Barney Frank's wrong about
Published in the Brookline
July 27, 2000
Barney Frank isn't running for president, but on one issue he's taken
center stage in the national campaign circus. Determined to derail Ralph
Nader's bid for top honcho under the Green Party banner, our Democratic
congressman wants to ensure that Nader's strong appeal doesn't translate
into votes. That's too bad. I'd rather see Frank help shatter the two-party
system that stands in the way of progressive change.
I'm actually less enthralled with Nader than many who will end up voting
for Al Gore, but I don't like Frank's variant of the lesser-of-two evils
argument. It's not that he's wrong about the likely outcome. Barring the
remote possibility that people will take seriously the cliche about voting
for the best person, Nader won't win. His votes will more likely come
from people who'd otherwise opt for Gore rather than George W. Bush.
So under our political system--with no run-off between the top two vote-getters
and a widespread reluctance by Nader admirers to "waste their vote"--a
vote for Nader may indeed help Bush. That's not surprising. Our system,
after all, was designed to ensure elite rule. Although the US Constitution
doesn't establish political parties, it does clarify, section by section,
just how little ordinary people really matter.
Two centuries of amendments and Supreme Court rulings have changed many
details, but as politicians love to point out every Fouth of July, the
Constitution is a resilient document that has preserved our system for
more than two hundred years. They typically avoid meaningful discussion
of what kind of system we have and whose interests it primarily serves.
Individual elites come and go. The slaveowners are gone--not because
of the Constitution but in spite of it. Rich landowners and bankers and
merchants and lawyers are still around--the kind of people who wrote the
Constitution to protect their own. By the time most people got the vote--landless
white men, former slaves and their descendents, women--voting was more
symbolic than substantive: "Do your duty! Vote for the elites of your
Today's politicians have a new style, talking up democracy instead of
emulating the Founding Fathers who ignored the term while ensuring its
suppression. More important than style, they have new allegiances, having
converted the political system into the agent of globalization. Some Democrats
grumble more than Republicans about the victims of corporate power, but
leaders of both parties facilitate multinational expansionism.
Ralph Nader nips at the corporate beast. That's his appeal to people
like my wife, a Naderite ever since Ralph's poster hung on her teenager-bedroom
wall and who now confesses that his presidential run quickens her lawyerly
do-gooder pulse. Many more say they'd vote for him if he had a chance
of winning. But thanks to those Constitutional barriers designed to keep
"we the people" from getting what we want and an extra-Constitutional
two-party system directed by corporate money, Nader doesn't have a chance.
Gore supporters fear that Bush will tip the Supreme Court on social issues.
That's a valid concern, even though packing the Court isn't as easy as
some people think. Regardless of who wins, the Court will remain divided
on abortion, gay rights, and other issues critical for equality and personal
freedom. We'll fight these battles in the future as in the past.
But on one topic the Supreme Elites will remain united: maintaining corporate
dominance. On this issue, Gore's appointees will be as bad as Bush's.
Naderites will vote in favor of a revamped political landscape and against
corporate globalization. Given institutional barriers to fundamental change,
the only real dilemma isn't the choice between Nader and Gore but whether
to vote at all.
My own problem with Nader is that he doesn't go far enough. Matching
the views of the Greens' most moderate wing, the consumer advocate seeks
to muzzle corporations, not to kill them. His belief that the law can
make corporations socially responsible minimizes two centuries' evidence
to the contrary and ignores the damage done even by corporations that
are clean and green.
So despite corporate propaganda, Ralph Nader's not some dangerous anti-capitalist
radical out to change life as we know it. More's the pity.
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