Where Have All the Issues Gone?
Well, there we have it: It's down to GoreBush. Dull vs. dullard. The political establishments of the two-party duopoly successfully rose up to surround, defend, and shove forward their chosen ones, both girded with tens of millions of dollars from the exact same sources of corrupt corporate money.
This means that the kitchen-table issues that actually matter to us will not even be up for discussion, since the money masters of the GoreBush travelling medicine show have decreed that their candidates must not disturb the populace with any questioning of the conventional wisdom and corporate order. Instead, GoreBush offers "Election 2000: A Space Odyssey" -- completely out of touch with the real life of our country's workaday majority. Here are a few examples of what the Democrat and Republican will NOT be discussing:
#1: The mugging of the middle class
Al and George are in perfect harmony on the prosperity theme, assuring voters that they will dutifully extend America's razzle-dazzle, Wall Street-driven "economic boom." Both are totally deaf to the chorus of America's majority asking: A boom for whom?
Real wages are lower today than when Nixon was president. Eight out of ten families have seen their incomes go flat or go down in this period of so-called prosperity. More than 90 percent of the gains in stock wealth have gone to the wealthiest 10 percent of families. Farm bankruptcies, corporate downsizings, and family debt are setting new records. Why is this gritty reality not being raised -- at least by the nominal Democrat?
Rather than reaching out to the middle class, Gore and Bush have agreed to continue the mugging -- both support tax and trade programs that subsidize more downsizings and the exporting of U.S. jobs; both favor immigration policies that allow high-tech companies to import workers to fill the majority of our tech jobs and undermine the salary scale for the whole industry; and both fawn over Alan Greenspan, favoring his reappointment as chairman of the Federal Reserve Board, from whence he pursues a relentless policy of depressing wages.
#2: The return of the robber barons
In a greed-grab more feverish than a gold rush, every industry in our country is being consolidated and conglomerated by huge corporations to form entities with names like Global Goliath MegaHuge Inc. The bottom line is a shrinking of competition and a radical rise in monopoly power affecting our jobs, health care, the news we're fed, and much, much more.
The CEOs, with wide, toothy grins, rationalize their mergers in the name of "consumer benefits." Do we look like we have sucker wrappers around our heads? Is your cable bill lower? Is your medical care better? Is the nightly news any newsier as the result of these consolidations?
A handful of corporate and investor elites enjoy a golden windfall from these mergers. Everyone else loses -- workers, consumers, taxpayers, small businesses, communities, small shareholders. Yet this destructive re-ordering of America's economy is being done with no public discussion, much less a challenge. Instead of Teddy Roosevelt or "Fighting Bob" LaFollette, we get Al and George taking millions of campaign dollars from the merging barons and seeing, hearing, and speaking no evil.
Corporate globalization is nothing but Reagan trickle-down economics writ large -- if we simply unleash the Great Stallions of Global Corporate Power, we're told, these beneficent beasts will naturally produce enormous wealth, put a Lexus in every garage, turn every bloody dictatorship into a utopian democracy, cure genital herpes, and let everyone have a Nike swoosh on their clothing.
Only it hasn't quite worked out that way. Instead, the U.S. has lost hundreds of thousands of good jobs, as our corporate stallions have stampeded to poverty-stricken nations to take advantage of powerless and dirt-cheap labor. The secret, autocratic, corporate-controlled tribunals set up by NAFTA and the WTO to enforce this global rapaciousness have been empowered, without our knowledge or consent, to overrule our national, state, and local laws, thereby stealing our most fundamental right: self-government (see The Lowdown, March '99 and Jan. '00).
Neither Gore nor Bush will question this outrage. Au contraire, both worship at the holy altar of globaloney and insist on staying the course -- a course paved with the golden bricks of their corporate sponsors.
#4: The freakin' drug war
It doesn't get much stupider than this political boondoggle that wastes $50 billion of our tax money each year, that imprisons half a million of our fellow citizens for nothing but simple possession or low-level dealing, that allows police at all levels to seize the private property (cars, homes, cash, Tupperware, everything) even of innocent citizens, that results in unconstitutional racial profiling and searches, that prevents U.S. farmers from being able to grow profitable and environmentally sound fields of industrial hemp (see The Lowdown, May '99), that has our military spending nearly a billion bucks a year to intervene (on the wrong side) in a civil war in Colombia ... et cetera and ad nauseum.
Democrat Gore has not piped up in opposition to any of these absurdities, and Republican Bush says he wants to get more repressive and spend more on such madness. The presidential "debate" will ignore a failed drug policy that is doing deep damage to our people, our constitution, and what's left of the government's credibility.
#5: Real tax reform
Even though the corporate media is highlighting tax cuts as a big difference between Gore and Bush, their plans are like the difference between Bud Lite and Miller Lite -- weak beer all around.
Both talk only about federal income taxes, deliberately diverting any attention from the tax that most burdens the majority of working Americans: the payroll tax -- which takes 7 1/2 percent of the income of anyone making up to $76,000 a year (15 percent if you're self-employed). If you make more than this -- even if you're Bill Gates -- you're still taxed only on your first $76,000 in income. Why should 100 percent of a working stiff's income be taxed, but only 1 percent of a multimillionaire's? Why not start the payroll tax at $76,000, rather than capping it there, thus freeing working families from these regressive taxes and putting the burden on the most privileged citizens? Now there's a real tax-cut debate!
Other possibilities are an international currency-exchange tax on corporations and speculators, and a transactions tax on short-term stock sales. There are also good suggestions for a pollution and natural resources tax, applying a progressive rate that climbs according to the amount of pollution you cause and the resources you consume.
But these ideas would require a boldness and ingenuity that cannot come from candidates shackled to the very interests that profit from today's regressive tax policies, leaving the candidates to think small and pick nits.
#6: Universal health care
This was the big issue of '92 for Clinton-Gore, who decried the fact that 38 million Americans lacked any medical coverage at all. Eight years later, 44 million Americans are uncovered.
This time, Gore is a health-care minimalist, offering a plan that possibly-maybe-but-don't-hold-me-to-it would cover only about one-eighth of the citizens in need. And Bush wouldn't even go that far.
Missing entirely is the debate we ultimately must have, which is to create an American version of Canada's single-payer system -- the only way to provide care for all, cut costs, and improve both service and health. Big surprise: Both parties are butt-deep in campaign funds from profiteering HMOs and insurance giants, who would be the only losers in a single-payer plan.
#7: The money corruption of politics and government
Gore and Bush are shameless poseurs on campaign-finance reform. Neither they nor their parties want even the modest changes they're willing to talk about. Both are fixated on the matter of "soft money," the unlimited millions that corporations and unions give to the political parties (though overwhelmingly it's corporate cash in the soft-money game). Gore would ban soft money outright, and Bush would outlaw it for corporations and unions, while still allowing CEOs, fat cats, and other individuals to continue pumping millions through the soft-money loophole.
Not a whisper from either of these two frauds on public financing of elections, which is the one way we finally could get the corrupting private money out of the process. If we want public policy to reflect genuine public interest, rather than private interests, we've got to fund the democratic process publicly.
Doing this closes the loopholes for special-interest money, but -- even more important -- it allows regular people to run for office again, since a teacher, farmer, retail clerk, cab driver, or whomever could get access to the same pool of public campaign funds that incumbents and the elites would have. Already, Arizona, Maine, Massachusetts, and Vermont have passed state laws for public financing, while Connecticut, Missouri, and Oregon will vote on it this year. Why not a national debate?
We're onto them!
The good news is that GoreBush can run, but they can't hide from these issues. Among other credible third-party candidates who will be actively raising some of them, Ralph Nader already is on the hustings talking about all of these and more as he campaigns for the Green Party presidential nomination. Ralph will be a contender -- he will have been in all 50 states by June 1, he will raise at least $5 million to finance a grassroots campaign, his volunteers will qualify the Greens for the ballot in 40 to 50 states, he has an experienced political staff on the job, he has top legal minds working to put him into this fall's debates with Gore and Bush ... and he's going to get right in the face of power as only Ralph can do, filling in what's been missing in Campaign 2000.