The awful choice of Clinton or ...

October 25, 1996

Honestly, it will be very hard for me to vote for Clinton. I voted for him in 1992 (the first time I voted for a presidential winner). However, his presidency has been seriously disappointing. Though his Republican opponents have little right to question Clinton's "family values" or his integrity (given their own personal records), there is good reason to do so (and I am not referring merely to his appetites). The first two years of Clinton's administration saw the president repeatedly back away from promises made and, in certain instances, actually pursue legislation directly antagonistic to those who elected him.

Indeed, to say Clinton's presidency has been a series of disappointments is an understatement. After the first two years, it seemed the biggest let-down was to be the defeat of national healthcare, but even bigger than that was Clinton's recent signing of the so-called Welfare Reform Bill which effectively terminated guaranteed federal assistance to poor families in favour of state programmes. All estimates indicate that there are just not enough jobs to cover the needs of the millions who will end up being thrown off welfare and into the labour market. Citizens and their children will suffer.

Having betrayed Roosevelt's New Deal and Johnson's Great Society, Clinton and the "New Democrats" are being compared to the Eisenhower Republicans (but is that fair to Eisenhower?). Nevertheless, I have to admit that when election day arrives on November 5, I will walk into the booth, pull the curtain closed, scan the ballot, sigh a few times, hold my nose, and vote for Clinton.

As so many of my friends have also acknowledged, there really is no choice. It is true that in a number of states consumer and environmental activist Ralph Nader is on the ballot (presidential candidates get on the ballot state by state). But the last time I voted for a third-party effort - in 1980, when I voted for Citizens' Party candidate, Barry Commoner - I ended up feeling that I had "wasted" my vote. Even more cynically, I can hear the anarchists' words that "if voting really mattered, they'd outlaw it".

Seriously, there is no choice but to vote for Clinton. The Gingrich/Dole takeover of Congress after the 1994 elections offered merely a taste of what surely would come if the Republicans were also to gain control of the White House. For a start, as influential as corporate lobbyists long have been, it seems that they are now dictating legislative initiatives. To his credit, Clinton has exercised his veto power on certain occasions.

Of course, following their political debacle of closing down the federal government, Gingrich and his cohorts have been keeping a very low profile so as not to further scare off voters from Republican candidates. Republican eagerness to shut down public radio and television and the National Endowments for the Arts and the Humanities may only have frightened the intelligentsia; shutting down the whole government revealed to the majority of Americans that the Republicans' "Contract With America" was really a "Contract On America".

For this reason - fear of Republican ambitions - the traditional Democratic coalition is apparently holding together tightly and, even, garnering popular support. However angry Clinton made the American Federation of Labor (AFL-CIO) by pursuing passage of the NAFTA and GATT free-trade agreements, unionists recognise that the same administration did secure an increase in the minimum wage and passage of several other bills supporting working-class families.

Moreover, they know that further Republican victories would not only further empower corporate interests but also threaten the survival of federal agencies such as the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Thus, contrary to expectations, union leaders are urging members to work hard for Clinton's re-election.

Similarly, other progressive groups realise that however uneven the record of this administration, a Dole-Kemp victory would be disastrous for working-class and poor families, public education and cultural endeavours, gun control, the struggle for social justice and equal rights, and environmental clean-up efforts.

The party platforms on education register what a Republican versus a Democratic victory would entail. The Democrats call for increasing funds to pre-school programmes; connecting every school to the "information superhighway"; expanding scholarship and loan opportunities to enable every American to pursue at least a community college degree; protecting public broadcasting; continuing public support for the arts and humanities; and reforming but not ending affirmative action for women and minorities.

The Republicans, dominated by the conservative Christian Coalition, call for the abolition of the Department of Education; expanding "school choice" (which would crack dangerously the constitutional wall separating church and state by allowing public dollars to pay for religious-school education); returning prayer to schools; teaching sexual abstinence and chastity in school; defunding public broadcasting and the national endowments for the arts and humanities; cutting higher-education waste by ending "political correctness" programmes (the new-right's bogeyman); and halting affirmative action programmes.

Clinton's Labor Day visit to Green Bay was a big success - even I enjoyed it. The Democratic party organisers, aided by local unions, especially teachers from the National Education Association, arranged a splendid event. The weather was excellent. The candidate arrived on time and the large crowd of 30,000 was friendly and receptive.

After appreciative references to the Green Bay Packers football team (touted by Sports Illustrated as going all the way to the Super Bowl this year) and stressing the need to promote "lifelong learning", "grow" jobs, and protect the environment, Clinton delivered a crisp 20-minute address. No doubt about it, the crowd was most agreeable. In this strongly pro-hunting region, they even cheered his references to gun control.

Clinton is still well ahead in the polls, and Dole - despite his promise to enact massive tax cuts - seems incapable of catching him. The question is becoming whether or not Clinton has any "coat-tails". Will his "popularity" help the Democrats win back either House of Congress? As a parent, professor, and democratic socialist, I surely hope so. I am under no illusions that truly progressive developments will necessarily ensue. But the alternative is too scary to contemplate.

Harvey J. Kaye is professor of social change and development at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay.

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