FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Part One: Presidential Elections: Not as Big a Deal as They Say

by ALEXANDER COCKBURN

Freshets of creativity and excitement pulsing into the nation’s bloodstream, improvements in the general quality of life, have nothing to do with the presidential elections rolling around every four years, which rouse expectations far in excess of what they actually deserve. As registers of liberal or conservative political potency, American presidential elections seldom coincide with shifts in the tempo of political energy across the country. As vehicles for the ventilation of popular concerns, they are hopelessly inadequate, and should be severely downgraded on the entertainment calendars.

Take a couple of profound changes in the quality of life over the past thirty years. You can now buy good coffee, shoulder to shoulder at the coffee stand with a construction worker with hair in a ponytail and a tactful gold ring in his ear, anywhere in America from Baltimore to San Pedro, Key West to the Upper Peninsula. No American political party ever wrote a commitment to better cappuccino into its platform. From the late 60s on, the hippies, despising the dank tureens of perked Robusta coffee, roasted Arabica coffee beans. Small roasters held up the banner of quality.

Then, when Communism foundered (a collapse that owed nothing to Ronald Reagan) and Uncle Sam had no longer any incentive to fix the coffee markets and prices benefiting its prime Latin American cold war allies, smaller, better producers from New Guinea, Costa Rica, Kenya and elsewhere where able to send better Arabica beans to our shores. The quality of life went up markedly. Of course, at the level of national US “policy”, the World Bank, dominated by the US, then threw billions at Vietnam a few years ago to grow very bad coffee, which undercut the quality producers.

The bread’s got better too and so have the vegetables, thanks once again to the hippies, organic farms, farmers’ markets and community-supported agricultural networks. No thanks here to party platforms, or presidential candidates, or Congress people, all of whom are in the pay of the big food companies, which have killed more Americans than the Pentagon by a factor of hundreds, and which, having failed to outlaw genuinely organic food, have now captured its name and altered its meaning. Over the past thirty years the meat’s got worse, as small wholesale butchers have gone to the wall, bankrupted by the coalition of food regulators and big food processors, the latter industry now dominated by two vast meatpacking combines, Tyson and Smithfield.

You want to see fascism in action in America? Look beyond the Patriot Act, engendered in the Clinton era with the Counter-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996, and consummated by bipartisan agreement after 9/11, 2001. Try your local health department, bearing down on some small business. Better still, visit family court. No candidate goes out on the hustings and pledges to reform family courts so that their actions have some detectable linkage to the US Constitution and the Bill of Rights. No Republican or Democratic platform committee has ever devoted a paragraph to family courts. Yet there, day after day, week after week, relationships are destroyed, children severed irrevocably from parents and extended kin, fathers forbidden access to their children, their wages garnished, their bank accounts looted, staggering fines levied, without the possibility of challenge. (And no, this is not the defeated whine of a wronged dad.)

Judicial appointments are often the last frantic argument of a liberal urging all back in under the Big Democratic Tent. But these days the decay of liberalism is reflected in the quality of judges installed in the federal district courts. The Blacks, Douglases, Marshalls and Brennans were conjured to greatness by historical circumstance first, and only later by the good fortune of confirmed nomination. Today’s historical circumstances are not throwing up Blacks, Douglases, Marshgalls and Brennans, even if a Democratic president has the opportunity and backbone to nominate them. And at the level of the US Supreme Court, history is captious. The two best of the current bunch, Stevens and Souter, were nominated by Republican presidents, Ford and G.W.H. Bush. You’ll as likely find a maverick on the conservative as on the liberal end of a judicial bench.

Every four years liberals unhitch the cart and put it in front of the horse, arguing that the only way to a safer, better tomorrow will be if everyone votes for the Democratic nominee. But unless the nominee and Congress are shoved forward by social currents too strong for them to defy or ignore, then nothing except the usual bad things will transpire. In the American Empire of today, the default path chosen by the country’s supreme commanders and their respective parties is never toward the good. Our task is not to dither in distraction over the lesser of two evil prospects, which turns out to be only a detour along the same highway.

The way they are now set up, presidential contests focused well nigh exclusively on the candidates of the two major parties are worse than useless in furnishing an opportunity for any useful national debate. In 2000 Ralph Nader got about five minutes face time on the national networks.

It would be an improvement, and certainly more interesting, if the big four-year debate centered on which definitions of mental complaints should be added to or subtracted from the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders which governs official interpretations of America’s mental and emotional condition and which is revised every few years. Recalling one such revision in the 1970s, Phil Johnson, a gay man from Dallas, said in the film After Stonewall, “I went to bed one night, I was sick and depraved, and when I woke up the next morning I discovered I’d been cured.”. In 2004 Bush could have campaigned for the removal of ADD, arguing it’s a natural and useful condition, emblem of presidential greatness.

Monday: Boston Awaits a Dead Party

This column is excerpted from CounterPunch’s forthcoming book, Dime’s Worth of Difference: Beyond the Lesser of Two Evils.


Alexander Cockburn’s Guillotined! and A Colossal Wreck are available from CounterPunch.

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

August 23, 2016
Diana Johnstone
Hillary and the Glass Ceilings Illusion
Bill Quigley
Race and Class Gap Widening: Katrina Pain Index 2016 by the Numbers
Ted Rall
Trump vs. Clinton: It’s All About the Debates
Eoin Higgins
Will Progressive Democrats Ever Support a Third Party Candidate?
Kenneth J. Saltman
Wall Street’s Latest Public Sector Rip-Off: Five Myths About Pay for Success
Binoy Kampmark
Labouring Hours: Sweden’s Six-Hour Working Day
John Feffer
The Globalization of Trump
Gwendolyn Mink – Felicia Kornbluh
Time to End “Welfare as We Know It”
Medea Benjamin
Congress Must Take Action to Block Weapon Sales to Saudi Arabia
Halyna Mokrushyna
Political Writer, Daughter of Ukrainian Dissident, Detained and Charged in Ukraine
Manuel E. Yepe
Tourism and Religion Go Hand-in-Hand in the Caribbean
ED ADELMAN
Belted by Trump
Thomas Knapp
War: The Islamic State and Western Politicians Against the Rest of Us
Nauman Sadiq
Shifting Alliances: Turkey, Russia and the Kurds
Rivera Sun
Active Peace: Restoring Relationships While Making Change
August 22, 2016
Eric Draitser
Hillary Clinton: The Anti-Woman ‘Feminist’
Robert Hunziker
Arctic Death Rattle
Norman Solomon
Clinton’s Transition Team: a Corporate Presidency Foretold
Ralph Nader
Hillary’s Hubris: Only Tell the Rich for $5000 a Minute!
Russell Mokhiber
Save the Patients, Cut Off the Dick!
Steven M. Druker
The Deceptions of the GE Food Venture
Elliot Sperber
Clean, Green, Class War: Bill McKibben’s Shortsighted ‘War on Climate Change’
Binoy Kampmark
Claims of Exoneration: The Case of Slobodan Milošević
Walter Brasch
The Contradictions of Donald Trump
Michael Donnelly
Body Shaming Trump: Statue of Limitations
Weekend Edition
August 19, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Carl Boggs
Hillary and the War Party
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Prime Time Green
Andrew Levine
Hillary Goes With the Flow
Dave Lindorff
New York Times Shames Itself by Attacking Wikileaks’ Assange
Gary Leupp
Could a Russian-Led Coalition Defeat Hillary’s War Plans?
Conn Hallinan
Dangerous Seas: China and the USA
Joshua Frank
Richard Holbrooke and the Obama Doctrine
Margaret Kimberley
Liberal Hate for the Green Party
John Davis
Lost Peoples of the Lake
Alex Richardson-Price
The Fight for a Six Hour Workday
John Wight
Why Palestine Matters, Even on the Pitch
Brian Cloughley
Hillary Clinton’s War Policy
Patrick Cockburn
A Battle to the Death in Syria
David Rosen
The Great Fear: Miscegenation, Race “Pollution” and the 2016 Election
Ben Debney
Worthy and Unworthy Victims of Child Abuse
David Barouh
Liberal Myths: Would Al Gore Have Invaded Iraq?
Graham Peebles
Democratic Revolution Sweeps Ethiopia
Ismael Hossein-Zadeh
How Parasitic Finance Capital Has Turned Iran’s Economy Into a Case of Casino Capitalism
David Swanson
The Unbearable Awesomeness of the U.S. Military
Robert Fantina
The Olympics: Nationalism at its Worst
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail