'Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.' -- Eugene V. Debs

Monday, March 24, 2008

The Poverty of the Presidential Campaign (Part 2) 

On Friday, I suggested that, instead of supporting third, fourth and fifth party candidates for President, like Cynthia McKinney, Gloria La Riva and Ralph Nader, we should instead consider boycotting the election entirely. Why legitimize a process that is designed to favor the major party candidates who can access enormous amounts of money and mainstream media attention? Furthermore, why do we believe, recent experience to the contrary, that the presidential campaign constitutes an effective form of political action for the left?

In that post, I neglected to address an important subject, the extent to which there are better alternatives than putting a lot of time and money into qualifying additional candidates for the ballot and informing the public of their existence. An individual who frequently posts comments over at Lenin's Tomb, a person who goes by the online moniker, i on the ball patriot, has incisively described such an effort as a time sink. Just look at the Nader campaign in 2004.

Faced with a concerted Democratic effort to keep him off the ballot in many states around the country, the Nader campaign became commonly identified with the issue of ballot access instead of the war, the economy or corporate privilege. Of course, that's when he wasn't being vilified for being financed by Republicans from behind the scenes to sabotage John Kerry. His ability to reach the public with a coherent ideological message was virtually non-existent.

I doubt that this year is going to be different. Accordingly, the question becomes, why dedicate such resources to an effort that is unlikely to reach much of the public and, hence, unlikely to educate people as to different approaches to current US policy? Especially when the inevitable result, a low percentage of the vote, is then highlighted by the media as indicative of a public rejection of them?

Such questions become particularly salient when we realize that Nader, McKinney and La Riva could channel their efforts into other activities that might well be more effective. For example, all three oppose the war in Iraq. Perhaps, instead of running for President, the three of them could form an organization dedicated towards ending the occupation by economically pressuring the corporations that directly benefit from it. Imagine a national campaign against corporations that contract with the Pentagon to provide equipment and services.

Of course, most Americans would find such an effort deplorable, but remember, you don't need 50% plus one, to win this sort of confrontation with a corporation just 2%, 3% or 5% could have a significant impact. Even if it objectively failed to change corporate policy, which is probable, it would also highlight the interrelationship between the US government, transnational corporations and the occupation in Iraq, a relationship that significantly explains the persistence of the US presence there.

In other words, it would, unlike a presidential campaign, successfully convey a political theme with the synergistic potential for new organizing campaigns. Imagine if such an effort went global. And, this could be done with other critically important economic issues as well. On Saturday, I published a post about a possible bailout of the international finance system through central bank purchases of mortgage backed securities.

There are almost unlimited possibilities with this one. Nader, McKinney, La Riva and others could create a coalition that would either oppose the bailout, or insist that central banks like the Federal Reserve, the Bank of Japan and the European Bank only move forward if the financial institutions in possession of the securities agree to provide more capital for an array of socially compelling needs, such as affordable housing, health care and education. After all, the banks are governmental institutions capitalized with our money, so, if they are going to dispense with the ruthless application of neoliberal policies in regard to banks, savings and loans, brokerage houses and hedge funds, shouldn't they do the same for us?

Again, starting domestically and expanding the effort internationally appears to be essential. But doing so requires abandoning a narcissitic perspective about the centrality of the presidential election, and instead moving to align ourselves with emerging global trends on the left. A campaign for President by a third, fourth or fifth party candidate has a beginning, a middle and an end, but an effort of this kind possesses the potential of creating an internationalized American left capable of playing an important role in the defeat of military neoliberalism.

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