Friday, November 01, 2002

I've been going light on the local items lately, but the race for governor here reflects on the national scene. Specifically, to judge by the ads that the candidates are running, you'd think they agreed on everything substantive, and that the differences are only about competence to implement the agreed-on program. So we're seeing ads comparing the candidates' records in business ("Mitt Romney bought factories and fired the workers!" "He didn't run the companies! He was just an investor! And O'Brien's two year business career was in a company where other people got indicted for stuff she had nothing to do with!")

In fact, as the Boston Phoenix points out, the two candidates have huge differences on real issues, on the most basic level:

It’s been a long time since the two leading candidates for governor have differed so sharply on the economy, housing, health care, education, the environment, crime, capital punishment, gay rights, and reproductive rights. ...

Take the most fundamental divide between the candidates: O'Brien believes government has a role to play in creating jobs, building housing, reforming health care, cleaning up the environment, fighting crime, and making sure the rights and privileges afforded to the majority of our citizens are extended to the minority. Romney does not.

Yet in an important race in what should be a Democratic stronghold state, the professionals running her campaign aren't stressing the issues, but are instead going straight for the sleaze. They have somehow convinced themselves that voters don't want to hear which candidate supports government programs which actually matter to them, but could be motivated instead by hearing about factories in Nebraska in the 1980s. The latest "issue" they're flogging to the press is an absurd claim that there were sexist implications when Romney described O'Brien's attacks as "unbecoming". "Unbecoming" is a fine word to use. For both of them.

And so it goes nationally. We have an administration with unpopular positions on the environment, business issues, and many other things, which is trying to gain power for its adherents in Congress by distracting the voters from real issues, turning politics instead into a debased freakshow of charges and countercharges. There are two messages here --- one being that government is corrupt, and involvement with it is unbecoming (a truly fine word); the other, which comes through loud and clear on a network news whose coverage of "politics" and the legislative process is dominated by horse-race analysis and personal smears, is that this unseemly business has nothing to do with the voters. Which is wholly false. The horse-race analysis and personal smears may have nothing to do with the lives of the voters --- but politics does. Very much.

For an example, look at the California energy crisis, where it is now clear that profiteering by large energy corporations played a very significant role. When the state government of California plead for relief, the response of this adminstration was to consult with the businesses, and say that the capitalist system works this way, and the Californians would just have to lump it. That is their vision of the capitalist system: favors for the favored and well-endowed, the promise that major corporations can engage in whatever schemes they like with minimal regulatory interference, and a hope for the rest of us that some of the benefits will trickle down.

That philosophy is what's behind their erosion of environmental regulations. It's what's behind their sandbagging of corporate reforms; the notion that they actually meant anything that was said when Dubya signed that reform act over the summer can't survive the Pythonesque headlines about the implementation ("Pitt orders probe of himself"). It's how they ran their businesses when they were in business (Cheney's Halliburton and Paul O'Neill's Alcoa both major beneficiaries of government largesse, Dubya's own energy companies repeatedly bailed out by cronies, and his baseball team flush with taxpayer money for the stadium project). It's how they think things should be.

And if you don't think these elections matter, consider another example of the legislative process: the homeland security bill. This was at first a Democratic proposal rejected by the White House. Then they changed their minds, but insisted on a version of the bill which would set up this new security apparatus without civil service protections, allowing the administration to fill it with political drones with personal loyalty to them, and without whistleblower protection, lest anyone report cases where that personal loyalty runs away with them. And the Republicans in the Senate are now filibustering to get those provisions into the bill. If the Republicans gain a Senate majority, their bill will pass.

And if you aren't worried about what that could lead to, consider what happened in the first administration that featured both Cheney and Rumsfeld, which didn't have to deal with so many pesky reforms and controls. The Nixon administration, which turned law enforcement into a sewer of political dirty tricks, and proved the reforms to be necessary.

What's lost in the flood of sleaze from the Republicans, and the Democrats responding with more of the same, is that that's what hangs on control of the Senate. That and a whole lot more. If it doesn't sound like a good thing to you, get out and vote.

Late edit: quoted a bit more of the Phoenix editorial, added a little elsewhere.


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