The Election Nobody Won

By William T. Hathaway

After the savage denouement of Election 2000 we can look back on a campaign that saw Gore sacrifice his principles and Bush sacrifice our democracy, all to the great god Winning. The final debacle agonized but didn't surprise us. With grim inevitability it stripped away the last facade of red, white and blue idealism. Five weeks of political thuggery made it clear that our votes don't count. Bush didn't win the election; he seized power through a legalistic coup d'etat.

We may mourn for Gore, but he wasn't even outraged. A true son of the system, he'd rather sink than rock the boat. Despite some positive qualities, he's not a genuine agent for change. Like Bush, he supports capital punishment, genetic engineering of foods, corporate globalization, and a military build-up. Economically, the two men differ only in the size of their trickle down.

To find the reason for this Tweedledee and Tweedledumb pairing, we just need to look at their mega donors. The soft-money moguls don't want us to have a real choice. Campaign financing shows us that the major parties are just two sides of the same gold coin, two modes of control by the corporate oligarchy.

The economic power base of both parties lies in the business establishment, and they represent two tendencies within it. The Republicans support a fiscal orientation aimed at preserving the value of capital by keeping taxes and inflation low. To them, a moderate increase in the number of poor people provides an anchor on the economy by holding wages and thus inflation down. The Democrats support a mercantile orientation aimed at expanding public buying power. To them, a moderate increase in the number of prosperous people enlarges the customer base. Each party contains more than this, but this is their economic core that keeps their leaders from acting against corporate interests. The alternation of power between them ensures that neither tendency gets carried so far as to destabilize the very profitable enterprise. Given this structure, the changes we need can't come from them.

Through ballot-access laws, matching-fund regulations, and debate policies, the major parties try to shut out other approaches. They're the only game in town, and it's now obviously a shell game with no winners except them.

They and the corporate media have also avoided an open discussion of their economic interests by riveting public attention on the emotional sideshow, the battle of winners and losers. Politics, like the news, has become garish entertainment for an increasingly ignorant populace: we, the people.

Both parties are now calling for restoring harmony, for pulling the country together, for healing the national wounds. But what they really mean is healing the wounds to the establishment.

For the first time since our defeat in Vietnam, a major crack has appeared in our two-party but one-purpose elite. As they try to patch that crack and restore the cosmetics of democracy, we can expect a media campaign to create good feelings about America. Hollywood will get into the act, as it did after the Vietnam war with films such as PRIVATE BENJAMIN, AN OFFICER AND A GENTLEMAN, and TOP GUN, designed to restore the charisma of the military. The studio execs are probably already conceptualizing a hip, "mock the system at the same time you reinforce it" version of MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON. And George W. Bush will now play Mr. Nice Guy, dismantling only gradually and indirectly the few progressive measures that Clinton was willing or able to implement.

But the crack is there and it can be widened; a wedge can be driven into it and it can eventually be split apart, and this monolith of power can fall and something new and more humane can take its place. Otherwise the establishment wouldn't be trying so hard to patch it up and erase the memory.

Forty-five thousand ballots that antiquated voting machines couldn't read, most of them from poor districts, still remain uncounted in Florida. Paid Republican demonstrators interfered with the counting, Florida officials governed by Bush's brother refused to accept revised vote totals, and the Republican-dominated US Supreme Court insisted on enforcing a deadline that the law itself says is flexible. Due to this coup, Bush won Florida by 193 votes and assumed the presidency against the national popular vote.

We must not forget this! But most people already have because it's too painful.

If what's left of the Left can reach them and turn their alienation into radical engagement, we may yet see a ground swell of political activism that will force fundamental changes. Until that happens, we, the people, will continue to be the losers.

William Hathaway writes, "I recently completed two years as a Fulbright professor of English and American studies at universities in Germany, from where I voted absentee in Florida. My first novel, A WORLD OF HURT, won a Rinehart Foundation Award. My journalism has appeared in the LOS ANGELES TIMES, MIDSTREAM, AFRICANA, JEWISH AFFAIRS, DIE WELT, CENTRAL ASIA MONITOR, FILIPINAS, UPSCALE, and ACROSS THE BOARD and my literary work in THE DICKINSON REVIEW, SOUTH DAKOTA REVIEW, PHILAE, MANY MOUNTAINS MOVING, TAR RIVER POETRY, TROUBADOUR, NEW WORKS REVIEW, AMARILLO BAY, PIG IRON, BROKEN STREETS, OKLAHOMA ENGLISH JOURNAL, CICADA, AND CHRYSALIS.