The Mess of Election 2000 and
The Myth of the Vote
Revolutionary Worker #1080, November 27, 2000, posted at http://rwor.org
As we go to press, the fight over who will be President continues. Accusations and counter accusations, law brief and counter law brief, spin and counter spin. Representatives of each camp have pretty much openly accused the other of attempts to steal the election. It remains to be seen how far, how deep this will go.
As we write, this has not yet erupted into a truly threatening crisis for this system, but it is a pretty sorry mess at the moment. After all, this kind of scandal-ridden election--when it occurs in a country the U.S. views as a strategic target--has been the occasion for at least some loud, holier than thou accusations by the U.S. And plenty of people around the world are noticing--and enjoying--the irony of the position that these murderous hypocrites have found themselves in. Even some basically friendly governments seem to be enjoying getting in a kick or two at this superpower which throws its weight around and lords it over basically everyone.
And beyond concern for their international reputation--there is the fact that elections really are a big part of the national myth by which the U.S. ruling class maintains loyalty and control over large sections of the people in the U.S. Particularly in the middle class, the idea that elections are the means by which "the people's will" "rules" -- this is a very important myth. If this is thrown into question--and some parts of it have been getting pretty frayed around the edges in this situation--this is a matter for serious ruling class concern.
Both sides cynically seized any argument that might serve them. Bush demanded that the recounts stop (which would leave him ahead and headed for Washington). Chris Rock joked that Bush was threatening to execute the fat lady if she didn't sing soon. Meanwhile, the Gore camp was able to look more respectful of "the will of the people" and "the processes laid out in Florida state law"--as any new recount seemed likely to serve their cause.
A Bush aide revealed that if the roles had been reversed, if Bush had won the popular vote without an electoral victory, the Bush camp was prepared to launch a national ad campaign to delegitimize Gore's victory.
Once the Florida Secretary of State and the federal and state courts got involved--it was quickly clear how much the supposedly neutral "rule of law" is up for grabs. Various decisions reflected the partisan pull and loyalties of different sections of the ruling class.
In an almost comical way, the opposing parties dumped their usual "principles" to gain advantage: Republicans started praising Federal court intervention in local affairs (to stop the recounts); Democrats upheld the "state's right" of Florida and its largely Democratic judges to govern the election.
As the system ground its way toward a solution, it was clear that the key issue for the ruling class, and the basis on which the final decision would be made, was not "rule of law" or the "will of the people"-- but what would carry out an orderly transfer of power and legitimacy from one representative of this system to another.
The conservative ideologue William Bennett let the cat out of the bag in a column about this in the Wall Street Journal. "Our democracy," Bennett said, "depends on people abiding by certain unwritten rules. One of them has been that presidential candidates who lose an election do not contest the loss unless there is evidence of massive fraud and abuse... If those unwritten rules are violated, it sets in motion events that could precipitate an authentic political crisis."
All along, there has been a sense that large sections of the ruling class would feel equally comfortable with either Bush or Gore in power. But as the different sides dug in over Florida, major ruling class voices became concerned that neither of their candidates may be able to rule with a clear sense of legitimacy.
By the time people vote for presidents, the Presidential hopefuls have already been pre-selected by ruling class kingmakers. But what the system gets out of elections is legitimacy for their leaders.
As RCP Chairman Bob Avakian has summed up, "To state it in a single sentence, elections: are controlled by the bourgeoisie; are not the means through which basic decisions are made in any case, and are really for the primary purpose of legitimizing the system and the policies and actions of the ruling class, giving them the mantle of a 'popular mandate,' and of channeling, confining and controlling the political activity of the masses of people."
Such legitimacy is already undermined by the declining participation of people in elections. This year, barely half of eligible voters voted. If you count immigrants and former prisoners who are denied the vote, less than half of the voting age population participated in the election. Both presidential candidates got votes from less than a quarter of the adults--a lousy mandate for an empire.
But now, after this election mess, there are concerns that whichever candidate finally wins, significant sections of the population--and even some sections of the ruling class itself--will not look at him as the "legitimate" President. Those who voted for Gore, and found their votes denied and/or uncounted, will only add that experience to their reasons to despise Bush. And all you have to do is remember how the Republican forces led the drive to impeach Clinton--and in particular the Christian Fascist forces who fueled that "inquisition"--and this gives a pretty good indication that if Gore ends up the declared winner, some significant sections of the ruling class will regard him as a "thief" and approach his Presidency, too, as pretty much illegitimate. This could lead to further crises and upheavals under whoever ends up the next President.
None of this is bad news for people who want serious change.
Meanwhile, all through the elections and this political crisis, there have been sections of the people who believe that on issues that matter, there are real differences between Gore and Bush. This is particularly true among Black people but also among many people who understand the importance of the right to choose. And it is even true among Nader supporters who gave over half of their votes to Gore. Many progressive people have told us that they just couldn't stand the thought of a society that would elect George W.--who executes prisoners by the dozen, upheld the confederate flag, and believes there is no danger in global warming.
Though there have rarely been two presidential candidates standing closer politically, it is true that there are differences between the two camps--on issues like abortion, diversity, public education and affirmative action. And this too is part of how the system works--because they couldn't draw anyone into this circus if there were literally no differences at all between their candidates. But if you look closely at the Democratic positions, you can see that their positions do not really represent the interests of the people and will not actually solve the problems that people face.
Take the issue of abortion: Bush is against keeping abortion legal, and Gore is for it. But if you look more closely--Gore (like Clinton) argues that abortion should be "legal but rare." Under the Democrats, women's clinics have been under siege, doctors have been shot--while Democrats have supported new legal restrictions on abortion, like parental consent laws. Meanwhile, the mass movement for women's rights has been paralyzed by the approach of relying on the Democratic officials and the Justice Department--while serious challenges to women's rights go unanswered and unopposed.
Or take racial profiling: Gore supports a law to make racial profiling illegal. But will two hundred years of racial profiling just go away because some federal law is passed? Doesn't this issue demand the uprooting of white supremacy, the structures of racial inequality and a serious struggle against the police? And doesn't support for Gore lead people away from doing what really needs to be done for that kind of radical change?
Some people answer that radical change is not practical right now. But why not? Isn't it the major official parties who work to restrict what the range of acceptable debate will be? Gore worked with the Republicans to even exclude Nader from the national debate. When people "hold their noses and vote for Gore," aren't they giving in to this--and accepting that politics can never be more than what is acceptable to this system and its ruling class?
Look for a moment at all the criminal and oppressive things that these two candidates agree on:
Both Bush and Gore support an intensified repressive atmosphere in society. Gore and Bush support more police, more police powers and expanded prisons. They are both into the war on drugs--meaning: the criminalization of a generation.
Both Bush and Gore insist the U.S. must be #1 in the world--with a military prepared to threaten and intervene around the world. Gore supported Reagan during the Cold War, and George Bush Sr. during the Gulf War. He helped initiate the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia and supports the embargo on Iraq that has cost a million civilian lives. In other words, both Gore and Bush are fully imperialist and support capitalist exploitation all over the world.
George W. is the crown prince of execution--but Clinton rode to the White House after executing a Black man who suffered from brain damage. Gore insists he will carry out federal executions if he is president.
On top of all this, the Democrats have continually joined with the Republicans in pushing mainstream politics more and more to the right, and voting for Democrats as the "lesser of two evils" just plays into this--and into the political manipulation by the powers-that-be.
Sometimes people convince themselves that they are serving some larger purpose by supporting the "lesser evil"--that supporting Gore makes him "indebted to the left." Nothing in the sad history of "voting for the lesser evil" has ever shown that lesser evil working for you.
And people sometimes say that they are gathering forces, through electoral strategies, for a day when something new and better can be formed. But working inside the electoral process is not a way to change the political climate or build new alliances for serious change.
Look at the millions of people who are alienated or excluded from this election process--especially the masses of proletarian people in the ghettos, barrios, reservations and prisons of this country. How will it help radical change in this country if they are dragged into the voting booth and trained to put their hopes in a representative of the ruling class? And when people enter the electoral arena--which is so tightly controlled by their oppressors--even if they are determined to fight for change and progressive policies, they find themselves coopted, demoralized and paralyzed. It is a waste of their energy and a betrayal of their hopes.
In Democracy: Can't We Do Better Than That?, Bob Avakian writes: "The very acceptance of the electoral process as the quintessential political act reinforces acceptance of the established order and works against any radical rupture with, to say nothing of the actual overthrowing of that order."
What ultimately does your vote really count for? Can you use it to do away with poverty? To find homeless people housing fit for human beings? Can you vote to break up the Marines and the CIA? To get poor kids decent schools and a future that matters? Can you vote to free women from inequality--or even secure the basic right to safe abortion on demand without apology?
Liberation is never on the ballot. It can only be seized by the people, through determined, revolutionary struggle.
This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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