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Really, Ms Sarandon!

by Alexander Cockburn And Jeffrey St. Clair

At the Deauville Film Festival, where she was handed a Lifetime’s Achievement Award, Susan Sarandon told the British newspaper the Sunday Express that “We stand a chance of getting a president who has probably killed more people before he gets into office than any president in the history of the United States.” Sarandon also claimed that making a stand against the death penalty was almost deemed politically incorrect in America.

What is all this? Andy Jackson killed a hundred times as many people before becoming prez as Bush. Of course, they were Indians, so maybe they don’t count.

“In the US it is not a good time for anybody to feel strongly about things that are not popular”, Sarandon went on, “and if you are against the death penalty it’s like being against a war. Your loyalties to the government are questioned if you are against it.”

What can Sarandon be talking about? Approval for a moratorium of the death penalty is now running at over 70 per cent in California. Ever since the governor of Illinois announced suspension of the death penalty in his state early this year, the numbers have been shifting nationally. The idea that death penalty abolitionists are somehow politically and socially as isolated as Christians in the Roman catacombs is silly.

Sarandon’s husband Tim Robbins has endorsed Nader, who’s emphatically against the death penalty. The two should raise a stink about both the Democratic and Republican presidential candidates about the death penalty. Certainly, Bush has signed plenty of death warrants. But Al Gore enthusiastically supported expansion of the federal death penalty to cover over 60 new crimes including some not involving murder. He has also been part of the administration that put through the Counter-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, virtually shutting the door on the right of prisoners on Death Row to appeal to the federal courts. In terms of ensuring more people will get executed, Gore’s record is worse than Bush’s.

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There Is No “Lesser Evil” or Bye-bye Mr. Altman

Sarandon’s remarks were topped in foolishness by Robert Altman who said last week that he felt it would be a “catastrophe for the world if George Bush is elected”. Altman vowed: “You won’t see me for dust. I for one will be leaving the country and living in France.” What’s Altman expecting to happen? Altman should book his ticket to the Cote d’Azur now, whatever the outcome. To paraphrase the old song, Nothing Bush could do, Gore won’t do worser.

The Bill of Rights. Liberals-for-Gore like to suggest Bush would usher a fascist state. There’s absolutely no evidence that Bush could improve on the fascist tendencies of the Clinton-Gore years. Gore is, after all, the man who wants to cover America with, in his own words earlier this year, “a blanket of blue” meaning 50,000 more semi-trained, trigger-happy cops out on the street like the ones who blew away Amadou Diallo and who were recruited to the Ramparts division in Los Angeles to wage war on youth gangs.

Gore’s particularly hot for crack downs on minority youth. “I will fight”, he said in his crime message this spring, “for a federal law that will help communities establish gang-free zones with curfews on specific gang members, a ban on gang-related clothing and the specific legal authority to break violent teen gangs once and for all.” The crime rate drops and the prison population climbs, largely because of the war on non-violent drug users. Want to listen to Gore on this? “We have to insist on more prison time for those who don’t break the habit.”

You can quote such things to liberals-for-Gore and see their eyes glaze over as they intone “Gore would appoint good people to the federal bench”. Really? Through his entire political career Gore has striven to take power out of the hands of judges, good or bad. Back in his first congressional race in 1976 he vowed to push for tough minimum mandatory sentences, well before this abuse of the separation of powers became a staple of posturing “crime-fighters” in the 1980s. As vice president Gore has pushed for block grants for prison expansion in the states, with the proviso that such federal grants will only be issued if each state ensures that prisoners serve at least 85 per cent of their sentences.

The Supreme Court. Just to remind you, it’s impossible to predict how Supreme Court Justices will perform. The two most liberal justices on the Court today , Stevens and Souter, were appointed by Republican presidents Ford and Bush. When Ford nominated Stevens, Dick Cheney was his chief of staff. A Nixon appointee, Harry Blackmun, wrote the Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion, and Roe v Wade’s prime opponent on the Court was Kennedy’s man, Byron White. Do the Republicans really want to end choice, at least for middle class women? Of course not. They want to close the gender gap. As for poor women, Gore spent his congressional career voting to deny them funding for abortions?

Trade, labor, military spending, the environment. On trade pacts the only difference is that Bush offers rhetoric and Gore has a rap sheet of 200 trade deals that he has helped negotiate through Clinton-time, led by NAFTA and GATT. Gore’s most substantive achievement in the field of labor relations was to gut the NLRB in his Reinventing Government rampages in 1994.

Defense. It’s an arms race between the Democrats and the Republicans. Gore and Bush are outbidding each other day by day in the bid to be the bigger hawk. Gore pledges more interventions (“forward engagement”) round the world if he’s elected president, and denounces Bush’s plan for unilateral cuts in the nuclear arsenal as irresponsible.

The environment. In his prime field of influence as vice president Gore’s record has been terrible. Right now he’s pledging a “salmon summit” in the Pacific Northwest, rejecting the advice of his own Fish and Wildlife Service biologists that the only hope of saving the salmon is to breach the dams on the Snake River. In July, the administration, in the form of Gore’s close friend and former personal attorney George Frampton, announced it wouldn’t beach the dams ? a position echoed by George W. Bush. As for Nader, he pledges that he would breach the dams.

Nader reached 5 per cent in the polls and Gore felt it necessary to dust off some of his father’s populist rhetoric at the Democratic Convention. Imagine if Nader was in the debates and polled 3o per cent. “The only way the left can work within the Democratic Party is act without it. That is, the future of the party will be determined by forces operating on its margins or beyond its boundaries.” Andrew Kopkind and Alexander Cockburn wrote that in The Nation in 1984, about the Mondale presidential campaign in 1984. The Democratic Party has taken at least four wrong turns since then. Are liberals so impoverished in their thinking and expectations they can’t see that out of the groups despised and betrayed by Clinton and Gore there is a vital movement in the making? CP

Jeffrey St. Clair is editor of CounterPunch. His new book is Killing Trayvons: an Anthology of American Violence (with JoAnn Wypijewski and Kevin Alexander Gray). He can be reached at: sitka@comcast.net. Alexander Cockburn’s Guillotined! and A Colossal Wreck are available from CounterPunch.

CounterPunch Magazine

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