What Should We Hope For From the Election?

There is little relation between what we were being offered in this election and what we need. But, I believe there is some considerable difference between what we will get of what we need from Mr. Obama compared to Mr. McCain; and while I have great respect for Mr. Nader and Ms. McKinney (some grudging respect for Mr. Barr), they would be eaten alive by the Washington bureaucracy. Neither candidate can speak the truth of the present human condition – even if they know it – and for this reason, among others, we will continue on as we are for a time. Obama, though, does seem to offer at least the possibility of being aware of some of the larger issues of concern. McCain appears to be no more than the advertising description on the paperwork for a new appliance: “Congratulations on your selection of the WonderModel 16. It has been carefully crafted to give you years of trouble free service….”

We, as a nation and as a species, are facing very real and daunting concerns.

We have heard nothing of the coming end of economic growth as both model and reality for the distribution of resources. Clearly the changes that we have seen over the last 20 years presage that end. The accumulations of wealth and political control, while always a powerful motive, are also well-designed preparation against the time when the world simply cannot support the ecological burden of the human billions. It is clear that humans will increase in total numbers for only a few more years, but what is not at all clear is how that change will manifest in economic design.

The present economy is actually a very simple thing: there must be more of everything everyday. We see this simple dictum in the stock market, in the company balance sheet, in our expectations for our paychecks. When I was actively in business my company had to grow 10, 20, 30 percent per year – and all my clients had to grow at those rates or they went out of business. I compared the previous year’s January with the current year’s January as a measure of business success and personal worth. The idea that the numbers should be the same or less as a goal was incomprehensible

Some things are so damned simple! And that’s what makes them so damned complicated. A metabolic system burns organic fuels in the presence of oxygen. If such a system is uninhibited in its growth it will burn organic fuels until they are all gone, or until they are effectively gone and the growth of the system has to stop. It depends on your role in this simplicity how you might feel about it: if you are the fuel or are damaged by the heat of the fire, then you would be thankful when the growth of the conflagration is ended. But, if you are the fire, if you are the system that has been growing and spreading without inhibition, then the end of growth is a catastrophe without precedent.

Most economists cannot even begin to think about this – it’s like a doctor talking to the Church of the First Born about a 7 year old with appendicitis. I think it is because they do not understand Reality – the economists or the doctors. Some enlightened economists, Herman Daly for example, have been trying this problem, but acceptable solutions are elusive. His ‘steady state’ economy and growth of quality but not quantity run into some of those nastily simple complications: whom do we throw out of the boat as we do the process of bringing it to balance? Because, frankly someone will have to go!

So, the end of our present growth based economy and the need for a new design that supports the world’s billions as we gently and responsibly (?) reduce our numbers over the next 50 to 100 years to about, a sustainable, 1 billion has not been addressed by the presidential campaigns. At least, I didn’t hear it. Will these things be accomplished by democratic process and appropriation of the vast stores of private wealth, by fascist totalitarianism or by neglectful failures of economies and ecologies? Inquiring minds would like to know.

Related to this omission is the failure to honestly present the ecological realities within which our various daily entertainments occur. There are newspaper articles and TV mentions of ‘global warming’ and those irresponsible disaster “documentaries” on the History Channel (sic), but these are more like litter on the street than an honest presentation of reality: “Sure, trash is real, but someone will pick it up if it blows in their yard.” The reality is that human activity on the earth must be rapidly and markedly reduced. Courageous political leadership will be required for this happen without corresponding devastation of human communities (and nations) cut off from new paradigms; like the Bates Motel was cut off from the Interstate.

Our present resource wars, for that is what they are, are but the beginning of whole new designs of conflict as we struggle to control our sources of oil, chocolate, aluminum, concrete, food, water and lebensraum. The wealthy will have to do with less and the marginal will have to do with none at all; but neither will accept this verdict willingly. An economic justification for one human living on one dollar a day and another living on a million dollars a day pales to insignificance if a million of those one-dollar-a-day people ask the question loudly enough. I didn’t hear this discussed in the debates.

Neither did I hear discussed, by these want-to-be national leaders, the deep distrust of the electoral system. All honest people of whatever political view have come to believe that the vote is compromised by the manipulation of electronic voting devices, dishonest registration procedures and a variety of dirty tricks. Only a true ‘landslide’ election would be believed to be a representation of the public will. If essentially half the nation rejects the legitimacy of its “elected” leaders and acts to delegitimize that government, then two things will happen: the government will be weakened for any actions requiring general acceptance and the government will isolate and insulate itself from the public. Both of these are deeply destructive of constitutional democracy. It quite frankly doesn’t matter whether the greater danger is voter suppression, electronic manipulation or registration bias; the integrity of the vote must be the primary concern.

Large numbers of the people of this nation will tune out if the election is close, believing that they are powerless to have their voices heard. Others will aggressively reject the “winner.” The nation will not long survive such disinterest and internal dissent. Just look at the damage done by the insular Bush Co. to our national self-trust and our standing in the world.

The truth has been largely missing from these proceedings, but it is the true and the real that ultimately rises up to demand action. Wish as we will, what we are ready to deal with is often not what arrives as requiring our response. There are these and more overwhelming issues lying in wait for us all as we step out of our doors on Nov. 5. It would be good to have people in government with at least some clue that they exist. To answer the title question: I expect very little and, as is the expression in my family, that is a cryin’ shame.

James Keye is the nom de plume of a retired academic and small businessman living with an Ecological Footprint of 1.6 earths. He can be reached at jkeye1632@gmail.com. Read other articles by James, or visit James's website.

15 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. Max Shields said on November 3rd, 2008 at 11:36am #

    While I agree with the obvious points on your post, you start with a majore gaff:

    First, you seem to miss the point on Nader and McKinney.

    You need to understand Nader’s decades of work with the Washington sharks to bring about the only semblance of protection from corporate greed. this is not a man who’s about to get eaten alive – Obama may.

    Second, McKinney was on the Hill for multiple terms. She’s a fighter.

    All that said, neither of these candidates are in this to WIN the election. So, let’s be sane here. Your premise is bogus at best.

    Nader and McKinney are in this and making themselves, their lives available to YOU and ME as a means to vote FOR something we BELIEVE IN!!

    Sure Obama/McCain will be president. Tha’t not the point. Stop trivializing the blood, sweet and tears of Nader and McKinney and others who are not looking for personal gain.

    Now go back to your room and re-write this piece – with humility@!

  2. bozhidar bob balkas said on November 3rd, 2008 at 12:15pm #

    u said max(imum). nader expects to get no more than 5-8% of the votes.
    but even 2% is, to me, a success. once the children hear what educators r saying, the numbers will increase. thnx

  3. Max Shields said on November 3rd, 2008 at 1:31pm #

    James Keye,

    My remarks above were meant specifically to your Nader comments.

    Your mentioning of Herman Daly puts you in very good company. His work on uneconomic growth is compelling and essential.

    Please do not see my remarks as more than a little fedup with the anti-alternative choices of Nader and McKinney (among others) and perhaps a bit overstated in regard to your piece which is overall quite good.

  4. James Keye said on November 3rd, 2008 at 4:09pm #

    Mr. Shields,

    My comment on Nader was that I respected him, and that he and McKinney would be eaten up by Washington; both minor to the intention of the essay. But, both certainly true. You will have to take me at my word that I respect him. As to the other, any “leader’ depends on the good will or sphincter tightening fear of their subordinates. I believe that sound arguments can be made that only someone connected to the Washington establishment would generate either reaction (I do not see this as a good thing!). If the bureaucracy chose to prevent an effective presidency, then there would be none. I could be wrong, but I believe that many of the changes that Nader or McKinney would see as fundamental would be fought tooth and nail (to continue the eaten up allusion) by powerful and entrenched government functionaries over whom they would have little control.

    It is an axiom that the best way to destroy a boss is to do exactly what he says to do, exactly as she says to do it. Multiply that by a few thousand midlevel managers and the government would melt down.

  5. Max Shields said on November 3rd, 2008 at 4:43pm #

    Ok, on the argument you bring to bear, the point as I tried to propose, was that a vote for Nader is not about Nader actually ending up in the Oval Office (that is an impossibility given the winner take all Electoral College and the power of the two parties with money, etc.)

    So, it is not a feasible assumption to consider Nader or McKinney as “candidates” in the sense of level playing field probabilities. I think you would clearly agree.

    That said, once again, if the unbelievable hypothesis of a Nader win were to happen, he would have to make some fancy adjustments to pragmaticism and perhaps end up like Jimmy Carter.

    But again, that is fanciful because Nader is not running to win. Nor is McKinney. You don’t vote for either because you want THEM for president. You vote for them because how they address the “unaddressed” issues are what you think the country needs to attend to. Voices, when heard begin to change the narrative, particularly when the dominant narrative stops working.

    In that sense a vote for either Nader or McKinney can have a substantial effect.

    To your larger issue, and one that resonates with me, about the incapacity of the established powers to address these “unadressed” (dare I say “unaddressable”): I can only say that does a horse bark like a dog? The system, not the players, may adjust to circumstances but what defines the system is more or less the status quo. So, FDR could usher in some adjustments to stave off the capitalistic tendency to begin to devour itself. But lo and behold the monster is back stronger and more vile than ever.

    The narrative is alive and the candidates to be president must live with it as it is. They will continue to do so post-election. Look at them through clear eyes and you’ll see what they’ll do given what surrounds them.

  6. bozhidar bob balkas said on November 3rd, 2008 at 5:26pm #

    if at one time in the future, nader or his successor wld garner majority of votes (60-70-80%), it is likely that teachers/professors, generals, cia, fbi, police, media wld try to deter people’s prez.
    so be it. but vote for nader anyway.
    how will senate and congress look like at that time? wldn’t we also have people’s congress and senate?
    with education; particularly of children anything is possible. thnx

  7. Max Shields said on November 3rd, 2008 at 5:42pm #

    If Nader were to get 5-8% of say 100 m votes that would be a message that would resonate. If you add all the other “3rd party” candidates that could be a whopping 12 – 15%. That’s a lot of votes. And while they have their domestic differences their key issues around free trade and war are unifying – and would be a compelling voice.

    Add further that the uneconomic growth paradigm is failing. Americans will never talk again about their advantage vis a vis “growth and prosperity”. Growth only has value for the wealthiest. Already, our materialism and consummerism has lost its glitter. Malls are emptying out of their store fronts. A wave of austerity as good is beginning to sweep the nation. It is “bad” for capitalism; but good for life.

    Nader and those who follow (I suspect this will be the last time Nader runs) will have stronger and stronger voices, chipping away at the narrative. It will happen fairly quickly because the circumstance are dire and imminant. The next President will preside over the unraveling of the empire and what existed as the “American dream”. It was never really a “dream” as much as a capitalist propagandized fabrication…it worked for several decades. But the Party is Over!

  8. Deadbeat said on November 3rd, 2008 at 6:15pm #

    Max makes my point about the ineffectiveness of the Left with the following comment…

    If Nader were to get 5-8% of say 100 m votes that would be a message that would resonate.

    This was the opportunity the Left forfeited in order to obscure Zionism in 2004. Nader in 2000 scored ~2.5% of the vote running as a Green. It all feel apart in 2004. In 2003, we saw the LARGEST grassroots activism with huge popular support against the War on Iraq. The so-called “war for oil”. However other groups also included how Israel and Zionism as well was also a factor in the going to War. That rhetoric created the riff in the anti-war movement to such an extent that it has to be snuffed out. In order to censor such ideas the anti war movement had to be diffused. And so it was behind John Kerry.

    Being the only real viable anti-war candidate, Ralph Nader, was hoping to use that civic energy to power his campaign. For whatever reasons, the Green Party and Nader could not coalesce in order to build upon that ~2.5% vote he received in 2000. Had Nader and the Green constructed that coalition in 2004, Nader would have certainly received 5% and having the INSTITUTION organization of the Green could have also engendered COATTAILS.

    Since the Left squandered that opportunity, rather than coherently point out how the Left put themselves in such a weakened predicament and what needs to be done you get incoherent and wishful rants from one Max Shields.

    The current polls show that both Obama and McCain are at 96% leaving only 4% for all 3rd parties combined. The last poll I saw has Nader and Barr at 2% each. Should Nader get 2% of the vote what does that mean — absolutely nothing. Why? because Nader has NO institutional base to do anything with after the election. The same was true with Ross Perot’s run. Nader’s run this year is similar to Perot’s as it is centered around a quixotic individual rather than the combination of a charismatic individual with a solid institutional base like Eugene Debbs.

    That’s the main difference. This is why if I had to choose between Nader and McKinney I would choose McKinney because voting for her is a vote at least to help [re]build the Green Party because it is going to take YEARS before the Left has any real organizational strength.

    This is the reality that unfortunately Max obscures with his rants.

  9. bozhidar bob balkas said on November 4th, 2008 at 7:18am #

    if nader gets 2% of votes that’l be a success. but who r these voters that’l vote for nader? well educated? antiwar? more men than women? thnx

  10. James Keye said on November 4th, 2008 at 7:49am #

    Who the hell are you people? Would you sit in a burning house and play at a ouija board? Nader 2%!? Nader 8%!? As a personal action I have voted for Nader because I will not vote for a liar, but as a political action, it is of no consequence. There are bigger issues on the table gentlemen. Vote your conscience, but act your political intelligence.

  11. Max Shields said on November 4th, 2008 at 8:48am #

    James Keye I agree with you. There are much bigger issues.

    But not every post is about the BIGGEST issues. Some is shorter term – like TODAY.

    Will it matter if we’re just sitting around tapping our keyboards and thinking we’ve actually moved the “ball” forward? Absolutely NOT.

    There is a little thing called proportionality. We can talk about Nader/Obama/McCain or we can talk about the world going to hell in a hand basket.

  12. bozhidar bob balkas said on November 4th, 2008 at 9:07am #

    james keye,
    voting for nader of no consequence? to me, voting for nader is of some effect.
    in US, where ab 95% of its pop appear to be sitting right in the middle of churchill, bush, franco, mussolini, it is encouraging that nader may get 2+% of the votes.
    this question needs to be answered, How many people who will vote for nader will shout that from rooftop or to a boss at work?
    to iterate, let’s not run dwn us. media will do that for us. tnx

  13. JN said on November 4th, 2008 at 7:20pm #

    If the ‘house is burning’ do you think Obama has the ability, will or even inclination to put out the fire? He is a spineless opportunist, a war-mongering imperialist & a corporate puppet. He does however have a nice line in ‘inspirational’ rhetoric & literally meaningless promises. In short, he is an American Tony Blair. Obama seems more rational & intelligent than McCain/Palin, but that is the best that can honestly be said for him. In all of the most important respects (IE: war, foreign policy, economics, etc) Obama is virtually identical to his opponents. The ‘Democrats/liberals’ are as much part of the problem as the ‘Republicans/conservatives’.

    The “lesser of 2 evils” mentality is a trap, even more so as the idea that the ‘Democrats’ actually are “less evil” is highly questionable. The policies and behaviour of US governments is very consistent.
    Any American who genuinely wants change (for the better) should vote for McKinney or Nader. The reason they wont win is because so-called ‘progressives’ are too deluded or gutless to abandon the ‘Democrat’ party.

    More importantly, elections are not the be all & end all. Their primary function (under the current system) is to legitimate what is essentially a dictatorship, and to distract people from more effective political action. ORGANISE! ACT!

  14. JN said on November 4th, 2008 at 7:41pm #

    Also, the statistic that 96% will vote for either Obama or McCain shouldn’t be overstated. The electoral system is designed to exclude 3rd parties. Half the electorate wont even bother to vote. Of those that do many will be voting for what they see as the lesser evil, & anyone who seriously expects “change” from Obama is going to be disappointed.

    The point is to “win the battle of ideas.” Convince those people. Win their support.

    Once again: ORGANISE! ACT! Build independent movements.

  15. James Keye said on November 4th, 2008 at 8:55pm #


    What you say is generally true. So, What will be your action? What will be the basis upon which you organize and battle for ideas? I am trying to, first, understand for myself what our most essential relationships with reality are, and then to write about them to help create an intellectual frame work around which to organize, from which to act. If your questions are not rhetorical, they are answered in the essay.