First Do No Harm

Why the "lesser of two evils argument" is wrong

So Nader’s ego has finally thrown his hat into the ring. Well, as he’s said, it’s certainly his right to do so. (Let us pray that said right still exists in 2008.) It is also my right to call him a blind, self-righteous idiot for entering the race.

The problem with Nader is not so much that he might draw hard core liberals and progressives away from the Democrat as that he doesn’t seem to see that as a problem. While he’s no longer claiming that the two parties are exactly identical, he’s willing to blur the lines between the two. Nader gives the Republicans a “D-minus” and the Democrats a “D-plus,” as clear a case of damning with faint praise as I’ve ever seen.

Perhaps he’s spent the entire last year asleep. Maybe Ralph’s somehow missed the spinal infusion provided the party by Doctor Dean and his backup band, Kucinich and Sharpton. While the former governor may be out of the race, his influence more than lingers — it permeates the campaigns of the two remaining Democrats.

In 2000, Nader backers condemned voting for the “lesser of two evils” when real change was an option on the ballot. In the abstract, their argument is valid. In practice, it assumes that the decision is between two evils — two types of harm, differing only in degree — and in the current climate, that equation is simply untenable.

No one can honestly claim any more that there is no difference between the two parties. On abortion, civil liberties, education, the environment, equal rights, separation of church and state, and trade — in every major issue of our time, really — the parties are a world apart. On nearly every issue, Democrats are moderate to moderately liberal, while the Republican leadership demagogues stridently for ideological supremacy on all fronts.

We are looking at an administration that guts air pollution, water pollution, and woodland protection laws with the “Clear Skies,” “Healthy Forests,” and “Clean Water” trifecta, that devastates state education with “No Child Left Behind,” that undermines liberty and justice with a “Patriot Act,” that indulges in the basest gutter politics while promising to uphold “honor and dignity to the White House,” that engaged in a war of political realignment while claiming that they knew not only that Iraq had WMDs, but where they were as well. This from a regime represented by a man who said that America must be “humble.” And that’s only the tip of the iceberg.

The leaders of a party that stands for small government created the largest bureaucracy in American history — an idea taken from the Democrats and turned into a bloated monster — then claimed that the Democrats were being obstructionist by fighting for the unions. (They won back the Senate, in part, on the strength of that attack.) The “responsible adults” that are supposedly back in charge have overseen a massive job loss and the largest deficits in American history. Leaders supposedly representing true freedom insist on maintaining a virtual concentration camp on foreign soil — to avoid due process laws — where they detain “enemy combatants” without review or appeal. Our champions of “personal responsibility” continue to desperately pass the buck on the worsening economy (Clinton), the dearth of jobs (ditto), the deficit (war on terra), intelligence failures from 9/11 to Iraq (everyone but Bush), stolen memos (Democrats, for not using a password), and a CIA agent whose only “crime” is being married to a man who outed the administration’s mendacity (they asked for it).

In many sections of the administration, lobbyists and former high-ranking members of corporations are now in charge of policing the very industries they worked for — and will probably return to after Bush leaves office. God, the Vice-President of the United States is still receiving money from a company that is providing services to our armed forces in wartime, in a war he agitated for! Meanwhile, that selfsame company has been investigated for multiple cases of providing substandard services as well as price gouging. At the same time the administration is insisting on absolute secrecy in colluding with their corporate owners backers, they are promoting projects like the infamous Total Information Awareness, which is rising from the ashes like an obscene phoenix as the “Advanced Research and Development Activity” office. ARDA, as disturbing as it is, remains a pipe dream, while CAPPS — the airport scanning system that doubles as a blacklist without any avenue of appeal — is active at this very moment. While I (as a New Yorker originally) understand the need for improved airport security all too well, CAPPS is far too broad and inflexible.

Of course, corporate lobbyists aren’t the only cases of outrageous appointmentitis the Bush regime is responsible for. John Ashcroft is only the most prominent example of their willingness to place radical religious reactionaries in positions of power. And like any child, Bush’s favorite period is recess, with constant appointments of the most strident ideologues to the bench and internal posts.

On the international front, this administration has taken (arguably) the greatest outpouring of goodwill our nation has ever known and turned into (again, arguably) the deepest, most widespread enmity we have ever faced. The president has unilaterally withdrawn from treaties ranging from Kyoto’s air pollution controls to the World Court to our arrangement with Russia banning antiballistic systems.

Their jobs program, mercifully, is simple and straightforward: tax cuts, tax cuts, and tax cuts. Sure, the chairman of Bush’s Council of Economic Advisors is saying that outsourcing American jobs is good, and the administration has backed up his statement, and our “jobless recovery” continues to amaze economists in the staggering lack of job growth, but hey, you can’t make an omelet without breaking a few heads, right? No, wait, that’s not right…

What’s most frightening about this administration is that everything I’ve laid out is only the beginning. The truly frightening thing about Bush himself is that he’s merely the advance man for the right wing’s most radical culture warriors: the movement known as Christian Reconstructionism, whose goal is nothing less than to replace the Constitution with (their version of) Biblical law, because — to paraphrase their rationale — the word of God is by definition superior to the words of men.

Which is where this administration’s most egregious, inexcusable act of pandering comes in. Bush’s recent support of the Federal Marriage Amendment has nothing to do with principle, faith, or respect for the Constitution, and everything to do with mollifying his core constituency of social “conservatives” who want to legislate morality. This time, they have taken aim at the Constitution in an attempt to, for the first time in our history, amend it to restrict the rights of a particular group rather than expand them. (Prohibition, as foolish as it was, was universal.) This craven act of unadulterated opportunism — pun most assuredly intended — marks the end of Rove’s attempts to even pretend that Bush is “a uniter, not a divider.”

Meanwhile, what are the Democrats’ sins? What is the worst we can say about the two Johns, Kerry and Edwards? They got suckered on Iraq like so many others were? They’re insufficiently left-wing on trade? They’re not ready to slit their own political throats by unilaterally backing the right to marry? Their “special interest” histories are imperfect? News flash for the far left purists: no one is perfect. All of our candidates, however, are intelligent, decent liberals of varying degrees of moderation, and any one of them would make a fine president. Every serious contender, and even most of the “message” candidates, would be so vast an improvement over Spurious George that there’s simply no comparison.

Isn’t ideological purity — of both varieties — what got us into this mess in the first place?

I agree that the two-party system is a problem, and that the only real solution is a system that makes third parties viable options. I agree wholeheartedly that there are grave problems with money in politics right now, and that something must be done. But now is not the time. To summarize what Tom Tomorrow says so eloquently, we can’t afford to waste time on a slow cancer when the body politic is bleeding all over the ER. As Doctor Dean would no doubt tell us, the first rule in medicine is to first, do no harm.

(/) Roland X
Captain ABBA

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