“Spare a thought for the stay-at-home voter/His empty eyes gaze at strange beauty shows/And parades of gray-suited grafters/A choice of cancer or polio.”
Whenever I’d give a talk during 2008, I’d open up by presenting what I called a “public service announcement.” With tongue planted firmly in cheek, I’d dutifully offer the crowd “some of the many, many reasons why you shouldn’t vote for John McCain.” It went a little something like this:
“He’s raised twice as much money from Wall Street as his opponent. He voted for every Iraq war appropriation bill he faced. He refused to be photographed with San Francisco’s mayor for fear it’d be interpreted that he supported gay marriage. He voted against single payer health care. He supports the death penalty, the Israeli war machine, and the fence on the US-Mexican border. He was asked if there was anything that happened during the Bush-Cheney years that the US needs to apologize for in terms of foreign policy? His response: “No, I don’t believe in the U.S. apologizing.” He voted to confirm Condoleezza Rice as Secretary of State and to reauthorize the Patriot Act. He (pause for effect)…oops. Sorry, I messed up. Those are actually some of the many, many reasons you shouldn’t vote for Barack Obama. My bad…sometimes I just can’t tell ’em apart.”
>>>insert nervous audience laughter here<<<
This bit never failed to surprise many of the audience members but…most of them voted for Obama anyway. Perhaps even you voted for the Pope of Hope. If so, I’d like to pose the following question:
How’s that working out for ya?
Asking this question calls to mind something Steve McQueen said in the movie, The Magnificent Seven. When asked how things were going, McQueen replied: “It’s like that fella who fell off a ten-story building. As he was falling, people on each floor heard him say, ‘So far, so good.'”
Obama’s abysmal record should come as no surprise to anyone exercising critical thought but thanks to America’s two-party myth, facts and evidence are useless against blind faith. So yeah, voting for Mr. Yes We Can in 2008 proved once and for all that you’re more open-minded than your Republican brother-in-law but it’s time to recognize the most consistent and primary difference between Republicans and Democrats is this: they tell different lies to get elected.
In the words of the esteemed political philosopher, Jon Bon Jovi: “It’s all the same. Only the names will change.”
The Previous Liberal Hero: Bill Clinton
Please allow me to reflect back upon the years 1993 and 1994—when President William Jefferson Clinton was enjoying the “advantage” of a Democratically-controlled Congress.
In just two years, Bubba abandoned his pledge to consider offering asylum to Haitian refugees, backed away from his most high-profile campaign issue: health care, and reneged on his promise to “take a firm stand” against the armed forces’ ban on gays and lesbians.
In 1993-4, Clinton presided over the invasion of Somalia (which resulted in some 7000-10000 dead Somalis), signed a little something called the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), increased Pentagon budget by $25 billion, fired Jocelyn Elders, dumped Lani Guinier, ordered the bombing of Iraq and the Balkans, renewed the sanctions on Iraq, and passed a crime bill that gave us more cops, more prisons, and 58 more offenses punishable by death.
All this came before Newt Gingrich and much-hyped Republican “revolution” in 1994 (perhaps the most astonishing use of the word revolution in the history of the English language) and I haven’t even gotten to the heritage we all share: the environment.
In the first three years of the Clinton-Gore regime—two of which involved a Democratic House and Senate—Clinton and his green buddy gave us fun stuff like: The passage of the salvage logging rider, the continuation of the use of methyl bromide, the weakening of the Endangered Species Act and the Safe Drinking Water Act, the lowering of grazing fees on land, the subsidizing of Florida’s sugar industry, the reversing the ban on the production and importation of PCBs, and allowing the export of Alaskan oil.
When Clinton and Gore ran for re-election in 1996, David Brower, former president of the Sierra Club, wrote an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times called “Why I Won’t Vote for Clinton.” In this piece, Brower declared that Clinton and Gore had “done more harm to the environment in three years than Presidents Bush and Reagan did in 12 years.”
That’s Bush the Elder, not Bush the Lesser.
I could go on for pages about the rest of Clinton’s reign, like the repeal of welfare, the telecommunications bill that further narrowed the already laughable parameters of public debate, the Defense of Marriage Act, and the fact that after eight years in office with no political price to pay, he still did not pardon Leonard Peltier. But I’ll just focus on one more Clinton gem: The Anti-Terrorism & Effective Death Penalty Act, signed into law on April 24, 1996.
This USA PATRIOT Act prequel contained provisions that Clinton himself admitted “make a number of ill-advised changes in our immigration laws, having nothing to do with fighting terrorism.” This unconstitutional salvo severely restricted habeas corpus and expanded the number of federal capital crimes—and the PATRIOT Act is mostly an extension its legal foundations.
For a little more two-party context, consider that John Kerry—Democratic presidential candidate in 2004—voted for the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act in 1996 and wrote parts of the PATRIOT Act in 2001. (FYI: Hillary Clinton voted for the PATRIOT Act in 2001 and both she and Obama voted to reauthorize it.)
The PATRIOT Act, of course, is still in full effect. Hooray Democrats.
The Previous Previous Liberal Hero: Jimmy Carter
Here we had a president who claimed that human rights was “the soul of our foreign policy” despite making an agreement with Baby Doc Duvalier to not accept the asylum claims of Haitian refugees. His duplicity, however, was not limited to our hemisphere; Carter also earned his Nobel Prize in Southeast Asia. In Cambodia, Jimmy Carter and his national security aide, Zbigniew Brzezinski made an untiring effort to find peaceful solutions by initiating a joint US-Thai operation in 1979 known as Task Force 80, which for ten years, propped up the notorious Khmer Rouge under the all-purpose banner of anti-Communism. Interestingly, just two years earlier, Carter displayed his respect for human rights when he explained how the US owed no debt to Vietnam. He justified this belief because the “destruction was mutual.”
Moving further southward to advance democracy and human rights, we have East Timor. This former Portuguese colony was the target of a relentless and murderous assault by Indonesia since December 7, 1975…an assault made possible through the sale of US arms to its loyal client-state, the silent complicity of the American press, and then-Ambassador Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s skill at keeping the United Nations uninvolved. Upon relieving Gerald Ford (but strategically retaining the skills of fellow Nobel peacenik Henry Kissinger), Carter authorized increased military aid to Indonesia in 1977 as the death toll approached 100,000. In short order, over one-third of the East Timorese population (more than 200,000 humans) lost their lives due to war-related starvation, disease, massacres, or atrocities.
Closer to home, Carter also made his mark in Central America: As William Blum details, in 1978, the future Nobel Peace Prize winner attempted to create a “moderate” alternative to the Sandinistas through covert CIA support for “the press and labor unions in Nicaragua.” After the Sandinistas took power, Blum explains, “Carter authorized the CIA to provide financial and other support to opponents.” Also in that region, one of Carter’s final acts as president was to order $10 million in military aid and advisors to El Salvador perhaps “to promote economic and social development.” A final glimpse of “international co-operation based on international law” during the Carter Administration brings us to Afghanistan, site of a Soviet invasion in December 1979. It was here that Carter and Brzezinski aligned themselves with staunch anti-Communists in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan to exploit Islam as a method to arouse the Afghani populace to action. With the CIA coordinating the effort, some $40 billion in US taxpayer dollars were used to recruit “freedom fighters” like Osama bin Laden.
The rest, as they say, is history.
A very brief history of a few other Lesser Evils
“Our only political party has two right wings, one called Republican, the other Democratic.”
When George Papandreou was elected Prime Minister of Greece in 1964, he somewhat liberal reputation did not sit well in Washington. Things went from bad to worse when Greece further annoyed its superpower benefactor by squabbling with Turkey over Cyprus, and then objecting to US plans to partition the island. LBJ summoned the Greek ambassador for a brief lesson on non-Republican policy: “Fuck your parliament and your constitution. America is an elephant, Cyprus is a flea. If these two fleas continue itching the elephant, they may just get whacked by the elephant’s trunk, whacked good…We pay a lot of good American dollars to the Greeks, Mr. Ambassador. If your Prime Minister gives me a talk about democracy, parliament, and constitutions, he, his parliament, and his constitution may not last very long.”
I’d need a book to do this justice, but for now: The Cuba Project (a.k.a. “Operation Mongoose”) was initiated under Camelot (the Kennedy administration) in January 1962 with the stated US objective of helping the “Cubans overthrow the Communist regime from within Cuba and institute a new government with which the United States can live in peace.” Noam Chomsky describes Operation Mongoose as such: “What has happened is a level of international terrorism that as far as I know has no counterpart, apart from direct aggression. It’s included attacking civilian installations, bombing hotels, sinking fishing vessels, destroying petrochemical installations, poisoning crops and livestock, on quite a significant scale, assassination attempts, actual murders, bombing airplanes, bombing of Cuban missions abroad, etc. It’s a massive terrorist attack.”
Again, I wish I had more space but let’s face it, Truman did what Reagan, Nixon, and Ike never dared to do: He purposefully dropped a nuclear bomb on civilians. “We have used [the bomb] against those who have abandoned all pretense of obeying international laws of warfare,” Truman later explained, thus justifying his decision to nuke a people that he termed “savages, ruthless, merciless, and fanatic.” He summed up: “It is an atomic bomb. It is the greatest thing in history.”
Franklin Delano Roosevelt
I could go on for pages and pages deconstructing the hagiography but, for now, remember that FDR’s America fought the good war against racism with a segregated army. It fought that war to end atrocities by participating in the shooting of surrendering soldiers, the starvation of POWs, the deliberate bombing of civilians, wiping out hospitals, strafing lifeboats, and in the Pacific boiling flesh off enemy skulls to make table ornaments for sweethearts. And Roosevelt, the leader of this anti-racist, anti-atrocity force, signed Executive Order 9066, interning over 100,000 Japanese-Americans without due process…thus, in the name of taking on the architects of German prison camps became the architect of American prison camps.
(Again, all of the above is but a tiny sample…so I suggest you activate the google function on yer interwebs machine to find more fun facts about how the good guys operate.)
The American political and cultural system being challenged by Occupy Wall Street (OWS) since September 17, 2011 is the same system that allows for free and fair presidential elections open to any candidate over the age of 35…who, of course, praises god and the free market (or am I being redundant?), describes his/her enemies as “evil,” understands that the rest of the world hates us because we’re free, and, oh yeah, can raise at least a billion dollars.
This electoral system routinely bars third party candidates from public debates (unless, of course, they’ve already been censored by misguided “progressives”), only half the eligible voters will even bother showing up (see sidebar at end of article), and when all else fails, you can count on the Supreme Court to set things straight—and I do mean straight.
“I think voting is the opium of the masses in this country. Every four years you deaden the pain.”
Emma Goldman said that.
“I think it is dangerous to confuse the idea of democracy with elections. Just because you have elections doesn’t mean you’re a democratic country.”
Arundhati Roy said that.
“The next time someone tells you America has a two-party system, I suggest you demand a recount.”
I said that.
In 2004, for example, 65% of congressional races were uncontested and 58% of incumbent Senators who ran were unopposed. Overall, the candidate who raised the most money won 91% of those races. In the words of yet another esteemed political philosopher Cyndi Lauper: “Money changes everything.”
Victoria Collier and Ronnie Cummins recently listed in Truthout the following ways in which the US electoral process is “rigged”:
- Corporate personhood and the legal determination that money equals speech.
- Corporate campaign financing and lobbying; billions to buy our elected representatives.
- Corporate restriction of candidate access to the media and to participation in vital debates.
- Corporate media exit polling, which often alters results to manufacture a false “red shift” of rightward-moving electoral outcomes.
- Manipulation of electoral structures and mechanisms
- Partisan redistricting, which re-draws electoral district maps that favor a particular party.
- Voter ID laws that disenfranchise young, poor and minority voters.
- Fraudulent purging of voter rolls, including “caging” – removing a voter from the rolls or discarding their vote based on the return of direct mail to their listed address, a practice found to be used fraudulently and with racial bias, making it illegal under the Voting Rights Act.
- Disenfranchisement of felons, many poor, black or Hispanic, and convicted on drug offenses.
- The centralized rigging of computerized voting machines.
As Ralph Nader reminds us, if the Democrats and Republicans were corporations, they’d be sued for—and convicted—of anti-trust violations.
To me, America’s two-party system is like buying a ticket on a commercial airline. You can request a seat on the right side or you can request a seat on the left side of the plane. But it doesn’t matter because the same pilot controls both wings.
What happened in 2008 is an excellent illustration of how system handles dissent: A black face, a soothing voice, and a vague message of change—all designed to keep rabble pacified without changing anything at all.
Best news from 2011: The rabble is no longer pacified.
In 2012: Let’s recognize that choosing to #Occupy is more powerful than choosing to vote. Let’s Mic Check the bogus debates. Let’s expose and reject the Lesser Evil ploy. Let’s make it clear that we’re on to their bullshit and we’re ready to protect the future we share with all life on the planet.
We are the 99%. Expect us. Join us…
“I’d rather vote for something I want and not get it than vote for something I don’t want, and get it.”
While I might be the last person you’d expect to hear saying this, the reality remains: the current system could be technically—and seriously—challenged via the ballot. In 2008, 132,618,580 Americans voted in the presidential election—of which 69,456,897 opted for Obama. Without context, these numbers are virtually irrelevant.
But consider this: In 2008, there were 231,229,580 eligible voters. Therefore, only 56.8% of eligible voters pulled the lever in November 2008. This also means that only about 30% of America’s eligible voters chose change they could believe in—hardly a mandate. Perhaps most interesting of all is that 40% of the nonvoters were under 30 years of age.
When I peruse such numbers, I can’t help but ponder the nearly 100 million eligible voters who stayed home. If even half of them came to the polling booths and voted for one of the two candidates actually offering hope and change—Cynthia McKinney or Ralph Nader—we might have witnessed an American electoral revolution.
Food for thought: What if OWS actually decided to run a candidate (as a figurehead, of course) in 2012 and lured in not only a shitload of the stay-at-home voters but also a reasonable amount of the lefties who have finally sworn off the Obama Kool-Aid? With plenty of disgruntled Democrats and 100 million eligible voters out there—4 out of 10 under thirty—anyone could win.
Hey, even I could win. I have most of the essential qualifications, have numerous scandalous skeletons in my closet, and can produce a US birth certificate on demand (I know it’s around here somewhere). Now if I could only develop some fundraising skills.
So…who’s with me?
To borrow from one more esteemed political philosopher, Alice Cooper: “We’re all gonna rock to rules that I make. I wanna be elected.”