OK, I’ve been putting this off for a long time, but now I have to ask. In what universe does Bob Burnett live? I’m interested because I’d like to go there too. In Bob’s universe, surely goodness and mercy will follow us as soon as “bad” Republicans are replaced by “good” Democrats. I guess in Bob’s universe the “good” Democrats haven’t already been in control of Congress for a year, getting nothing done that might cheer us humble folk. Oh, but wait, that’s not fair! They have a mere majority and there’s a Republican in the White House, so how can we expect them to accomplish anything? We must look back to the glory years from 1993 to 2001 when the Democrat in the White House did so much good for us…. Oops, I forgot! For all except the first two years (during which he agitated for NAFTA, instituted “Don’t ask, don’t tell”, and created the health care debacle) that poor Democrat was hamstrung by a Republican Congress. So there was no way he could possibly have accomplished all the wonderful things he intended.
The first presidential election in which I voted was the Kennedy/Nixon race of 1960. My dad said, “Well, I don’t like either of them, but I’ll probably vote for Kennedy as the lesser of two evils.” Thus was I introduced to my family’s rule: always vote for the Democrat, who is always the lesser of two evils. And thus, holding my nose, I voted, all the way through 1992. In 1996, however, unlike Bob Burnett, I coped with the cognitive dissonance produced by the following truth: William Jefferson Clinton had not proved to be the lesser of two evils. He was exactly the same evil! Just like Reagan and Bush I before him and Bush II after, Bill brought us offshoring, deregulation, attacks on the poor, assaults on civil liberties, environmental degradation, foreign policy through bombing, and, under Hillary Rodham’s guidance, the handing over of the American health care system to big pharma and the insurance industry, with the disastrous consequences still unfolding today.
So in 1996 I acted rationally. I gave up my allegiance to the Democratic Party. Along with most of those other few Americans who still bother to vote, I became independent. What this means in practice is that I scan through the entire list of, sigh, candidates for any office and try to decipher which of them might, possibly, be the least of the evils. Sometimes it’s the Democrat, sometimes it isn’t. But the range from worst to best is hardly ever wide and often inscrutable.
Of course, there are reasons for this. Such as rigged elections. And money, money, money. Under our current system, the only people neurotic enough, venal enough, or both, to become candidates are not people you would want to have to dinner, let alone elect to office. So it’s no surprise that our current crop of presidential hopefuls makes mediocre look positively astral by comparison.
So, what is to be done? My own sense is vote, since what the hey. And vote creatively. For example, work your butt off for Cindy Sheehan, instead of muttering about circular firing squads. What? You think Sheehan is going to knock off that great “progressive” Pelosi? Who’s done so much for us? No, she won’t. She can’t. But if she gets even 10 or 15 or 20 percent of the vote, she will attract national attention to the fact that Pelosi is not doing the job her constituents sent her to Congress to do. And spitting into the self-referential complacency of the chattering classes is always worth it.
In the same vein, I will definitely support Cynthia McKinney for president, should she ever decide to run. Cynthia, who (unlike Ralph Nader) has real political instincts, could revitalize the Green Party, getting it organized and making it far more representative of the American polity than it now is. Which would be good, because, boy, do we need a real third party!
But, oh gosh, what if the Green Party takes votes away from the “good” Dems and, as a consequence, the “bad” Repubs win? Stop a minute. Do you really think it matters whether it’s Hillary Clinton or Rudy Giuliani in the White House? Rudy will provide far more amusement. It’s Hil who’s cast in the Dubya I’m-always-right-I-will-punish-my-enemies mold. Anyway, whichever wins, the course of America is set and will continue downward, taking us all with it.
Which brings me to my second point. Vote. Why not, it’s fun. It feels all patriotic and small-town like Norman Rockwell, with the cute little flag out in front and the “I voted” sticker to wear. But don’t stop there! Think of something! Do something! Find others to do it with! Be creative! Be brave! Be aggressive! Throw yourself on the gears, like Mario Savio said. Absent divine intervention, what I do and you do and you do is our last, slim, chance to save the American republic. Which reminds me. Don’t forget to keep your fingers crossed.
Joanna Graham is a Berkeley resident.