When news of a new high profile candidate entering the presidential race broke Wednesday, it must have been a little disappointing for all those Al Gore fans to find out it was only Stephen Colbert raising the stakes of his comedic attack on politics. But before anyone nervously heads back to the edge of their seat to pray that Gore lays down his bid for the presidency and sweeps through the primaries like the second coming of FDR, it might be worth taking note of what Colbert is saying.
By announcing his plan to run on both the Republican and Democratic tickets in his home state of South Carolina, Colbert has illustrated better than anyone that there is very little difference between the two parties, at least when it comes to their mainstream candidates.
The Republicans are offering a coterie of conservatives who want nothing more than to embody our current president. The only one with the brass to stand outside of that group is Ron Paul and the party would have to be on its deathbed -- which isn't completely unimaginable -- to toss him their nomination.
Meanwhile the Democrats are led by the big three of Clinton, Obama, and Edwards -- again, none of whom offer a stark contrast to the present leadership. Two of the three voted for the Iraq war, while all three have made it very clear (without much mentioning of diplomacy) that they wouldn't hesitate in starting another war with Iran. On the fringe, but only because the Democratic leadership put them there, are Dennis Kucinich and Mike Gravel -- both of whom have strong records of challenging corruption and military growth.
If Gore were to enter the picture, he wouldn't be the knight in a shining white Prius so many people are imagining (e.g. DraftGore.com and AmericaforGore.org). It's easy to get caught up watching a man who had the presidency stolen out from under him slowly earn his revenge against a now hated administration -- culminating with last week's Nobel Peace Prize bestowment -- but there's still a rather sad political track record that's being ignored.
Gore served as second in command to a president that former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan called "the best Republican president we've had in a while." Clinton may be remembered fondly in these current tough times, but it was his open arms embrace of the "free market" agenda that led to more than two million Mexican farmers being forced off their land since 1993, some six million of America's poor being thrown out on the street without welfare, the slashing of Medicare and Medicaid, and the lowering of capital gains tax for the rich. We also must not forget the half million Iraqi children who died as a result of Clinton's economic sanctions -- a number that deserves as much attention as the more than one million dead Iraqi civilians since the 2003 invasion.
Maybe this all sounds like more anti-Hillary fodder, but Gore was not washing his hands clean of these disgusting policies. He was a major supporter, particularly of the 1998 bombing of Baghdad that killed hundreds of civilians. And when it came to the environment, he championed the "free market" idea of emissions trading to reduce carbon dioxide output, which is about as far as you can get from a realistic solution.
As award-winning environmental journalist Ross Gelbspan explained in his book Boiling Point, "[Emissions trading] assumes that nature will accommodate our economic system. It will not. There is no way that a market-based system can accomplish a global transition to clean energy." But this isn't just one journalist saying so. Anyone who has heard NASA climatologist James Hansen's prediction that there is only a 10-year window to prevent cataclysmic climate change -- and you would have to assume Gore has heard the message because he based most of An Inconvenient Truth on the man's research -- must understand that nothing short of ending our fossil fuel dependence will have an effect. Yet, when Gore testified before Congress this past March, he touted the same cap-and-trade system.
This should serve as evidence that big politicians answer to big business, not the people. It also shows how easily we overlook past offenses and allow these politicians to become spokesmen of specific causes. Take fellow Nobel Laureate Jimmy Cater as yet another example. Much like Gore has become synonymous with the environment, Carter's reputation is largely staked on serving human rights.
Upon entering office in 1977, Carter set out to end the American disillusionment toward government that followed Vietnam by emphasizing human rights in such places as South Africa and Chile. But as historian Howard Zinn wrote in A People's History of the United States, "On close examination, these more liberal policies were designed to leave intact the power and influence of the American military and American business in the world." He then sites Carter's continuing sale of arms to repressive regimes, increase of the military budget, tax reforms that benefited corporations, and governmental aid to brutal dictators like Marcos and Somoza. Yet, just last week, Carter was praised by many for calling Dick Cheney "a militant," who believes "the United States has a right to inject its power through military means in other parts of the world."
The hypocrisy is hard to ignore. But many will still insist that if you hate this war and the way things have gone the past seven years, you should support the Democratic nominee for president, even if that Democrat ends up being a hawk who voted for the war in the first place. Believe that, though, and you're overlooking one very important thing, put best by journalist and activist Robert Jensen: "A kinder and gentler imperial policy designed by Democrats is still an imperial policy, and imperial policies always have the same result: The suffering of millions in support of policies that protect our affluence."
Let's be mindful of the mainstream candidates -- especially with such strong alternative voices also in the race -- and think about breaking the cycle of political sameness that's allowed for the domination of corporatocracy over democracy. That doesn't mean you should vote for Stephen Colbert, but it does mean he's got a point.
Bryan Farrell is an independent journalist in New York, whose work has appeared in many publications, including The Nation. He can be contacted at www.bryanfarrell.com.
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