Is a Clinton Victory Worth the Cost?
My involvement with the Democratic Party started at age 9, when my mom took me along to pass out McGovern-Shriver leaflets door-to-door in our solidly Republican neighborhood. “The Democrats,” my mother explained, “are the party of the people. Republicans only care about rich big-shots.” Nothing I have seen since 1972 has contradicted the latter part of that summary of our two-party system. Watching my mom’s enthusiasm while she tried to reason with our neighbors and dialed number after number in the dingy campaign headquarters in downtown Dayton convinced me that there really was a chance of ousting President Nixon—a man, who all attempts at historical revisionism notwithstanding, was the devil. My fourth-grade class held a mock election that fall. There were 32 little Nixonites to my one Democratic vote.
I quickly learned that, in America, Democrats usually lose, even when they win. Jimmy Carter squeaked by Ford in 1976—an astonishing fact when you consider the unelected incumbent’s corrupt pardon deal and idiotic demeanor—and never enjoyed a mandate to act like a real Democrat. The great Reagan defense build-up actually began in 1978 under Carter, along with draft registration and the U.S. refusal to attend the 1980 Olympics because of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. I was convinced that Carter lost in 1980 because these compromises had lost him his party’s liberal base, but I still worked for Mondale and Dukakis as they continued to pursue watered-down liberalism, organizing college students and dodging New York cops while wheat-pasting posters in the subways.
The capitalism run-amok excesses of the Reagan and Bush years made it easier to be a Democrat again—by the time 1992 rolled around, there was nothing more important to the country’s political and financial health than getting George Herbert Hoover Walker Bush out of the White House. The day after the election, a reporter called me to ask my reaction. “I feel like an evil cloud has lifted from the country,” I told him as I scribbled file labels at one of my three jobs. “Americans have rejected the idea that caring about other people is a sign of weakness.” I really did feel that way.
Which brings me to November 5th, when I will not be voting for Bill Clinton.
I am personally better off than I was four years ago, but the country has continued to go to hell. The reasons are simple. Given the first chance in a century to get national health protection passed, he blew it by proposing an outlandish scheme designed to protect insurance-company profits. Then he signed NAFTA and GATT, treasonous free trade deals that sell out American workers for the benefit of his corporate pals’ bottom lines. Even Reagan and Bush never pushed hard on NAFTA. To be sure, he did the right thing by sending troops to Bosnia, but he waited so long that the people they were sent to protect were all dead by the time they got there.
Clinton’s 1995 copresidency with Newt Gingrich was an embarrassment, but the last straw was his cynical election-year betrayal of the poor by eliminating welfare without creating the jobs to replace it.
My friends argue that a vote for Ralph Nader or Ross Perot—or for that matter, opting to stay home and watch TV—is a vote for Bob Dole. In a rigid two-party system, they’re right, but so what? Even if there were a chance that Dole could be elected, he and Clinton are both essentially the same: Both are pro-business, pro-choice and deficit-obsessed. A Dole Administration might cost the nation a few progressive appellate judges, but on the issues that really matter, most Americans wouldn’t notice much difference.
Furthermore, casting a protest vote, or not voting at all, is an effective means of telling the mainstream parties that you’re not interested in what they’re offering. While low voter turnout allows “winners” to claim mandates at press conferences, they know that the truth is that their message isn’t selling. While it may mean supporting a “spoiler” in the short term, it can force the big parties to reevaluate their directions.
This year, voting for Clinton potentially tells him that you agree with everything he’s done so far when you’re actually voting for the anti-Dole. If you support NAFTA and guaranteed unemployment and making children homeless, fine. But our republic wasn’t intended to have voters support the lesser of two evils—or likely winners simply because they’re likely to win. If you substantially disagree with Clintonism, you have a moral obligation as a citizen to vote for someone else. If no other candidate else appeals to you, your duty is to stay home.
Some people may question how I could abandon the Democrats after all this time. But I never left the party—it left me.
(Ted Rall, a syndicated cartoonist and freelance writer based in New York City, was a 1996 Pulitzer Prize finalist.)
© 1996 Ted Rall, All Rights Reserved