Culture and Life
by Rob Gowland
Why didn't Al Gore and the Democrats make a bigger stink about the Republican putsch that installed George W Bush as President of the USA? After all, the Bush "victory" was only secured by use of a deliberately confusing computerised ballot paper in the state run by Bush's brother. Police in that same state — Florida — turned away (with roadblocks, yet) or otherwise harassed some 10,000 black and Latino voters. Black voters — when they could vote — supported Gore nine to one. Significantly, in Florida, anyone who has been to prison loses the right to vote — forever. Most people sent to prison are black. Some 8,000 black voters were turned away with assertions that they were former prisoners when they were not. The Florida Attorney General, responsible for keeping the election honest, was also campaign manager for Bush in that state. She announced that Bush had won the state well before the vote count was completed (you'll remember that even with all the right-wing's chicanery the vote was very close). In several black districts of Florida, full ballot boxes were "accidentally" left behind at the schools where polling had taken place. They were not discovered until the following day when teachers arrived for work. The list of "dirty tricks" by the Republican/Religious Right cabal is endless. The USA's much-vaunted democracy was being hijacked by the crudest of "crooked politician" tactics. Yet the only response from the Democrats was to go to court. Even when the Bush camp organised thuggish "demonstrations" to intimidate the people recounting the votes, Gore and the Democrats did not respond with a call for demonstrations in defence of democratic rights. And when a bunch of right-wing judges decided to give the election to the man who got less votes than his opponent, Gore quietly acquiesced, despite a scathing dissenting judgement that should have been used as a rallying cry to force acceptance of the people's clearly expressed will. As the Radical Black Congress put it, "Gore was elected by the voters, while Bush was selected by the courts". Poor Al Gore, however, was hamstrung by the fact that he was and remains a bourgeois politician. To have raised as his battle cry "One Person — One Vote" or to have called on the constituency that voted for him (unionists, blacks, the poor, welfare recipients, immigrants) to take to the streets in a genuine campaign of demonstrations and civil disobedience would have been unthinkable. His loyalty to his class was stronger than even his presidential ambitions. Frankly, had he broken the rules and done as I have suggested, I fear his chances of living through his first term in office would have been negligible. Assuming he even got there. Besides, he might not have become President, but even a travesty of democracy US-style will give the former Vice-President a good living and a more than comfortable life-style: why should he rock the boat?
* * *Death of Son Sann Another bourgeois politician was in the news last month: one time Cambodian Prime Minister Son Sann died in December, mourned, I suspect, by very few. An ardent admirer of capitalism he was a supporter of imperialism even as it tried to strangle his country. His family had money and had sent him to university in Paris. Unlike Ho Chi Minh, however, he did not return a revolutionary. He came back from Paris in 1933 and entered the government service (family connections no doubt helped). Far from chaffing under the yoke of French imperialism, he embraced its opportunities for resourceful local front men. In 1955, he founded the National Bank of Cambodia. Even as Vietnamese, Lao and Cambodian patriots fought the French for the independence of Indochina, he joined the puppet government of royal playboy Prince Norodom Sihanouk. In 1967, Sann became Sihanouk's Prime Minister. When Sihanouk was toppled in a coup by General Lon Nol in 1970, Sann did not follow the Prince to Beijing, preferring exile in Paris. Lon Nol was followed in 1975 by the Khmer Rouge, led by the Paris-trained Maoist Pol Pot. Once in power, Pol Pot set about exterminating the communists, skilled workers and intellectuals who had brought his army victory. The resultant slaughter and devastation eventually spilled over into war with Vietnam, whose forces defeated the Khmer Rouge and put a stop to the genocide. But even as Vietnam set about helping the Cambodian people to rebuild their shattered society, the West was setting up what John Gittings in the British "Guardian" called a "dubious coalition of exiles ... to punish Vietnam for toppling the Khmer Rouge". In Paris, Son Sann tried to keep up the impression that he was a significant player in Indochinese affairs and was more than willing to ally his so-called Khmer People's National Liberation Front (KPNLF) with the forces of Sihanouk and the US-protected remains of Pol Pot's army. For a decade this motley force, with sanctuary over the border in US client state Thailand, sought to destabilise and bring down the government of Hun Sen, who had led the communist resistance to Pol Pot. Sann and Sihanouk would later seek to excuse their working with Pol Pot on the grounds that, as patriots, they had no choice. Son Sann was nominally Prime Minister of this imperialist-sponsored coalition, but his KPNLF left the fighting to the genocidal Khmer Rouge. Too bad for the Cambodian people. Eventually, the West decided it didn't need Sann anymore and dumped him, having been forced to accept a power-sharing deal between Sihanouk and Hun Sen. Sann still tried to carry the flag for capitalism, setting up the Liberal Democratic Party for the 1993 elections. They got less than four percent of the vote. Within five years he was back in exile in Paris. He died in December aged 89. He too was loyal to his class through thick and thin, and the Cambodian people suffered because of it.