No Mandate

          DESPITE THE MOST massive registration drive in recent times and the facility of motor-voter enrollment, only half of our eligible citizens will trundle to the polls next week. Given the choice between two morally spavined presidential candidates--one from the party of Archer Dole Midland, the other from the party of Tyson Foods and Goldman Sachs--that's not surprising. The depraved twistings and tactical tergiversations offered up by both Dole/Kemp and Clinton/Gore in place of serious political discourse are shameful and soporific.

          Clinton will win in a landslide, but his victory will constitute no mandate, for it has been cobbled together on the basis of focus-group-tested pandering. School uniforms, 60 new death penalties, and teen-driver drug testing do not constitute a coherent social program; Clinton's open drawbridge to the 21st century will leave all but the most comfortable to ford the stream by their own devices.

          The suggestion that Clinton in his second term will be led back to more liberal notions of governance by a Democratic Congress--an idea proffered by Jesse Jackson and other co-opted campaigners from the party's toothless progressive wing--is absurd on its face. The cult of personality that Clinton imposed on his party has for the most part left Democratic House and Senate candidates to fend for themselves. Even in the final days before ballots are cast, and maintaining a huge lead, Clinton has declined to mount a serious campaign for a Democratic Congress, refusing to release to the crucial state races much more than pocket change from his party's swelling coffers. Moreover,
it must be mixed consolation to
the likes of Paul Wellstone when Clinton comes to town to campaign for him after doing his best to undermine the core values of Wellstone's political program in favor of more Republican-tinged alternatives.

          It's highly unlikely that Democrats will regain control of Capitol Hill, especially in view of a presidential race that threatens to drive voter turnout to a record low. But even if Democrats were to reestablish their majorities, most of their candidates are dwarf imitations of Clinton--trimmers and temporizers of little talent and less backbone who'll look to accumulate as many PAC dollars as they can in preparation for the next election as soon as they have won this one. And should the Democrats eke out a paper-thin majority in the House, it will almost certainly be erased by the redistricting-imposed runoff in Texas in December.

          Saving Wellstone and the thimbleful of other nearly-honorable exceptions to the Democrats' drift to the right is surely reason enough to go to the polls, but Clinton's wide margin against a self-destructing Dole ought to ease any qualms felt by those tempted to cast a presidential protest vote against the bipartisan establishment. Mad Ross Perot, who used to provide bales of under-the-table cash to Richard Nixon, may mouth the mantra of campaign finance reform, but he runs the Reform Party like a dictator and has driven from it the most intelligent activists among the innocents of the radical middle. And this past weekend, he showed his true colors when he signaled on Meet the Press his clear preference for Bob Dole.

          That leaves Ralph Nader, who is on the ballot in half the states and can benefit from write-in votes in most others. Nader's studied non-campaign may be a profound irritation to those of us grounded in a less condescending and more grassroots approach to electoral politics, but he does articulate this year's only systemic critique of multinational corporate power, which is the real and abiding bane of our democracy.

          And as Eugene Victor Debs, that luminous Hoosier, used to say long ago, it is better to vote for what you want and not get it than to vote for what you don't want and get it.

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