A mile away, hundreds of Syrian riot police formed a protective ring around the closed U.S. Embassy, but the flag-waving crowds dispersed peacefully after a couple of hours later, with students heading to schools and employees to work.
Above is the opening to Bassem Mroue's "Syrian Riot Police Form Ring Around US Embassy" (AP) so, yes, the US Embassy did close today (a point Sean McCormack was uncertain of in yesterday's US State Dept press briefing). Al Jazeera adds:
The embassy, which was pelted with stones during a protest against US-led air raids on Iraq in 1998, was closed on Thursday due to security concerns.
But the situation remained peaceful as the protesters filled the Youssef al-Azmi square and surrounding streets in the al-Maliki neighbourhood, with some Syrians forming circles and performing traditional dances.
Some demonstrators carried banners denouncing the United States, as well as national flags and pictures of Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian president.
"America the sponsor of destruction and wars," one of the banners read.
Iran's Press TV offers more on the banners:
Demonstrators waved Syrian flags and banners reading "No to American terrorism" and "American democracy: the killing of civilians at Abu Kamal," the border area targeted in Sunday's US raid.
"Colonialists, listen, the people of Syria will never be brought to their knees," chanted the protesters as they gathered in the heart of Damascus.
Yesterday the US Embassy in Syria issued a press release which read in full: "Due to Security Concerns, the U.S. Embassy in Damascus will be closed on Thursday, October 30, 2008." The single sentence appeared twice, first in larger, bold print, and then in smaller, regular print. Again, it was released yesterday, October 29th. The time change has already allowed the Thursday protests outside the embassy to take place. Point? The State Dept knew of the closing at yesterday's press briefing.
We'll note McCormack's response to a question regarding rumors Syria was planning to close the US Embassy in Damascus, "Well, I mean, it's sovereign -- it is American territory. In terms of PNGing, persona non grata, diplomats and kicking them out, of course, that is every nation's right. But I haven't heard anything -- anything of the sort, closing the Embassy. It's not a decision for the Syrian Government."
Yes, it is laughable that Sean McCormack used "sovereign" in his response since the US did not respect Syria's sovereignty when it attacked that nation Sunday. An Iraqi correspondent for McClatchy noted in "A house in a Syrian town" (Inside Iraq):
OUR problem is that it was done from "sovereign" Iraqi soil.
And the U.S. military tell us, "Still no information available."
Unilateral job? Joint American – Iraqi job? Does it really matter?
Is Iraq going to become a launching pad for blatant American aggressions upon targets in neighbouring countries?
Turning to the US presidential race. John McCain is the Republican presidential candidate, Sarah Palin is his running mate. Vernon notes this posted by Matt Lira to the McCain-Palin's campaign blog:
Today, McCain-Palin 2008 released its latest web ad, entitled "Preconditions." The ad highlights that while Barack Obama has pledged to meet with Iran and other state sponsors of terror without preconditions, Iran has outlined several preconditions of their own. For a meeting, Iran is demanding that the United States cease its support of Israel and that all American forces must leave the Middle East. The question is what will Barack Obama do?
Ralph Nader is the independent presidential candidate, Matt Gonzalez is his running mate. Maria notes this from Team Nader:
What Do They Have to Do to Lose Your Vote?
The Trail of Broken Promises
By MATT GONZALEZ
Watching the Democrats in the final weeks of the presidential election has been a lesson in revisionist history. While they lament the terrible crimes perpetrated against the American people by George Bush and vow to keep fighting for our rights, they conveniently gloss over the fact that they have no standing to make such claims. Indeed, the Democrats, including Senator Barack Obama, have actually voted with President Bush’s agenda, making them complicit in his acts, not valiant opponents defending our liberties.
PELOSI’S PROMISE TO END THE WAR
Democratic Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi said that if she became the speaker of the House of Representatives she would end the war in Iraq. Remember that? The Boston Globe noted, "Pelosi vows no ‘blank check’ on Iraq funds.” (1/8/07). In her own words: "If the president wants to add to this mission, he is going to have to justify it. And this is new to him, because up until now the Republican Congress has given him a blank check with no oversight, no standards, no conditions.” Rick Klein of the Globe noted "Pelosi’s comments mark the first suggestion by a Democratic congressional leader that Congress could use its authority over the nation’s finances to hasten an end to the war. Her remarks point toward an aggressive stance on Iraq from Congressional Democrats in their opening days of control of the House and Senate.”
Yet after she became the speaker of the House in Jan 2007, war appropriations actually went up by $50 billion, with no strings attached and no date for the withdrawal of troops. This year, 2008, they’ve gone up by another $25 billion for a two-year total of $350 billion, with no end in sight. So what happened to the promise of "no blank check?”
REID’S FILIBUSTER RULE
Sen. Harry Reid, the leader of the Democrats in the Senate, has complained that the Republicans have filibustered (a procedure used by the minority party to delay voting on legislation) more times in the last two years than in the entire history of the United States to explain why he can’t move forward a progressive agenda. First he said it was over 70 times, then adjusted it by saying it was 65 times (Las Vegas Sun 3/6/08); yet still the highest for any two-year period (the previous record was 57 filibusters) (Politico, 3/6/08; Gov.Track.us 4/15/08). But Sen. Reid’s frustration has proven to be a red-herring. Did you know that Reid lets the Republicans filibuster telephonically, meaning that he doesn’t require that they physically present themselves on the floor of the Senate? Why is he making it easy on them? Is this what an opposition party looks like?
REPUBLICAN CLASS ACTION REFORM
Sen. Barack Obama, the Democratic Party nominee for president, has a long history of voting against the interest of the American people, and specifically, the working class. Before entering the presidential contest, he supported the Republican Class Action Reform Bill, which made it harder for class-action lawsuits to be brought in the state courts. State courts are exactly where consumer protection lawsuits and recent wage and hour claims have succeeded in improving the lives of workers and helped them obtain better wages and breaks during work hours have succeeded.
Progressive commentators at the time called it a thinly veiled special-interest extravaganza. Journalist David Sirota noted "Opposed by most major civil rights and consumer watchdog groups, this Big Business-backed legislation was sold to the public as a way to stop ‘frivolous’ lawsuits. But everyone in Washington knew the bill’s real objective was to protect corporate abusers.” (The Nation, 6/26/06). So why did Obama vote for it?
PATRIOT ACT & FISA AMENDMENT
Sen. Obama supported one of the worst attacks on civil liberties in recent history, the reauthorization of the Patriot Act, which extended an earlier law granting law enforcement expanded powers to search telephone, e-mail, and financial and medical records, in addition to granting the federal government a host of other powers to combat so-called domestic terrorism. After saying he would oppose it if elected to the U.S. Senate (NOW questionnaire, 9/10/03), in July 2005, Obama voted for it.
But this wasn’t enough. After entering the presidential race and running on a "change” message, Obama vowed in February of 2008 to vote against—and filibuster if necessary—the FISA bill amendment (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) that gave immunities to telecommunications corporations that cooperated with the Bush administration’s warrantless surveillance program. This eavesdropping program clearly violated the privacy of law-abiding Americans at the behest of the president, and made the FBI under J. Edgar Hoover seem tame by comparison. Those voting in favor of the bill didn’t even first require full disclosure to see how deep the illegal conduct extended and agreed to apply the law retroactively.
Despite his promises to the contrary, and despite the vehement protests of many of his supporters, when the FISA bill came to the Senate for a vote this past July, Sen. Obama voted for it without explaining how this vote fit in with his change message or reconciled with his repeated claims he was going to protect the American people from repeated assaults on civil liberties by President Bush. Here was his chance to lead and make good on his promise, and what did he do?
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) called the FISA bill "an unconstitutional domestic spying bill that violates the Fourth Amendment and eliminates any meaningful role for judicial oversight of government surveillance" (ACLU press release, 7/9/08). Caroline Fredrickson, Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office called the bill "a Constitutional nightmare” and noted "with one vote, Congress has strengthened the executive branch, weakened the judiciary and rendered itself irrelevant.”
Obama even voted to stop debate on the bill so he could get back to the campaign trail. How ironic is it that he was in a hurry to give more speeches about change and hope but couldn’t find the time or integrity to convert these ideas into action?
On the eve of the vote MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow noted "I’m betting that [Pres. Bush’s] wildest dreams did not include the prospect that Congress — a Democratic-led Congress — would help him cover up his crimes. Yet that is exactly what the US Senate is poised to do.” (Countdown with Keith Olbermann, 7/8/08).
As Sen. John McCain started to call for domestic drilling to ease our dependence on foreign oil, rather than debate the scientific and economic illogic of the position, Sen. Obama announced that he agreed with McCain. Reversing a 25-year ban on off-shore oil drilling, Sen. Obama led his party’s reversal, offering no explanation for how this would ease oil prices, particularly as experts noted that drilling would likely have an almost imperceptible impact on oil prices in the near future.
As Lester Brown and Jonathan Dorn of the Earth Policy Institute noted in "Drilling For Oil Is Not The Answer” (9/30/08) "The U.S. Department of Energy projects that lifting the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) moratorium [of the lower 48 states] would not increase production before 2017 and that by 2030 production would only amount to 0.2 million barrels per day—less than 1 percent of current consumption.”
Furthermore "The U.S. Department of Energy projects that opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) would lower gasoline prices at the pump by a mere 2 cents per gallon.” Even if we combined the two regions in question, it wouldn’t amount to much of an impact on oil prices: "Lifting the moratoria on drilling in ANWR and the OCS would reduce the price of a gallon of gasoline by at most 6 cents—and this would not be seen for at least another decade.”
Proponents of drilling have also exaggerated the
environmental safety of current off-shore drilling and oil production technology in general. There is widespread evidence that current drilling in the Gulf of Mexico is already leading to serious pollution and spills. After reviewing data from the National Response Center, the Houston Chronicle found there had been 595 oil spills across four state coastlines, totaling roughly 9 million gallons spilled in the aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita ("Spills from hurricanes staining the coast” by Dina Cappiello, 11/13/05). So why is Sen. Obama, who claims to care about the environment, now advocating off-shore drilling?
In June of 2008, the conservative Supreme Court struck down the use of the death penalty in cases of child rape (Kennedy v. Louisiana held that states may not impose the death penalty for the commission of a crime that did not result in the death of the victim), a decision that surprised even death penalty opponents who hailed it as an important step toward full abolition of the death penalty. Sen. Obama’s response? He quickly called a press conference to denounce the decision. Obama stated that he agreed with the extreme conservative minority, comprised of Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Alito, Scalia and Thomas. Despite the many known racial and class inequities inherent in the death penalty, a practice abolished and abhorred in most of the rest of the world, Obama celebrates that he has always been a supporter of it.
On the campaign trail, Sen. Obama likes to highlight death penalty legislation that he sponsored while a member of the Illinois legislature, to show his commitment to reform. But let’s be clear, he didn’t work on laws to address the disproportionate rate of death penalty convictions of African-Americans, but rather a law to require videotaped interrogations of death penalty suspects. Yes, something we can applaud, but something many critics have noted merely greases the wheels of this injustice.
Most disquieting of all, as a state legislator, Obama voted "to expand the list of death-eligible crimes” (Chicago Tribune, 5/2/07), despite admitting in his own allegedly soul-searching memoir that the death penalty "does little to deter crime.” (The Audacity of Hope, 2006).
On foreign policy, Sen. Obama’s approach is hawkish. He wants to deploy more soldiers to Afghanistan, which will only further destabilize the Afghan-Pakistani border. He simply ignores the historic reality that no invading army has ever managed to successfully win a war in this area or subjugate the Afghani people.
During its ill-fated 10-year war, between 1979 and 1989, the Soviet Union deployed 620,000 soldiers to Afghanistan and sustained 470,000 casualties (sick and wounded, including infectious diseases such as hepatitis and typhoid fever).
Why does Obama want to ignore these facts and risk further destabilizing the area and creating another Vietnam/Iraq occupation there?
With respect to Iraq, Sen. Obama has conceded the main argument of Sen. McCain’s campaign and said the so-called "surge” worked (despite significant evidence and analysis to the contrary). And he has vowed to keep soldiers in Iraq to fight counterterrorism. John Podesta, former chief of staff to President Bill Clinton who now leads the Center for American Progress, estimated this would take a 60,000 troop presence to achieve.
Moreover Obama "will not ‘rule out’ using private security companies like Blackwater Worldwide in Iraq” according to Democracy Now! Correspondent Jeremy Scahill. And Obama did not plan on signing on to legislation that seeks to ban the use of such forces by the U.S. government by January 2009, according to one of his senior foreign policy advisors. (Democracy Now! 2/28/08). (This is one promise Obama unfortunately has kept, refusing to sign onto the Stop Outsourcing Security Act, introduced by Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont).
In an interview with Amy Goodman, Sen. Obama stated his intention of leaving 140,000 private contractors in Iraq because "we don’t have the troops to replace them.” He also stated the need to keep an additional "strike force in the region … in order to not only protect them, but also potentially to protect their territorial integrity.” Summarizing the interview, Amy Goodman concluded that it sounded as if Obama "would leave more than 100,000 troops, close to 200,000 in Iraq. ‘Troops’ meaning U.S. soldiers and military contractors which some call mercenaries.” (4/1/08).
Even concerning a possible timetable to withdraw troops from Iraq, Obama has diminished his promises. He now is committing only to "reducing the number of combat troops within 16 months,” presumably to "bolster efforts in Afghanistan so that we can capture and kill bin Laden and crush al Qaeda.” (Obama/McCain debate, 9/26/08).
What we know for certain, though, is when given a chance to commit to a complete withdrawal of troops from Iraq, Obama said "no.” When Tim Russert asked him, during a debate in New Hampshire in September 2007, if he could promise having American troops out of Iraq by 2013, he would not do so.
According to military policy analysts at the Arms Control Center, in their report "U.S. Defense Spending, since 2001” military spending has risen from $333 billion in 2001 to $696 in 2008 (including $189 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan). It’s expected to rise even more in 2009, to $706 billion.
Despite this, Sen. Obama has joined Sen. McCain and called for increased military spending. "I’ve said that we have to increase the size of our military,” Obama told ABC’s This Week (9/7/08). The details of which he has previously noted in a speech to the Chicago Council on Global Affairs: "I strongly support the expansion of our ground forces by adding 65,000 soldiers to the Army and 27,000 Marines.” ("Obama surrenders on military spending” by Glen Ford, The Progressive, 1/15/08).
WALL STREET CRISIS
The current financial crisis has generated perhaps the most fascinating political rhetoric of all. Obama has blamed the Republicans for deregulation and in doing so, his poll numbers have given him a healthy lead as we approach the final days of the campaign. The only problem is that the economic crisis is not just the fault of the Republicans. It is the direct result of bipartisan bills enacted into law by a Democratic president, Bill Clinton.
In 1999 Clinton signed into law the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act. This repealed the last vestiges of an important Depression-era law, the Glass-Steagall Act (1933), which prohibited banking, brokerage, and insurance companies from merging together, thus compartmentalized the financial industry and protected it from future collapses.
Equally significant in 2000, President Clinton signed the Commodity Futures Modernization Act, which repealed 20-year-old agreements between the Security and Exchange Commission and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, so that financial institutions could sell credit derivatives such as the now notorious "credit default swaps” without any oversight and with no regulation. Two of its cosponsors included Democratic Senators Tom Harkin of Iowa and Tim Johnson of South Dakota. The measure had such bipartisan support that it was never even debated in the Senate and was passed by unanimous consent.
This resulted in the repackaging of mortgages into securities and the failure to regulate institutions that then over-leveraged themselves as they sold credit derivatives to investors who wanted protection from risky investments. This is what led to this financial crisis whose ramifications we have only begun to understand.
Both Obama and McCain voted for the $700 billion taxpayer-funded bailout despite the plea of 200 economists (including Nobel Prize winners) urging them not to do so (Open Letter to Congress regarding Treasury bailout plan, 9/24/08). Obama keeps emphasizing that the mess was the fault of Republicans alone. But how is this argument credible when the law responsible for the financial meltdown enjoyed unanimous support from both parties?
It was quite emblematic of Sen. Obama that he has changed his position on the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) to suit whatever situation he is in. First, while running for the Senate in 2004, he said he supported NAFTA and thought there should be more trade agreements like it. (AP story 2/26/08). Then, while running against Hillary Clinton he blamed her for NAFTA’s impact on workers in the "rustbelt” states of Wisconsin and Ohio. But once he won the primary things changed. When asked if he would truly invoke the six-month clause in NAFTA for unilateral withdrawal, Obama showed his signature political reversal.
NAFTA created a trilateral trade bloc encompassing the United States, Canada, and Mexico, which was meant to foster greater trade between its members. It primarily lifted tariffs on goods shipped between the three countries but has caused economic turmoil both among American and Mexican labor, with unexpected loss of jobs and negative environmental impacts.
Nina Easton, a Washington editor for Fortune, noted in a June 18, 2008 article that "the presumptive Democratic nominee backed off his harshest attacks on the free trade agreement and indicated he didn’t want to unilaterally reopen negotiations on NAFTA,” something he had promised to do when locked in a close primary race with Sen. Hillary Clinton. Asked directly about whether he would move the U.S. out of the trade agreement, Obama said "Sometimes during campaigns the rhetoric gets overheated and amplified.” Fortune magazine concluded that, despite once calling NAFTA "devastating” and "a big mistake,” Obama "was toning down his populist rhetoric” and had no intention of following through with his anti-NAFTA promises now that the primary battle was won.
In light of this evidence, can we believe any of the other commitments he‘s made?
THE FEDERAL JUDICIARY
Those who think Sen. Obama will appoint good Supreme Court justices should just take note of his long history of supporting some of the worst Bush appointees to the federal bench, including Thomas Griffith (D.C. Cir.), Susan Blake Neilson (6th Cir.), Milan Smith (9th Cir.), Sandra Segal Ikuta (9th Cir.), and Kent Jordan (3rd Cir.). The Neilson vote was particularly troubling as both senators from her own state "blue slipped” her for being "too extreme.”
And even when he does manage to muster the courage to vote against conservative appointees, he does it in a lukewarm and perfunctory manner, refusing to join Democratic Party filibuster efforts. This is deeply troubling. He voted cloture (to end any voting delay) on Priscilla Owen (5th Cir.) and Brett Kavanaugh (D.C. Cir.) both extremely conservative jurists, thus ensuring they would be confirmed.
SEN. JOE BIDEN AS VICE-PRESIDENT
Obama’s selection of Sen. Joe Biden as a running mate is particularly troubling and does not bode well for the decisions Obama is likely to make if elected president. Obama has presented Biden as someone who never forgot his roots, is a working class, regular guy.
The only problem with this characterization is Sen. Biden’s voting record. He was one of the main supporters of the Republican Bankruptcy Reform Bill that Pres. Clinton vetoed twice, only to have it signed into law by Pres. Bush in 2005, with Sen. Biden’s ardent support.
Criticizing the Bankruptcy Reform Bill, Arianna Huffington noted that the bill "makes it harder for average people to file for bankruptcy protection [average annual income of Americans who file for bankruptcy is less than $30K]; it makes it easier for landlords to evict a bankrupt tenant; it endangers child-support payments by giving a wider array of creditors a shot at post-bankruptcy income; it allows millionaires to shield an unlimited amount of equity in homes and asset protection trusts; it makes it more difficult for small businesses to reorganize while opening new loopholes for the Enrons of the world; it allows creditors to provide misleading information; and it does nothing to rein in lending abuses.” (Salon.com, 3/05)
Jackson Williams noted, in "Joe Biden: No True Friend of Working Men and Women” (Huffington Post, 10/27/08), that Biden "didn’t just vote for it, he helped carry the water on it. Some Democrats tried to soften the bill with a series of amendments; for example, exempting military personnel at war in Iraq. Biden joined the majority of his colleagues—the Republicans and too many Democrats—in knocking down every possible change that was offered.”
Sen. Biden has built a reputation as someone who works tirelessly for credit card companies, with some critics even referring to him as the senator from Mastercard—rather than the senator from Delaware.
In addition, Biden voted for the War in Iraq and the Patriot Act, so it’s hard to understand how Sen. Biden is going to help bring about change in the new administration.
OTHER FOREIGN POLICY ISSUES
Obama called Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez an enemy of the United States and urged sanctions against him. (Interview with Jorge Ramos, El Mercurio, 6/11/08)
He heaped praise on the first George Bush saying, "You know, one of the things that I think George H.W. Bush doesn’t get enough credit for was his foreign policy team and the way that he helped negotiate the end of the Cold War and prosecuted the Gulf War. That cost us $20 billion dollars. That‘s all it cost. It was extremely successful. I think there were a lot of very wise people.” (Larry King Live 3/23/08).
And in a much-anticipated speech to America’s pro-Israeli government lobby, AIPAC (The American Israel Public Affairs Committee), Obama towed the typical pro-Israel line. He urged that Jerusalem would belong to Israel, despite peace efforts currently underway which would allow the holy city to be shared among both Israelis and Palestinians. He unequivocally stated "Israel’s security is sacrosanct.” And "Jerusalem will remain the capital of Israel, and it must remain undivided.” (AIPAC speech, 6/08).
MAKING A DEMAND
Before you vote for someone with such a checkered voting record, it might be worthwhile to make some demands on him, don’t you think? Or at the very least we should ask him to explain why he’s capitulated so many times.
I’m sure Sen. Obama would find such questions uncomfortable. In fact, even progressives find such inquiry bothersome: they are aware of Obama’s lamentable history of capitulation on votes that take away our civil rights, but nevertheless cling to their wish that Obama will be something other than what he has already proven himself to be.
But it’s not likely that he will be a transformative leader. He’s already announced economic advisors whose ideas are at the heart of the economic meltdown, like Austan Goolsbee, an aggressive free trader and subprime loan advocate, and former Clinton advisors, David Cutler and Jeffrey Liebman, supporters of market-oriented solutions to social welfare issues such as the partial privatization of Social Security. ("Subprime Obama” by Max Fraser, The Nation, 1/24/08).
He has foreign policy advisors who helped take us into war, like Colin Powell, who in 2003 addressed the United Nations on behalf of the Bush Administration, outlining the reasons the U.S. had to invade Iraq (he also disturbingly, as a young Army Major, worked to suppress key evidence about the My Lai Massacre in Vietnam).
But that’s not all. Democracy Now!’s Amy Goodman spoke with journalists Allan Nairn and Kelley Beaucar Vlahos who discussed Obama’s foreign policy advisors (2/10/08). They noted that Obama proudly brought on to his team old cold warrior and former National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski, who has boasted of having created the whole Afghan Jihadi movement; Anthony Lake, who was behind the U.S. invasion of Haiti during the Clinton years; General Merrill McPeak, who delivered U.S. fighter planes to Indonesia shortly after the Dili massacre in East Timor in 1991; and Dennis Ross who has pushed to subordinate the rights of Palestinians to the needs of the Israeli government.
What do you think the likelihood is that Obama will listen to us, once we’ve voted for him, without making any demands on him?
As Robert Scheer, a noted columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle, noted on July 23, 2008, shortly after Obama voted for the FISA bill, "Barack Obama is betraying his promise of change and is in danger of becoming just another political hack.” And Scheer made these remarks before Obama decided to support off-shore drilling, denounce a Supreme Court death penalty decision, and before he voted for the Wall Street bailout.
CONCERNING RALPH NADER
But we don’t have to vote for either Senators Obama or McCain, do we? Ralph Nader has a more impressive legislative record as an outsider than do Sen. Obama and Sen. McCain combined. And he has a proven record of fighting the culture of Washington. Just think of the Freedom of Information Act, Clean Air, Clean Water, automotive safety, and the Environmental Protection Agency. Yet despite these accomplishments, Obama and McCain do not believe they should even have to debate him.
What they don’t tell you is that the so-called independent Commission on Presidential Debates is actually a private corporation run by former leaders of the Republican and Democratic parties. The Commission, which was formed in 1987, is currently led by Frank Fahrenkopf, a former head of the Republican National Committee, and Paul Kirk, the former head of the Democratic National Committee. No wonder they won’t debate Nader or anyone else.
Of course they justify this by saying Nader isn’t polling well enough to include him in the debates. Yet, interestingly, both McCain and Obama were losing their respective primary races until they were let into televised debates. And there are well-known examples of how letting a candidate debate "mainstream” candidates can lead to a different outcome. Jesse Ventura won the governor’s race in Minnesota in 1998 when he was allowed to debate the Republican and Democratic Party candidates, going from 9 or 10 percent in the polls to ultimately winning the contest.
Ralph Nader polled at five percent and above at least four different times this year in national polls, and he even reached 10 percent in one poll in the state of Michigan (conducted by Lansing-based EPIC-MRA, 4/15/08). This should have been sufficient to gain access to the presidential debates. Ross Perot got in the debates in 1992 even though he was polling below 10 percent. Perot went on to win 19 percent of the vote, and his warnings about NAFTA and deficit spending influenced Clinton policy and proved prescient. Afterwards, the two parties retaliated by creating a 15% threshold which ironically no candidate is likely to reach without being included in televised debates.
The worse part of the so-called presidential debates as they are currently produced is that two-party control ensures that the questions are not sufficiently hard-hitting. Isn’t it appalling that we saw three debates between Obama and McCain at a time our country is suffering its worst economic crisis, and no one asked these men "Why should Americans have any confidence either of you is the best choice to tackle these problems given that both of your political parties helped pass laws that made this crisis possible—or even inevitable?”
They also like to say that voting for Nader is throwing your vote away. The Democrats often cite the 2000 election to blame Nader for Bush’s victory. But they noticeably never mention the 1992 election, when Bill Clinton won because Ross Perot "spoiled” the race for George Bush’s father, an incumbent president. By the way, Clinton got only 43 percent of the vote in 1992 compared to 48 percent by Bush in 2000.
And they offer no explanation for why they haven’t worked on election reform since 2000. Imagine claiming your political party lost the presidency because the "winner” was declared even though he hadn’t won a majority of the votes cast? Then imagine doing nothing to make sure it wouldn’t happen again. Isn’t it odd that the Democrats haven’t worked on election reform in the past eight years?
They never will change the system because the way things are now, they can be assured that they will be in office roughly half the time. They also count on people to accept their arguments that Nader and other third parties aren’t polling high enough to get your vote; that the real contest is between just two candidates.
If all else fails, they argue that it’s the most important election of your lifetime. I’m 43 years old and I’ve heard this argument each time the presidential race has come up.
If you accept these arguments, you are in effect rewarding the two parties for not fixing how we do elections in this country. You reward them for creating the Commission on Debates. You guarantee that things will not change. And you ensure that candidates that support single-payer health care, decent wages and pensions for workers, controls on corporations and a foreign policy based on achieving peace rather than driven by self-interest, cannot ever be heard.
Nader wants a more humane and democratic society. He’s seen that you can’t get anything done in Washington because senators like Obama and McCain ignore what’s good for Americans in pursuit of their own interests. Sure McCain talks like a maverick and Obama talks like a revolutionary, but look closely and you will see repeated
capitulations to the very entities our government needs to get away from if we are to build a more democratic society.
WOMAN’S SUFFRAGE & EUGENE DEBS
Eugene Debs ran for president several times in the early 20th century. He advocated the right of women to vote at a time when it was not popular to do so and while other more successful politicians openly argued against giving women the right to participate directly in elections.
The general attitude among men was exemplified by Elihu Root, a former cabinet secretary to presidents McKinley and Roosevelt and winner of the 1912 Nobel Peace prize who said: "Suffrage would be a loss for women. I think so because suffrage implies not merely the casting of the ballot, (…) but suffrage, if it means anything, means entering upon the field of political life, and politics is modified war. In politics there is a struggle, strife, contention, bitterness, heart-burning, excitement, agitation, everything which is adverse to the true character of woman. Woman in strife becomes hard, harsh, unlovable, repulsive…” (N.Y. Constitutional Convention, 1894).
President Theodore Roosevelt, himself, said "Personally I believe in woman’s suffrage, but I am not an enthusiastic advocate of it, because I do not regard it as a very important matter.” (Letter to Dr. Lyman Abbott, 11/10/1908). And President Grover Cleveland said, "Sensible and responsible women do not want to vote.” (1905).
Despite these sentiments Debs advocated this right. Yet he never obtained more than 6 percent of the vote. Let me ask you: Were the men who voted with Debs throwing their vote away? If you had lived in that era, would you have voted for him? Or would you have come up with an excuse for why it wasn’t important enough?
On the street when I am approached by an Obama/Biden volunteer or someone who tells me they’re voting for Obama, I usually ask "What about the FISA vote?” And each time I hear in return "What’s that?” Or if I say, "You know he supports the death penalty,” I usually hear in response, "No he doesn’t.”
At what point will there be intellectual honesty about what is
happening? People are voting for Obama because they find him to be an engaging public speaker and like his message regardless of his history of being part of the very problem he professes to want to fix. Most people don’t want the actual facts to interfere with the desperate hope that he is everything they want him to be.
Do you really want to vote for someone who has already voted to take away your civil liberties because of some vague wish that he’ll act differently as president? Obama himself, speaking of Sen. Hillary Clinton, made a remark that could just as easily apply to him, and, unwittingly makes the case for why no one should vote for him: "We can’t afford a president whose positions change with the politics of the moment. We need a president who knows that being ready on day one means getting it right from day one.” (Salem, OR, 3/21/08).
If voting for war appropriations and taking away civil liberties was bringing us closer to a more democratic and egalitarian society, well, I would advocate it. But it isn’t doing that.
What is your breaking point? At what point do you decide that you’ve had enough?
What do they have to do to lose your vote?
Matt Gonzalez is Ralph Nader’s Vice-Presidential running mate on an Independent ticket.
The e-mail address for this site is firstname.lastname@example.org.