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Can someone win the presidency entirely on the basis of a negative asset? I wouldn’t have thought so, but here’s John Kerry, just about 90 days shy of election day, promoting himself as a man of presidential caliber entirely on the basis that he’s the Anyone in "Anyone But Bush". Aside from the flag wagging , that’s what it comes down to, unless you take the probably realistic view that when it comes to war-fighting in the service of Empire he’s far more bloodthirsty. Come next January the Anyone behind the desk in the Oval Office may be a bit taller. There’ll be medals on the book shelf showing he killed Vietnamese in the service of his country. Most everything else will stay the same. Kerry’s been pretty clear about that, letting his core constituencies know that as President Anyone he’s not going to cut them any favors.
The nation’s hungry, its underemployed, its jobless? In April Kerry announced that his economic strategy will be to wage war on the deficit, which means he’ll do nothing to alleviate problem number one in American today, which is the lack of jobs and the rotten pay for those lucky enough to have some form of work.
Women? Kerry, the man who voted for Bill Clinton’s savage assault labeled "welfare reform", on poor women, said he might well appoint anti-abortion judges, adding magnanimously that he wouldn’t want such appointments to lead to the overturning of Roe v Wade.
Kerry vows to put more cops on the streets and there’ll be no intermission in the war on drugs which has played a large part in producing the memorable statistic issued by the Justice Department last week, to the effect that the number of people caught in the toils of the criminal justice system grew by 130,700 last year. The grand total is now nearly 6.9 million, either in jail in prison, on probation and on parole, amounting to 3.2 percent of the adult population in the United States. In many cities in the US a young black man faces a far better chance of getting locked up than of getting a job, since the lock-up is the definitive bipartisan response of both Democrats and Republicans to the theories of John Maynard Keynes. Blacks have got less than nothing from Kerry, aside from his wife’s declaration that she too is an African American, yet the Congressionlal Black caucus cheers the man who voted for welfare reform and devotes its time to flaying Ralph Nader
The "Anyone But" strategy favored by most pwogs has meant that Kerry has never had his feet held to the fire by any faction of the Democratic Party. This has been the year of surrendering quietly.
War in Iraq? A majority of the country wants out, certainly most Democrats. Kerry wants in, even more than Bush. When the DNC told Kucinich to stuff his peace plank, Kucinich tugged his forelock and told his followers to shuffle back in under the Big Tent and help elect a man who pledges to fight the war in Iraq better and longer than Bush. Feminist leaders kept their mouths shut when Kerry flew his kite about nominating anti-choice judges. Gay leaders didn’t open their lips to utter so much as a squeak when Kerry declared his opposition to same-sex marriages and to civil unions. Did we hear from Norman Lear and People for the American Way as Kerry, the man who voted for the Patriot Act, revived his Tipper Gore-ish posturing about the evils of popular culture? Of course we didn’t, even though Kerry voted for the unconstitutional Communications Decency, a piece of legislation that even the prudish Joe Lieberman couldn’t stomach.
Kerry told James Hoffa of the Teamsters this spring that he wouldn’t touch the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge but would "drill everywhere else like never before". There wasn’t a bleat from the big environmental groups. He pledged the same policy again to the American Gas Association a couple of months later, throwing in the prospect of a new trans-Alaska-Canada pipeline for natural gas from the Arctic. Once again the big environmental groups held their tongues.
True, Andy Stern, head of the Service Employees Union threw a gobbet of red meat onto the Convention floor by confiding to the Washington Post’s David Broder that another four years of Bush might be less damaging than the stifling of needed reform within the party and the labor movement that would occur if Kerry becomes president. After a couple hours of being forced to stand on a milk crate with a copy of the party platform over his head and electrodes attached to his penis Stern recanted and said he was "a hundred per cent " for Kerry. Thus ended labor’s great revolt against a candidate who’s cast his share of votes in US Congress to ensure job flight from America and whose commitment to the living standards of working people is aptly resumed in his pledge to raise the minimum wage to $7 an hour by 2007, which is still far, far below that the minimum wage was worth in purchasing power when it peaked in the late 1960s.
Contrast the lib-pwog refusal to raise any sort of trouble with the robust comment of the conservative organizer Paul Weyrich who recently remarked, "For all of their brilliance, [Ken] and Mehlman and Karl Rove made a very seriuous mistake with this [Republican]Convention’s line-up. It is one that the rank and file should not tolerate. If the president is embarrassed to be seen with conservatives at the convention, maybe conservatives will be embarrassed to be seen with the President on Election Day."
For all the interminable thundering about the evils of George Bush, the man has done a very respectable job of sabotaging the American Empire, which is probably why so many liberals hate him. They think he’s a national embarrassment, hurling Imperial America over his handlebars, landing on its ass amid world derision. But as Gabriel Kolko remarks in his contribution to Dime’s Worth of Difference: Beyond the Lesser of Two Evils, the new book on the election edited by Jeffrey St Clair and myself: "the United States will be more prudent, and the world will be far safer, only if it is constrained by a lack of allies and isolated. And that is happening.Inadvertently, the Bush Administration has begun to destroy an alliance system that for the world’s peace should have been abolished long ago. The Democrats are far less likely to continue that process. As dangerous as he is, Bush’s reelection is much more likely to produce the continued destruction of the alliance system that is so crucial to American power in the long run."
A print version of this column appeared in The Nation, in the edition that went to press the day before Kerry gave what is in my memory, stretching back to 1972, the worst acceptance speech at a Democratic convention, with the possible exception of Mondale’s in 1984.