Election Hang-Over

Well, it’s over. Granted, it may be days before a winner is announced, but for all practical purposes, the Y2K presidential election has ended–badly. Come January, either Bush or Gore will be president, neither of them with any great body of supporters in the House, in the Senate, or among the American people.

If this all sounds just a little pessimistic, well it is. A figure I heard on the radio this morning brought home to me the reality of the American political system. According to WBAI, New York’s Pacifica station, 90 percent of the approximately 3 billion (!) spent by candidates in this election came from the riches 1% of our population–incidentally (or is it?) the same 1% that Bush’s tax cuts help the most. No big surprise, that–they control 90% of the wealth, so it goes to figure. What concerns me is that now the candidates that won have to start paying back 3 billion dollars worth of political favors, as compared with…what? I got out of bed half and hour early and walked to the polls–that’s what my vote is to them. And the fact that 86 of the top 100 campaign contributors donated more than $100,000 to both major parties (see table of contributors who gave over $100,000 to both parties) tells me that that 1% will continue to be calling the shots, regardless of who is elected.

Now that the elections are over, the accusations are flying. Nader has been forced up against the wall by packs of rabid, foaming-at-the-mouth Democrats who think that Nader’s turn-out in New Hampshire and Oregon (the only states where Nader’s votes would have helped Gore) might have cost Gore the White House. The Democratic Party has made it quite clear over the last couple weeks that a Bush presidency would suck, a lot, and it looks like most Americans have bought that story. But that attitude seriously misrepresents what Nader and the Greens, and, indeed, democracy at all, are about. Politics didn’t end yesterday for the next 4 years–it began. Americans are too used to ignoring politics for3 1/2 years and then pretending that their vote for the President makes them good Americans. That’s wrong.

Whether you like the Green Party or not, you have to give them credit for organizing 2 1/2 million Americans, many of which would not otherwise be voters, into a fairly cohesive whole–something that has been sadly missing on the Left for a long time. If this coalition holds together and follows through, which means constantly reminding the Democrats and the American unaffiliated Left that the issues that kept them from voting for Gore remain important, election-shaping issues, we may see a very different political landscape in 2 years, when we go back to the polls to elect our Congress. This means more than just repeating the uprisings in Seattle and Washington over the WTO, however admirable this sort of action is. It means forcing our government and our media to be accountable, to deal with the issues that matter to us, to deal with the issues behind the public-interest stories. It means a return to the foundations of American democracy, which was supposed to protect minorities–political, religious, ethnic, and otherwise–from the “Tyranny of the Majority”. It means, most of all, losing the attitude that our government “gives” us rights, like the right to choose, the right to free speech, the right to be free of search and seizure. Did the government “give” women the right to choose? Of course not; women (and men, to be fair) fought–many died–to have that right recognized, and thus protected, by the State. Likewise, whoever the next president turns out to be, he will never be able to take that right away, however hard he tries. It is up to us, as American citizens, to make that point perfectly clear.

A quick point: While it looks as if Bush will take the majority of electoral votes, and thus “win” the election, the popular vote indicates that most (voting) Americans want Gore to be president. This is, of course, every American Civics teacher’s worst nightmare–how can we teach about “democracy” when the system is so clearly, and so fundamentally, flawed? My question is this: Is George W. Bush American enough to forfeit his presidency in the name of common decency and good citizenship? We’ll see…

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