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From: "Sadanand, Nanjundiah (Physics)" <sadanand@mail.ccsu.edu>
To: "'vidya@ces.iisc.ernet.in'" <vidya@ces.iisc.ernet.in>
Subject: Said on elections and sanctions
Date: Mon, 28 Aug 2000 10:22:59 -0400
X-UIDL: &,6"!#W1!!hDU"!N0E"!

From: <DavidOrr@aol.com>
To: <GPTY-RN-M@greens.org>
Sent: Saturday, August 26, 2000 3:44 PM
Subject: Edward Said on Nader: A voice crying in the wilderness


A voice crying in the wilderness

By Edward Said, in Al-Ahram Weekly, (Egypt) Issue no. 496
24-30 August 2000

The Republican and Democratic conventions are now over with absolutely no new surprises or revelations to record. George W Bush (who has made the press conform sheepishly to his ridiculous demand that he always be addressed or referred to as "George W," presumably to distinguish him from George P his father. But who would make that mistake anyway?) and Albert Gore received their party's endorsement, as predicted months ago. The two are now touring the country with their vice-presidential partners, relentlessly in pursuit of votes. During the last election in 1996 only 39 per cent of the eligible voters of this country actually voted (100 million people did not vote), and there is every reason to suppose that the figure this year will not be significantly higher. In effect, the choice between Gore and Bush exists but is a relatively trivial and uninteresting one: both are comfortable with the current system (Gore says he will reform campaign financing, but then so too does Bush, in a different way), both are committed to increasing defense spending, both are supporters of the social security system although Bush wants to privatise it, and both in the end are loyalists when it comes to the dominance of the corporations. True, Bush is against abortion and Gore is for it, and true Bush wants to cut taxes for the wealthy, whereas Gore does not, not immediately anyway. Yet the matters that really unite them and which each is trying to accuse the other of having taken from the competing party are more significant.

Both men promise to cut the size and cost of government still more. This means in effect that the poor, the disadvantaged, the minorities will have less support from the state than they do even now, that is, after Clinton's neo-liberalism cut federally funded welfare programmes virtually to nothing. This is a major setback to the goal of a progressive, humane society. When one considers that an increase in military spending is going to further swell a "defense" budget already several times greater than all the rest of the world's military expenditures combined, then one has an idea of how distorted the priorities are in the US.

Millions of people here are uninsured and therefore forgo health care, must make do with sub-standard housing, schooling, and no protection from the corporations (this is, after all, a largely unregulated market), and have no say whatever in the misuse of the environment. Neither the Bush nor the Gore platforms address those concerns at all. Both men emphasise their commitment to law and order (Bush is opposed to gun control, Gore is vague) which to the poor, the ghetto dwellers, to say nothing of the African-American minority means more police brutality, more of a blind law enforcement ideology, and a great increase in the prison population, already the largest in the world per capita. Bush is unashamed in his zeal for capital punishment (the columnist Alexander Cockburn calls Bush "the nation's top serial killer"), but both he and Gore advocate stiffer rules for immigration and a generally conservative policy when it comes to foreign affairs. In both campaigns there is righteous discussion of "rogue states" and the need for unremitting campaigns against "terrorism" (i.e. Islam) as if the US itself were not in fact the most dangerous rogue state in the world today.

As far as the Middle East is concerned of course both parties seek to outdo each other in support for Israel, as well as endorsing such overseas (covert and overt) intervention as was enacted in Kosovo, Iraq, Central America, parts of Asia, and Africa. Dick Cheney, for instance, opposed sanctions against apartheid South Africa and was opposed to the ANC, which he considered merely a "terrorist" group. But then Joseph Lieberman was the first Democrat to vote for the Gulf War and is a fanatic pro-Israeli.

But so too is Gore, whose Harvard teacher and one of his main advisers today is Martin Peretz, the owner of The New Republic, bought by him with his wife's money about 25 years ago and transformed from a liberal weekly into a mouthpiece for the Israeli embassy (a claim made by the magazine itself in its own advertising). No one in American journalism is a more unabashed hater and despiser of Arabs and Muslims, none more insulting, none more intransigent, none more reckless and ignorant. Peretz has been referred to several times as very important to the Gore campaign, and the thought that he would play either an open or behind-the-scenes role in a Gore presidency ought to send shivers up the spine of any fair-minded citizen. It is not only that he is a fanatical Zionist, but that he out-flanks Labour Zionists from the right, all of it with the hypocrisy of the rank coward who advocates policies for Israel that if carried out would commit Israelis to their defense while he, sitting in the comfort of his millions in Washington and Boston, would remain protected. Of him it is not an understatement to say that he represents the worst in Zionism and in aggressive Americanism, a disaster for both peoples.

This, of course, is not mitigated by Senator Lieberman, whose record on the right-wing of the Democratic party speaks for itself. Like Bush and Gore, Lieberman makes no secret of his willingness to bring "faith" into politics, this in a constitutional system based explicitly on secularism, that is, the total separation of church and state. Aside from its unconstitutional flavour, the universal emphases on "faith" in both conventions is a stark reminder to non-Christians and non-Jews in this country, Muslims especially (who outnumber Jews as the second most numerous religious group in America today), of how dangerous and necessarily invidious "faith" can be in a secular democracy. This is one aspect of the underlying recklessness of the presidential campaign, with both parties vying for the same right-of-centre "inclusive" vote, with its fiscal conservatism, its anti-state rhetoric, its law and order ideology, its xenophobic anti-immigration mentality, and frank imperialist, basically ignorant attitudes to the rest of the world (the non-white world in particular). What should occur to anyone looking at these two spoiled dauphins of the American political class is to wonder how an enormously well-endowed country like the United States could have thrown up two such mediocrities as candidates for what is in effect the most powerful office on earth.

I have heard it said that Arab-Americans are so disgusted with Gore and Lieberman's positions on the Middle East that they are advocating Bush and the dinosaur-like Cheney as their preferred candidates. That would be a serious mistake, because in Ralph Nader, the Green Party candidate, there is an individual who is much better suited to be president than either of the two main ones who, very much like their Arab counterparts, are where they are by inheritance and a huge amount of money rather than real merit. (There is considerable irony to the claim made like mimicking parrots by Bush and Gore that campaign financing needs reform, as if either could have been a candidate without the grossest abuse of the campaign rules that now exist). Nader has been appallingly mistreated by the American media. It's not only that he hasn't been given time equal to the others, despite the fact that the polls already show him as almost 15 per cent in approval and advancing fast to overtake his main competitors. But it is that when he is interviewed, the journalist makes no effort to hide his/her scorn and impatience with the man. During the Democratic convention Nader was interviewed for about three minutes by Maria Shriver, an utterly uninteresting woman who has her job because simply she is JFK's niece; her questions were all of the "don't you realise that you have no chance to win and why are you ruining Gore's chances?" variety, a scandalously partisan position to be taken by a supposedly neutral journalist.

Nader, to begin with his positions on the Middle East, has said in a CNN interview that he would cut off all aid to Israel and immediately end the sanctions on Iraq. No other candidate has so bravely tackled the glaring inequities in American society, from the corporate greed that has robbed the people of their sovereign control of health, the air waves, the environment, the market and the future, to the whole issue of the destiny of the working people whose belief in "the American dream" has cost them so dearly. Voter apathy is caused by people tired and made indifferent by the same old refrain about prosperity (the country is going through good times economically, but good times for certain sectors, more poverty for others) while their share of the budget surplus is swallowed up by the defence budget and the corporations. Nader is right to say that the poor are getting poorer, and right to say that governmental protection for the citizen is growing more and more minimal. Because of his history as the world's first consumer advocate, he has acquired an encyclopaedic knowledge of the country's laws (and is a lawyer himself) and has for almost forty years stood up to the rapacity and dishonesty of big business and a government more or less controlled by those interests. I can do no better than to quote him here, talking to Lewis Lapham, editor of Harper's magazine, still one of the few independent journals in the US:

"Unlike Gore and Bush I don't promote myself as a solution to the nation's problems. The idea is to encourage a lot of other people to use the tools of democratic government to take control of the assets they hold in common -- the public lands, the public broadcast frequencies, the public money. Whatever your issue, whether it's racism, homophobia, taxes, health care, urban decay, you're not going to go anywhere with it unless you focus on the concentration of power. We have an overdeveloped plutocracy and an underdeveloped democracy, too many private interests commandeering the public interest for their own profit. Most Americans don't realise how badly they are being harmed by the unchecked commercialisation of what belongs to the commonwealth. If enough people knew what questions to ask, we have both the ways and means to achieve better schools, a healthier environment, a more general distribution of decent health care.

Lapham goes on to observe correctly that Nader's grasp of all the relevant facts -- e.g. the number of deaths from medical malpractice, the components of the California hydroelectric system that are destined for privatization -- is staggering Compared to him both Gore and Bush are like children, Bush specially; the governor of Texas is a do-nothing type who is notoriously ignorant about the world we live in and, surrounded by leftovers from his father's administration, is bound to be a do-nothing president, content to hang out and drink with the old boys. Nader, it is obvious, provokes fear in the other candidates' hearts, as much for his honesty as for his proven ability to make changes exactly where and when no one thought them possible. His personal life is austere to a fault, and his campaign - to which I am happy to have contributed and urge others to do the same - is basically run by volunteers, not by big money people and their servants. In all, he is a formidable presence in American life, and one well worth knowing for Arabs who are still trying to decide who in reality is better, Bush or Gore. As Nader says in his discussion with Lapham (which appears in the September 2000 issue of Harper's), it is not just a matter of whether or not he wins; it is rather that being recognized as a danger to the American status quo is a certain forerunner of the change occurring. This has been true in all the major shifts in American public life, from the women's rights movement, the revolt against eastern banks, to the trades-union movement. None of those changes ever came from the system, but as a challenge to it.

The curious thing of course is that though of Lebanese parentage, Nader has never made himself part of any Arab or Arab-American campaign, even during the days of James Abu-Rezk in the 70's, at a time when Jim was the only prominent Arab-American in public life. My guess is that Nader has thought that being seen as an Arab advocate would have harmed him in his consumer work and even now, despite the two campaign pledges he made about Israel and Iraq, he does not devote much time to foreign policy. What he wants is more important: to allow citizens to see that only a shift from outside the two party system can help matters. "When people tell me," he said to Lapham, "that I'm wrecking the two-party system, I ask them what's left to wreck. The Democratic Party isn't going to heal itself. If it went and stood in a cold shower for the next four years, maybe it would think of something to do and say that isn't already being done and said by the Republican Party."

I wrote recently of "magical thinking," the kind of logic that suggests that change can occur miraculously or by sudden divine intervention, whereas it is the case that all change is possible principally by hard work, a thorough knowledge of the system, and by mass mobilization. This, in the American context, is just what Ralph Nader represents. He is a lesson to be learned by Arabs and Americans who are at the end of their patience with the monopoly on power held by dynasties, oligarchies and - just as crucial -- an ideology of magical, passive thought.

Iraq Resource Information Site http://www.geocities.com/iraqinfo

American Intifada http://www.egroups.com/group/American_Intifada

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