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Chapter Thirty: Is there a Third Way?

 

In June 1999, I attended the 35th reunion of my Yale graduation class in New Haven, Connecticut. Distinguished classmates spoke to us on issues of the day. One of them, Gus Spaeth, who was a former UN Development official about to become dean of the Yale Forestry School, spoke on environmental challenges facing the earth’s people. A woman in the back of the room asked him a question or, I should say, made a statement. It was something to the effect that rapaciously aggressive male attitudes were responsible for ruining the natural environment. Where was the female perspective in Spaeth’s analysis and proposed solution? I later stood up before my classmates and their wives, including U.S. Senator Joe Lieberman, and gave this woman a stiff tongue-lashing. Referring to the socially divisive tone of the woman’s remarks, I remember telling the group: “I don’t think that ‘saving the earth’ (as Spaeth proposed) has a constituency any more. We’re each into protecting our own little group.” After my remarks, a number of my classmates or their wives came up to thank me for making that statement. I pursued my 2002 Senate campaign in much the same spirit.

Being reasonably intelligent human beings, we should all want to “save the earth” and improve human society. Politics stands in the way. Protecting and preserving the natural environment might gain universal support if it were not for economic selfishness, on one hand, and ideological extremism, on the other. If humanity cannot get together on this one question, it shows how much of a problem politics can be. I think that human society can rationally solve its own problems. Population control may be the toughest of them. Who, except for the government of China, has the inclination and ruthless power to restrict child bearing? Apart from this, the economic questions ought to be soluble. Should we not all be in favor of improving individual living standards in our own country and around the world without ruining the environment? I think so. Technology should make that possible.

Another barrier stands in the way of general progress: one’s own place in society. Every society exhibits social stratification. Some individuals enjoy a higher position in society than others. Here is a fundamental source of disagreement. We all want to be on top and have someone else be on the bottom. If we are on top and the politicians talk of equality, that makes us nervous. We don’t want everyone to be equal because we would then lose our relative advantage. I’m sure that the idea of a billion Chinese and a billion Indians or Pakistanis in the United Nations makes many Americans nervous. In a democratically elected world government, they could outvote us any time and perhaps drive us down to their level of impoverishment.

While growing up in Detroit, I thought of myself as being a cut above other people socially because of my parents’ position, but now I’m not so sure. As one grows older, one loses some of that attitude. Whether the Third World gains on America is of less concern to me now than whether I retain my own good health and can pay the bills. A personal regret is that I never had children. If I had lived in a small village in India, parenthood might have been possible but, somehow, I missed out on that here. I grew up in a society with tense gender relations and an arduous dating process where women postponed childbearing. I also brought on some of my own problems in neglecting relationships with women when I was younger. Therefore, when I die, my blood line and last name (at least, through my immediate family) will die with me. These questions are more important to me now than whether I become like everyone else, lost in a sea of equality.

Therefore, I am stuck on the idea that it would possible to create a better world for all humanity if the politics could be figured out. We start with the economic questions of income, consumption, education, work hours, jobs, and so forth. Humanity’s cumulative knowledge together with the earth’s natural resources ought to provide a decent living for everyone. My solution to problems of income inequality and unemployment or underemployment is to encourage governments to cut work hours. Economists and government leaders really should take another look at that option. If general living standards are maintained, it should become a technical rather than political question how to make the change. Granted, moralistic ideas about all the “lazy” people around us do complicate the issue. But cannot we succeed in saving the world?

During my lifetime, while I was chasing such dreams, others of my generation were assuming positions of power in our society. I am struck by the fact that the presidential and vice-presidential candidates of the two major parties in 2000 were all persons who had attended and (except for Dick Cheney) graduated from Ivy League colleges in the 1960s. Three came from Yale and one from Harvard. Ralph Nader, a Princeton graduate, was a few years ahead. Cheney was at Yale at the same time that I was. Bush lived in the same residential college. Lieberman was in my graduating class. I was casually acquainted with Bob Taft, current governor of Ohio; my roommate knew him well. But here I am living in one of the poorer neighborhoods of Minneapolis trying to get things going after all these years. My new friends are persons from a different educational background. My enemies are persons brought up much the same way that I was. By my own choice (and lack of social skills), I, Rip Van Winkle, never rode the escalator to career success. Well, never look back.

My feeling is that U.S. society has certain corrupt features. Ours is a racially and socially self-hating society. It is a society which allows professional and managerial classes to walk over ordinary people. My definition of corruption is that persons entrusted to perform a service for someone else instead serve themselves. When the eunuchs and Praetorian guards start to pick emperors instead of serving them, that is corruption. The trusted manager enriches himself at the owner’s expense.

By that definition, I think that the three principal professions which shape public policy - journalism, education, and the law - are largely corrupt. The law is corrupt when it allows appointed judges to make rather than interpret the laws. The system of justice is corrupt when the courts become an openended casino, and the cost of hiring a lawyer wags the dog. Who will do something about this swelling class of predators? The legislatures? The news media are corrupt when journalistic “objectivity” is considered a relic of a male-dominated society. The educational establishment is corrupt when the political and social values of adults are forced on innocent children in the classroom. These cadres of professionals have hijacked our society. That is how I feel about things today.

If I, a relatively privileged person, feel that our society is corrupt and leaderless, how would your typical low-income white boy, or black boy or girl for that matter, feel about things? Would they not be asking: What is my society? Who are my leaders? We are, instead, living in a society whose leaders sell us their products whether good for us or not. Our leaders agree it’s OK to dump on white males - unless it’s them, of course. Look how eagerly newspaper writers pointed out that Timothy McVeigh was a white male. A columnist for the Star Tribune, a Reverend someone or another, wrote that, although she was a forgiving person, McVeigh’s crimes were just too horrible to be forgiven.

John Leo of U.S. News pointed out that Washington, D.C.-area police let the sniper suspects, John Muhammad and John Lee Malvo, slip through their dragnet eleven times because they did not fit the profile of the “angry white male”. It’s axiomatic that mass murderers are disaffected white men who, as one criminologist said, “belong to a long-disadvantaged class that is now having to share power and control.” This was racial profiling in reverse, yet no one cared. “Most reporters and editors wanted the sniper to be a white male,” wrote columnist John O’ Sullivan, because newsroom people assume that “the great American majority that never went to the Ivy League schools is made up of racists, sexists, and homophobes.”

In fact, the commonality between Timothy McVeigh and John Muhammad, the Washington D.C. lead sniper, was stronger than their racial difference. They were both veterans of Gulf War combat who felt let down by their country. McVeigh was disillusioned by the Waco killings. Muhammad had trouble in Family Court. Even today’s arch villain, Osama bin Laden, was once a U.S. ally in Afghanistan and in the Persian Gulf war. Before he attacked Kuwait, Saddam Hussein was a U.S. ally helping out against Iran. Another official scoundrel, the Panamanian leader Manuel Noriega, used to be on the CIA payroll. Doesn’t this tell us something about the friends our government keeps, or, perhaps, about how this government treats people who are or once were our friends? Look in the mirror, Uncle Sam, to see what other monsters you can find. You were the one who, hoping to foment an uprising against the Soviet Union, supplied Afghan schoolchildren with textbooks which included drawings of guns, bullets, and land mines and pushed the idea of Islamic jihad.

I am willing to play the hated white-male persona in public if that will help bring about change. This is not your standard demographic “victim” but a villain for everyone to jeer - someone like “Gorgeous George” or our own “Jesse Ventura” during his pro wrestling and, perhaps, gubernatorial career. Get this hate out of your system, you rainbow-colored upright people of America. Then, perhaps, we can start thinking about some of the things we face together. As I said during the campaign, the mediocrities who fill the seats of power want to keep people divided. If black people and white people fight each other, if men and women fight, we can all keep each other occupied while its leaders stuff this society’s wealth into their own pockets. Politics offers a way to fight back, and third-party politics is today the politics with the greatest potential.

Surveys show that 23% of Minnesotans consider themselves independents or members of third parties, compared with 33% who consider themselves Republicans and 44% who affiliate with the DFL party. Is it worth the effort to try to build that residual group into a political force that can win elections? Perhaps it is; polls can be deceiving. In the 2002 general election, the Republicans managed to sweep all state-wide offices in Minnesota, with the exception of Attorney General, being down 33% to 44% with respect to the Democrats. Jesse Ventura, who received less than 1% of the vote in the 1998 gubernatorial primary, went on to win the general election. Another poll shows that most Minnesotans, including those who affiliate with the two major parties, favor a more pluralistic political system. About 57% said that they believed the state was “better off with more than two strong political parties” compared with 34% who favored the traditional two-party system.

Of course, the 2002 general election brought a setback to third-party hopes. After this debacle, Andrew Koebrick, the Green’s candidate for Secretary of State, was pessimistic about the future of third parties in Minnesota. “This time the Greens, next time the Independence Party. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if four-party politics (in Minnesota) was just a fluke.” On the other hand, Jack Uldrich, the Independence Party chair who headed Tim Penny’s campaign, would not write off his party’s future. Critiquing Penny’s losing campaign, he said: “In retrospect, I would have encouraged him (Tim Penny) to be more aggressive, offer more specifics, and demonstrate that he was offering real leadership. It’s not enough to say ‘We’re not Republicans’ or ‘We’re not Democrats’ anymore. We have to show we stand for something.”

An advantage that the Independence Party enjoys over the Green Party is that it draws more evenly from supporters of the two major parties. Therefore, the argument cannot so easily be made, as it was in Nader’s case, that voting for a minor-party candidate would throw the election to the worst-possible candidate. Ralph Nader was mercilessly dogged by feminists, gay-rights activists, and representatives of African-American groups who insisted that a vote for him was a vote for George W. Bush. Their agenda had to come first. Persons who instead supported Green Party candidates were too stupid or naive to realize what they were doing.

Leonard Witt, executive director of the Minnesota Public Radio Civic Journalism Initiative, published an opinion piece in the Star Tribune, in which he faulted the Democrats for not paying proper attention to Florida voting machines. He added: “And in the poor listening department you can also add the white college boys and girls who voted for Ralph Nader and thus turned their backs on their black brethren, who suffered and will suffer the most under conservative policies.” On the other hand, the New York Times columnist William Safire has estimated that at least one person in three who voted for Nader would have voted for Bush had Nader not been on the ballot. I agree with that assessment; I was one of those Bush-leaning Nader voters in 2000.

Right now, George W. Bush is on top of the world. Thanks to vigorous campaigning by the President, the 2002 mid-term elections brought Republican majorities in both houses of Congress. In Minnesota, the election results were similar although Democrats continue to hold the state Senate by a slim margin. I think this situation is perilous for the Republicans. The public will now hold them solely responsible for the nation’s or the state’s well-being while they control its government. There are real problems with the economy, including perceptions of corporate misconduct. The looming war against Iraq, waged at Bush’s insistence, is a dangerous and uncertain venture which may have worked well for the Republicans in the 2002 elections but could backfire politically in the period ahead. Unless the U.S. military achieves a quick and easy victory, ousts Saddam Hussein, and brings a more democratic government to Iraq, the U.S. public will grow restless and, perhaps, turn against Bush and the Republicans. I would say that the odds favor that scenario. Whether the Democrats will be the chief beneficiaries of an anti-Republican swing is another matter. Third parties also stand a chance to benefit.

The Democrats, in their new incarnation, are primarily a party of feminist women and African Americans. National polls showed that in the 1992 Presidential election, which Bill Clinton won, women voted for Clinton over Bush by a margin of 45% to 37%. Among white female voters, however, the vote was dead even, with each candidate attracting 41% of the vote. The so-called “gender gap” was therefore largely a myth. There was a “racial gap” between Democrats and Republicans, not a gender gap. Anna Greenberg, who teaches at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, has said: “A majority of white women supported neither the Democratic Party nor President Clinton in the 1990s. The Democratic winning margin among women in national elections, in fact, is driven by minority women.” Minority women, voting for Democrats, created the appearance of an overall gender gap because they voted in much greater numbers than minority men. There is, however, a clear gender gap favoring the Republicans among male voters.

African Americans are the most solid voting bloc supporting the Democrats. In the 2000 Presidential elections, 92% of African American voters supported Al Gore. Of those African American newspapers which endorsed a Presidential candidate, 95% supported Gore over Bush. The problem for the Democrats is that African Americans comprise only 12% of the U.S. population; they cannot carry national elections on their own. Democrats therefore find it helpful to promote the idea of “rainbow coalitions” in which other racial or ethnic groups become African American-like voting blocs to support the Democrats. In the long run, they find it hopeful that the white population of the United States is shrinking relative to the population of nonwhites.

In 1965, whites comprised 80% of the U.S. population and blacks comprised 10%. By 2050, demographers project that about half of this population will be white and the other half not. Hispanics will then comprise 26% of the U.S. population; blacks, 14% of the population; and Asians, 8%. Even if the current demographics do not favor the Democrats and their racially based politics, the long-term prospects are favorable. In the meanwhile, Democrats woo the black vote and keep it in line by making friendly gestures to blacks while they support Republican legislative measures that work against black people’s economic interests, in hopes of gaining a larger share of that critical white vote. Bill Clinton was a master of the friendly gesture.

In the gut-wrenching reappraisals that have followed the Democrats’ defeat in the 2002 midterm elections, analysts sympathetic to their cause have argued that the Democrats failed by acting too much like Republicans. “The DNC strategy for getting out the (black) vote was Bill Clinton,” Al Sharpton said. “It’s almost like they’ve been joking so long about Clinton was a Black president, they started believing it.” To win future elections, the Democrats needed to return to their core values, substantively as well as stylistically, and reenergize their base.

Steve Perry, editor of City Pages, has argued that the Democrats will never do that because their “base” now consists of large corporate contributors whose support is critical to funding media-based campaigns in the future. Since the Republicans cater to the same base of support, grassroots political activists who wish to promote a comparatively unselfish cause have no place to turn within the two-party system. For such persons, he suggested that they “make a point of learning more about the small parties active in your area and help them in any way you can to get on the ballot and to get a fair hearing.” The two-party system consists of a single “Republicrat” party equally beholden to the large financial contributors and the lobbyists who follow in their footsteps. To break the strangle-hold of money over the U.S. political system, it will be necessary to turn to third parties.

The Rev. Al Sharpton disagrees. He thinks that African Americans have a future in the Democratic Party, and the Democrats a future in American politics, if they will accept him as their leader or, at least, accept his point of view. Therefore, he has announced his own candidacy for President of the United States. According to Sharpton, the Democrats’ defeat in the 2002 elections was due to neglecting their core values and constituencies. He said: “When you do an analysis of how the Democrats lost, they lost because they ran away from their base. This whole decade-long reach for the Right-wing, or what they now call the independent White male vote, has been a hallucination. It energizes and makes my campaign more necessary.”

Al Sharpton, in the first decade of the 21st century, could become to the Democrats what Jesse Jackson was in the 1980s, a catalyst for strengthened black support of the Democratic party. On the other hand, Jackson had a better reputation than Sharpton does, who first came to prominence as a champion of Tawana Brawley and her bogus claims of having been kidnapped and raped by a gang of white males. Predictably, Al Sharpton may stir renewed political interest among disaffected young black males but his increased prominence within the Democratic party will likely turn off a greater number of white voters. He does, however, intend to criticize President Bush’s policies with respect to the war in Iraq, a position with which I agree.

I am writing this at a time when the war's outcome is unclear. Predictably, the U.S. and British forces enjoy overwhelming technical superiority and can easily defeat the Iraqi armies. But if Saddam Hussein unleashes biological or chemical weapons or the war turns into intense street fighting, our side could sustain heavy casualties. It depends on how the Iraqi people react to the invasion, especially those with weapons. Bush will be a hero if the victory is quick and painless. He will be a goat if the war goes badly. Whichever the case, the war with Iraq will become a dominant factor in U.S. politics in the foreseeable future.

My worry is that, even if our military does achieve its objectives, the U.S. invasion of Iraq will turn the entire Moslem world against us. America is seen there as an alien Christian or secular civilization. For U.S. troops to occupy Baghdad, seat of the caliphate in Islam's golden age, will be deeply troubling to followers at that religion. The United States is not authorized to invade someone else's country. President Bush's firm pursuit of war despite misgivings of the international community, undertaken at a time of growing economic distress, can have a happy outcome only if we are lucky.

We are therefore looking at the politics of a hawkish Republican president prospectively leading our country to war in various parts of the world and of leader less Democrats, torn between supporting a popular president’s policies and returning to a more strident defense of their core constituencies, as urged by the Rev. Al Sharpton. Why not take the “third option” of an Independence Party newly recharged with issues and ideas?

In my view, its basic policy plank would be economic. Our mission would be to find new ways of improving average living standards in this country and around the world without ruining the natural environment. This type of politics would project a positive vision of our society in the future, including a vision of reduced work time. On the social and cultural fronts, the new politics would stand up to political correctness in all forms and shake off its intimidating influence in our society. It would challenge the self-hating, self-serving elites in the cultural professions, and render them powerless to inflict further harm upon people. It would encourage white males to stop being a political doormat, to become proud and brave once again, and, in a spirit of general good will, devote themselves to enterprises of public as well as private improvement.

In America, we need to have all people pulling together to demand better leadership. This nation desperately needs leaders. It needs individuals of sufficient moral capacity to represent us. It needs people inspird by a sense of duty who respect their fellow citizens. The nation's universities should be preparing rocket scientists to help explore and colonize outer space, not lawyers who sue people and nurture disputes where none may exist just to make a living. The political leadership needs to repair our broken health care system. There should be a leadership for all people which governs not by money, wars and hateful social appeals but by the vision of a better future. I believe that even today a third party can grow to majority status by following that path.

Let the Democrats and Republicans be put on notice that, barring heavy repentance, their type of politics has run its course and a new contender waits in the wings.

See Appendix A

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