Views in brief
Why McGovern struck a chord
IN RESPONSE to "A bright shining illusion": This piece ignores the more nuanced aspects of the election of 1972.
Although not a fan of the electoral process, since I believe it is a diversion from truly democratic politics, I think there were a few things going on in 1972 that this article ignores or minimizes.
McGovern's campaign did represent a genuine hope to end the war. At the same time, the campaign did give the appearance of being another example of the Democrats playing their role of co-opting a popular progressive movement. The reason I say the former is because of the reaction to the McGovern campaign by the mainstream Democratic Party.
McGovern was a politician. He did kiss ass when he should not have. The visit to Mayor Daley proves this. This aspect of electoral politics in the U.S. is one reason I hold them in minimal regard as they currently exist.
Yet the mainstream of the party gave the McGovern campaign lukewarm support compared to what a Humphrey-led ticket would have received; the party changed the rules so that a candidate like McGovern could never again be nominated; and the Democratic Leadership Council came into being to play its role of not only harnessing popular movements, but turning them into their opposite.
Blaskey and Gasper oversimplify the reality of the war in Vietnam when they write that it was winding down. History shows this statement is untrue. It had been "winding down" for years, even after it was expanded into Laos and Cambodia. It took until May 1975 before the U.S. war in Vietnam ended. Tens of thousands more people died.
Blaskey and Gasper also state that McGovern's "official position was full withdrawal of troops in exchange for the return of prisoners of war--a concession to the right-wing myth that the North Vietnamese were holding large numbers of captured Americans." This is a false understanding of what was actually going on.
If one looks at the negotiations underway in Paris (albeit going very slowly), it is pretty clear that any negotiated peace agreement would have included the return of prisoners on both sides. In 1972, there were several POWs being held by the North Vietnamese. It is fairly standard for peace treaties to include a provision that both sides will return the prisoners they hold to their home countries.
All of this became especially clear with the 1992 nomination of Bill Clinton and now Barack Obama--both of whom campaigned as left liberals and became something else immediately afterward.
Would McGovern have done the same thing? I don't know. However, the fact that McGovern's statement saying he would keep a residual force in Vietnam until prisoners were returned was met with a sit-in provides an insight into the difference between the support these two latter-day politicians have, and the much more critical and activist support McGovern enlisted.
Ron Jacobs, Burlington, Vt.
Voting for Obama isn't validation
IN RESPONSE to "What's wrong with lesser-evilism?": Your editorial asks the right question: where is the value-added in re-electing a Democrat who owes nothing to a party base whose leaders either won't or can't take the fight to him? Where is the sense in larding on praise for an incumbent who in so many key areas supports the same agenda and is backed by the same rapacious interests as does his cartoon-like opponent?
The answer: Not much, if anything at all. In fact, I like your overall analysis so much that it may seem churlish to pick a fight with any of it--but then, to paraphrase Browning, "What's a left for?"
Problem is, we can't--and for the most part, you don't--ask voters not to re-elect Obama. All we can say, as you do, is that The Nation, like so many left-liberal venues (though not nearly so fawning as the AFL-CIO bloggers), is engaged in saying the preposterous about a national party and its injurious candidate who in any other national context would be seen as center-right on economic and military issues and just feebly liberal on social questions.
What I do fault you for is a knee-jerk insistence that a vote for Obama, especially in the swing states, is a self-defeating gesture (something Doug Henwood, whom you quote, doesn't say), or that two weeks before showtime, progressives ought to say "Basta!"
Obama IS the lesser of two evils, and voting isn't validation. The time to say "enough" last time was the day after the 2008 election, when Obama unveiled his Wall Street-embedded economics team. It was Robert Rubin redux, and a lot of us learned, if we didn't know already, that it would be a cold four years.
The time to build political alternatives is not before an election, but immediately after, and for the long haul, and I hope this time the Greens, for one, don't retire from the field as they seem to do after every election cycle.
Why Obama didn't get the static he deserved from the liberal left this past term is worth knowing, and I don't think it's enough to say that it is inherent in the relationship, as least without elaborating at length.
Why organized labor didn't go to war after losing the Employee Free Choice Act is worth exploring, not writing off as obvious. Why our social movements seem so accommodating--Occupy to the contrary--needs explaining, not just bemoaning, if we want to see politics determined by human and not market needs.
Michael Hirsch, New York City
Waiting for word from Rikers
IN RESPONSE to "Left behind in the storm": My son is in the Anna M. Kross Center at Rikers Island and, as of October 31, I have not heard from him at all in 24 hours. He is 22.
I understand he's there because of his own actions, but he and the other inmates are human beings, and their families deserve much better treatment during this emergency. We have gotten no information. The city's information line, 311, is overrrun with calls--you cant get through. There's no information on the internet
I saw my son on October 28, and he was running a fever and looked terrible. As of yesterday (October 30), he still hadn't seen a doctor--and that was after three days. The city uses the criminal justice system as a piggy bank.
Teresa Gallagher, Sunnyside, N.Y.
A chance to vote for drug reform
THE STATES of Colorado, Oregon and Washington will all have ballot measures towards legalizing the use of up to an ounce of marijuana for adults over age 21. This includes Initiative 502 in Washington, Amendment 64 in Colorado and Measure 80 in Oregon.
While these are important reforms toward decriminalization, marijuana is a drug proven to be less harmful to public health than alcohol and tobacco. The federal government is terrified of the move toward legalization and has resorted to scare tactics, including stating that marijuana would still be illegal even if these ballot measures are passed, because its use is a crime under federal law.
If marijuana was truly as dangerous as the federal government wants people to believe, it is hard to imagine it even being considered a medicine to alleviate conditions such as chemotherapy side effects and glaucoma.
Exit polls show overwhelming support for these measures. Rhetorically and factually, it is completely insane to criminalize this substance so harshly while giant corporations spend billions to advertise tobacco products to young people.
The federal government wastes an incredible amount of money to keep marijuana illegal. Think of how many children have no access to their parents who have violated marijuana laws; the amount of money law enforcement uses to arrest and prosecute anyone who violates these absurd laws; the amount of money spent on the misnamed "war on drugs every year; or the bloated costs of warehousing people in prisons for mostly drug offenses who never get treatment.
Since Richard Nixon declared a war on drugs, marijuana has been scheduled as a class I drug, alongside cocaine and even heroin. The majority of people young and old who have ever smoked marijuana in their life know how absolutely absurd this is.
According to the group NORML, nearly 100 people are arrested every hour in the United States for marijuana use. Predictably, statistics have proven poor Black and Latino neighborhoods are routinely targeted.
Once convicted of a drug offense, many non-violent offenders lose job opportunities and the ability to access government services.
State referendums in Oregon, Colorado and Washington only take small steps to reform absurd marijuana laws. However, they should be supported.
Anonymous, Providence, R.I.