MIA: History: ETOL: Newspapers & Periodicals: International Socialist Review: Issue 11

International Socialist Review, April–May 2000

Notes of the Quarter

Election 2000: Money Wins Either Way

From International Socialist Review, Issue 11, April–May 2000.
Downloaded with thanks from the ISR Archive.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the ETOL.

IN THE end, the flurry of excitement over the early primary elections amounted to very little. The one thing the primaries did register was an uneasiness among millions of registered voters with the limited choice on offer.

But despite all the talk, there is little of substance that divides the candidates. Howard Zinn nailed it in the March issue of The Progressive:

“Every day, as the soggy rhetoric of the Presidential candidates accumulates into an enormous pile of solid waste, we get more and more evidence of the failure of the American political system. The candidates for the job of leader of the most powerful country in the world have nothing important to say. On domestic issues, they offer platitudes about health care and Social Security and taxes, which are meaningless given the record of both political parties. And on foreign policy, utter silence.”

It’s now a dim memory, but George Bush began his race for the Republican Party nomination attempting to play to the center, calling himself a “compassionate conservative” who was concerned about education and the plight of the poor. It was hard to stomach, given that more than 120 death row inmates have been executed under Bush’s watch as Texas governor. But then along came John McCain who stole his line, and played the part more effectively. Though a Goldwater conservative, hard on foreign policy and with a voting record that marks him as a staunch conservative on every major issue, McCain was able to sell himself as the Washington outsider committed to “reform.”

As McCain began to gain momentum, winning the New Hampshire primary, the Bush campaign swung hard to the right. In the South Carolina primary, Bush made a point of visiting the bigoted and racist Bob Jones University – a school that prohibited interracial dating until Bush’s visit exposed the policy to nationwide condemnation. The right wing of the Republican party began to tar McCain as, of all things, a liberal. Though McCain gained some successes by attempting to broaden his appeal, Bush was able to defeat him where it counted – among Republican voters who bought the argument that McCain was too liberal.

Though he has dipped into the till himself, McCain’s emphasis on campaign finance reform tapped into the disgust that millions feel at the way in which political positions in the United States are shamelessly bought and sold to the highest bidder. People are so hungry for something different that even a creep like McCain – who attacked Bush for pandering to the Christian right but refused to fire a South Carolina campaign adviser who supports Nazi David Duke – was able to get votes simply on the basis of presenting himself as an “outsider” and a “reformer.”

On the Democratic side, there was some pressure on the candidates to shift a little bit to their left. Bill Bradley positioned himself – at least rhetorically – to the left of Gore. He attacked Gore for his opposition to funding abortions for poor women and for once saying that abortion was “arguably the taking of a human life.” Many people on the left – including Black Harvard professor Cornel West – fervently backed Bradley, and a large number of young activists decided to campaign for him. But as former Bradley campaigner Ruth Conniff, writing for the March 2000 issue of The Progressive points out, “Bradley was a pro-NAFTA, pro-Contra, Reagan-tax-cutter during his days in the Senate. His campaign has as much money as the Al Gore fundraising juggernaut – about $20 million at last count, a big chunk of it from Bradley’s buddies on Wall Street.” But Bradley’s rhetoric about economic inequality, the need to lift all people out of poverty, and for “universal health care” tapped into a real sentiment on the ground.

Gore was forced to respond. He emphasized that he’d changed his views on abortion and that he, too, supported campaign finance reform. At a debate at Harlem’s Apollo theater, Gore and Bradley dueled all night to prove who was the more progressive candidate.

The primaries should not be completely dismissed. They were a pale reflection of a very real change in U.S. politics: a massive shift in working-class consciousness to the left. Polls show that ordinary Americans are consistently to the left of mainstream politicians on most issues and are tired of seeing a growing economy that always seems to benefit someone else, someone already rich.

For the first time in years, we are beginning to see some of the anger among ordinary people express itself in struggle: the anti-World Trade Organization “Battle of Seattle,” which targeted corporate greed; the demonstration of 46,000 in South Carolina against the confederate flag; and the protests against Florida Gov. Jeb Bush’s efforts to gut affirmative action. That Gore festooned the podium at his victory speech after Super Tuesday with a banner that read “Join the Fight,” is a reflection of a real mood for change.

But all campaign rhetoric aside, the only fight Gore will be conducting will be on behalf of his most important constituents: the corporations and banks. Gore is a well-groomed son of the ruling class, and it is this class that he and his party represent.

It should not be forgotten that Gore is vice president in an administration that has been, for all intents and purposes, “Republican Lite.” Clinton signed a “tough on crime” bill in 1996 that significantly expanded the number of crimes punishable by death and limited habeas corpus appeals by death row inmates in order to speed up the execution process. He supported legislation that has gutted welfare provisions, and he has jacked up military spending to almost $300 billion. Clinton’s proposals have often been just one notch less conservative than his Republican rivals – for example, backing a one dollar per hour increase in the minimum wage over two years rather than three. This has allowed him to maintain liberal rhetoric while pursuing conservative policies. It was this program theft, not Clinton’s alleged liberalism, that provoked the ire of conservatives more than anything else.

Gore has backed every Clinton initiative. He supports the sanctions that have killed hundreds of thousands of children in Iraq, and he backed the indiscriminate bombing of Serbia last year. And even though he now claims to be pro-choice, talk is cheap. Gore has been part of an administration that promised to pass the “Freedom of Choice Act” – only to scrap it once in office. He and Clinton promised to guarantee health care for all. But under pressure from the insurance industry, they quietly dropped it, even as the number of people without health insurance continues to grow.

Also, Gore is every bit as much as Bush a hard supporter of the death penalty. And as an advocate for the pharmaceutical companies, Gore lobbied South Africa to stop its production of cheaper, generic AIDS drugs – in a country where tens of thousands are dying of AIDS because they are unable to afford treatment.

Now that the primaries are over, the candidates of the two bosses’ parties hope to settle more comfortably into a routine that consists of platitudes and more platitudes with even fewer issues of substance discussed. Bush is hitting on the theme that Gore is “untruthful” and will say anything to get elected – an attribute that Bush has himself exhibited. Gore can use the issue of gun control – a minor reform which costs nothing economically or politically – to tar the fanatics in Bush’s party who argue that gun control advocates want more gun-related deaths in order to push through legislation.

It is estimated that $3 billion will be spent on the elections. As usual – but more glaringly as each election approaches – the wealth of a handful of billionaires and multimillionaires will speak the loudest. Gore will take his left “flank” for granted, assuming that simply tarring Bush with his marriage to the Christian right will be enough to scare voters into the Democratic camp – though he won’t be averse, depending on his audience, to tossing around some radical-sounding rhetoric. Bush will have difficulty putting the hard right genie back in the bottle.

Activists, trade unionists – anyone who is fed up at the growing inequality amid plenty, with police brutality, with fraud and corruption – will be pressured to vote for the lesser evil, Al Gore, however dismal his record may be. But at bottom, this race will not be about anything fundamental. The fundamentals will be decided much more by how class struggle shapes up outside the Washington beltway in the months and years to come.

Last updated on 27 0ctober 2021