Monday, October 27, 2014

Vote Nobody

George Will was right: Elections are not about "whether elites shall rule, but which elites shall rule."

The late Howard Zinn once remarked of the United States' stifling two-party duopoly, "If the gods had wanted us to vote they would have given us candidates."

Given the utter lack of any anti-corporate voices in Maine's upcoming congressional and gubernatorial races, I find myself agreeing more with Zinn's sentiment this year than any other election in recent memory.

Putting aside the broader question of the overall efficacy of electoral politics, these midterm elections are becoming increasingly frustrating for Greens, activists, socialists or anybody looking to defy the corporate state.

(The Maine Green Independent Party opted not to run a candidate for governor this year largely due to the ridiculously immense--and blatantly unconstitutional--ballot-access hurdles in place for third-party candidates.)

Sure, there is independent Eliot Cutler. But Cutler is about as "independent" as Maine U.S. Sen. Angus King.

Like King, Cutler is socially liberal (i.e. he does not hate gays and women) and fiscally conservative. I prefer to think of him as "GOP-lite": Not as extreme as Republican Gov. Paul LePage, but not particularly moderate, either.

A former corporate lobbyist who is largely self-financing his own campaign, Cutler talks of "branding" the state of Maine like a corporation. He supports tax reform, merit-based pay for teachers, eliminating--rather than reforming--government programs that are inefficient, and "reforming" welfare in a language reminiscent of Bill Clinton.

And, in his previous bid for governor in 2010, Cutler and LePage both cited New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie as a politician they admire.

In other words, Cutler is another Establishment politician. He would fit right in with either the Republican or Democratic parties--which makes sense, since he has been enrolled in both parties before going independent.

All of that said, I find the persistent calls for Cutler to drop out of the race highly antidemocratic. Even if I do not personally support his policies, Cutler has a constitutional right to run for public office. As voters, we should be encouraging more candidates to run for office. And we could do just that if Maine adopted a ranked-choice or instant run-off voting system for all statewide elections--just like Portland uses to elect the mayor.

However, Maine Democrats resist any calls to reform our antiquated winner-take-all electoral system. They likely realize that, if given a choice, progressive voters would abandon them in droves.

Then we have Democratic U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, a candidate almost as bland and uninspiring as former U.S. Rep. Tom Allen.

Like Allen, Michaud's career in the House of Representatives has been colored by his rank-and-file party loyalty, his utter lack of leadership qualities, and a record that, above all, demonstrates a thorough refusal to rock the boat in even the slightest manner.

In a succession of flip-flops to rival John Kerry, Michaud was opposed to women's reproductive freedom before he was for it. During his first year in Congress, Michaud earned a ten percent rating from the leading women's advocacy group, NARAL Pro-Choice America, one of the worst ratings the group has ever given.

Now, the very same group has endorsed him for governor, praising Michaud's "evolution" on women's rights. "We know he'll be an excellent advocate for women," writes NARAL president Ilyse Hogue in an op-ed in the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram ("Mike Michaud has earned pro-choice group's endorsement, abortion rights advocate says," 04/30/2014).

Likewise, Michaud opposed gay rights before he came out as gay himself, shortly after announcing his intent to run for governor last fall.

While in the Maine State Legislature, Michaud voted against gay rights legislation five times. But try bringing this up with Michaud's supporters and they promptly inform you he simply "changed his mind" on the issue. (Meanwhile, liberals like Bangor Daily News blogger, Alex Steed, argue, ludicrously, that Michaud's sudden about-face on gay rights is "off-limits" for straight people to criticize. Yes, he actually wrote this.)

Even in the lead-up to Maine's passage of gay marriage in 2012, Michaud remained completely silent on the issue. He could have, at the very least, expressed his support for the ballot measure. Doing so would not even have necessitated disclosing his own sexual orientation.

As obnoxious as LePage is, at least the man has principles and, in the eyes' of his supporters anyway, integrity. And that is, sadly, why he will likely be re-elected.

Finally, there is U.S. Senate hopeful, Shenna Bellows who is running an uphill contest against long-serving "moderate" Republican Sen. Susan Collins. Sure, Bellows is highly unlikely to win. But let's put that pesky fact aside for the moment.

On paper, Bellows looks great. She supports single-payer health care, legalizing marijuana, raising the minimum wage, and equal pay for women. Likewise, she has been a fierce critic of the NSA surveillance state and has been vocal in her opposition to the Iraq war. (She has, however, remained mum on the six or so other wars the U.S. is currently involved in...)

Yet, while Bellows has clearly staked out a populist campaign (and there is no debate that Collins has long overstayed her welcome in Washington, D.C.), she, like 2012 Senate hopeful, Cynthia Dill, is something of a sacrificial lamb for the Democrats--put up more for show than as a serious contender. Readers may recall that Dill, who was vying for the U.S. Senate seat vacated by Olympia Snowe, received virtually no backing from the Maine Democratic Party, which threw its support behind eventual winner, Angus King.

The Democratic Machine has left Bellows similarly stranded while it has brought out the big guns for Michaud. (Bill Clinton, Michelle Obama, and Hillary Clinton have all come to Maine to stump for Michaud in recent weeks, with President Barack Obama scheduled for a campaign event on Thursday.)

As Press Herald reporter Kevin Miller writes in a recent story on Bellows' "quixotic" campaign, "Bellows has raised more than $2 million--far less than her opponent, but a respectable sum for a campaign that has received little fundraising help from a Democratic Party focused elsewhere" ("Race for the U.S. Senate: The first-timer," 10/12/14).

But candidates like Bellows--who, on the face of it at least, support everything the Democratic Party ostensibly stands for--nonetheless serve a purpose. That purpose is to draw jaded, betrayed liberals back into the Democratic Party.

As Elizabeth Schulte explains in a recent piece on Elizabeth Warren--whom many have compared to Bellows, including Bellows herself--for the Socialist Worker, "Like so many other liberal figures before her, Warren's main impact is to put a populist facade on a Democratic Party that stands for preserving corporate power" ("The progressive face of a regressing party," 10/20/2014).

She continues:

The hope among so many Democratic liberals is that people like Elizabeth Warren will bring the Democratic Party back to its true populist roots. But the opposite is true. The role of liberal figures like Warren--like Dennis Kucinich or Jesse Jackson or many more before them--is to pull progressive supporters of the Democrats back to the party at election time. 

After all, the Dems can't risk alienated liberal voters leaving the Democratic Party for, say the Green Party, can they? Even despite Bellows' all but certain defeat at the polls, many Democratic insiders believe she is "laying the groundwork" for subsequent campaigns.

And therein lies the real function of figures like Bellows. Even if Bellows were to win on Election Day, she would, in all likelihood, promptly abandon her progressive platform and, like Warren, fall in lockstep with the Democratic rank-and-file.

No, Shenna Bellows will not save us. Nor will a Gov. Mike Michaud or Eliot Cutler. The only hope for true progressive change--in Maine and nationwide--is by breaking away entirely with the two-party corporate duopoly.

All of the major democratic reforms throughout history--from the right of women to vote, the civil rights movement, labor rights, regulatory and environmental reforms--have come from outside the two-party system. Even FDR had to be dragged, kicking and screaming, to enact his New Deal policies--though one would never know it from high school history class or Ken Burns' recent hagiographic documentary, The Roosevelts: An Intimate History.

It was only through the hard-won struggles of socialists, anarchists, feminists and labor leaders that we gained Social Security, child labor laws, Medicare/Medicaid, workers' comp., the five-day, 40-hour work week and weekends off. Few of the activists behind these struggles ever achieved formal positions of power.

To be clear, I am not advocating not voting--though, at the same time, I can perfectly understand why some voters might choose to stay home next Tuesday. And yes, I too can't stand LePage. The man is an arrogant, ignorant bully. But I can't stand Michaud, either. And I gave up on voting for the "lesser evil" a long time ago.

"I'd rather vote for what I want and not get it," socialist leader and perennial presidential candidate, Eugene Debs said, "than vote for what I don't want and get it."

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