Grading the parties shows there are a differences

Politics is a tough bid. I'm not talking about the election pageant and its participants' platitudes. I mean those who think voting is still worth it have to bet on the assumption that a vote makes

Politics is a tough bid. I'm not talking about the election pageant and its participants' platitudes. I mean those who think voting is still worth it have to bet on the assumption that a vote makes a difference.

Ironically, candidates like Ralph Nader continually remind us we have only a two-party system and the two parties are the same: corporate-influenced, motivated by special interests and differing little on policy or intent. But a vote for Nader might hurt Al Gore, the candidate whose views are infinitely closer to Nader's than George W. Bush's are.

In one way, Nader, not the type of person to look at gray areas, is correct — both candidates depend on corporations. The government depends on corporations through an interface with the Federal Reserve Board and the economy in general. Corporations often exert global influence and develop their actions far ahead of government policy and of our communities' interests. We still interact with corporations, but our influence has diminished over the years.

In another, more subtle way, Nader is also correct.

The system is such that, in its wheeling and dealing over special interests, it has become dysfunctional. Getting ahead politically appears to require ploys such as putting the country in turmoil over an opponent's sexual exploits.

When not being quite so hypocritical, politicians turn to issues of the least importance — morals such as pornography, as if this were government's main venue.

But this points right back to Nader's argument. In setting plans to resolve important issues — issues to do with the future, ways to preserve this expanding mass of humanity and its freedoms — our system is dysfunctional. We can't plan. We don't have a political body that can get a single thing done quickly based on the people's interest.

As our vote is dilute in its influence, so are presidential candidates dilute in terms of power. What they'll get done depends on an array of power groupings within power groupings. So what we have to have is, first, a very smart person who can undertake such a complicated alignment of interests.

We then have to look at the intentions of the candidate and his party. Whether or not we can get real things done in a dysfunctional system, we have to look to see which party and candidate are most likely to try.

That party has to be progressive. It has to want to reform the system. It should emphasize goals that secure our place as a world leader. We have to become a world leader in terms of global responsibility. The moral perspective should be on issues concerning human individuality and freedom as interacting with the greater good for all. In short, we have to plan for our future home.

This yields a list we can use to rate each party. As the parties aren't drastically different, I'll use this scale: -1 for preventing a goal from being reached, 0 for not doing a damn thing, +1 for at least trying, or having the right intention.

So here goes: Elect a president with a high IQ: Democrats +1, Republicans 0.

Preserve the environment; for example, assure global reduction of greenhouse gasses and prevent further drastic deforestation: Democrats +1, Republicans 0.

Public-health structures, globally and in the U.S., broke down during the 1980s and '90s through cuts in funding, mostly by a Republican Congress. This drastically lowers our ability to deal with epidemics worldwide. Rebuild our public-health structure: Democrats 0, Republicans -1.

Become more influential in the expansion of organizations such as the World Trade Organization and treaties such as GATT. Become a leader not only in global business, but in a corresponding assurance of workers' rights and human rights: Democrats +1, Republicans 0.

We all have to agree on goals surrounding population growth, greenhouse emissions, use of our remaining natural resources and fiscal policy. Otherwise we won't have anything except lives out of balance and a deteriorating world. Expand global cooperative regulation through the United Nations or treaties: Democrats 0, Republicans 0.

In three decades, the U.S. has seen an unprecedented decrease in social capital. Communities have become virtual rather than real. We must make corporations accountable to communities and to the public trust. Put infrastructure concerns for all, rich and poor, above corporate profits: Democrats 0, Republicans -1.

The U.S. has a dysfunctional government because parts of the Constitution are out of date. We can't change any of it because of the unspoken view that it's a sacred document. We have no decision-making body that can act on our behalf, without smokescreens for special interests, and take responsibility for screw-ups. Revise the Constitution, just as every other advanced nation has done on numerous occasions: Democrats -1, Republicans -1.

Wars against citizens who have not harmed anyone must stop. We're setting a bad example for the world, refusing to develop coherent social structures and assured freedoms. We have sacrificed innovative systems that could wipe out poverty in this country. Education and personal choice often are replaced by probation, the loss of civil liberty and police-state control of individuals. To remain a democracy, this must change: Democrats 0, Republicans -1.

Totals: Democrats 2, Republicans -4.

Possible High: 8. Possible low: -8.

A sensitive enough scale does show a difference between the parties, at least in intent. Of course, you might not agree with this list of issues as being the most important. After all, they're now just good intentions.

But whether or not good intentions can be realized depends a lot on movements through the power structure, heavily influenced by the rich, by a short-term profit motive and by a faith that money and power will protect us from our social neglect, that natural resources aren't perishable, that prosperity can endure without intense preservation and that the guiding hand of market forces really is the hidden hand of God out to help us all.

And if you believe that sort of nonsense, don't vote for Al Gore.