the prize of the presidency lurched wildly back and forth in the last days of
the year, with the entire nation hypnotized by the spectacle, I had a vision. I
saw the Titanic churning through the waters of the North Atlantic toward an
iceberg looming in the distance, while passengers and crew were totally
concentrated on a tennis game taking place on deck.
is not just a phenomenon of this particular election. In our election-obsessed
culture, everything else going on in the world – war, hunger, official
brutality, sickness, the violence of everyday life for huge numbers of people -
is swept out of the way, while the media insist we watch every twist and turn of
what candidates say and do. Thus, the superficial crowds out the meaningful, and
this is very useful for those who do not want citizens to look beneath the
surface of the system.
the shadows, and hidden by the dueling of the candidates (if you can call it a
duel when the opponents thrust and lunge with plastic swords) are real issues of
race and class, war and peace, which the public is not supposed to think about,
as the media experts pontificate endlessly about who is winning, and throw
numbers in our faces like handfuls of sand.
instance, as the Gore-Bush contest rose to a frenzy, the media kept referring –
to the Hayes-Tilden election of 1876. The education that the public received
about this was typical of what passes for history in our schools, our
newspapers, our television sets. That is, they learned how the Founding Fathers,
in writing the Constitution, gave the state legislators the power to choose
Electors, who would then choose the President.
were told how rival sets of electors were chosen in three states, and how Samuel
Tilden, the Democrat, had 250,000 more popular votes than the Republican ,
Rutherford Hayes, and needed only one more electoral vote to win the Presidency.
But when a special commission, with a bare Republican majority, was set up by
Congress to decide the dispute, it gave all three states to Hayes and thus made
was very interesting and informative about the mechanics of presidential
elections and the peculiar circumstances of that one . But it told us nothing
about how that "Compromise of 1877", worked out between Republicans
and Democrats in private meetings, doomed blacks in the South to semi-slavery.
It told us nothing about how the armies that once fought the Confederacy would
be withdrawn from the South and sent West to drive Indians from their ancestral
lands. It told us nothing about how Democrats and Republicans, while fencing
with one another in election campaigns, would now join in subjecting working
people all over the country to ruthless corporate power, how the United States
army would be used to smash the great railroad strikes of 1877.
were the facts of race and class and Western expansion concealed behind the
disputed election of 1877. The pretense in disputed elections is that the great
conflict is between the two major parties. The reality is that there is an
unannounced war between those parties and large numbers of Americans who are
represented by neither party.
ferocity of the contest for the presidency in the current election conceals the
agreement between both parties on fundamentals. Their heated disagreement is
about who will preside over maintaining the status quo. Whoever wins, there may
be skirmishes between the major parties, but no monumental battles, despite the
inflated rhetoric of the campaign. The evidence for this statement lies in eight
years of the Clinton-Gore administration, whose major legislative
accomplishments were part of the Republican agenda.
Gore and Bush have been in agreement on the continued corporate control of the
economy. Neither has had a plan for free national health care, for extensive
low-cost housing, for dramatic changes in environmental controls, for a minimum
income for all Americans, for a truly progressive income tax to diminish the
huge gap between rich and poor. Both have supported the death penalty and the
growth of prisons. Both believe in a large military establishment, in land mines
and nuclear weapons and the cruel use of sanctions against the people of Cuba
and Iraq. Both supported the wars against Panama, Iraq, and Yugoslavia.
when the furore dies down over who really won the election , when the tennis
match is over and we get over the disappointment that our guy (is he really our
guy?) didn’t win, we will finally break the hypnotic spell of the game and look
around. We may then think about whether the ship is going down and if there are
enough lifeboats, and what should we do about all that.
is not the Titanic. With us, there is still time to change.