Election Piffle

This is what it has come to.

Hillary Clinton seems poised to damage Barack Obama so badly in the Democratic primary that he will end up flopping around like a suffocating trout in the general election when he faces John McCain. From the progressive left, the Green Party, totally strapped for cash and lacking an effective platform, seems intent on running former Democrat Cynthia McKinney for president, known in mainstream America only for her ugly spat with Capital Hill police. And of course there is Ralph Nader who is running another quixotic campaign on sound issues and moral fortitude, but with absolutely no grassroots base to form a rebellion against the powers that be — a campaign that will inevitably become mired in expensive ballot-access battles that will drag far beyond the election itself.

It’s a dismal time for electoral politics indeed. Candidates that oppose the Iraq war, Israel’s occupation of Palestine, the oil cartel, the banking industry, the PATRIOT Act and the death penalty are shoved to the political margins, starved for cash, lacking an organized movement and are ignored by the press.

Back in 2000, during Nader’s most spirited presidential run, anti-globalization sentiment, fueled by the WTO protests, was coming to a head. Nader spoke forcefully about the concerns of the activists that took to the streets of Seattle one year prior, addressing the corporate takeover of our natural resources, the exploitation of labor in developing countries and the fallacies of neoliberalism at home. For many, Nader’s candidacy was less about Nader the persona and more about what his campaign represented. Sadly, the reality today is much different than it was eight years ago.

Unless Hillary Clinton somehow pulls out the Democratic nomination, Nader’s struggling campaign will likely draw only a fraction of the support it did in 2004, despite what a few cherry-picked polls are saying about his chances. Barack Obama has all but sealed up the progressive vote, riding on his airy rhetoric of “change” and “hope”. This no doubt will deflate Nader’s campaign even further.

Nader often speaks of the role third parties have played in past social movements. But what “party” does Mr. Nader speak for now? What movement is pounding the pavement day in and day out in support of his candidacy? What stadium will be sold out to hear him speak later this summer? What election is he going to spoil?

This is where Barack Obama steps on to the scene. The fact that Obama has been able to mount a battle against the Clinton controlled Democratic Party, throwing Bill and Hillary into a few tizzies along the way, deserves respect. No Democrat has dared challenge the duo’s control these past two decades, and those who did have been silenced and marginalized. But that’s right about where my respect for Obama stops. While the senator from Illinois claims to oppose the war in Iraq, he has nonetheless voted numerous times to continue funding its continuation. He supports the death penalty, nuclear power and “clean” coal, believes Israel has a right to occupy Palestine and promises to bully Iran with the threat of warfare. All-in-all Obama is a candidate caught in the same old empty cul-de-sac, and progressives ought to jump off his wobbly bandwagon at the next stop.

The Green Party, or what’s left of it, isn’t a much better alternative. Just last December the GPUS was forced to borrow over $6,000 from its members in order to send out a direct mailing. The party is dead broke. Or maybe just dead. If the GPUS were a corporation they’d have filed for bankruptcy years ago. It’s also hard to tell what party their leading candidate Cynthia McKinney is exactly working to build — is it the Greens or the Reconstruction Party, a party rising from the ruin of New Orleans?

As a former Democrat, how loyal will McKinney be to the Green Party? Is she, as a few Green loyalists have expressed to me privately, just using the Greens for her own gain in order to help build the new Reconstruction Party? Regardless, it probably doesn’t matter all that much as to where her allegiance resides, for neither party is likely to amount to anything significant in the end.

All this may lead one to a state of electoral despair. Who is then to challenge John McCain’s 100 year war and the corporate takeover of the planet? Barack Obama isn’t going to put on the breaks on American empire; in fact, if elected, it’s likely he’ll face less opposition than Bush has during his two terms.

But don’t fret. Opposition to grave social injustices is most effective when it takes place outside the presidential election racket.

Activists on the ground fighting to stop the conveyer belt execution industry of Texas, organic farmers battling Monsanto in North Dakota, Native Americans challenging the federal government over ancient land rights, unionists fighting for a fair wage, environmentalists working to hold polluters accountable for their actions — all of these activities will rage on under the radar despite who is in power in Washington. And these are the campaigns that we ought to be supporting.

So don’t worry too much if the left seems dead in the water this year. It may well be, but grassroots activism is alive and well across the land in some of the most remote, forgotten places you could imagine. Jeffrey St. Clair and I chronicle a few of the more vibrant local movements in our forthcoming Red State Rebels: Tales of Grassroots Resistance in the Heartland. People in our own backyard are fighting over the essentials of life: water, food, human liberty. And while up against tremendous, insurmountable odds, many are steadily gaining momentum.

This election season surely won’t sidetrack their valiant efforts. Nor should it your own.

Joshua Frank is co-editor of Dissident Voice and author of Left Out! How Liberals Helped Reelect George W. Bush (Common Courage Press, 2005), and along with Jeffrey St. Clair, the editor of Red State Rebels: Tales of Grassroots Resistance in the Heartland, published by AK Press in June 2008. Check out the Red State Rebels site. Read other articles by Joshua.

25 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. joed said on April 30th, 2008 at 5:47am #

    Mr. Frank, thank you for the fine article.
    the point of voting this year is to show the system that “we” can vote for the person we want to be president. if you must vote for someone that can “win” then you already have lost. obama hillary mccain will not and can not make any real meaningful changes to the system. if 10% of the vote goes to nader or mckinney or whoever then the system will take note. in 2010 20% in 2012 50%. you get the idea?! the system is “all the way broken” and your vote has not counted for 8+ years. what evidence do you have that your vote will count this year?!
    If you must have a “winner” this year then you have already lost.
    vote against the system; that be obama hillary mccain. write-in any person you would really like to see as president but the point is to vote against the system and in 2 or 4 or 6 years “you” can actually get your shitty country back.
    Johnathan Schell’s book, “The Unconquerable World” tells about living and surviving in a police state and keeping your integrity at the same time.
    “Real change is painful and takes sacrifice, and the only people willing to sacrifice are those who already have.”
    Quote from; Why So Blue?, by Sheila Velazquez / March 10th, 2008
    Or, Leonard Cohen’s quote, “I have seen the future and it is murder.”
    Anyway, people of conscience and concern do have some work to do in amerika, don’t they!

  2. Rich Griffin said on April 30th, 2008 at 5:52am #

    Again, Mr. Frank, NO SUBSTANCE! Barback Obama would be the worst possible outcome for real progressives; just look at his policy positions.

    Constantly bashing the green party is not helpful. Green party members usually don’t have deep pockets. Reforming the system so it doesn’t cost so much, even for small local elections, has to be a priority.

    Yes, there are other progressive strategies outside of the electoral system. But we will be hindered without changes there incl. elected officials who support & champion our causes. This is NOT OBAMA, that’s for sure!

    Casting aspersions on McKinney and Nader, while saying so little about Obama’s POLICY shortcomings is just plain wrong.

  3. Rich Griffin said on April 30th, 2008 at 5:54am #

    Bravo to joed!! Great post!

  4. Peter LaVenia said on April 30th, 2008 at 6:15am #


    You are consistently correct about the presidential situation – though I will point to our initial debate 4 years ago over parties, and now you seem to be drifting back in a more pro-party direction… but that is neither here nor there.

    We Greens should be running a joint Nader/McKinney ticket. It’s the only thing that made sense this year. Unfortunately, my sources tell me that when Mr. Nader reached out to Ms. McKinney’s camp to talk about this a few months ago, he was rebuffed. I can’t blame Nader for running on his own – he’s one of the few leftists who knows how to raise money and run a decent campaign on a shoestring, but it is sad that my Greens have fallen so far in 8 years. Machiavelli would say the party has not shown virtue or prudence, the downfall of all political actors in the end.

  5. evie said on April 30th, 2008 at 6:55am #

    Heck of a way to plug a book. My morning chuckle.

  6. Jim Wolbrink said on April 30th, 2008 at 7:11am #

    The real take-down happened from 11/8/00 through 2004, when the Green/Nader/Anti-WTO forces were essentially cowed, intimidated, shamed and repremanded for daring to threatened the Democratic Party and “cause” its defeat. Everything bad about Bush became their fault, and they (we) were lectured about the joys of the wonderful peace and prosperity of the Clinton years that we were too stupid to see while falling for the dynamic [cough!] personality of Ralph Nader. I really don’t think it mattered who the Greens nominated in 2004, the damage had been done. Same with this year. Sad, really, I doubt the progressive left will recover electorilly in my lifetime.

    In addition to grassroots activities of the kind that Josh mentions, there seems to be quite a bit of political energy on the Libertarian and Paleoconservative side, with the excellent antiwar.com serving as an example. They still seem free to speak their mind without being hit over the head by one of the major political parties. This does, however, mean that there will probably be an increase in grass roots activism on 9-11 truth, anti-Federal Reserve, NAFTA superhighway, and so forth, things that the left has tended to poo-poo over the years as being beside the point, if not downright harmfull. Oh, well. Tough. If you have your moment in the sun, and then run away like a bunch of scared chickens, you forfeit your right to define what the point is. Enjoy the sidelines, everyone.

  7. TS Draegeth said on April 30th, 2008 at 7:43am #

    Hehe, good call.

  8. Michael Hureaux said on April 30th, 2008 at 8:19am #

    People cannot live on barbed wire, rhetorical gesture and symbolism, so as you say, the presidential hoo ha, while absorbing the requisite layers of attention, will not be what is decisive over the long haul. Unfortunately, most people in the United States just now are far more likely to fall into the fascist or neo liberal camp so long as the hup ho continues to play the emotional pitchpipe. So it’s a long, hard, uphill fight yet to come, one in which we can expect that many of our so-called “allies” on the left will resort to slander and back biting when we speak out of turn, or when the latest candidate flavor of the week blows into town, be it Barack Obama, the Dalai Lhama, or what have you.

    But when was it ever otherwise? This sillyass country of ours, so magnificent in essence and so indulged for the wrong things for so long, has a long, stupid arrogance to overcome, and it will probably kill a good many of we in the opposition before we start to break surface with the mass of our fellow citizens. Let’s keep cranking.

  9. hp said on April 30th, 2008 at 9:30am #

    Piffle, ha, ha. Great word.

  10. Michael Dawson said on April 30th, 2008 at 10:20am #

    The Reconstruction Party idea sounds pretty good to me.

  11. Arch Stanton said on April 30th, 2008 at 11:12am #

    “In a democracy, the people get the government they deserve.”

    –Alexis De Tocqueville

  12. Don Hawkins said on April 30th, 2008 at 12:28pm #

    The US has been gaming the system for decades; sucking up two-thirds of the world’s capital to expand its cache of Cadillac Escalades and flat-screen TVs; giving nothing back in return except mortgage-backed junk, cluster bombs, and crummy green paper. Nothing changes; it only gets worse. But this time its different. The world is now facing the very real prospect of famine on a massive scale because twelve doddering old banksters at the Federal Reserve would rather bailout their sketchy friends then save the lives of starving women and children. Bernanke now has an opportunity to send more people to their eternal reward than Bush with one swipe of the pen. If he cut rates; the dollar will fall, commodities will spike, and people will starve. It’s as simple as that. Mike Whitney

    Policy makers just can’t make hard choices for the future. Many of the things I see with business heads same thing just can’t make hard choices for the future. When is somebody going to step up and make some hard choices, yes there are a few but very few. What Mike wrote a few day’s ago will that happen? Well Bernanke used that pen today and so far it didn’t take the dollar to long to start dropping. Bigger game at play maybe.

  13. Deadbeat said on April 30th, 2008 at 12:31pm #

    What a pickle the left put itself in by abandoning the Ralph Nader campaign and by dismantling the anti-war movement in 2004. I won’t go why the left did what it did because it’s been repeatedly discussed. But it’s a real shame and a sham. In order for their to be real transformative change these disparate action is going to have to find a way to coalesce.

  14. Ponter Boddit said on April 30th, 2008 at 4:44pm #

    Unless you can name me a president who actually pursued what might be called a progressive agenda, our votes haven’t counted for some 218 years — that is to say, they’ve never counted. All the gains that ordinary people have made have come from grassroots activism. (Voting on the local level is, however, useful.) Electoral politics is a specific game, with rules and the field layout completely defined by the rulers. They own all the pieces needed to succeed in that game. If the electorate were all enlightened, informed, mature, fair-minded, awake, etc., then maybe they would ignore the ruling class echo chamber/propaganda machine and vote for good people even in the face of total media blackouts on such people. However, reality is somewhere else. For the foreseeable future, it’s guerilla politics or nothing. Forget parties.

  15. Seb said on April 30th, 2008 at 5:29pm #

    For more Information checkout this Website where you can vote and comment:

  16. Dogwood said on April 30th, 2008 at 6:07pm #

    Great posts….

    But it’s so frustratingly simple. Distill down the talk and ask yourselves the questions. What do you stand for and what do you want to endorse? And who, let’s get real, can you trust through experience, past record and damn force of conviction to deliver?

    I wonder if our moderators have ever worked with, or for, Ralph Nader.

    If they had they might recall his response to nay-sayers: Pessimism, by definition doesn’t look for solutions.

    I ask you this….is getting what this country needs more possible, or less possible, when we knock the good guy who stands for what we all believe in? (By knock I mean giving the impression that it’s hardly worth the trouble to support him…) Is it more possible, or less possible, when we don’t support, nor put in the sleeves-rolled-up work to get him on the ballot? Really now, more or less possible. So, are you serving to dissuade or encourage people to do the work that’s necessary when you say it doesn’t matter?

    You’ve mentioned some great things that are happening. Does it hurt or hinder our chance for a peaceful, free, sovereign nation of people to not include in that list to join the forces of people who are volunteering for the candidate that can achieve that sovereignty, through simple force of conviction, above all others running?

    Buck up. You’d be extremely surprised at what honest-to-goodness hard work in support of what we actually want can achieve.

  17. Max Shields said on April 30th, 2008 at 7:00pm #

    Dogwood “If they had they might recall his response to nay-sayers: Pessimism, by definition doesn’t look for solutions.”

    Yes. I’ve observed Nader for over 40 years. I’ve never seen any person so dedicated to the human spirit. Son of Lebanese immigrants. Raised in a small town in Connecticut. He is owned by no one.

    I know of no other living American in our midst who has done what Ralph Nader has done for people.

    Nice piece Josh.

  18. Heather S said on April 30th, 2008 at 9:17pm #

    Thank you for writing about Hon. McKinney. She is gaining momentum and strength with ever one of her supporters.

    Sometimes I blog over at http://www.McKinney2008.com and have found a root of supporters growing grassroots efforts nationally for her. We should celebrate the victory she has conquered in this momentus legacy and finish with a victory!

  19. AaronG said on April 30th, 2008 at 10:25pm #

    Good article Josh

    As an Aussie watching from afar, I fall asleep every time the “news” reports on the US election circus.

    Regarding your words about “grassroots activism is alive and well across the land in some of the most remote, forgotten places you could imagine. ….. People in our own backyard are fighting over the essentials of life: water, food, human liberty”. I’m sure these activists are tireless and dedicated and may enjoy a “small victory” here and there on a micro level. However, let’s not forget the over-riding truth that the bad guys (not just in the US) are winning the battle on a macro level (by a long margin) and this imbalance doesn’t look like abating soon.

    Activists are holding an umbrella up to a tsunami……….

    Notwithstanding the above, I empathize with Noam Chomsky in his book “Understanding Power” when he said that it’s better to fight, knowing that it may be in vain, than to do nothing and try to tell the next generation that you gave in.

    Call my comments above pessimistic. I like to call them realistic.

  20. evie said on May 1st, 2008 at 4:09am #

    or … in the words of Mike and the Mechanics regarding power..

    Swear allegiance to the flag
    Whatever flag they offer
    Never hint at what you really feel
    Teach the children quietly
    For some day sons and daughters
    Will rise up and fight while we stood still

  21. Mike McNiven said on May 1st, 2008 at 12:26pm #

    Actually, Congresswoman McKinney is very well known in this country for her pro-Palestine anti- zionism struggles, which cost her an election. It looks like there has never been any support for her by Obama!

  22. Smooth said on May 1st, 2008 at 2:28pm #

    Man, what an uplifting piece! Forward-looking. Providing inspiration for action. Oh. Sorry. That’s right. This is the dead-end of the left: Shit-talkers only here, please. No organizers allowed.

  23. HR said on May 1st, 2008 at 3:01pm #

    In this article, as usual, a voice of the “left” repeats the conventional corporate-sponsored “wisdom” regarding electablity. The argument presented would be right at home at CNN or any of the other propaganda outlets. I find it so sickening, yet so predictable, which is why I have never been able for all my adult life to take those pretending to be liberal or progressive seriously. I see them more as covert agents whose real goal is preservation of the current order.

    My perception of Cynthia McKinney is that of a progressive who was trashed by her very own “party”, the same repressive, corporatist Democratic Party that Obama, Clinton, and so many other sold-out corporatists and supporters of empire and destruction of the Bill of Rights in “congress” so proudly claim to represent.

    Cynthia McKinney’s run-in with the security people, whose real job is to protect “congress” from its own constituents, was for me simply another example of how this country has degraded over the past 40 years. When government, at any level, has so completely failed the people who put it in power that it fears for its existence, and then responds, not by reassessing and changing its direction, but by erecting barriers, hiring security guards, and enacting repressive legislation with the sole intent of keeping track of and being able to better control those it supposedly represents, then that government is close to failure, all the bellowing about the dangers posed by the evil, terrorist “others” notwithstanding.

    The truth is, McKinney, or Nader, are quite electable. Just turn off your TV, recycle your “news”paper, and vote for them!

  24. Max Shields said on May 1st, 2008 at 3:30pm #

    HR, while I appreciate your sentiments, I don’t think either McKinney or Nader are running to get elected.

    Nevertheless I support them both and will determine which should receive the vote. I don’t see it as a waste because it represents a choice. But I’m not particularly interested in who actually becomes president.

    The real challenge is ground level and that work needs to go on. I don’t think either McKinney or Nader have really hoed the ground to create more than a ripple.

    That’s not “realism” or pessimism. It’s actually a call to organize and continue to push for local transformation.

    My issue is that we keep abstracting the problem by looking at national politics. As I keep on saying, if you can’t change it locally, you can’t change it. Start where you are.

  25. ajohnstone said on May 2nd, 2008 at 2:41am #

    “Even where there is no prospect of achieving their election the workers must put up their own candidates to preserve their independence, to gauge their own strength and to bring their revolutionary position and party standpoint to public attention. They must not be led astray by the empty phrases of the democrats, who will maintain that the workers’ candidates will split the democratic party and offer the forces of reaction the chance of victory. All such talk means, in the final analysis, that the proletariat is to be swindled.”
    Karl Marx

    “I’d rather vote for something I want and not get it than vote for something I don’t want, and get it.”
    Eugene V. Debs

    The Socialist Party [ of Great Britain ] , campaigns on the maximum programme of socialism and nothing less than socialism.

    “Always vote for principle, though you may vote alone, and you may cherish the sweetest reflection that your vote is never lost.”
    John Quincy Adams

    Socialists have no illusions about the democratic credentials of the politicians of the Left, the Right or the Centre. What the capitalist class, and the political parties that serve that class, call democracy is a contrived form of consensus in which the political parties conspire to ensure that the maximum number of people accept a system of law which guarantees a minority class in society the legal right to own and control the means of life of the great majority. To achieve and maintain that system of Law – and the Order that ensures the right of that minority to exploit and impoverish the majority – capitalism must have political control of the state machine.

    A vital part of the process that maintains the illusion of democratic choice is the power to confine political knowledge – and, thus, political options – to those parties whose policies are firmly rooted in an acceptance of capitalism.

    When it comes to elections, choice is governed by information and knowledge and, since the allegedly democratic parties have ensured that the public have information about, and knowledge of, the present system and the politicians offering themselves to run this system capitalism goes unchallenged. Like Henry Ford’s Model T, which was available in any colour providing it was black, current “democratic” practice is to allow us the widest possible choice as long as it is capitalism.Of course capitalist politicians and the people to whom capitalism entrusts the control of news and information will hotly dispute this. A party stating a case for an alternative way of running society would be disadvantaged, for capitalist politics, its parties and its media, are not based on rational examination of ideas but on the performance of media celebrities.

    But there is one heartening thought: unlike the parties of capitalism whose purpose is a permanent struggle, to gain power and, when power has been lost, struggle to regain it, our purpose is to make that initial breakthrough which will finally overcome the ability of capitalism’s political agents to lie, confuse and misinform and unlike politicians elected to service capitalism, socialist delegates will not be observing parliamentary meaningless rituals but real participative democracy in the administration of social affairs, at local, regional and world levels, will be the order of the day .