Unsafe at Every Speed: Democracy by Plutocrats

After the China trade bill passed the House of Representatives, Steve Yokich said that his organization wasn’t going to work for Al Gore and was looking into the possibility of going with Ralph Nader and the Green Party. Time was when a man holding down Mr. Yokich’s position would have a nationally known name, but that’s no longer the case with a president of the United Automobile Workers. He, his union and his industry lost the center stage many long years ago.

Mr. Gore lined up behind the China bill and the most the unions could get from Mr. Gore’s people was the assertion that the Democratic Party’s presidential nominee was an unenthusiastic supporter of a bill that many believe will convert tens of thousands of decent, good-paying American jobs into tens of thousands of indecent, bad-paying Chinese jobs. In the face of union and human-rights criticism, pro-Gore excusemakers sought to wriggle out of their embarrassment by saying that Mr. Gore mumbles whenever he discusses the trade pact, thus showing in his secret heart of hearts he is against it and that he is, therefore, a sweetie pie who should be given union support and votes. This is a position that butters no parsnips but, if accepted, seems to show that Mr. Gore would rather lie to the voters than displease his masters, the men and women in the corporate offices who write out the big checks. But why should he have held out? Whatever the eventual fruits of this bill, its passage became unstoppable when the Party of Business and then the other Party of Business, with its embarrassed candidate, made it their own.

This is not the first time that the Democratic Party has become the No. 2 business party. It happened with the ascent of Grover Cleveland in the late 19th century, and again with the 1904 Democratic nomination of New York State’s own Judge Alton B. Parker, an upright conservative who was more at home in the Union League Club than with the horny-handed children of toil considered the Donkey’s natural constituency. The party outdid itself in 1924 when it nominated John W. Davis, a scabrous Wall Street lawyer, of whom it has been said that he never again voted Democratic after his defeat at the hands of that open-handed, happy-faced Republican, Calvin Coolidge.

Seventy-six years later, the 2000 Democrats get chuffy about it if you suggest in their presence that they have gone awhoring. They insist that even when they please their benefactors in the corporate world, they never forget the less favored. They have been heard to point out, for instance, that, in addition to the $500,000 tables at their recent $26.5 million fund-raising dinner, they also sold $50 tickets entitling the bearers thereof to bring their own food and sit in the balcony, looking down on the thieving lawyers, concupiscent stockbrokers, vacuous movie stars and honored lobbyists getting access to the sitting President and the man the Democracy hopes will replace him.

Moreover, for a campaign chairman Mr. Gore has Tony Coelho, the ex-Democratic congressman from the San Joaquin Valley with possibly the worst reputation of any politician not residing in a federal correction facility. In 1989, Mr. Coelho was forced to resign from Congress after it was learned that he had filed an inaccurate financial disclosure form in connection with his borrowing money from a savings and loan company executive, and his buying junk bonds.

Since leaving Congress in disgrace, Mr. Coelho has been connected to business activities that have not brought him distinction and have left him out of the running to succeed Pope John Paul II. Speaking of conflict of interest and perhaps worse, The New York Times has reported, “Some companies that Mr. Coelho was involved with, and some where he is still a director, are dependent on government decisions … Two companies for which he was a director, International Thoroughbred Breeders Inc. and AutoLend Group Inc., are being investigated by the Securities and Exchange Commission for activities that took place while he was a board member.”

The man is also under suspicion for his financial dealing in connection with his position as an ambassador managing the American participation in the 1998 World Exposition in Portugal. Talk of criminal prosecution is in the air.

In short, Tony Coelho is the kind of politician people have in mind when they use expressions like “cheap crook.” However, if Mr. Coelho is a crook, he isn’t a cheap one. As chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, he is regarded by the corporal’s guard of unbought and uncorrupted Democrats as the person who auctioned off the party to the highest corporate bidders and is as responsible as Mr. Clinton for turning the party back into the pliant, biddable organ it was in John W. Davis’ time.

Since the U.A.W.’s treasury isn’t large enough to buy the Democratic Party back from the corporations that have a first mortgage on it, it follows that Mr. Yokich would look around for another path to lead his membership. That path can’t lead to Pat Buchanan, who, though he may have taken up the cause of the blue-collar worker, smells like Liederkranz cheese. Mr. Nader is the only choice open to him. (Let me confess at this juncture that I’ve sent Mr. Nader’s campaign a small contribution via votenader.com, so no pretense at disinterested neutrality is claimed here.)

If Mr. Nader’s candidacy were only about the China trade bill, he wouldn’t be worth mentioning. It has a much wider scope. It’s about whether this land is our land or does it belong to WorldCorp? That is the question Mr. Nader’s candidacy propounds. If Mr. Nader, with the next-to-nonexistent resources of an honest man, cannot command the enthusiasm, the volunteer labor and the contributions of the unincorporated mass of people, the subject of who owns the goddamn country will not be discussed between now and Election Day. It will be skipped and there will be no one to ask how, for instance, it came to pass that the banking laws were first ignored and then destroyed, how it came to pass that the election finance laws were first ignored and then destroyed, how came the ethical drug laws to be first ignored and then destroyed. If there is no Ralph Nader in the candidate debates then there is no one to ask how it comes that any law or regulation that WorldCorp wishes undone is undone and undone without so much as a by-your-leave to a government whose legislatures, courts and executive offices seem to be the owned and operated subsidiaries of the high-rise corpocracy.

You don’t have to a spit-foaming Bolshevik to wonder about a democracy in which the power of decision is in the hands of the unnamed, unknown and unmentioned men and women up there somewhere at the top of the corporate pyramid who are unreachable, even to their costumers.

Mr. Nader is the only candidate in the field with a different point of view. Everybody but the boobies and the party hacks and fanatics readily agree that the two political parties, like WorldCorp itself, offer a faux freedom of choice. In politics they offer the equivalent of what WorldCorp offers, a seeming choice, a choice without a difference-the choice at the mall, shelves 10-feet high packed with tubes of toothpaste, each in a box with a different name and different design but all the same when you squirt it on the brush. So Mr. Nader commends himself if only because he will break the terrible tautology of ’00 politics and inject what is missing-real disagreement.

When you say Ralph Nader, you say third party; and that brings up the misgivings about throwing away your vote and electing George W. Bush, for there are some who sincerely find a difference between Mr. Gore and Mr. Bush that is deeper than the brand names and the packaging. Those objections are essentially unanswerable. The people who are afraid to throw away their votes are people who can’t stand the thought of not voting for a winning candidate. They won’t listen if you tell them that you don’t need a third party candidate to throw away your vote. If you vote for the Republican, and the Democrat wins, it can also be said that you’ve thrown away your vote.

For those willing to take the risk of casting a ballot for a loser, the 1992 H. Ross Perot campaign has a lesson to teach: Sometimes you lose when you win and sometimes you win when you lose. Bill Clinton won with substantially less than half the vote, thanks to Mr. Perot’s enormous support, and as a result, found he had to give up his party’s extravagances of deficit spending and unbalanced budgets. Mr. Perot, the loser, imposed much of what he stood for on Mr. Clinton and the Republicans as well. Hence, though Mr. Perot lost, he also won.

A third party that gets a large enough percentage of the vote is like a small, parliamentary minority party whose votes are needed by a larger party to form a government. The smaller party can bargain for a seat or two in the cabinet and, what’s more vital, the adoption of its views on one or two key issues. That’s not everything, but it’s a lot more than you’ll get if you vote Democrat or Republican.

If the Greens can get somewhere between 8 and 15 percent of the vote in about 10 states, of which California, where Mr. Nader is already running strong, is one, the struggle over taking back power and reclaiming rulership of the country from WorldCorp will have begun. Nothing will happen with trade, frankenfood, foreign slave labor or bad air and sport utility vehicles until the power is snatched back, until politicians know that there is an organized body of people who cannot be bought, sold or flimfloozled and without whose support they cannot be elected.

Doubtless, thoughts like these are going through Steve Yokich’s mind these days; it would be well if others did the same.