Building a left-wing alternative to the Democrats is more important than the small chance that Roe vs. Wade will be overturned.
I’m voting for Ralph Nader — even though I think he’s an asshole on abortion and issues of sexual politics generally — in the hope that the Green Party will get 5 percent of the vote.
Of course, I have the moral luxury of voting in New York, so I don’t have to worry that I will throw the election to George W. Bush. But I’m not sure I’d do otherwise even if I lived in a swing state. I think the left has been paralyzed by its hostage relationship to the Democrats. And while I believe that ultimately it’s mass social movements, not electoral politics, that accomplish real change, I also think it’s important to challenge the aura of invulnerability that now surrounds the relentlessly center right-to-far right two-party system, which has convinced millions of people that believing in meaningful change is pointless, akin to believing in the tooth fairy.
Not only is Al Gore committed to the New Democrats’ corporate agenda, but on social issues other than abortion he is to the right of President Clinton. Counting on fear to whip the left wing of the party into line, he basically ignores it and has not made any gestures to co-opt the Nader vote. Instead he merely demonizes the Naderites as spoilers. The last straw for me was Joe Lieberman. For years I’ve been voting for Democrats on the grounds that at least the party is not run by right-wing lunatics, but if you listen to Lieberman’s rhetoric, he’s a Christian rightist in Jewish drag.
Both Gore and Lieberman are pandering to religious and moral conservatives, again ignoring the secularists and social liberals who are the backbone of the party. Neither of them ever met a civil liberty he liked. I am chilled by their demagogic attacks on popular culture. Gore’s talk of “cultural pollution” reminds me of Nazi rhetoric.
Gore is also pandering to the nonexistent Clinton moral backlash vote. (Does anyone believe that if Clinton were running he wouldn’t be way ahead right now?) By refusing to campaign with the still-popular president, or even to let Clinton campaign in closely contested states, Gore is not only endangering his own candidacy but sabotaging the Democrats’ efforts to take back Congress — which to me is much more important, in terms of staving off the lunatics’ agenda, than whoever gets to the White House. (I’m voting for Hillary Rodham Clinton, despite reservations, for just that reason.)
Meanwhile, Lieberman refuses to give up his Senate candidacy, which means if he wins the vice presidency and his Senate race, the Republicans get to appoint his replacement. In short, both candidates are far less interested in running against a conservative, do-nothing Republican Congress than in than in keeping their distance from Democratic liberals.
On Supreme Court appointments, I doubt that Bush would be willing to expend the political capital necessary to get a reliably hard-right idealogue through what promises to be a closely divided Senate. (And for the same reason, as well as his own proclivities, Gore would almost certainly appoint centrist rather than liberal justices.) Still, there is a risk that a Bush victory might lead to Roe vs. Wade’s being overturned — more so, certainly, than with Gore. Should avoiding this risk be the bottom line for feminists?
It’s a hard question, and one I certainly can’t dismiss. Yet more and more I am coming to the conviction that Roe vs. Wade, in the guise of a great victory, has been in some respects a disaster for feminism. We might be better off today if it had never happened, and we had had to continue a state-by-state political fight. Roe vs. Wade resulted in a lot of women declaring victory and going home. In the meantime we have been losing abortion rights on the ground, both in terms of access and funding and on the ideological and psychological levels. With their pro-family, pro-religion rhetoric, Gore and Lieberman reinforce this anti-woman, anti-sexual atmosphere even as they support “choice.”
Today abortion is legal (within limits) but fraught with stigma and danger, and in many parts of the country might as well be illegal. Only a revived feminist movement will change that. And though I’m not a fan of “the worse the better for reviving the movement” scenarios — it ain’t necessarily so — I do think, again, that the feeling of being blackmailed to support the Democrats, whatever they may dole out, to avoid the possibility of losing Roe vs. Wade has a paralyzing effect.
I also think that while feminists have to organize independently and militantly to challenge sexism on the left, unless the left as a whole revives, the chance of organizing a real feminist movement (one willing to say “abortion” instead of “choice,” and attack family values and conservative religious and moral values, for starters) is nil. We have to break through the current end-of-history, “no real change can ever happen” mentality on every front, and the best way to do that on Tuesday is to vote for Ralph Nader.
Ellen Willis, one-time Village Voice senior editor and New Yorker pop-music critic, is a journalism professor at New York University. She has written several books, including "Beginning to See the Light: Sex, Hope, and Rock and Roll." More Ellen Willis.
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