. If I muff an easy lay-up
at the end of a basketball game and my team loses by one point, it
doesn't mean that I was THE cause of the loss; my team may have blown
dozens of easy points earlier in the game. Nevertheless, given all the
previous missed opportunities, it is still the case that that last shot
meant the difference between winning and losing. Missing the shot was a
necessary, though not sufficient, condition for losing the game.

The hypothetical defense of Republican behavior in Florida is the actual
defense used by Nader supporters to absolve themselves of responsibility
for the outcome of the 2000 election. Of course, there is a world of
difference between stealing votes and legally contesting an election,
but the logic in the two situations is the same. When it is pointed out
that a handful of Nader voters in Florida could have shifted the outcome
of the election had they voted for Gore, they reply with a list of other
things that also could have led to a Gore victory. Their list is
accurate, and lots of people share responsibility for Gore's loss. And
they are right that complaining Democrats would do well to examine their
own contributions to the defeat. Nevertheless, it is still the case that
these Nader voters -- on their own, without changed behavior on the part
of anyone else -- could have prevented Bush from becoming president. All
those who missed earlier easy shots share the responsibility for my
basketball team's loss, but that doesn't alter the fact that if I didn't
miss the final lay-up, my team would have won.

Why am I reflogging the dead horse of 2000? Not because I believe that
Naderites were the main reason for Bush's victory four years ago. They
weren't. Gore's incompetence and spinelessness and Bush's theft were the
main reasons. But Nader was a necessary, though not sufficient, cause. I
raise this here because I am part of the Left and I fear that some of my
comrades are going to make the same mistake this time around.

I believe in building third parties. I voted for Nader in 2000 (in the
safe state of New Jersey) and hope to vote for Green Party candidate
David Cobb this time, as long as the polls confirm that New Jersey
remains safe (which is still not clear). I plan to vote for the Green
Party candidate for Congress. I think that an alternative to the two
parties that stand for corporate domination and empire needs to be
built. At some point, when we are strong enough, we will have to put
Democrats at risk if we hope to win elections. But we are not near that
point today. I don't think a few extra votes for Cobb (or Nader) in 2004
will make much difference to our long-term prospects for fundamental
change, while a few less votes for Kerry in swing states might very well
make a rather big difference -- not because the difference between Kerry
and Bush is large, but because small differences in the candidates can
lead to large differences in our lives, and especially in the lives of
those most victimized by the U.S. government.

Of course, some will argue that the difference goes in the other
direction, that Kerry is actually worse than Bush. Kerry's campaign
rhetoric on foreign policy has been truly awful. But notice that when
people like William Safire, the New York Times' rightwing columnist,
announce that Kerry has been out-hawking Bush, they don't really believe
it -- or else why is Safire not endorsing Kerry (since he's closer to
Kerry on issues like separation of church and state and civil
liberties)? Kerry is terrible on Iraq, but it seems clear that the
anti-war movement would be able to bring more pressure to bear on a
president whose party has serious qualms about the war and whose
personal history includes serious qualms about imperial wars. A Bush
victory sends the message to the world that his pursuit of an illegal
and immoral war has been endorsed by the American people, while a Bush
defeat, even though Kerry's current position on Iraq is little
different, signals a repudiation of the war. In any event, Kerry's
opposition to such things as national missile defense and building a new
generation of bunker-buster nuclear weapons is a difference with Bush
that is real, with potentially life-and-death consequences.

Others make the claim that Kerry is more dangerous than Bush because he
will try to sugarcoat the U.S. empire and thereby extend its life,
whereas Bush is driving the empire into collapse. Such a claim assumes
that the collapsing empire will not cause immense human suffering. Of
course, if one is serious about this view, then one ought to oppose
raising the minimum wage too (to make sure that the poor are angrier)
and favor all sorts of repressive laws (to alienate the middle class)
and so on. Indeed, if one really takes this view, then why waste your
vote on Nader when you can vote directly for Bush (thereby hastening the
hoped-for collapse)? It seems to me that the Left needs to convince
people that its program is best, not hope that we can artificially limit
the options to us or utter disaster so that people will choose us.

Nader has argued that in fact he's going to take as many votes from Bush
as from Kerry. What's remarkable is that he maintains this claim despite
the fact that no one else believes it. The Democrats don't believe it
(which is why they're been trying so hard to keep Nader off the ballot).
The Republicans don't believe it (which is why they've been giving all
sorts of assistance to get Nader on the ballot). And this Republican
assistance does not mean that he's going to get Republican votes.
They're helping him -- as some have openly acknowledged -- precisely so
he'll take votes from Kerry. I'm not saying Nader needs to go through
all his donations and return those that come from Bush supporters. But
it ought to give pause to those who accept Nader's argument when they
see funders of "Swift Boat Veterans for Truth" and other committed Bush
supporters making contributions to Nader's campaign. Instead of saying,
as the Nader camp did
<http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A13142-2004Oct6.html> ,
that these contributions show Nader's broad appeal, they ought to ask
themselves whether the Nader campaign is inadvertently helping the
candidacy of someone Nader agrees represents the greatest danger. (Polls
<http://www.thenation.com/doc.mhtml?i=20041108&s=nichols2> , by the way,
belie Nader's claim that he'll draw more from Bush than Kerry.)

Pat LaMarche, the Green Party vice-presidential candidate, elicited
strong criticism when she said (later retracted) that she might consider
voting for Kerry if the race in her state were tight. Could one imagine
Bush or Kerry saying something like this, pundits asked? No, one can't
imagine it, because one of these two is going to win the election. A
vote for LaMarche, on the other hand, is only symbolic, and as such the
value of a vote cast for her can be weighed against other goals, such as
the value of defeating Bush. In European political systems where there
is a run-off election leftwing parties often advise their members to
vote for someone else on the second round. And in the U.S. candidates
often ask their supporters to support someone else (as did, for example,
Kucinich) when they see they can't win. There is nothing unprincipled
about figuring out how your supporters' votes can do the most good,
given that you can't win. 

Sure, it's infuriating to vote for a candidate who has horrible
positions on so many issues, who keeps appealing to rightwing sentiments
among the five or ten percent of undecided voters rather than the
progressive sentiments that could have enabled him to cinch the
election, who trumpets his participation in the immoral war in Vietnam
rather than his principled break with that war. But we're not voting to
feel good. We're not voting to maintain our moral purity (if we were,
would we vote for Nader, who has failed to build a grassroots
alternative party and who has formed unsavory alliances
<http://direland.typepad.com/direland/2004/10/green_leaders_d.html> ?).
We're voting to do the best we can to improve people's lives, both in
the short run and the long run.

Consider two possible outcomes: Four more years of Bush with Nader
having gotten 1 percent of the vote or a Kerry presidency with Nader
having gotten 0.5 percent of the vote. It's hard to see how the former
would be better for anyone. For the Left, the former means having to
operate in a far more repressive environment; having to organize against
Bush policies that this time would have the endorsement of the U.S.
population; having to fight to prevent the enactment of rightwing
policies instead of working for progressive change. For African
Americans, a Bush victory means continued assault on affirmative action.
For women, it means reproductive rights will be in great peril. For
workers, it means more attacks on unions, on the minimum wage, on
overtime. For the elderly, it means privatizing social security. For
gays and lesbians, it means the anti-same-sex marriage amendment. And
for people around the world, it means fewer checks on U.S. military
interventionism. These are some of the losses we would suffer were Bush
to be re-elected; they might happen under Kerry too (who will, after
all, probably have a Republican Congress), but it is less likely.
Avoiding these setbacks does not come close to creating the world we
want or need, but they are not nothing.  And avoiding them will put us
in a better position to fight for what we want and need after November

Stephen R. Shalom teaches political science at William Paterson
University and writes for Z, ZNet, and New Politics. He also wrote an
earlier, longer analysis of these issues, posted on ZNet
<http://www.zmag.org/content/showarticle.cfm?ItemID=5737> . 


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