IF YOU REALLY BELIEVE that there's no difference between
the candidates, that taxation and Social Security and education and gun
control and abortion are mere smoke screens for the awful truth, which
is that the reins of power are really held by the increasingly rich minority
that run the country, then you have no choice: Vote for Ralph Nader.
In fact, your instincts are partly right. The wealthy,
the corporations, the military contractors, the banks and capital investing
bodies are unlikely to be too upset if either Bush or Gore wins. Neither
of them are likely to do anything to upset the people that paid for their
candidacies. Since the really wealthy and powerful generally exist above
the law, and try to do their best to remain out of the gaze of public opinion,
then guns and schools and unwanted pregnancies and sickness and retirement
are of little matter to them, except when one of them unaccountably develops
an urge to exercise some kind of public, social philanthropy. Since the
days of John D. Rockefeller Jr., this has become rarer and rarer, so it's
here that the choice for the average voter becomes acute and, ironically,
the differences between candidates clearer.
Al Gore will maintain the current Social Security structure,
with minimal reforms. He wants to ensure its solvency by paying down the
national debt and raising the retirement age to 70. Bush is hell-bent on
reforming the system, but his initiatives are sketchy at present, revolving
mostly around allowing a sort of individual divestment from payroll taxes
to be channelled into individual accounts. If you're a Baby Boomer, you
should be worried about this issue more than anything else in this election,
since the next 25 years will be a crisis point for Social Security.
Young people should be worried too, since they'll be the
ones paying for the Boomers' decline into senecence if anything goes wrong.
If you haven't bothered to look into this by the time you go into the voting
booth, then be prepared to make a leap of faith with either candidate.
I don't envy you.
AMERICAN SCHOOLS, SO IT GOES, are in a mess. Parents blame
the teachers, teachers blame the government, and students vote with their
feet, dropping out when the situation gets too hopeless. The fact that
education is, at root, a local and state issue, is discussed fitfully if
at all. The brutal fact that public schools in poor areas are immeasurably
worse than schools in rich ones is a hot potato that neither candidate
wants to touch in an election where race has -- gratefully, I'm sure, for
George and Al (remember Willie Horton?) -- barely raised its head.
Bush supports charter and school voucher systems that
will, to some degree, "privatize" education and begin dismantling the existing
public school structure. Gore wants to maintain and re-invest in the current
system. Bush wants to "grade" the schools, close down the failures and
give the unfortunate students "exit vouchers" to spend on the public or
private school of their choice. The amount -- US$1500 on average -- is
hardly enough to send a kid from Bed-Stuy to Groton or Choate, so they'll
end up either in new "charter" private schools that will have to be monitored
-- at notable cost -- by the government, or overcrowding other "passing
grade" public schools that might be swamped into "failure" by bloated class
size. I hope Bush's people have thought this all the way through, because
it could make a big mess even bigger.
If you have the money to send your kids to private schools,
the only thing you're probably worried about is having the money to send
them to college. If your kids are in, or destined for, public schools,
then you might hope that Al Gore means what he says.
Once again, any parent who hasn't looked into this before
they pull the lever and make their choice should book a weekend in Reno
or Vegas as soon as possible -- they obviously like gambling.
GEORGE W. BUSH'S STANCE ON THE DEATH PENALTY is obvious.
His stance on abortion on just a little less known. It's an article of
faith for liberal Democrats that he'll try to dismantle Roe v. Wade and
appoint Supreme Court justices that'll re-criminalize abortion judgement
by judgement. It may happen -- or Bush might be more canny than he appears
and allow the issue to fester for four more years, in the hope that the
Christian Coalition and other Republican right support will continue on
its waning trend. Bush has been forced to the centre in this election,
and he might not want to risk losing re-election by going right.
In any case, if you're against the death penalty and pro-choice,
vote for Al Gore. It's that simple.
IF THE ENVIRONMENT is a big issue for you, vote for Gore.
I know it seems like Nader and the Green Party are the natural choice,
but think about it -- if you really think that the environment is the most
important issue of all, then vote for the candidate that actually stands
a chance of getting elected and preserving something of the EPA, and damn
your idealistic principles.
If you can't imagine going through another election without
campaign finance reform, then vote for Nader and emigrate -- neither candidate
are probably going to do much about it -- and Nader's certainly more interested
in political reform than greenhouse gas or emission controls or stopping
natural gas drilling in Alaska.
If you're black or latino, then you'd better hope that
Bush is as much a "new Republican" as he says he is, but you'd still be
on the right track if you kept hauling yourself up the income ladder and
make sure you contribute to campaigns and lobby groups. A change is gonna
come, alright, but it's money that'll push it along. I wish I could be
more idealistic about this.
If you're poor and on welfare, you probably don't vote,
anyway -- which is just the way both candidates want it. (Except maybe
Gore, just right at this moment, hoping for any lead he can scrape together,
from anywhere. Now would be a good time to ask him about welfare reform.)
In any case, Bush would like to see charity play more of a part in helping
the poor, through charitable tax-deductions for taxpayers and giving public
funds to religious organizations. Gore wants to increase the minimum wage
and expand the social safety net with tax credits and subsidies for the
poor. It's the old "nanny state versus private initiative" argument, and
your feeling on this probably coincides with your ideas taxes. You decided
how you were going to vote months, if not years, ago.
If you own a gun, you'll probably vote for Bush. If you're
an NRA member, I doubt you're even reading this.
IF YOU WANT A PRESIDENT that says "subliminable" and "make
the pie higher", you know who to vote for. You'd better hope nothing happens
in Slovenia or Slovakia in the next four years, since George W. probably
doesn't know which is which.
If you want a president that will take credit for the
Marshall Plan and make the State of the Union address sound like a third-year
economics and history lecture by a blissfully tenured professor pushing
his first book not published by an academic press, then Al Gore's your
I'm being glib, I know. Still, it's issues like this --
"character" and the vague inducements of personal dislike and intuition
-- that will push Gore or Bush into the White House tonight, if the race
is as close as they say it is.
Then there's the electoral college. I'm still not sure
how that works, and I've tried, I really have. In the end, I have to say
that I'm glad I live in a parliamentary democracy, even if the choice I'm
going to have to make in a few weeks is actually much less clear-cut than
the ones you Americans have to make today.