By Besha Rodell
By Patrick Range McDonald
By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
Can Nader win? Of course not. Can he alter what passes for our public discourse? In some instances, he already has: Al Gore’s newfound populism is partly a response to Nader’s anti-corporate appeal. Can he build a new political party that will change American politics? Probably not: Our nonparliamentary, winner-take-all system is structured to strangle such parties in their cribs. Neither do we think that the concentration of progressive efforts within the Green Party is necessarily a good thing — at least not here in California, where an active and powerful left is battling an active and powerful center within the state Democratic Party.
Nonetheless, Nader is charting a kind of global social democracy which is precisely the course that globalization — if it is to preserve and enhance the lives of people and their democracies, and the planet’s ecosystem — must take. As well, Nader’s candidacy can be a brake on the rightward rush of the Democratic Party nationally. For these two reasons above all, Ralph Nader is our clear choice for president.
Problem is, George W. Bush embraces a frightening agenda that would shift this nation radically rightward — as such pillars of reaction as The Wall Street Journal, The National Review, the Christian Coalition and the National Rifle Association have all enthusiastically noted. A Bush administration would pose a clear and present danger to social insurance, workers’ rights, low-income Americans, the environment, choice, equality. Virtually every achievement from America’s two decades of social reform, the ’30s and the ’60s, will be under attack from a Bush White House. If you think we’re overstating, W.’s own platform and his record as governor bear us out.
Bush’s most far-reaching proposal — going where even Ronald Reagan and Newt Gingrich dared not go — is to begin to dismantle the notion and reality of the common obligation Americans have toward one another. Social Security, it’s important to understand, is primarily an anti-poverty program for seniors, who, before Social Security’s expansion in the early 1970s, were the poorest age group in the country. It is an unabashedly redistributive program, redirecting some of the money from the highest earners — and therefore highest contributors to the Social Security system — to low-wage workers who were unable to contribute as much. Through Social Security (and only through Social Security for a majority of recipients even today), most of America’s seniors have escaped the trap of poverty — and their children have escaped a crushing economic obligation to provide for them.
Nonetheless, W. is proposing to eliminate the “social” in the security — establishing a program to have 2 percent of American workers’ paychecks go into personal investment accounts. (And the conservative press and think tanks view this 2 percent as the camel’s nose inside the tent — just the start of a sweeping dismantling of the entire system.) The more funds devoted to personal accounts, though, the smaller the guaranteed payout for seniors who were low-wage workers. If the market goes south, as it one day certainly will, Americans run the risk of losing their nest eggs — again, a particular calamity for workers with modest incomes. Finally, W.’s proposal to siphon funds from the system will, if enacted, soon imperil the benefits of retirees, unless he can come up with hundreds of billions of dollars from some as yet unidentified source.
When we turn to Bush’s record as governor, his conservatism is a lot more evident than his compassion. W.’s Texas is a state where poverty is both extensive and unaddressed. The hourly minimum wage for agricultural workers (who are not covered by federal law) in Texas is an astonishing $3.35. As Al Gore has pointed out, and W. declined to dispute, Texas ranks 50th among the states in the percentage of families, and 49th in the percentage of children, with health insurance.
Texas also ranks fourth from last in the percentage of workers who are unionized, and there’s little doubt that the chief political goal of a Bush administration would be to bust America’s unions. Since John Sweeney became AFL-CIO president in 1995, unions have become the most effective operation for Democratic candidates at election time; it is only by virtue of their efforts that the Democrats are close to retaking both houses of Congress. Bush has repeatedly pledged to cripple unions’ political clout. The revival of American labor still has a long way to go, and W. could clearly try to stop it — shackling the nation’s most effective force on behalf of low-wage workers and immigrant rights, the power behind the municipal living-wage movements and all campaigns to preserve social insurance.
Moreover, Bush’s record on worker rights and environmental standards while serving as governor is appalling. He has actually advocated voluntary compliance rather than state enforcement of Texas’ environmental laws.
When it comes to the rights of minorities, Bush has a clear record of opposition to affirmative action. Earlier this year, he told a national police association that his Justice Department would not file the kind of lawsuits against police departments for patterns of rights violations that compelled Los Angeles to enter into a police-reform consent decree with the Feds. (If the negotiators don’t hurry up with the final language, there may be no decree.) He opposes federal civil rights legislation that would extend protections to gays and lesbians. And when it comes to administering the death penalty, the governor, by numerous accounts, spends about as much time reviewing a clemency appeal as it might take to select an entrĂ©e from a slightly-larger-than-average dinner menu: 15 minutes. (And, always, he orders death.) But then, there’s very little about Bush to suggest he is in any sense a serious person.
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