In the third presidential debate, Al Gore tried to intimidate George W. Bush, stalking him around the stage, getting into his space, trash talking. He was Alpha on steroids. It didn't work. Bush simply gave Gore the once over and smirked, as if he'd seen tougher acts at Yale frat parties. For people watching the debate, it surely confirmed their early impressions of Gore as something of a goon, a mean-spirited and desperate politician. Though Bush bumbled through the debate, his poll numbers shot up afterwards--solely because seeing the real Gore up close and personal turned so many people off.
This same brand of thuggishness is playing itself out now in the Goreites unceasing and disgusting attacks on Ralph Nader. The Republicans used to be the party of dirty tricks. In fact, a dirty trick campaign called Operation Townhouse, run out of the basement of the Nixon White House, helped defeat Al Gore's father in 1970. In the past couple of weeks, we've seen Nader's website hacked, Green Party email lists spammed, press conferences infiltrated by Gore backers, a scurrilous whispering campaign about Nader's sexuality, hypocritical attacks on his personal finances, and parade of high-paid inside the Beltway loyalists masquerading as defenders of the public interest as they subvert the only man in the race who is talking seriously about the great issues of our time. All this from a party that was too scared to let Nader in a single debate-even as an observer.
Is this much different than when the Republican campaign guru Ed Rollins handed out "walking around money" to urban blacks to keep them from voting in the New Jersey governor's race a few years ago? Yes. Rollins' handouts actually gave people something for their time. All that will remain from the Democrats' gutter politics will be a foul taste in the mouth of progressives.
This is a kind of political sadism, where Democratic Party attack dogs are feasting on one of the nation's greatest citizens. And the attack is predicated on a double lie: a lie about Gore's record; and a lie about Nader's intentions.
Even Rep. John Conyers has shamefully plunged a knife in Ralph Nader's back, accusing Nader of being weak on civil rights, abortion and gun control. But Conyers is wrong on every point. Take abortion rights. Nader is and has been unwavering on the subject, though correctly noting that the Republicans would be insane to even attempt to overturn Roe. Gore is the panderer on this issue (a subject Bush, by the way, never even mentions on the campaign trail.) Gore has called abortion "immoral." He has vowed to reduce the number of abortions drastically. He voted for several incarnations of the infamous Hyde Amendment and for the even more noxious Siljander Amendment, which sought to subvert Roe v. Wade by defining life as beginning at conception. When these flirtations with the religious right (during the height of Reagantime) ran aground, Gore joined forces with the likes of Jesse Helms to deny abortions to poor women. He says he would support a ban on partial birth abortions. That's his record and you don't hear NARAL or Gloria Steinem saying a word about it.
Civil rights? It was Gore who voted to stop the IRS from yanking the tax-exempt status of religious schools that denied entry to blacks. It was Gore who played cheerleader for the destruction of welfare. It is Gore who continues to call for the ratcheting up of the war on drugs that has put two million citizens behind bars. It is Gore who advocates expanding the death penalty in the face of overwhelming evidence that it kills innocent people and that it is biased against blacks. (A recent Justice Department report revealed that since 1995 more than 75 percent of those put on federal death row have been minorities.) It was Gore who tried to end affirmative action for federal contractors through his Reinventing Government scheme, a project that Blacks in Government, a group of black civil service workers, called the "ethnic cleansing" of the federal workforce.
Gay rights? Gore has been a gay basher his entire career. In 1976 during his first campaign, he lashed out at gays for engaging in an "abnormal" lifestyle. In 1984, during his first senate run Gore boasted that he would never accept money from gay political groups, then he greedily solicited contributions from homophobic preachers-not to mention tobacco companies, chemical and oil companies, weapons manufacturers. In congress, Gore once again teamed up with Helms to pursue anti-gay measures. When the DC city council voted to purge from the books archaic sodomy statutes, the US senate intervened, passing a measure overturning the DC city council's action. Al Gore voted with Helms. Later Gore joined with Helms again to support a nasty measure that would have prohibited the Legal Services Corporation from representing gays and lesbians who wanted to file civil rights actions charging discrimination based on sexual preference. Doing the bidding of the drug giants, Vice President Gore kept Africa from getting cheap drugs to fight the rampaging AIDS epidemic-until Nader called him on it. Gore has stood silent as the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy in the military has been used by the military brass to go on search-and-discharge mission that has seen a shocking increase from the Bush era in the number of gays evicted from their jobs in the military.
And on and on.
We've had our chances over the years. Citizen campaigns that have geared up to challenge a corrupt and enervated system: Gene McCarthy in the 1968 primaries. George McGovern in 1972. John Anderson in 1980. Jesse Jackson in 1988. Ventura in 1998. Nader in 2000. Those are the kind of campaigns that attract young people to politics; that energize them and feed their thirst for optimism and idealism. Young voters have been ignored in this campaign by every candidate except Ralph Nader. Until now. Now the Democrats have noticed them-as a threat. And they are trying to carpet bomb them out of the election, sullying them for being naïve and idealistic.
All this is a sign of how depraved the Democratic establishment has become and how frightened they are that a new party could rise up out of its wreckage. That's the long-term threat the insiders are trying to suppress or buy-off-the same way they undermined the Rainbow Coalition after the 1988 campaign. Even if Gore wins, the DNC and their acolytes in the public interest sector of official Washington are desperate to keep Nader from getting five percent and federal party-building funds. Having betrayed their own base for the past eight years, the party could never stand such real competition.
So here's some last minute advice to West Coast voters who still feel queasy under the nonstop scaremongering: delay casting your vote. The presidential election will be decided before polls close in Washington, Oregon, California, Alaska and Hawai'i. By all accounts, George W. Bush will have vanquished Gore. Or Gore may have pulled it out over his cretinous opponent. It doesn't matter. By 6 pm, Pacific Coast time the networks will have called the election and millions of voters out West will be free to vote their conscience: that is pull the lever for Ralph Nader and the Green Party. No vote switching. No elaborate trading schemes required. Just cast a guilt free vote that will send a message and help empower a new political movement in this country. Vote late and vote Nader.
Copyright 2000 Counterpunch