Will I Really Be Voting for Bush?

by Bill Onasch

That's what a lot of people tell me even though I've exhibited  no enthusiasm for George W. In fact, the only Republicans I've ever backed are in Ireland.

But, they say, a vote for Nader—for whom I have expressed support—is the same thing as voting for Bush. Maybe, in a perverted sense they are right. The state of Utah used to offer condemned prisoners the choice of hanging or shooting. You could have told them that a vote against the rope was really a vote for the firing squad. Differences to be sure. But, considering the same ultimate outcome, who cares? 

For the past six or seven decades, the Democrats have taken labor support for granted. Comfortable in the knowledge we're in their hip pocket the Dems have been free to move farther and farther to the right, away from labor's objectives,  in their quest for votes.

Claiming labor backing as an entitlement the Democrat politicians bitterly complain about what they see as apostates being fooled by a Nader trojan horse that will only serve the evil Bush. Unfortunately, these cynical pols are joined by many labor and environmental leaders who, after throwing some brief tantrums after the China trade vote, are now trying to sell Gore as a champion of working families. They are all fortified in their indignant alarm by such establisment intellectual guides as the New York Times. The Times said the Nader campaign was a, “self-indulgent exercise that will distract voters from the clear-cut choice represented by the major party candidates.”

There has been a lot of discussion among Nader supporters about how to respond to these charges. I recently made the following contribution to an e-mail exchange:

***

It's not just Nader supporters who see no compelling differences between major party candidates. A big, and growing, majority of the working class have long held that position, “wasting” their votes by not voting. Could there be a more damning indictment of the worthlessness of the U.S. political system?

Of course politics comprises a lot more than just elections. Strikes, demonstrations, boycotts, petition campaigns, public meetings, class action lawsuits, etc., are also politics in action. You'll seldom find professional politicians involved in such activities. Bush and Gore didn't go near such things even when they were college kids. They have been groomed since childhood for “responsible” governing. Nader, on the other hand, has devoted his life to participating in, promoting, and, in many cases, initiating such actions. The Nader campaign embraces and encourages such grass-roots politics and this approach will continue after the election.

It's good to be up on all the facts about issues and positions. But such knowledge, for the most part, is not what determines choices in elections.

If you think America is doing pretty good, and want things to stay the way they are, you're going to pick either Bush or Gore—probably on subjective feelings about their political personalities. A substantial part of the population do think this way and they will determine the next president.

But the majority don't feel so good. A significant chunk are living in poverty. A lot more are just a paycheck away from financial ruin and are apprehensive about the future. Many are concerned about issues such as globalization and environmental dangers. I think it is safe to say the majority would favor substantial change—but don't see any realistic way that's going to happen.

The challenge for us is to not only argue that we need change but to also present a vision of what kind of changes are needed and possible. That's what's truly different about the Nader alternative.

Nader has been collaborating with labor leaders such as Tony Mazzocchi, national organizer of the Labor Party; Jan Pierce of the Communication Workers; and the leadership of the California Nurses Association, to develop a program, and campaign tactics, aimed at working people. At the urging of Nader and Mazzocchi, the Green Party convention adopted the essential parts of the Labor Party program—a big step forward for that organization, never before noted for their class consciousness.

Nader has been emphasizing the concept of a “social wage”—like most European countries, where there are strong working class parties, enjoy. That means guarantees of not only decent salaries but also universal health care, adequate pensions, mandated vacations and holidays (most European countries guarantee workers at least four weeks of paid vacation a year—by law); using productivity gains to reduce the workweek, and lower retirement ages, generous sick pay allowances, housing subsidies, free college tuitions, etc.

An end to poverty, security from cradle to the grave, a cleaner environment—that's a vision most working people could identify with. The material resources in this, the richest of all countries, are certainly available to make this vision a reality. Getting a fair share of those resources from the corporate rulers who call the shots today is the challenge.

This challenge is formidable to be sure. The ruling rich dominate the major political parties, the mass media, and, to a large extent, even churches and schools. They dictate most policies at every level of government. And they have a history of turning to violence whenever they feel their vast riches and mighty power threatened.

But they are not invincible. There's a lot more of us than there are of them. And we do all the work. As the old song says, “Without our brain and muscle not a single wheel can turn!”

We have some historical examples of cutting into their haughty power. The upsurge of industrial unionism, from 1934 to 1947, transformed not only the wages but the relationship of power in the workplace. The Civil Rights movement of the 1960s battered down much—though far from all—of the Jim Crow barriers to the advancement of Black people. The antiwar movement of the 1960s and '70s forced major changes in the military and foreign policies of the ruling rich. The feminist movement of the 1970s won great gains for half the population. And the environmental movement has had more than modest success in restraining corporate destruction of our planet.

But all of these great movements shared one serious weakness—they failed to definitively break from the corporate-dominated political establishment. They all vainly searched for “friends” and “lesser evils” among the major parties. So all of their victories proved temporary and tentative, subject to erosion as the troops of the mass street movements inevitably returned to more stable life styles and the political establishment regained its mastery.

The Nader campaign offers the biggest opportunity since the campaigns of Eugene Debs to simultaneously build mass movements and a credible challenge to the corporate political establishment. It's the first time in eighty years that we can cast a vote for a well-known presidential candidate without wasting it.

I'm not interested in the differences between the Republican and Democrat contending “patient's bills of rights.” I'm not excited about either the forthright privatization of Social Security advocated by Bush or the backdoor privatization proposed by Gore. Such differences mean nothing to working people.

If you believe in a social wage, universal health care, putting the environment before profits, promoting human rights, then you'll be wasting your vote if you cast it for Gore. If you think stagnating wages, cost/benefit analysis of environmental measures, 37th place in the world in health care, overcrowded prisons, and record numbers of executions are acceptable compromises, then follow the lead of those smart guys at the New York Times and make your vote “count” for Gore.

***

If my vote for Nader weakens Gore in the intramural struggle of who can best govern on behalf of the ruling rich, so be it.