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The Advisability Of Holding One's Nose When Voting

On The Advisability Of Holding One's Nose When Voting

By Bernard Weiner
The Crisis Papers

Since we're going to get there anyway -- and since our mailbag is starting to get weighted down already on this issue -- we might as well jump into the electoral debate now and see if we all can reach a resolution before the primaries and, for sure, before next year's presidential election. Maybe we can lance the liberal boil on this controversial topic, and, with the pus of anger gone, move on to the substantitive issues with which to defeat Bush&Co.

Here's where we start: There are a lot of center-to-liberal voters disgusted by the craven cowardice of the ostensible Democratic "opposition" in Congress, whose idea of confrontation seems to consist of the occasional making of brave-sounding noises and then going silent again.

So the bottom line is this: Do we give up on the Democrats for 2004, and vote for a third-party candidate, trying to organize from the ground up instead of from the candidate's organization down? Or, recognizing that the objective conditions for a winning third-party run simply aren't there now, do we hold our noses and vote and work for whatever halfway-reasonable candidate the Democrats choose as their standard bearer?

To present the case for going Green, not voting, or choosing another minor-party candidate, I'll quote from several representative letters received recently at The Crisis Papers. That way, my bias won't intervene, and you'll get a good sense of the level of anger and frustration animating those opposed to voting for any Democrat candidate in 2004. (These letters are part of an ongoing email colloquy I'm been engaged in with both writers.)

DARLENE M. writes: "Bush has been unbelievable in his push for corrupt power, but you can't blame just Bush as the system has been betraying democracy for a long time. And why did the Democrats vote for the Patriot Act? They can't be that dumb. Even I saw the writing on the wall as soon as 9/11 happened, and I wrote my congressmen pleading with them to not give away our freedoms. The Democrats participated in the Savings & Loan disaster, which the public had to pay for.

"The two parties have become the same thing. Democrats don't even pretend to speak for the average person anymore. Voters know how it is, so they don't vote -- which helps the system be corrupt even more.

"I understand your concern is to break the lock on power these extremists have. That is my concern, too. We are sliding into a Nazi police-state. However, I don't like to settle for just a tiny bit better, because that is what it is, only a little better, but 99% of the same stuff is going on -- and we don't say anything then because it seems 'better.'

"The environment has not been protected. Third world countries still suffer. Corporations have continued to gain power. Do you understand why I think just another Democrat won't make a difference?

"...I feel deeply that we need someone not obligated to power...Someone we could trust. Gore was heavily involved in big business so I don't see how things would have been that different. My point is that the people being nominated in the Republican and Democratic parties have all been in bed with corporations, the industrial-military complex which has been taking us down the low road for many years and has just accelerated under Bush and neo-conservatives. We don't need a little change; we need a big change if we are to begin to save democracy. And ourselves."

CAROLYN Z. writes: "I will NEVER vote for the Democratic Party again. I'm long over that 'lesser of two evils' nonsense. The lesser of two evils is still evil and I won't lend my support to a perpetuation of the two-party system. I just can't do it...

"I understand your position. A great many people believe in it, including lots of friends of mine. I used to believe it myself, but can no longer live with it. The result is that I will not vote.

"It isn't a capricious decision. I have weighed all the pros and cons, back and forth, for years. Just remember, Democrat Clinton it was who ended 'welfare as we know it' in the United States, throwing thousands of women and their children off public assistance and into a situation where they had to work at minimum wage with no health insurance; it was also Democrat Clinton who sustained the sanctions and bombing throughout the 1990s against Iraq -- sanctions that caused the deaths of thousands of children, amongst other Iraqis..."

"And what happened to the spines of the Democrats in Congress when they tried to outdo each other in voting for war and Homeland Security and the Patriot Act -- anything Bush demanded after 9/11? I have no respect for any of them. They're not going to stick their necks out for my or anyone else's benefit. They've gone along with Bush's tax cut for the wealthy -- because they ARE wealthy and they don't care about the rest of us.

"The days when the Democrats were the party of the 'ordinary working man' are long over, if they ever truly existed. Even the much-vaunted New Deal of Franklin Roosevelt was only created because the ruling elite was terrified that there would be a revolution in this country during the Great Depression.

"What a relief when -- as with the Iraq war in our own time -- the Japanese (who some claim were deliberately provoked by having their access to oil cut off) bombed the US fleet as it snoozed at Pearl Harbor and gave the country a nice war to wave the flag over!! A war, moreover, during which Prescott Bush and Henry Ford continued to trade with Nazi Germany and deserve to be considered war profiteers. I've seen the man behind the curtain. He is the picture of Dorian Gray. Not a pretty sight."


The intelligently-argued letters above symbolize the nature of the divide. There are lots of citizens who agree with those two anguished missives. The electoral system is so corrupted, they say, that they are tired of feeling "dirty" by participating in continuing that system. So they don't vote, as a measure of their disgust, or vote for a third-party candidate, a Democratic Socialist or a Green.

They realize their candidate probably won't win, at least in the big races -- on occasion, a Green or Independent can get elected to local offices -- but they feel they've done a righteous deed by voting for whom they really want to see in office rather than selecting the better of two rotten alternatives. They can hold their head high, proud that they didn't compromise with the failed system.

I deeply understand that point of view, and even share it -- up to a point. In my home, I still have my 1994 Nader bumper-sticker on the wall. In the Vietnam War-era, I was a statewide officer of The New Party, because I believed at the time there was no real difference between Nixon and Humphrey. I have voted for, and sent money to, Green and Independent candidates.

But there's a difference between wanting to send a message to the two major parties, that we're fed up and won't join in their collusive dirty game any more, and cutting off our electoral noses to spite our faces. (Let us remember that not voting for the lesser of two evils means you've helped implant an even worse evil into power. No evil is not an option.)

In previous years, when the stakes weren't so high, supporting Nader, say, made sense, and I did so willingly. I even was planning on voting again for Nader in 2000 until the last-minute polls indicated how close the race was going to be.

But 2004 is a different situation. The stakes for our country and the world couldn't get much higher. We're not talking about just another conservative in p ower. We've had two-and-a-half years to witness the damage wrought by an extremist administration that is different in kind, not just degree.

Friends, to put it as bluntly as possible: THESE ARE NOT GOOD PEOPLE. They are mean-spirited, filled with the zealotry of self-righteousness, coked-out on greed and a lust for power, dedicated to carrying out a permanent revolution of doctrine in America and the world. Their policies and behaviors are doing untold damage to our fragile democracy at home and bringing death and destruction to many sections of the globe.

And, almost worse, their policies and incompetencies -- and their bullying, arrogant, threatening, deadly behaviors, their outrageous lies and manipulations -- are endangering the longterm interests and institutions of the United States of America, the country we all hold dear.

Thus, to me, the ONLY effective way to alter the situation, to break the stranglehold the Bush forces currently enjoy, to stop the juggernaut in its tracks before even worse damage is done, to move the country back to civil politics at home and sane diplomacy abroad -- the ONLY way to do this, in conjunction with keeping the pressure on them every minute until election day, is to defeat them at the polls in 2004. (Unless Bush and Cheney and Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz, et. al., resign or are impeached and fired before they can even make it to the election, a consumation devoutly to be wished.)

If the Democrat wins, Bush&Co. may still have the Congress, Judiciary and much of the mass-media in their hands at that stage, but they won't have unfettered power because the Executive no longer will be in their control. (Clinton, a centrist liberal, placed decent moderate judges onto the courts and used the veto to block the more extreme bills sent his way by a Republican-controlled Congress. No wonder the neo-cons went after him with such ferocity: He stood in the way of their total control of America's levers of power.)


You may believe, as many did in 2000, that there's not a "dime's worth of difference" between the Democrats and Republicans, but nine cents can make a mighty difference in individuals' real lives on the ground.

It can be the difference between bombing or not bombing civilians from 20,000 feet in the air, and invading their countries when our own nation is not in imminent danger; between appointing or not appointing extremist judges on the bench with their own ideological agendas; between the government respecting or not respecting the Bill of Rights; between doing something forceful, or doing nothing, about global warming and clean air and water; between maintaining or not maintaining healthy social programs; between giving away or not giving away huge tax breaks to those individuals and corporations who often stash that money overseas; and so on.

Maybe from a long-term historical perspective, the Democrats and Republicans look and behave virtually alike. But in the real world, where most people live, there is just enough of a difference to justify a vote for a reasonable Democratic candidate for President.

One's sense of personal "purity" might be slightly compromised by voting for the Democratic candidate and thus helping to perpetuate a system that is not as uncorrupted as we would all like. But I don't think we can afford that self-involved luxury in 2004; this election decision is simply too vital, a matter of life and death for so many around the world.

I wouldn't want that on my conscience, to know that my help in electing Bush next year -- by not voting at all, or by voting Green or whatever -- would mean that thousands of innocent civilians somewhere (Iran? Syria? Lebanon? Palestine?) will be slaughtered in yet another imperial conquest, that more of the Constitution will be shredded as those resisting such policies have their U.S. citizenship revoked and are prosecuted or deported (as Patriot Act 2 would permit), that the environment will be turned over to corporate polluters, and so on.

I simply can't participate in furthering that kind of behavior. And so, if it comes to it, I will hold my nose one more time and vote for the Democratic candidate, because my own moral purity is of far less importance ultimately than the further damage Bush&Co. can, and will, do to our country and to the world. I will offer my support to that Democrat even if the candidate holds a few views I don't agree with. I will put that aside, with my eyes on the prize, contantly repeating the mantra: "Remove the Bush extremists. Remove the Bush extremists." Everything else is a side issue for the election.

If we're able to defeat Bush at the polls (assuming that dirty tricks are kept to a minimum and that the computer-voting software is made impermiable to illegal manipulation, and always including a verifiable paper trail of actual votes cast), then we progressives -- who helped generate the victory -- will have leverage in working to rid the Democratic party of its more reactionary and corporate-beholden elements. And, in the meantime, we can work from the ground up in electing local progressive Democrats and Green-type candidates, so as to try to change our democracy from the bottom up rather than waiting always for the top-down, leaders-will-do-it-for-us approach to work.


Look, folks, we're moving closer and closer to a fascist-type society -- all sorts of civil liberties and civil rights have been trampled under the Patriot Act, hustled through a traumatized Congress immediately after the 9/11 mass-murders; Patriot 2, believe it or not, is even worse. And, more and more, we're becoming an aggressive imperial power abroad, engaged --as Bush and Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz and Perle proudly proclaim -- in a permanent state of war.

And all of this is depleting our treasury, forcing the government into enormous deficits, ruining an already shaky economy, and thus permitting (as the HardRight extremists long for) the eviceration and eventual destruction of popular social programs such as Medicare, Social Security, Head Start, environmental protection measures, job-safety programs, support for the arts, etc. States and municipalities are going broke, having to cut their own social programs and infrastructure needs; the feds won't, can't, send them any backup funds because so much of the U.S. treasury under Bush is dedicated to wars abroad, homeland security at home, and giving huge tax breaks to the already wealthy.

And the Democrats, reflecting the populace at large, are terrified of connecting the dots and frontally taking on the Bush forces in power -- because they might be thought of as "unpatriotic" in a time of war. Given that we now are in a war without end, that situation will continue indefinitely -- with the middle class taking it in the neck financially, and the poor left more or less to fend for themselves -- unless somehow we can stop this extremist madness and try to turn this country back to its traditional middle-left to middle-right politics. Perhaps Bush&Co. will do us all a favor and resign -- but don't count on it. These guys will not give up power voluntarily.

Let's close with these words about Bush&Co. from Wade Hudson, recently returned from a Peace Team in Baghdad: "These power-hungry, authoritarians actually could create a totalitarian state if we let them fulfill their dreams...I am totally impressed with how serious the Bush people are. They are a qualitatively different breed from their predecessors. They are rigid, brutal, authoritarian, self-righteous, narrow-minded fanatics who have taken over the United States government in a secret, silent coup. They must be stopped, even if it means supporting a Democrat, virtually any Democrat."


- Bernard Weiner, Ph.D. in government & international relations, has taught at Western Washington University and San Diego State University; he was a writer/editor with the San Francisco Chronicle for 19 years, and now co-edits The Crisis Papers (

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