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From worker-brc-news@lists.tao.ca Sat Aug 26 15:42:20 2000
Date: Sat, 26 Aug 2000 13:00:56 -0400
From: Manning Marable <mm247@columbia.edu>
Subject: [BRC-NEWS] The 2000 Presidential Election
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The 2000 Presidential Election: History, Ideology and Race

By Manning Marable <mm247@columbia.edu>
July 2000

Several weeks ago, I had a lengthy conversation with Bill Fletcher, Jr., who serves as assistant to the president of the AFL-CIO. A well-respected African-American activist in the labor movement, Fletcher has long been an insightful observer of both national and international politics. That's why I was struck when he suggested that most black activists who favor independent politics would nevertheless probably end up supporting Al Gore for the presidency over Green Party nominee Ralph Nader.

Although Nader has generated name recognition for his longtime work as a consumer rights advocate and, more recently, for his anti-corporate political activism, most black and Latino voters have little knowledge of where he stands on racial issues, like affirmative action. Moreover, Fletcher observed, there were several very real obstacles or factors that would influence how many African Americans would perceive their interests within the electoral arena.

First, there's the problematic history of Third Parties in the U.S. Since the beginning of the twentieth century, independent presidential candidates on the left have generally done poorly. Since socialist Eugene V. Debs placed a distant fourth place in the presidential election of 1912, no anti-capitalist candidate has received more than five percent of the popular vote. Independent conservatives have in recent decades generally done better than the left. Alabama segregationist and former Governor George Wallace won 13.5 percent of the popular vote in 1968, and Ross Perot's millions produced a 19 percent vote for him in 1992. Third parties have generally done best when both major parties fail to address issues of widespread concern in the country. Thus Perot's surprisingly successful 1992 campaign was based on opposition to global trade agreements, as well as the demand for domestic electoral reform

Until the mid-1980s, the nationally televised presidential campaigns were staged by the League of Women Voters, a nonpartisan civic group. However, the League angered both major parties in 1980 when they invited liberal Republican John Anderson, then running as an independent, into the presidential debates with Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan. The Democrats and Republicans subsequently joined forces to create the Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD), a "nonpartisan"-in-name-only corporation designed to determine the boundaries of "legitimate" presidential debaters every four years

Since it was established in 1987, the CPD's co-chairs have all been the former chairmen of the Republican and Democratic national committees. The CPD receives most of its funds from huge corporations, such as Philip Morris. In the 1996 presidential debates, it excluded Ross Perot from participation, despite his widespread support, because he was not "a viable candidate." This year, the CPD's threshold for "viability" requires a presidential candidate to show at least 15 percent support in national opinion polls. As of mid-July, Ralph Nader was scoring a respectable 7 percent in some national polls, which translates into 7 million voters, but according to the CPD's rules this is not enough. Consequently it is very unlikely that any third party candidate like Nader or Pat Buchanan will have the opportunity to debate their views against Bush and Gore.

All of this means that mainstream black Democrats could soon be saying "a vote for Nader is a vote for Bush," or that by supporting the Green Party candidate one is "wasting" his or her vote.

The second consideration Fletcher raised was the threat of ideology - the danger of extreme conservatism in power. The Republican Party is now poised, for the first time in half a century, to control all three major branches of the federal government - the executive, the legislative and the judicial. Even during the so-called Reagan Revolution of the 1980s, the Republicans never gained a majority in the House of Representatives, Fletcher reminded me.

What would be the implications of the Republicans controlling the entire national government? Major damage would undoubtedly be done in the Supreme Court. Three of the current justices are 70 or older. The new president will undoubtedly appoint two or three justices in the next four years. With two or three more conservatives, Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision that legalized reproductive rights, would certainly be overturned. A recent report issued by The People for the American Way states that a conservative Supreme Court would outlaw affirmative action "even where it is shown to be carefully constructed to remedy past discrimination." It would make "cigarette companies virtually immune from most lawsuits," and would eliminate any possibility of electoral campaign finance reform.

Months ago, the white conservative establishment decided that it would back George W. Bush for the presidency, because he was safe, stupid, and willing to serve as a frontman for its reactionary agenda. Bush can babble about "compassionate conservatism" all day long, while the Right prepares for Judgment Day against its enemies. David Frum, a conservative ideologue writing recently in the New York Times, says that the Reaganite Right became "convinced that the popular governor was just as committed as they were to tax cuts, school choice, the defense of the traditional family and color-blind civil rights laws. When asked how they could feel so sure that (Bush) would deliver the judiciary . . . (they) smile the quietly satisfied smile of those in the know." The Far Right was even willing to sacrifice in the Republican primaries those who had faith- fully served its agenda - ambitious politicians like Dan Quayle, Gary Bauer, and Steve Forbes - to go with The Sure Thing. They must know something.

Finally, Fletcher raised the disturbing racial dimensions of the recent presidential campaign. Bush had no trouble speaking at Bob James University, and refused to denounce the flying of the Confederate battle flag over the South Carolina statehouse. Bush talks about "inclusion," while Senate Republican majority leader Trent Lott of Mississippi proudly associates himself with the Council of Conservative Citizens, a white supremacist organization. How can one forget that the Republican National Committee held a fundraising gala, at the home of Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederacy? Despite the parade of black and brown faces at the televised convention in Philadelphia, the entire Republican agenda is deeply and perhaps inextricably grounded in the ideology and practices of white supremacy.

All three of these factors help to explain why the majority of African Americans, even those who respect Nader, would probably conclude that (a) Bush is too dangerous and must be defeated, (b) Nader's not a viable alternative because he cannot win, and therefore (c) Gore is our only choice, other than staying home on election day. Many black activists might even agree that on a number of important issues - globalization, China policy, first amendment rights, the death penalty, the new strategic arms buildup - that Gore and Bush are basically twins, and still decide that Gore had to be supported as "the lesser evil."

However, there is absolutely no guarantee that a Democrat in the Oval Office will select liberals on the Supreme Court to defend affirmative action and reproductive rights. There is absolutely no assurance that a Democratic president would halt a Republican-controlled Congress and federal judiciary from carrying out its reactionary agenda. It was, after all, Clinton who signed the 1996 Welfare Act, destroying the lives of several million minority and poor women and children.

Sometimes the lesser evil is just plain evil.

The national African-American community should in the coming weeks engage in a critical conversation about what's at stake in the November elections. Hopefully, what all of us can agree on is that we should encourage the greatest possible voter registration and political education efforts. But we should also critically examine the whole rotten two-party system, and whether it makes sense to continue voting for a politics that we don't want, just to defeat a politics that is worse. Perhaps the time has come to make a break with the failed politics of the past, and to chart a new course despite the tremendous odds against us.

Dr. Manning Marable is Professor of History and Political Science, and the Director of the Institute for Research in African-American Studies, Columbia University. "Along the Color Line" is distributed free of charge to over 350 publications throughout the U.S. and internationally. Dr. Marable's column is also available on the Internet at <http://www.manningmarable.net>.

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