Edward S. Herman

In many

ways the system is working beautifully right now. First of all, money dominates

the initial selection and weeding out of presidential candidates, so that only

those who will serve the corporate interest on the basics–advancing "free

trade," keeping the lid on or shrinking the welfare state, and preserving

and strengthening the military  establishment and pursuing the ongoing

imperial strategies–can qualify as credible and electable. While there is a

fair amount of grumbling about soft and hard money and the essentiality of big

bucks for election status, the mainstream media normalize this and accept the

process as entirely legitimate. And the public, or at least half of the public,

also goes along and participates with their vote.

As part of

the normalization process the media argue vociferously that the two candidates

on the take offer adequate options, have sufficient and important differences,

so that nobody else even needs to be heard by the public.

The New

York Times made the first point in its editorial of August 20 ("Two Visions

of Government"), where it contested Ralph Nader’s claim that there are no

meaningful differences between Gore and Bush, arguing that there are

"measurable differences" on how to deploy federal resources that

"may not be enough to satisfy Mr. Nader’s aggressively populist

inclinations, but if the election were held now, they would give the voters a

real choice." So if the editors are satisfied with the choices offered by

Gore and Bush, the general public should be as well; no "aggressive

populism" need enter the lists. (I wonder if there is such a thing as an

"aggressive centrism," or an "aggressively pro-corporate


The Times

has supported this position by completely marginalizing Nader (and Buchanan as

well), refusing to allow him to make his case while inundating its readers with

trivia on the money-election candidates. Effectively, they declared Nader’s

candidacy illegitimate and by their fiat ruled him out of contention. Then in

its editorial of August 22 ("Stop Arguing and Start Debating"), after

having refused to allow Nader to make his substantive case and develop any

constituency, the paper justified Nader’s and Buchanan’s exclusion from the

debates on the ground that they had no "demonstrated national

support"! This is a remarkable combination of media authoritarianism and


Of course,

the rest of the mainstream media did the same as the Times, producing a

self-fulfilling prophecy of lack of mass support by marginalization and some

degree of trashing.

In the

abysmal Philadelphia Inquirer, their chief election commentator Larry Eichel

finally devoted a column to Nader entitled: "The bench is the key,"

with subtitle "Democrats call Ralph Nader ‘dishonest’ for discounting the

Supreme Court as an election issue." Eichel himself had never discussed

Supreme Court appointments as a key issue or indicated any dissatisfaction with

a Bush win in this regard, but for the sake of disposing of Nader he effectively

turns his column over to Gore protagonists to make what they believe is their

strongest case against Nader, with no Nader right to reply. Nader is not only

declared to be wrong, he is "dishonest" for disagreeing with a Gore

support position. (The last time Eichel was strenuously upset over election

candidates was back in 1987-1988, when the populist threat of Jesse Jackson

caused him to depart from his usual focus on horse-racing and take some nasty

swipes at that earlier deviant.)

But the

beauty of the system is most manifest in the reaction of liberals and leftists

to the monied versus principled and populist candidates. It is an all-or-nothing

election, and there is always the argument for the Democratic lesser evil, so in

each election we see vast liberal-left abandonment of the principled and

populist in favor of the lesser evil. As with the media’s process we have

another contribution to a self-fulfilling prophecy.


the allegation that business corporations have too short a time horizon? Could

this not be said of the liberals and leftists who jump on the lesser evil

bandwagon? Maybe this is a national trait.

A number

of liberals and leftists have argued vigorously that a vote for Nader is

virtually immoral, given the differences between Gore and Bush and the costs of

a wasted vote. But the counter-immorality position seems to me more potent: a

classic moral rule laid down by Immanuel Kant was his "categorical

imperative": act in a way that you would want generalized. If you act on

the basis of calculating what others are likely to do this can not only assure

an immoral result, it erodes the basis of moral action altogether. Furthermore,

as I watch Clinton in action in Colombia, enlarging exactly the kind of policies

this country carried out in Guatemala and El Salvador, and putting more pressure

again on Iraq in implementing the most genocidal policy carried out in recent

times, and competing with the Republicans in urging an increase in

"defense," I am intrigued by the ability of liberals and leftists to

consider candidates and parties supporting these actions as legitimate

authority. Could they vote between candidates on the basis of their offering

different rates of incineration in gas chambers? If living in Yugoslavia could

they vote for Milosevic as a lesser evil if his opponent was even worse than he?

Part of

the answer gets us back to the power of the mainstream media and the virtual

absence of a left media.

Voting for

Milosevic would be tough because his badness has been driven home thousands of

times, with photos of streams of refugees, women and children in pain, dead

bodies, and supportive analyses, accusations, and war crimes tribunal

indictments. Clinton-Gore have been responsible for far more suffering in Iraq,

East Timor, and Turkey, among other places (see Chomsky’s New Military Humanism,

chap 3, or my "Clinton Is The World’s Leading Active War Criminal," Z,

Dec. 1999), and if there were photos of the victims, weeping women and children,

generous details of the terror, analyses of the source of the criminal behavior,

indignant charges, and war crimes indictments proportional to the victimization

for which Clinton-Gore bear heavy responsibility, I suspect that the lesser evil

contingent’s numbers would quickly erode. I think even honest reporting of the

pain of the hungry and homeless folks "empowered" by the 1996 Personal

Responsibility Act, and the condition and histories of the prisoners victimized

by the drug war, would take a heavy lesser evil toll.

In short,

I find myself unable to accept the candidacies of spokespersons for the ongoing

range of policies and must protest these horrors in some manner. Joel Bleifuss

in In These Times tells us to vote for Gore because it is important that we

"Win This One First" (Sept. 18). Joel seems to think that

"we" will win if Gore wins, despite the Clinton-Gore record and Gore’s

selection of Lieberman. I feel that we will lose if Gore-Lieberman OR

Bush-Cheney win.

And if

Gore-Lieberman do win, and Al From and the more-pro-business-than-thou crowd of

the DNC consolidate their position in the Democratic Party, where is political

change supposed to come from in the future?

Leave a comment