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the diary thing 
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11.07.00
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 election
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Your country 'tis of thee..."DEWEY DEFEATS TRUMAN". It's one of the oldest election jokes anyone can remember today. The 1948 presidential election was a close one, as close as the one being voted on today, and the consensus was that Republican candidate Thomas Dewey would win handily over incumbent president Harry S. Truman. Polls had favoured Dewey, a dull candidate who had lost to FDR four years earlier, fighting a bitter campaign against a man whose status as a hero, godlike and morally adamantine in the fight against the Axis that the Allies were winning. 

The conventional wisdom was that Truman, a default president never elected in a popular vote but raised to power by FDR's death in office, didn't stand a chance in peacetime, and that resurgent isolationism and resentment against the New Deal would send the little man back to his haberdashery shop. The Chicago Daily Tribune was so certain of Dewey's win that they went to press with the front-page headline "Dewey Defeats Truman", a copy of which Truman brandished at his victory celebration.

Truman ended up taking the electoral college 303-189. I somehow doubt if we'll see such a clear result tonight. As it stands, I still hold with the prediction I made a few months ago: Bush by a tiny margin. I still hope I'm wrong, though.

I'VE LONG SINCE RECANTED my hastily expressed opinion that there isn't much difference between the two candidates, the kind of glib, offhanded statement that might get by on Bill Maher's "Politically Incorrect" but which doesn't have much gravitas in the voting booth. I'm not an American -- as I never tire of pointing out -- but it seems to me that the choices are clear enough, for those who are, and who manage to overcome the lassitude and dismay that results from a bitter, ugly, year-long media campaign.

If you're a stockbroker or an investor, or anyone whose life's focus is on the economy, the conventional wisdom is that you have to vote for Bush. Yes, the economy's done well under Clinton and the Democrats, but the smart money (read: if you have money, you must be smart) says that this has more to do with Alan Greenspan's free market policies and the legacy of Reagan/Bush deregulation than it has to do with eight years of Democratic government.

The vast middle class -- or those people who like to think they're middle class -- have it in their best interests to vote for whoever promises more tax cuts and less government spending and intervention in business. The implication -- true enough as it has been -- is that the first people to suffer from a failing economy will be the middle class. 

The flaw in this logic is obvious: the first people to suffer when the economy fails are the employees of businesses that lay off workers, known more conventionally (and unfashionably, these days) as the working class. Many of the people who consider themselves middle class are, by this scenario's grim logic, working class. If the Depression proved anything, it was that some kind of government safety net is essential when unemployment rises, but the logic of prosperity holds that government spending -- of tax money -- only hobbles the economy and invites inflation and unemployment. It's a kind of chicken and egg situation that isn't made any easier to resolve when even the public isn't quite sure where their best interests lie, and an economic boom encourages blissful short-term thinking.

In any case, if you don't like paying taxes and truly believe that discriminatory spending by the wealthy encourages the economy, you should vote for George W. Bush. If you support social programs, worry about the boom ending, and doubt that deregulation gave the U.S. much more than the S&L crisis, you have to vote for Al Gore.

It's that simple.

IF YOU WENT TO Seattle or Prague in a bad mood sometime in the last year, you'll probably vote for neither candidate. If your opinion of globalization holds it somewhere between slave labour and copper strip-mining, then neither candidate will satisfy your hunger for a better world.

I'm trying not to sound too patronizing here.

Globalization is a fact, probably more than global warming, if you listen to the experts. I tend to think that there's something insidious and depressing about the slick sameness that results from a global uniculture based on marketing and consumer demands, but I also know that this is a trend that began not with Bretton Woods or GATT or even the British conquest of the Punjab and the Opium Wars, but with the first migration of one tribe into another's territory, armed with beads and furs and not weapons. 

In a pessimistic mood, you might mutter that bloodlust and power motivate human civilization more often than not, but I think you'd be wrong. Trade and curiosity have accounted for the greatest surges in technology, learning, and even recognition of civil rights -- after an ugly period of empire-building and brutal oppression. The British outlawed slavery as they were building their empire to its zenith, and the United States had to end it before they could become a world power. It's a grim truth that the smaller the tribe, the more likely to value aggressive defense and entrenched xenophobia. Homogeneity rarely encourages tolerance.

Economic globalization -- that is, the concentration of money and power in the hands of a few conglomerates, which become supra-nations -- is a frightening prospect only if you think that these mega-conglomerates really know, or can really control, everything within their jurisdiction: social trends, technological innovation and needs, culture, demography, government from the national to the municipal level, even climate. If you do, then you'd might as well just move to the cabin in the woods now, because no candidate short of a fanatic luddite willing to enact draconian measures to turn back the clock will satisfy you. By the way, that kind of government is usually a totalitarian dictatorship of some sort, and malcontents like you are usually the first to visit the basement of secret police headquarters.


 
"The saddest life is that of a political aspirant under democracy. His failure is ignominious and his success is disgraceful."
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- H.L. Mencken
A Mencken Chrestomathy

 
My state of the union address, I guess. All politics, all the way through. Don't think this is the last of it -- we still have two elections up here before the month is out.

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 man.

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. 

Good luck.

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writing ©2000
Rick McGinnis
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