Always partial to monopolies, the Democrats think they should hold the exclusive concession on any electoral challenge to Bush and the Republicans. The Nader campaign prompts them to hysterical tirades. Republicans are more relaxed. Ross Perot and his Reform Party actually cost George Bush Sr. his reelection in 1992, yet Perot never drew a tenth of the abuse for his presumption that Nader does now.
Of course the Democrats richly deserve the challenge. Through the Clinton years the Democratic Party remained "united" in fealty to corporate corruption and right-wing class viciousness, and so inevitably and appropriately, the Nader-centered independent challenge was born, modestly in 1996, strongly in 2000 and now again in 2004. The rationale for Nader's challenge was as sound as it was for Henry Wallace half a century earlier. I quote from The Third Party, a little pamphlet by Adam Lapin published in 1948 in support of Wallace and his Progressive Party, found in a box of left literature sent to me in June 2004 by my friend Honey Williams of Carmel Highlands, cleaning house after the death of her uncle Dick Criley. She'd promised me some crab apple scions for grafting, and I was a mite put out to find souvenirs of Dick's political library, such as Plekhanov and Lenin, lurking in the box instead.
"Every scheme of the lobbyists to fleece the public became law in the 80th Congress. And every constructive proposal to benefit the common people gathered dust in committee pigeonholes The bi-partisan bloc, the Republocratic cabal which ruled Congress and made a mockery of President Roosevelt's economic bill of rights, also wrecked the Roosevelt foreign policy. A new foreign policy was developed. This policy was still gilded with the good words of democracy. But its Holy Grail was oil.
"The Democratic administration carries the ball for Wall Street's foreign policy. And the Republican party carries the ball for Wall Street's domestic policy. Of course the roles are sometimes interchangeable. It was President Truman who broke the 1946 railroad strike, asked for legislation to conscript strikers and initiated the heavy fines against the miners' union.
"On occasion President Truman still likes to
lay an occasional verbal wreath on the grave of the New Deal. But the hard
facts of roll call votes show that Democrats are voting more and more like
Republicans. If the Republican Taft-Hartley bill became law over the
President's veto, it was because many of the Democrats allied themselves to
the Republicans. Only 71 House Democrats voted to sustain the President's
veto while 106 voted to override it. In the Senate 20 Democrats voted to
override the veto and 22 voted to sustain it."
There you have it: the law that was to enable capital to destroy organized labor when it became convenient was passed by a bipartisan vote (and with more than just Southern Democrats), something you will never learn from the AFL-CIO, or from a thousand hoarse throats at Democratic rallies when the candidate is whoring for the labor vote. In the Clinton years, union membership as a percentage of the work force dropped, as well it might, because he did nothing to try to change laws or to intervene in disputes.
Clinton presided over
passage of NAFTA, insulting labor further with the farce of side agreements
on labor rights that would never be enforced. End result: half the companies
involved in organizing drives in the US intimidate workers by saying that a
union vote will force the company to leave town; 30 percent of them fire the
union activists (about 20,000 workers a year); only one in seven organizing
drives has a chance of going to a vote, and of those that do result in a yes
vote for the union, less than one in five has any success in getting a
Polls suggest that 60 percent of non-unionized workers say they would join a union if they had a chance. The Democrats have produced no laws, indeed have campaigned against laws -that would make that attainable. John Kerry's proposal on the minimum wage in 2004 would raise it to $7 an hour by 2007, which would bring a full-time worker up to two-thirds of the poverty level.
Let us suppose that a Democratic candidate arrives in the White House, at least rhetorically committed to reform, as happened with Jimmy Carter in 1977 and Clinton in 1993. Both had Democratic majorities in Congress. Battered from their first weeks for any unorthodox nominees and for any deviation from Wall Street's agenda in their first budgets, both had effectively lost any innovative purchase on the system by the end of their first six months, and there was no pressure from the left to hold them to their pledges. Carter was torn apart by the press for his OMB director nominee, Bert Lance; Clinton, for gays in the military.
As a candidate in 1984 Mondale advanced the schedule of surrender to the period of his doomed candidacy, filing to change his political identity to that of Ronald Reagan by September of that campaign year. Reagan claimed that Nicaragua was exporting revolution to the rest of Latin America and so did Mondale. Reagan said Nicaragua should be "pressured" till it mended its ways, and so did Mondale. Reagan said he would invade Nicaragua if it bought 28-year-old Soviet MIG-21s and so did Mondale. Reagan blamed the missile crisis in Europe on the Russians and so did Mondale. Reagan wanted to hike the military budget and so did Mondale. Reagan was bad on the Middle East, and Mondale was worse. Mondale promised to raise taxes and cut social spending. Four years later, battered by charges he was a closet liberal, Dukakis swiftly collapsed.
By the end of April 1993, Clinton had sold out the Haitian refugees, handed Africa policy to a Bush appointee, Herman Cohen, thus giving Jonas Savimbi the green light in Angola to butcher thousands; put Israel's lobbyists in charge of Mideast policy; bolstered the arms industry with a budget in which projected spending for 1993-94 was higher in constant dollars than average spending in the cold war from 1950 onward; increased secret intelligence spending; maintained full DEA funding; put Wall Street in charge of national economic strategy; sold out on grazing and mineral rights on public lands; pushed NAFTA forward; plunged into the "managed care" disaster offered by him and Hillary Rodham Clinton as "health reform."
By the end of May 1993, as any kind of progressive challenge to business-as-usual, the Clinton presidency had failed, even by the measure of its own timid promises. The recruitment of the old Nixon/Reagan/Bush hand David Gergen as the president's new public relations man signaled the surrender.
One useful way of estimating how little separates the Democratic and Republican parties, and particularly their presidential nominees, is to tot up the issues on which there is tacit agreement either as a matter of principle or with an expedient nod-and-wink that these are not matters suitable to be discussed in any public forum, beyond pro forma sloganeering: the role of the Federal Reserve, trade policy, economic redistribution, the role and budget of the CIA and other intelligence agencies (almost all military), nuclear disarmament, allocation of military procurement, reduction of the military budget, the roles and policies of the World Bank, International Monetary Fund and kindred multilateral agencies, crime, punishment and the prison explosion, the war on drugs, corporate welfare, energy policy, forest policy, the destruction of small farmers and ranchers, Israel, the corruption of the political system.
In the face of this conspiracy of silence, the more third party challenges the better. Nader is doing his duty.
Alexander Cockburn is co-editor with Jeffrey St. Clair of CounterPunch, where this article first appeared. This essay is excerpted from CounterPunch's new book on the 2004 elections, Dime's Worth of the Difference: Beyond the Lesser of Two Evils.
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