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Published on Monday, November 13, 2000 in Newsday
Parties Took Middle of the Road to a Dead End
by Bob Wiemer
IN ONE of the notable scenes from the coda of "Animal House," a motion picture of no redeeming social value, a collegiate band is misdirected into marching into a narrow dead-end alley. Chaos ensues. Now a couple of representatives of the Animal- House generation have marched the entire country into a similarly farcical cul- de-sac.

Last week George W. Bush, Yale, '70, and Al Gore, Harvard, '69, managed after a long and agonizingly boring campaign to validate what a most perceptive member of an earlier generation -Ralph Nader, Princeton, '55 -had been saying all along: There isn't a jot of difference between the two major parties.

In truth, the two parties were so successful in establishing themselves in the middle of the political spectrum that the electorate went along, dividing itself equally, half on one side and half on the other. With such evidence of aimlessness oozing from the polling places Tuesday, the turn into that blind alley in Florida was probably inevitable.

Since the Florida debacle would never have occurred if Nader had not drawn votes from Gore, there was an almost immediate outburst of anti- Nader effluvia from true believers on the Democratic side. As always, they missed the point.

Nader doesn't want to help the Democratic Party; he wants to change it. He was the Green Party's presidential candidate. Here's how that party defined its purpose: "The foundation of our campaign: to focus on active citizenship, to create fresh political movements that will displace the control of the Democratic and Republican Parties. They are simply the two heads of one political duopoly, the DemRep Party, and feed at the same corporate trough.

This duopoly does everything it can to obstruct the beginnings of new parties including raising ballot-access barriers, entrenching winner-take-all voting systems and thwarting participation in debates." Keeping Nader and Reform Party presidential candidate Pat Buchanan out of the official debates was one of the decisions that guaranteed the balanced nature of the outcome. The major parties were able to keep things manageable and stuffy. On Social Security, for example, Gore and Bush hemmed and hawed about ways to fix it while Nader stated flatly: "The idea that Social Security is going to run out of money is simply nonsense...Social Security does not need to be 'saved'; it needs to be improved, which can be done by calmly making gradual changes. Panic fueled by opportunistic politicians and investment firms poses the only serious threat to the program." In what is probably a tongue-in-cheek aside in its platform, the Green Party advocated abolishing the congressional pension system and letting retired members of both houses rely on Social Security. (Since Congress would have to vote on that, there's no chance of it happening. But it probably made the legislative establishment sit up and take notice.) Real challenge was sorely missing from the duopoly's debate. Bush and Gore avoided coming to grips with the immigration problem. Buchanan could have livened that up. He advocated using troops on the borders to regain control of them. If that point of view gained any currency in the campaign, there is scant chance the results would have been as balanced as they were. The major party candidates brought the dead heat upon themselves by looking the other way on any issue that was at all controversial.

Neither Ralph Nader nor Pat Buchanan has to apologize to anyone for their participation in this campaign. If the platforms of the Green and Reform Parties had been taken more seriously, the general debate might have been more free ranging.

That could have made the distinctions between the two major parties clearer, and that almost certainly would provide a mandate far more forceful and satisfying than a dreary near-tie.

Copyright Newsday, Inc.


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