What’s Your Breaking Point?

On Tuesday’s DN, Ralph Nader asked a darn good question. Amy grilled him about the danger of ending up with the greater of two evils, because votes get diverted from the lesser one. His answer was “What’s your breaking point?” On what issue will you walk away and break with the Democrats? If you don’t have a breaking point, you have no moral compass. You don’t really stand for anything.

It’s interesting that he used the term “moral compass,” because morality, as I understand it, has to do with how you treat others, not how others treat you. But what the US does to other people isn’t even a talking point, much less a breaking point for the voting public. In this issue of World Beat, put out by the Institute for Policy Studies, John Feffer points out that foreign policy played almost no role in this election, despite the fact that the US is involved in two wars, military spending is off the charts, treaties and negotiations hang in the balance, and our last chance on climate change is coming up this month. If we have a breaking point, it’s over jobs, healthcare, taxes, abortion, or gay rights. In other words, issues that affect us.

But foreign policy affects each one of us every day. It’s why we can’t make a living producing goods or food. It’s why there’s gang violence in the schools. It turns a nice word like security into a nasty military escalation. It backs us into a corner with only our screen world for escape.

By the time that we get into an election, though, the Democratic Party has us over a barrel. Actually, they have us in a barrel going over a cliff and grasping for twigs to hang onto. There are no good choices to be made. So how do we break with this current that sweeps us into the rapids every two years?

The problem, it seems to me, is that the “party-makers” are framing the debate and then picking straws to see who’ll take which side. Since the real questions won’t come up, it’s a given that there won’t be any meaningful answers. The “position statements” are a buzzword bingo, with no actual strategy – other than raising taxes (D) or cutting costs (R).

It’s time, methinks, to bring back the nonbinding referendum. It may sound innocuous, but it was threatening enough to instigate a coup against the Honduran President Mel Zelaya just before he went through with it. Why is it so dangerous to ask people what they think? Referendums aren’t about personalities, they’re about issues. They’re not the final laws with all the fine print, they’re a simple opinion poll. But once that opinion poll is official, it becomes a horse that any politician can ride – as long as he’s willing to go where the horse leads.

The referendum process doesn’t need to happen at the voting booth. City Councils could set it up as a computer survey, with a question of the month. Instead of yes or no checkboxes or unfinished arrows, ordinary people could enter into the debate. Rather than issues like panhandling ordinances, local communities could find their moral compass on questions like torture. Now that’s a breaking point.

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