Specters of the fourth branch of government

One of the most striking things about being in Washington is see-ing firsthand the sheer immensity of the federal government.

WASHINGTON: Let’s get the obvious part of this column over first. As you might have heard, there’s some sort of election

Tuesday. Our wonderful two-party system has yielded (surprise!) two terrible candidates again.

Nevertheless, it is self-evidently clear that four more years of President George W. Bush will be way worse than having Democratic presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry sit in the Oval Office – especially for the poor and working class, who are more likely to suffer from deep cuts in government services.

So, because Minnesota is a swing state, you should vote for Kerry. But if you’re voting in a Bush or Kerry stronghold (North Dakota for instance) I suggest making a statement: Vote for Independent candidate Ralph Nader or Green Party candidate David Cobb.

OK, enough of that. On to the future.

Kerry’s candidacy poses a serious problem for the left, regardless of whether he wins the presidency.

If Kerry wins, there’s going to be a lot of unwarranted jubilation (Chimpy’s gone!) and I worry that liberals aren’t going to want to criticize their man too much (especially with regards to what promises to be a lousy Iraq policy).

If Kerry loses (or “loses”) there’s going to be a lot of frustration and despondency on the left – and not without some good reason – but I’m worried that people aren’t going to keep things in perspective.

First, a Kerry victory is still going to be bad for the country – just less bad than four more years of Curious George. None of Kerry’s modest policy proposals are going to do much (if anything) to end the occupation of Iraq, decrease poverty in any substantial way, or otherwise significantly improve the quality of life for poor and working-class Americans.

Second, much of the fretting over a potential Bush victory seems to assume the only way to influence government policy is to act through the “legitimate” channels they teach in high school government classes.

For example, I’ve heard more people than I can count say something to the effect of “if Bush wins the election, we’re definitely going to have X,” with “X” being something unpleasant, such as a draft, USA Patriot Act II, an invasion of Syria, etc.

Many assume that if Republicans control the legislative and executive branches, all people will be able to do to oppose their policies is engage in futile campaigns to call their representative’s offices and write letters to the editor.

This assumption misses two crucial points: 1) many of the ugly possibilities everyone worries will come with a Bush victory are just as likely under a Kerry administration; 2) there are plenty of effective ways for regular people to oppose government policies they don’t support.

One of the most striking things about being in Washington is seeing firsthand the sheer immensity of the federal government. This city has two kinds of architecture: The beautiful buildings and monuments (covered with spooky Masonic imagery) you see on postcards and the colossal, soulless buildings that house the federal bureaucracy.

Governments are not just composed of executives, elected members of the legislature and unelected, high-ranking judges; they are supported by vast networks of bureaucrats who also have to be “with the program,” so to speak.

The state can only function effectively with the cooperation of the vast majority of its citizens. During the Vietnam War, for example, it became nearly impossible to prosecute draft-dodgers because juries refused to convict draftees who wouldn’t serve. Even today, in some parts of the country (such as Michigan’s Upper Peninsula) juries will not convict people of crimes such as tax evasion.

The success or failure of a Bush agenda hinges upon whether most people accept it as legitimate.

Of course, acceptance and approval are two very different things. A lot of Democrats are likely to say, “Well, I don’t like any of George Bush’s policies, but he was elected president and so I guess we’ll just have to wait until the next election.”

That’s a soft, loser mentality. A better attitude – the attitude this country needs – is to draw a line in the proverbial sand and totally reject

the legitimacy of any state measure that rolls back the progress made by the labor, feminist, civil rights or queer movements of the 20th century.

Let’s suppose Bush and the Republican Party win handily Tuesday, and in a few months, they manage to reinstate the draft.

The lame, weakling response – the one that Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., and the Democratic Leadership Council would endorse – would be to “work within the system” in the hope that eventually (maybe in 30 years) the draft will be re-eliminated.

The nobler response – the necessary one – would be to deny the legitimacy of a draft. The bureaucracy (prosecutors, judges, juries) should refuse to enforce it.

Drafted military units should refuse to serve in Iraq. People should take to the streets and not disperse when they’re told to. Records on potential draftees should be “lost” or destroyed. The possibilities for resistance are wonderfully, exhilaratingly endless.

Ordinary people all over the world, who live under far harsher conditions than any of us, are constantly engaging in extraordinary acts of defiance.

It’s been said by some that the U.S. people are the “Fourth Branch of Government.” I agree. No matter what happens Tuesday, no one should forget the United States’ long and splendid tradition of popular resistance.

Regardless of who gets elected, that tradition might well have to be resurrected.

Nick Woomer welcomes comments at [email protected]