Election Logic




J

ohn
Kerry is a rich, white, male, Yale, Skull and Bones, Democratic
Party candidate for President of the United States. George Bush
is a rich, white, male, Yale, Skull and Bones, Republican Party
candidate for President of the United States. They are both lifetime
members of the community of capital and are both, as a result, committed
to maintaining and, when possible, expanding the rule of the rich
and powerful over everyone else. 


Despite
these cookie cutter similarities, if we consider the likely implications
of their respective Administrations for abortion, affirmative action,
environmental protection, global warming, the minimum wage, nuclear
testing, overtime pay, same-sex marriage, health care, taxation,
and a host of other issues, most people will see a difference between
tweedledum and tweedledee. 


How
big a difference we see and how we react to it will depend on how
consequential we find it that a million or more people don’t
have work or how important we think the right to safe and legal
abortions is or whether we value people getting overtime pay or
whether we care about having an increased minimum wage or having
cleaner water to drink. 


Such
differences, if improved by Kerry instead of impeded and reversed
by Bush, will be modest even compared to what caring liberals would
like and will certainly be tiny compared to the difference between
our society as it is now and our society as it ought to be in a
better future. On the other hand, many people will find the prospective
gains very large when referenced in terms of the pain and suffering
associated with a Bush program versus a Kerry program. 


But
what about the price of supporting a Democrat? Some may feel that
voting Democrat and telling others to do so compromises their integrity
and undercuts the potential for opposing Democrats later. But which
is going to be easier, (a) activists trying to get average U.S.
citizens to agree that more jobs, better pay, better conditions,
and most likely less war and repression don’t matter enough
to warrant voting; or (b) activists proposing that people vote for
Kerry but also realize that doing so is not the end of the battle,
but only the beginning. 


Regarding
working for a Democrat, which is to say actively celebrating the
Party platform, the implications for our integrity seem far greater.
We would be literally lying or we would have to transform our views
so we weren’t lying. It would be transferring time, energy,
and assets from more radical and movement oriented work to less—or
at least it would be in the eyes of many activists. 


Some
may say, in contrast to the above, that electing Bush is actually
even better in the long run than electing Kerry. He is so much more
brutal, so much more open about his motives, that it will be easier
for dissenters to rally after his reelection than after Kerry’s
election. Of course, this thinking implies that if Hitler were running
against Kerry we ought to vote for Hitler and celebrate his victory
as he is even more brutal. This is an odd, but not entirely unprecedented
mode of thought. In Hitler’s election, the slogan of the German
Communist Party was “After Hit- ler, us.” 


Perhaps,
in addition to such duplicity and callousness, when the country
swings rightward, the opposition against what has happened tends
primarily to seek a return to the middle and not a sharp turn to
the left. Those with this perspective will tend to think voting
Kerry is not only better for the less vile outcomes we will endure,
but also because an opposition against Kerry may focus on institutions
and build, as a result, a long-term movement; while an opposition
to Bush will always just be longing for a return to sanity. Thus,
it would be “Not after Bush, liberation, but after Bush, Kerry”
(if not catastrophe).  So why not Kerry now?



Paraphrasing
Stephen Shalom, we face in the 2004 election an unusually retrograde
Republican administration. It is presiding over one of the largest
upward redistributions of wealth in U.S. history, one of the most
serious challenges to civil liberties in a half century, and one
of the most aggressive foreign policies in years, all made more
dangerous by Washington’s status as the world’s sole superpower.
More, the Bush administration has been manipulating the political
system to entrench its hold on power. After stealing the 2000 election,
it has been gerrymandering Congressional districts to give it a
lock on the House of Representatives. A Bush victory might give
the Republicans a firm hold on all three branches of government
and the power to make the conservative Supreme Court even worse. 


So
should a good and caring leftist work for Kerry? Some will say yes,
justifiably afraid of Bush. But others will say no, that would mean
using our limited time to canvas for Kerry rather than to build
radical movements and expending our scarce financial resources on
the corporate-backed Kerry rather than on cash-starved grassroots
projects. More, our message would be the false one of trust in Kerry
rather than the radical truth that Kerry and the system are fundamentally
flaw- ed. Making believe they like him so as to get additional votes
for him is outweighed by the ill effects of the duplicity and the
large-scale reduction of more radical efforts. 


But
should we vote for Kerry? Almost everyone will agree that the answer
depends not only on the points raised above, but also on what alternative
exists. Other than abstention, of course, the alternative to voting
for Kerry is voting for an alternative candidate—David Cobb
of the Greens or Ralph Nader who is running pretty much on his own.Why
would one vote Cobb or Nader and not Kerry? 


The
reason to vote or work for these alternative candidates is partly
to send a message that could be uplifting to a portion of the public
(who could see the results and learn that a significant proportion
of the population has serious activists inclinations), partly to
pressure the Democrats, and largely to build alternative electoral
and movement infrastructure that can grow and have a larger impact
on future elections. 


Voting
for Kerry will not lead to Cobb or Nader losing a state but the
reverse could arguably occur in highly contested close states. Most
people will, as a result, see a difference between how to vote in
Texas or Massachusetts and how to vote in Ohio or Florida. If one
prefers Cobb or Nader to Kerry in the former safe states, why not
vote for them? There is literally nothing lost and there is a gain
of all three types noted above. In contested states, however, one
has to weigh the small gain of each additional vote for Cobb or
Nader against the potential loss of one less Kerry vote, possibly
costing him the election. 




What
about the relative choice between Cobb and Nader? Nader is going
to get more votes, undoubtedly, and will be more visible. Cobb is
going to do far more per vote to help build lasting infrastructure,
at least if Cobb’s and Nader’s attitudes, agendas, and
past actions are any indicator for their future choices—which
we have to presume they are. So assessing these attributes will
go a long way to differentiating these candidates, for those in
safe states or in contested states who choose to vote third party. 


There
are two key questions then: What should we do about our differences?
What difference will any of this make to the election outcome in
November? 


We
should admit our differences, of course, but then get on with positive
business. Given that the debate is ultimately about what is best
for improving further trajectories of progressive change, we can
be fairly certain that neither berating people who hold their nose
and vote Kerry as sellouts, nor berating people who vote Cobb or
Nader as callous is going to change anyone’s mind or help the
effort we must make post election day. 


As
to what will happen in this election: consider what is happening
in the media, on TV news and talk shows, on talk radio, all over.
If there is a kind of near stand off, or Kerry isn’t losing
the battle for media minutes and isn’t treated too badly, it
is likely he will win the election. The U.S. public, even just the
voting public, would not willingly place a liar who is hell bent
on destroying the past century’s social programs and endangering
the rest of the planet back into the White House with a mandate
to do even worse than he already has, if the public can make a choice
freely without being petrified of imminent incineration. On the
other hand, if the media is overwhelmingly spinning Bush as the
last barrier between gas poisoning or nuclear annihilation or rampant
terrorism while spinning Kerry as the naive do-gooder who will give
away the house, Bush will likely win. 


What
determines which way the media swings in a case like this? Well,
the bad news is that most corporate leaders will happily swallow
their integrity and push for Bush, and the gigantic spigot of profits
he promises, if they believe he can pull off his agendas without
it leading to Armageddon, ecological dissolution, or political destabilization.
We have nothing much to do with their assessment of the likelihood
of the first two eventualities. But the good news is that left opposition,
and whether it appears likely to grow aggressively, may have a lot
to do with the last calculation. By this logic, the real work of
the left, now as always, is to grow, deepen, diversify, and display
its strength, over and over, on the road to eventually producing
a new world. Elections are part of the process, but very far from
the main story.



 






Michael Albert
is an activist and staff member of Z. He has published numerous articles
and books, including his most recent:



Parecon: Life After
Capitalism



(Verso) and



Thought Dreams



(Arbeiter Ring



).