Well friends, it was certainly great fun while it lasted -- the biggest open rift and publicly-aired feuding among the ruling classes to hit the U.S. since the grand old days of Watergate in the early 1970s. Damn those spoil-sports! A situation fraught with delightful political uncertainty -- and one that was making Florida and the U.S. a laughing stock around the world -- has been officially terminated, in one of the more bizarre decisions ever rendered in legal history, by the U.S. Supreme Court 5-4 majority. The widely propagated, widely believed proposition that this is a system whose legitimacy, above all, is founded on the consent of the governed who express their will periodically through elections has been openly cast aside. Wrong, the five justices declared. The people have no constitutional right to elect their leader.* So a President has been "selected", not elected by the voters.
As if by magic, the upper political and ideological ranks of the two-party dictatorship have closed front again before matters could get too far out of hand and the legitimacy of the system as a whole could be too thoroughly exposed and questioned. Gush and Bore have shaken each other's hands and announced the need for "unity" and "healing" in the national interest, a call which the corporate-owned news media have roundly applauded.
When African-American congressmen representing the most blatantly victimized group of voters tried to challenge Bush's fraudulent "selection", Gore, presiding over a joint session of Congress in one of his last official acts as Vice President, gaveled them into silence. Not a single Democratic Senator spoke up in support of the African-Americans. Apparently, this was the result of some sort of cloakroom deal, enabling the Democrats to share power -- meaning joint chairmanships of committees, bigger offices and staffs, and the other spoils traditionally going to the electoral victors --- in the Senate with the Republicans. So much for having honest elections and for the rights of African-Americans who have long been one of the most loyal constituencies for the Democratic Party.
Showing who really calls the shots here, Wall Street, which didn't like this uncertainly one little bit, has also rattled "Mr. Progressive" Jesse Jackson's chain, according to an article in the "Village Voice". To stay fundable with the tailored suits he's been hanging with lately, Jackson has significantly softened his rhetoric from the immediate aftermath of the Supreme Court decision when he talked about putting massive numbers of people into the streets. He'll be in Florida when thousands of African-Americans, and others, actually do carry their protest to Bush's Inauguration and, hopefully, make a royal mess out of it.
Let's face it: The two major political candidates are two sides of the same coin. This just makes it all the more obvious. The object of all of the fancy spin doctering and expensive legal maneuvering that was so wonderfully entertaining and educational was to determine which teleprompter reader would front for the two-party corporate dictatorship and which pigs would have their snouts closest to the public feeding troughs for the next four years.
Was there ever any substantial difference between these two idiots? Sanctions against Iraq and Cuba? Capital punishment? Justice for the Palestinians? Intervention in Colombia? The drug war? Vast quantities of tax money for "defense"? "Free trade"? The same, the same. And don't bring up abortion rights. Gore's at best a lukewarm supporter. Didn't he vote to put Scalia and Thomas on the Supreme Court? Now, he's hoisted on his own petard.
An evergrowing number of people in the United States, particularly among the energetic young who often take the first steps in what become great social movements -- certainly the most people since the youthful uprisings of the Sixties -- seem to be realizing the truth about the system and the revolutionary changes that are needed to make things right. These particular tragicomical events feed right into the conscious-raising and movement building that have been happening already with the rolling protests against the WTO, the World Bank and the IMF, neoliberal policies, and global corporate domination. Next may come an economic recession. There could be a very interesting conjuctural period ahead.
Thousands of people demonstrated at both the Republican and Democratic Conventions. Thousands of people showed up to demand that Nader be admitted to the closed-door presidential debates. Smaller groups of radical activists dogged Bush and Gore all along the campaign trail -- denouncing Bush for his judicial serial murders in Texas and Gore for his relationships to drug companies denying lifesaving AIDS drugs to Africa and to Occidental Petroleum which is threatening the lands and livelihoods of the U'wa people in Colombia. Seeing no substantial difference between the "two major candidates", three million people voted for Ralph Nader who ran an outspoken campaign, with comparatively little money to spend and only occasional access to the media, smack against the corporate interests.
Yes, what happened with the 2000 Presidential elections is an incredible outrage. Gore (and Leiberman) ain't worth defending. To hell with them. But we can't let the power-that-be sanction and normalize by judicial coup an election so transparently stolen in which so many people were disenfranchised -- indeed, in which the operative legal premise is , as expressed by Antonin Scalia, that the legitimacy of a presumptive Bush regime would be more important than counting votes. Many other people sacrificed and sometimes died in places like Montgomery and Selma to be able to vote and to have their ballots counted. In the short run, we need to defend the democratic gains of the past, while demanding more.
After these embarassing events, it's going to be harder for the U.S., the erstwhile "leader of the free world", to get over as some sort of last word for a political model and to be quite so arrogant towards others -- or so we might hope without being too truly hopeful.
For a better model, take a look at South Africa's post-apartheid constitution from 1996 which clearly stipulates that government is based on "universal adult suffrage, a national common voters roll, regular elections and a multi-party system of democratic government, to ensure accountability, responsiveness and openness" -- no archaic electoral college or hodgepodge of state and local procedures with opportunities for abuse here -- and whose much more expansive Bill of Rights bans discrimination by "race, gender, sex, pregnancy, marital status, ethnic or social origin, colour, sexual orientation, age, disability, religion, conscience, belief, culture, language and birth" along with specifically protecting a person's reproductive freedom. South African workers are guaranteed the right to form and join a trade union and to strike. Everyone is entitled to a healthy environment, adequate housing, sufficient food and water and health care. The U.S. meanwhile cannot even enact an equal rights ammendment for women or commit into law basic medical coverage for all citizens.
But it must be kept firmly in mind that bourgeois democracy, even at its best and most enlightened, is still a very limited, class-based form of democracy and that political power is constantly being overdetermined by the ownership, or not, of the means of production, including the means to influence public opinion and to wage and win political campaigns. These factors can only be mitigated somewhat, not removed, by the proposed campaign financing reforms in the U.S. at the state or federal level, which seem destined anyhow to be shot down by today's federal courts under the weird constitutional theory -- another twisting by conservatives of the 14th ammendment intended by its framers to protect the civil rights of individuals, above all those of the ex-slaves being violated in the post-Civil War South -- that corporations are actually legal persons and thus should enjoy rights to the unhindered freedom of speech, i.e., to the buying and selling of public elections.
One of the most popular slogans of the protestors who've taken to the streets during this past year is, "This is what democracy looks like." What the protestors mean, what these movements themselves are pushing towards, what all great social movements have historically pushed towards before being sidetracked or defeated, is the reorganizing of society so that the people really decide, politically, economically and otherwise. Direct participatory democracy, as much as possible like the protesters' affinity groups, combined with the greatest degree of equality and solidarity, in place of the current procedure of being subjected to a torrent of manipulative commercial messages and urged to pull a lever once every couple of years for a tweedledum or a tweedledee already preselected and paid for in the corporate boardrooms -- this is what democracy really looks like.