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If Not Now... | The Nation

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If Not Now...

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There are a number of persuasive reasons to cast a vote for Ralph Nader in the fall, and a number of unpersuasive reasons, too. But the principal argument in favor is this: On the 22nd of May last, Nader said without equivocation that if he had been a Congressman he would have voted to impeach Clinton and that if he had been a Senator he would have voted to convict him.

About the Author

Christopher Hitchens
Christopher Hitchens, longtime contributor to The Nation, wrote a wide-ranging, biweekly column for the magazine...

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The argument that "they all do it" has, paradoxically, become an argument with which the Washington permanent government actually justifies itself. It used to be a Nixonian gambit, and it evolved easily into a Clintonian one. But you have not broken intellectually with the consensus unless you view the phrase "they all do it" as part of the case for the prosecution, not the defense.

This sets Nader apart from most of those liberals who only affect to despise or oppose the "bipartisan" monopoly. Faced with the question, How corrupt and lawless can a man be and still be President, the bulk of the American left (which, to put it coarsely, is as much as to say the bulk of a rump) answered, Easy. He can be as corrupt and lawless as he likes, as long as he's a Democrat. After all, aren't his foes Republicans? Aren't they partisan? This riposte, insofar as it deserves the name, is one of those beliefs that are only true for as long as the speaker is stubborn enough to persist at them. It's not unlike saying that a vote for a third party is a wasted vote. Self-evidently, if more Democrats had denounced Clinton's abuses of power, the honor of holding this position would not have accrued so exclusively to Republicans. By a somewhat longer chain of reasoning, if all those who wanted political pluralism and a multiparty system were prepared to waste their franchise by voting in favor of it, their franchise would turn out not to be so wasted. Admittedly, both propositions are quixotic to begin with, but they do not express the obvious fallacy or tautology of the opposed positions, and they do not depend on having other people determine your thinking for you.

I had the slight distinction of being the speaker at the defeat celebrations of the Green Party in Washington, DC, on election night 1996, and I probably looked as much of a fool as I felt. For one thing, I am not a member or supporter of the Green Party. (If you care to know my politics, I am an old socialist who is living fascinatedly through a period when only capitalism seems to be revolutionary.) For another, I had been awfully disappointed at the apparent vanity and futility of Ralph's campaign. Nineteen ninety-six was the year in which it became clear to literally millions of people that an election could be bought, party conventions could be rigged, media coverage could be arranged and presidential "debates" could be fixed. Yet those willing to work and argue for at least a protest against this--and there are times when even a protest is better than nothing--had been let down by a manneristic, even eccentric noncampaign.

It feels very slightly different this time. For one thing, the Democratic Party is not so much dead as actually, visibly, palpably rotting on the slab. The only breath of dissent in the bought-up and closed-out "primary season," where almost nobody got a chance to vote, was supplied by a reactionary crowd-pleaser from Arizona who's had it with the campaign finance racket. Meanwhile, I suppose it's possible to use the threat of Christian fascism one more time to terrify the liberals, but it's pretty obvious that Governor Bush is not a hostage to his party's Jurassic wing. Sinister little mediocrity he may be, but who's seriously frightened of him? He's smoothly domesticated by the old moneyed establishment, just like his rival, and it's actually quite hard to picture him using cruise missiles out of personal and sexual pique, as Clinton really did do twice.

And it seems that Ralph Nader is taking the moment seriously. All the questions he is asked by the media pack have been scripted by the Democratic National Committee. "Aren't you a spoiler?" "Isn't a vote for you a wasted vote?" "What about the lesser of two evils?" And to these he has replied--with enough confidence to deter too much repetition--what's to spoil? His emphasis has been more and more on the open theft of the democratic process, on the importance of having or being able to have an election at all. His critics in the Gore camp are now so degenerated that they don't mind saying a rigged and bought election is fine if only their side wins it. Their objection to Nader's running is not merely an objection to his program, but--keep your eye on this point--to the fact of his daring to run at all. Even the Mexican system has more capacity for shame than that.

Now I know that many of you are sincerely, gravely, brow-furrowingly worried about which future monarch gets to appoint which future Justice. But why not admit it? You don't really know, and you won't really be asked, who will fill the next Supreme Court seat. (And it was the Democratic majority on the Senate Judiciary Committee, not George Bush senior, who made Clarence Thomas a Supreme.) It is as possible, in theory as well as practice, to imagine Gore making a safe and stupid reactionary appointment as it is to picture Bush making an "unpredictable" centrist one. The point, though, is that it is servile to wait upon their pleasure and caprice in this way.

The ruling class doesn't have to play the humiliating roulette of "lesser evil." It has its bets covered by ownership of the casino. It has, as far as is possible, everything under control and all contingencies provided for. Casinos are places where, oddly enough, poor people go to transfer their money to rich people. (And that's just what you do, buster, and you too, honey, when you make your campaign donations.) But, just as the casino owner would have to work or starve without the endless gullibility of the punter, the whole two-party machine would stall if people stopped playing the existing odds. It's the one freedom that can't be taken away or "factored in," and it is, thus, the one faculty that most needs a vigorous and unabashed exercise. If I was shyly asked when people should dare allow themselves this frightening liberty, I'd say the time was 'round about now.

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