A Democratic Perversity
In six days the collective inattention of an apathetic and uneducated electorate will enable the victory of Texas Gov. George W. Bush. Voters party to Bush's election will fall into three categories: the filthy rich who want to get richer, principled partisans and the duped.
Economic Inequality and Corporate Interest. The filthy rich, a small but influential percentage of Bush supporters, will vote overwhelmingly on account of their self-interest. George W.'s unabashed disregard for rising economic inequality and unthinking addiction to "free markets" that are anything but free for the working poor deliver moneyed interests an irresistible combination of tax cuts and rollbacks of government regulations. Smaller government means a smaller Environmental Protection Agency, a smaller Food and Drug Administration, a smaller Department of Transportation, and a smaller antitrust division of the Department of Justice. Think Firestone tires, Houston smog and Standard Oil. For those whose six- and seven-figure salaries comfortably insulate them from the cold realities of working-class life, there is no better candidate.
Social Conservatism Strikes Back. Principled partisans, the majority of Bush supporters, will vote on account of their already established ideological preferences. On the Republican side of the aisle, principled partisans who aren't also wealthy tend to derive their conservatism from religious fundamentalism. Like characters in Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter, these social conservatives revel in Bush's pledge to uphold "traditional values" by legislative fiat. Their ideology of government-mandated morality includes, among other things, rights for the unborn but not for all the born.
Gays and religious minorities, for example, will particularly suffer under a Bush Administration, whose use of executive order and veto power will cripple the cause for equal rights and crumble the wall of separation between church and state. The party that mustered Congressional majorities for posting the Ten Commandments and holding mandatory prayer in schools but failed to pass sensible gun regulation after Columbine or hate-crimes laws after Matthew Shepard's murder is itching to appoint the next few Supreme Court justices.
Taking the Pie Higher. Bush supporters not drawn from the ranks of the wealthy or the socially conservative have simply been duped by a spurious devotion to personality over politics, the effectiveness of the Republican slander campaign against Vice President Al Gore '69 and near-total inability of the Democrats to articulate the issues at stake. These three tragic elements combine to give working-class independents, who will swing the election, the mistaken idea that the route to education reform, environmental protection and a fair wage for a fair day's work runs through a vacuous philosophical sham termed "Compassionate Conservatism."
Let's get real. The idea that Bush is "a uniter, not a divider" or will commit to real progress on leveling the economic, health, and educational playing fields is fallacious. Even if you buy his pledge to go where his political party has not, no one with a divided Congress is uniting much of anything in the next four years, so forget personality and think fitness for office both in terms of foreign policy and the Supreme Court.
Here Republicans have effectively covered up Bush's alarming lack of command of the issues. He may have a star-studded group of advisers at the ready, but what happens when Colin Powell and Condalezza Rice disagree over whether to go to war, say, in the Middle East? If you want to watch Vladimir Putin, Jiang Zemin and Saddam Hussein eat George W. for breakfast while we blow $60 billion or more erecting an ineffective and geopolitically destabilizing anti-missile system, vote Bush-Cheney.
The Irony of Nader. Adding a perverse twist to the knife Republicans placed in Al Gore's back is none other than Ralph Nader. The resonance of Nader's rhetoric and the role his candidacy will play in taking down Al Gore's is Exhibit A in the long list of evidence against the functioning of our democracy. Nader assails the concentration of corporate power, which voters correctly identify with. However, his one-issue view lumps Gore and Bush together, obscuring their political differences. The public's inability to dissociate these messages contributes to the perception that there is no difference between Gore and Bush, when in fact nothing could be further from the truth.
All this goes to say that no matter who wins the White House, one thing is clear: Most of the public no longer makes informed political judgements. Instead, voters cast their ballots on media-made premises that bear little resemblance to the actual role the executive plays in governing. The result of all these misperceptions: a candidate for the White House who neither reflects core American values nor is even fit for office. Democracy, usually the aid of Democrats, has failed them this time. And what a price we will pay.
Christopher M. Kirchhoff '01 is a history and science concentrator in Winthrop House. His column appears on alternate Wednesdays.