-------- Original Message -------- Subject: Re: The Nader Campaign. Date: Fri, 07 Jul 2000 01:38:13 -0400 From: "Jose G. Perez" <jg_perez at bellsouth.net> Reply-To: marxism at lists.panix.com To: marxism at lists.panix.com References: <200007070310.AAA14598 at linux5.inea.com.ar>
> DON'T VOTE. IT ONLY ENCOURAGES THEM.
>>Not the experience of Argentina. << [Nestor]
I am far from advocating some sort of universal tactic. But it does seem to me that as U.S. electoral participation has declined from 65 or so percent in 1960 or so (despite the fact that Blacks in the South were not allowed to vote and that southern whites didn't vote much either, since the democrats controlled everything) to the 48-50% of the last couple of presidential elections, and the 33% or so of the last Congressional election, that something has happened that Marxists should be conscious of.
Moreover, exit polls and other polls confirm that this is a class phenomenon. The big majority of the nonvoters belong to our class. Non-voting is most concentrated among Blacks and Hispanics. The further up you are in the social-economic scale, the more likely it is you will vote.
This, I submit, is a different situation than that which confronted, for example, Lenin, when he wrote his polemic against the ultraleftists and it is a different experience from that of the Argentine working class. Even in districts where the member of congress is a Black "radical" by American standards and echoes many of the complaints of the Black or Hispanic community against racism and exploitation, participation is miniscule.
No living American has participated in a presidential election in which it made the slightest bit of difference which of the two major party candidates won. Repeatedly they have had the experience of voting for one thing, winning, and getting another.
In the post-WWII epoch, moreover, the government has become such an immensely complicated and intricate apparatus that it is impossible to say with any certainty just who is responsible for what. The whole system has become tremendously opaque and confusing, legislative procedures are tremendously archane and convoluted, bills which ostensibly do one thing in fact do the opposite. It is perfectly possible, and in fact it is a routine practice, for legislators to vote both FOR and AGAINST controversial measures. Thus for example, they might vote to increase pensions, but to that bill then the leadership attaches a rider to establish a naval base in the middle of the Arizona desert. The Arizona congressmen, who opposed the pension increase, will vote for the overall bill; those who supported the pension increase might vote against it. Moreover, the votes are quite open and cynically rigged. Paryty whips count noses beforehand, and they allow a certain number of members to vote for/against a measure since those votes won't change the outcome. Then sometimes the whips will require you to vote for a measure quite unpopular in your district, but your vote is needed. This is called "heavy lifting," and any journalist who has ever covered a state house in the U.S. has heard legislators use the term hundreds of times. Overall, this is known as "the normal legislative process."
I leave aside the fact that especially the Federal Congress is, as one right-wing humorist quite aptly put it, "a parliament of whores." Votes are openly bought, sold and traded. Giant corporations invest hundreds of millions of dollars in "lobbying," and some congressmen have become expert extortionists.
I cannot stress enough the opacity and seeming randomness of the U.S. governmental machinery as a whole. This is, of course, praised to the skies as a system that produces moderation and accomodation and so on. In fact, it is the most immensely corrupt and inefficient government imaginable, a luxury that as far as I can tell only the American bourgeoisie, which lines its pockets with tribute from the entire planet, can afford.
Thus the attitude prevalent among THE MAJORITY of the working class and especially ITS MOST OPPRESSED AND EXPLOITED LAYERS is that the elections have nothing to do with them. There is no point in voting. The two-party system is one animal with two heads that feed from the same trough. The electoral contest boils down to this: whoever is most successful at fooling the greatest number of people is then hired to do that for the next four years as president.
These are, I think, some of the reasons that explain the growing alienation of working people from elections.
I think the tactics of revolutionaries must be grounded in the reality of the countries where they live and fight. In terms of elections, Argentina's working class has one tradition and set of experiences which is a very different one from the American one.
Our tactics must take into account the actual consciousness of workers in the United States, and especially of the more advanced sections of the working class. It is my contention that jokes/slogans like, don't vote, it only encourages them, or if God had meant us to vote, he would have given us candidates resonates more broadly and deeply with working people than "vote Nader" or "defeat Bush at all costs."
Moreover, the idea of casting a BLANK ballot will, I think, seem especially alien to people here. That is partly because the typical voter in November will undoubtedly be faced with DOZENS of candidates. The might include:
President Senator Congressman Governor Secretary of State State Treasurer (etc., etc.) Head of State Public Utility Regulators Members of state public utility board State Senator State Representative Chief Justice of State Supreme Court State Supreme Court Justices State Appeals Court Judges Local court judges Probate Court judges Family court judges Traffic court judges Justices of the Peace County Sheriff State District Attorney City District Atty. or prosecutor Board of education Zoning board Head of county government Members of county commission City Mayor Members of City Commission
Texas has a railroad commission that I think is elected, and there are many weird and wonderful variations, pensions board, dog catchers, library boards, transportation commissions, water authorities...
I read quite a few years ago that there were a total of 500,000 elected governmental positions in the United States; and the figure seems entirely plausible.
In addition, any number of these races might be officially "non partisan" especially at the local level.
Americans who vote habitually leave much or most of the ballot blank to begin with; and most votes for many lower positions come from people who vote a straight party ticket with one lever or one punch. The number of people who actually cast a conscious, deliberate individual vote for all or virtually all races on the ballot is miniscule.
Add to this the fact that the number of positions that are actually effectively contested in a given election is small. So, out of the 450+ members of the federal House of Representatives, at most a few dozen seats are "open" or have an incumbent facing serious challenge. In the rest of the seats -- the big majority -- the current legislator faces only token opposition. And that is true in state and local races also. This --that the outcome of most races is a foregone conclusion-- is another factor in discouraging participation.
Oh, and I forgot the referenda and initiatives, votes on tax rates, etc.
The net result is that it is quite impossible to actually know and understand who or what you are voting for in every single instance on an American ballot. Most people who vote do in fact cast a blank ballot for many if not most ballot lines. Calling for a blank vote makes no sense in this context, people who vote are ALREADY in the habit of casting a "blank ballot" except for the top races. They are going to look at you strangely and say, you went to vote and you didn't vote for anyone?
Blank or spoiled ballots are NEVER reported in American elections. If you have access to detailed by precinct results, you will see a total number of ballots and results for each race. So you might see 1,000 ballots and 950 votes for president, 750 votes for senator or congressman, and so on to where you're getting a couple of hundred votes for county commission, zoning board, etc. But you do not know whether the 50 people that didn't vote for president voted in some other race.
My point is we need to think through what these realities mean for our tactics. We must avoid the bourgeois outlook which considers non-voters to be nonexistent unpersons.
----- Original Message ----- From: "Nestor Miguel Gorojovsky" <gorojovsky at inea.com.ar> To: <marxism at lists.panix.com> Sent: Thursday, July 06, 2000 11:11 PM Subject: Re: The Nader Campaign.
En relación a Re: The Nader Campaign., el 6 Jul 00, a las 22:35, Jose G. Perez dijo:
> >>Maybe it is a matter of political traditions, but I believe that
> blank ballot is preferable, in that it indicates a positive form of
> reaction. But of course, this is not some kind of general truth.<<
> I would NEVER cast a blank ballot. I've voted for Donald Duck,
> Mouse and Fidel, but after working on reporting elections in the
> American bourgeois media, and realizing how much of an effort they
> into "getting out the vote" and covering up the degree of popular
> disgust with both major parties, I always reply, when people ask me
> who I think they should vote for:
> DON'T VOTE. IT ONLY ENCOURAGES THEM.
Not the experience of Argentina.