Bush-Gore 2000: No Thanks!

Against the Current, No. 87, July/August 2000

The Editors

THE REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL candidate strongly advocates the Effective Death Penalty Act, the World Trade Organization and “free trade” with China; talks environmental protection while being heavily funded by Occidental Petroleum; supports deportations of non-citizens suspected of “terrorist links” based on secret evidence which the accused cannot hear or refute; and openly pandered to the right-wing lobby in Miami in the Elian Gonzalez affair.

The Democratic candidate, on the other hand .  .  .  oops, sorry.  That is the Democratic candidate!

“Sorry” is the right word for the choice offered by the capitalist parties in the 2000 presidential election.  The two anointed candidates are generally and correctly regarded as among the least interesting in recent history.  Certainly, Gore and Bush Jr. follow in the footsteps of their respective political forebears, Clinton and Bush Sr., in their perfect lack of any principled convictions at all, beyond each man’s deeply ingrained belief that he is entitled by pedigree to inherit the presidency.

Bush, like all Republican presidential candidates going back to Ronald Reagan, has willingly prostituted himself to the religious right.  For his part Gore counts on liberal, working-class and African-American fear and loathing of the union-busting, white-supremacist and anti-abortion fanatics of the Republican right to fill his campaign coffers and phone banks.  This strategy worked to elect Clinton and save him from impeachment, and it is still bringing in the big bucks for the Democrats.  Yet Gore is currently falling in the polls due to his self-imposed strategy of saying pretty much exactly what he has to say, mainly nothing.  While George Bush is rightfully reviled for the execution of Gary Graham-a monumental outrage even by the degraded standards of Texas’ deathrow assembly line-Gore’s silence speaks volumes about his own and his party’s bankruptcy.

Yet the present election season is a great deal more interesting than the contest between these two repellant figures would indicate-and not only because of the sound and fury over which party will control Congress, or whether the next Supreme Court appointees will be moderate law-and-order conservatives or extreme social-political reactionaries.  This election is intriguing primarily because of the contradictory and volatile climate in which it occurs, and the choices that are being pushed forward by primarily non-electoral movements.

The Battle of Seattle, and the April 9-17 actions in Washington, D.C. from the Jubilee through the mass march and direct action protests against the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, have highlighted the growth of an angry and determined opposition to corporate power and capitalist domination of the globe.  These actions have occurred not in a social vacuum, but in the context of deepening insecurity among working-class people.  This includes continual job stress and insecurity, and the fear that your next job will be lower-wage and less secure than your present one.

There is also intense frustration over the enormous racial and class disparities of wealth and access to the technological and consumer goods of the 1990s economic boom, even as that boom enters its final phase.  African-American unemployment remains twice the national figure (8.2% compared to 4.1%), and immediately spikes when the Federal Reserve raises interest rates to “cool an overheated economy.”

These mobilizations coincide also with a moral revolt manifested in the anti-sweatshop movement on campuses, which is aggressively assaulting the partnership between corporate America and academia, building active solidarity with Third World labor, and actually winning some remarkable victories.

A Political Class Battle

Much of this angry anti-corporate sentiment came to head in the political confrontation between labor and corporate power in the fight over Permanent Normal Trade Relations (PNTR) with China.  To be sure, the PNTR battle itself was more than somewhat dubious on labor’s side, riddled with economic nationalism and protectionism as well as genuine impulses of solidarity with Chinese workers (who, by the way, will suffer by far the greatest job losses from PNTR status and China’s entry to the WTO).  The complexities of this struggle, and several viewpoints on the socialist attitude toward it, will be presented in the coverage in this and the next issue of Against the Current. (This issue contains the first of a two-part essay by Kim Moody along with contributions by Chinese and South African authors.)

It is also important to understand that the outcome was fundamentally not in doubt-the dominant sectors of the U.S. capitalist class were overwhelmingly behind PNTR, and this was quite clearly reflected in the stance of the Clinton administration, Gore, Bush and the congressional leadership.  Faced with a choice between the vast majority of his own party and the demands of the ruling class, “New Democrat” Clinton never hesitated in choosing the latter, forging a partnership with the Republicans to shove PNTR through Congress.

Despite its ambiguities and the vastly unequal balance of forces, this fight nonetheless was a real one, and the anger among union officialdom as well as the ranks over the betrayal by Democratic “friends of labor” is certainly genuine.  Steve Yokich, president of the United Auto Workers, who had already held a lengthy meeting with Ralph Nader when Nader made his inaugural Green campaign stop in Detroit, reacted to the House of Representatives passage of PNTR by raising the threat of a UAW endorsement of Nader.

We hold few illusions: This verbal posture will not be maintained very long, least of all if any significant group of auto workers start taking Nader seriously! Even as a gesture, however, this threat by a mainstream union International president shows that Ralph Nader’s populist-Green campaign has the potential to tap a reservoir of working class anger not seen in recent times.

The Nader Challenge

Never underestimate the potential for this class anger to intersect with generalized political alienation.  Barely having begun to campaign, Nader polls between 4-10% and has the Democratic establishment seriously concerned about his impact in such critical states as California.  On June 14, in fact, Nader won the endorsement of the California Nurses Association, an indicator of his appeal at least to activist militant sectors of labor.

While it remains inconceivable that the top labor leadership would abandon Gore and the Democrats (no matter how often the Democrats abandon them!), among leaders and activists of the Labor Party there is momentum for the formation of Labor for Nader committees, through which LP activists could organize in support of the campaign without an official LP endorsement (the Labor Party does not yet run or endorse candidates).

Another sign of the times is an open letter to the AFL-CIO leadership, organized and signed on short notice by over two dozen leading anti-sweatshop and globalization resistance movement activists, urging that labor strongly consider backing Nader.

Nader’s receptivity to grassroots voices was demonstrated at his Michigan campaign stop, where he refused to meet with the editorial board of the scab Detroit Free Press and ordered a scab columnist out of the rally.  This followed an outcry from local labor and Green party activists against a highly ill-advised plan by out-of-state campaign organizers to have Nader meet with the scab papers in the name of enhanced publicity.

Significantly, Nader in early popularity polls is running well ahead of the reactionary Patrick Buchanan, who is trying to use what’s left of the Reform Party for his campaign.  Contrary to some conventional elite commentary, popular opposition to “globalization” and so-called free trade does not represent an automatic natural constituency for Buchanan’s brand of anti-immigrant, racist and religious-cultural bigotry.

The presence of the Nader campaign can help to prevent Buchanan from hijacking the popular resistance to global capital for his own ugly purposes.  And it is, of course, that resistance and the mass sentiment it taps that give third-party organizing this year at least some dynamism.  If the movement-labor alliance that flashed so brightly for a moment in Seattle can find a vehicle to carry their aspirations into the political arena, the possible consequences are breathtaking.

Populist and Socialist Alternatives

While Nader’s populist campaign is not and makes no claim to be socialist, there is also an avowedly socialist alternative represented by David McReynolds and Mary Cal Hollis of the Socialist Party (SPUSA).  It is an indicator of changing times that the executive director of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), an organization which for a quarter century constructed itself around the absurd theory of supporting the Democratic Party as “an invisible labor party,” has openly declared himself a supporter of the McReynolds campaign.

Solidarity, a socialist organization that has endorsed both the Nader and McReynolds campaigns, argues in its public statement:

“In the United States, where no big labor party exists and where most top labor officials are actively incorporated into the Democratic Party, Solidarity looks for all openings to break the two-party logjam and move in the direction of genuinely independent politics even though each and every one of these efforts faces long odds against success .  .  .  “As socialists we believe there are inevitable inherent shortcomings in even the best attempts to `recover’ democracy within a capitalist system .  .  .  But this year we see greater opportunities for an alternative to the Democrats than there have been for perhaps two decades.  This can help us expand the democratic space that does exist within U.S. society.

“Why?  The WTO events showed clearly the bipartisan nature of the ruling class’s globalization policies and its contempt for ordinary people.  Seattle put protest and opposition to the powers-that-be on the map once again, raising the hope that ordinary people can throw a monkey wrench in the powerbrokers’ plans.” (For the full text, visit the Solidarity web site.)

As is always the case as Election Day looms, especially in a presidential race that is likely to be very close, however lacking in substance, the pressure to close ranks behind the “lesser evil” will certainly overwhelm most of the top levels of labor, African-American and women’s movement leadership.  That is simply an inevitable fact of U.S. political life, until an upsurge of struggle produces the basis for a party of labor and the oppressed large enough to offer a genuine alternative.

Unless socialists and others work today to prepare that alternative, however, the chances it will ultimately succeed will be much smaller.  We are aware that many on the left (for example, Katha Pollitt in The Nation) feel that Nader in 2000, as in 1996, has failed to address critical issues around social justice, race and women’s rights.  Such a critique deserves consideration; but in our view, the fact that this campaign represents a sharp political break from the Democratic Party–and promises to be waged in a serious manner–creates a much bigger space in which those crucial questions can be seriously raised.

In this election, making a vigorous case for independent politics and a clear break from the capitalist parties and from Buchanan’s reactionary pseudo-populism is strikingly relevant.  The campaigns of Ralph Nader for the Greens and David McReynolds for the SPUSA, each in their own way, offer activists mechanisms for putting into practical politics a much-needed message: “Gush-Bore: No thanks!”

[Interested readers may visit the Nader and McReynolds campaign web sites.]

ATC 87, July-August 2000