Play the hand

Who deserves the vote of progressive populists in this presidential election? We respect and admire Ralph Nader, the longtime citizen advocate who hopes his candidacy on the Green Party ticket will help build a long-term, independent populist political movement. [See Brett Campbell's report elsewhere and Nader's speech to the Green convention.] Despite his national reputation Nader has been all but ignored by the corporate-controlled mass media. He has about as much chance to win the election as Ross Perot, who at least has gotten occasional coverage. But Nader and Perot, and the other putative "minor" candidates, despite their ballot status, have effectively been dealt out of the election.

That leaves us with the hand we are dealt: the Democrat and the Republican. We cannot endorse Bill Clinton, the "New Democrat" who looked like an old Republican when he engineered the bipartisan adoption of the North American Free Trade Agreement and the global General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade. Those international treaties, which were negotiated by the Bush administration at the behest of multinational corporations, consign American workers to compete with Third-World labor standards.

Clinton also pandered to health industry executives who ultimately scuttled his compromises and left 40 million Americans unable to afford health care. He presided over the erosion of privacy and civil liberties in the name of fighting terrorism and he promoted the expansion of the death penalty. He compromised on food quality. He signed a pork-laden defense appropriations bill that spends $11.2 billion more than the Pentagon even asked for, even as the welfare repeal bill throws unskilled mothers into the job market to compete with other laborers. All this while the Federal Reserve Board, with Clinton's reappointment of Chairman Alan Greenspan, continues an official policy of maintaining 5% unemployment to keep wages down.

But despite our respect for Nader and our disappointment with Clinton we cannot counsel any action that would result in the election of Republican Bob Dole. If Clinton has compiled a record that Eisenhower would be proud of, Bob Dole has embraced the platform of the extreme right wing. He would grease the skids for approval of more draconian bills by a conservative Republican Congress that would make the 104th look like a New Deal replay. In addition the next president may get as many as three choices for the Supreme Court.

"Cynicism is chic, but costly," Jesse Jackson recently wrote. He appealed to readers of The Nation to look past their grievances at Clinton and consider the damages a GOP White House and Congress with a solidly conservative Supreme Court might wreak. "At the federal level, this election - more than most - is about something. It is a referendum on the anti-people, pro-corporate, antigovernment, radical-right Gingrich/Dole agenda," he wrote. "Surrender or withdrawal challenges nothing. We must engage, engage, engage to make things happen."

Going into the last month of the campaign, Clinton appears to have built up a substantial lead in the polls - a lead he gained after he stood up to the Republican Congress, even when it meant shutting down the federal government, to protect Medicare benefits, student loans, environmental protection and other programs targeted by Gingrich and Dole. But Clinton has continued to distance himself from progressive congressional Democrats as he reaches out to conservatives. Ironically, those conservatives are always going to like Republicans better because the GOP sides with big business instinctively. At least Clinton has to be persuaded.

Our best advice is to vote for Clinton if the race is close. Alert readers will know by November 5 whether a defensive vote for Clinton is needed. If not, a vote for Nader will strike a blow for democracy and help the Greens stay on the ballot for the next election. Maybe - just maybe - there will be a progressive alternative then.

Even if you can't muster any enthusiasm for Clinton and you don't think your vote for Nader will do any good, there are other reasons to get out to vote. After you get past the presidential race, the Progressive Populist can endorse, with a few exceptions, Democrats for Congress. Those exceptions include: Green Party candidates for the Senate in Alaska (Jeb Whittaker), Maine (John Rensenbrink, although Democrats probably will stick with moderate former Gov. Joe Brennan in a close race with a moderate Republican) and New Mexico (Abraham Guttman) are worthy of your vote, at least to help build that alternative party for future elections.

In U.S. House races, the Progressive Populist endorses Democrats with the exception of California's 27th District, where we endorse Green Party candidate Walter Sheasby of Sierra Madre, an occasional Progressive Populist contributing writer. We don't know enough about the eight other Green congressional candidates to justify a vote for them over Democrats in Massachusetts, Oregon, New Mexico, New York and Rhode Island.

Clinton has come under some criticism for not making more of an effort to win back Congress. Some observers suggest that if he wants to pursue the centrist course laid out by the business-oriented Democratic Leadership Council he might be better off with narrow Republican control of both the House and Senate.

Conservative Southern Democrats are being replaced by Republicans or moderate-to-progressive Democrats, so Democratic recapture of the House would put senior liberals in line for key committee chairs. They include Charles Rangel of New York, ranking Democrat on tax-writing Ways and Means; California's Henry Waxman on Government Reform and Oversight, Ron Dellums on National Security, George E. Brown Jr. on Science and George Miller on Resources; Michigan's John Conyers on Judiciary and John Dingell on Commerce; David Obey of Wisconsin on Appropriations; William Clay of Missouri on Economic and Educational Opportunities; James L. Oberstar of Minnesota on Transportation and Infrastructure; Lane Evans of Illinois on Veterans Affairs; and Henry B. Gonzalez of Texas on Banking. But Dick Gephardt, who is in line to become Democratic House speaker, likely would feel pressure to promote more conservative chairmen, particularly if the Democrats' majority is a narrow one. Gephardt already has hinted that he would follow Newt Gingrich's example and set aside seniority in selecting chairs, looking for younger centrist Democrats in an effort to reach consensus.

If the Democrats regain the House with a slim majority - perhaps five or 10 votes to spare - then the conservative "Blue Dog" Democrats, with approximately 30 votes, will still call the shots and a progressive agenda will be shelved. But if the Democrats gain more than 30, the congressional Democratic leadership can tell the Blue Dogs to go scrounge with the Republicans and Clinton will be more accountable to the progressive core of the party.

So vote Democratic for Congress. Maybe that will let Bill Clinton be a Democrat again!

Campaign in Trouble? Try the truth

"So, you're behind in the polls and no one is giving you a chance. Why not do what you should have been doing all along? If you had been openly against NAFTA and GATT and for campaign finance reform, by now you would have gotten all the Perot and Buchanan voters. And if you had advocated giving tax breaks to those below $50,000 a year - and paying for it by raising taxes on those making over $120,000 a year - you would have gotten most of your middle and low income voters on your side. In other words, look at the realities of our society, tell the truth, and do what's right."

So says Chuck Kelly in "The Truman Strategy: For Honest Candidates With or Without a Prayer." Kelly, a retired management consultant, notes that Harry Truman, given up up for dead in his 1948 campaign, beat a coalition of Republicans and rebellious conservative Democrats by asking voters: "How many times do you have to be hit on the head before you find out who's hitting you?" Truman answered the question and won the election, despite the common assumption that the electorate had been convinced that conservatives were good for the economy.

"Today's voters appear to have been conned into believing that it is a good idea to pit workers of the world against American workers, and someone besides Perot and Buchanan could get a lot of votes by educating the public about what's going on," Kelly writes. Check out his Internet web site, In Defense of Democratic Capitalism.

SF gets voting choice

San Francisco in November could become the largest local government in the United States to switch from the winner-take-all election system to a proportional representation system for its government.

The referendum is on preference voting, a version of proportional representation that would let voters rank their top choices for the Board of Supervisors rather than choosing one candidate per position.

The plan would determine winners by a process of counting first-choice votes, then transferring surplus votes to second-choice candidates until winners were established for all seats.

This method would do away with the need for decennial redistricting and it would allow minorities to win seats in an era when minority-dominated districts are under assault by conservative courts. For example, in a city or district with 10 seats, a group with 10% of the voters could win one of the seats, and so on.

Preference voting could solve the problem of how to encourage greater political representation for minorities when federal courts in the past year have struck down pro-minority gerrymandering of congressional districts in Texas and Georgia, threatening several black members of Congress.

Preference voting would particularly help minorities who are dispersed throughout a city or region. They could develop slates and form alliances with other groups to target seats.

Preference voting allows candidates to win without spending as much money and will put more emphasis on grass-roots support, Board of Supervisors member Tom Ammiano told the Christian Science Monitor. Supervisors currently spend up to $250,000 to win races and thus become dependent on monied interests, Ammiano says. "I raised $100,000, that was considered nothing. That's criminal."

Georgia Rep. Cynthia McKinney introduced a bill to allow proportional representation in congressional elections. It would repeal a 1967 law mandating single-member congressional districts. McKinney's bill should be a priority of the new Congress.

For more information on proportional representation contact the Center for Voting and Democracy, or call 202-828-3062.

- Jim Cullen

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