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This year’s presidential election has witnessed the almost complete collapse of the U.S. Left into supporting the second party of big business. Using the logic that "Anybody But Bush" should be in the White House, a pro-big business, prowar, conservative Democrat is being touted as the only realistic choice in this election. There are elements in this election story that are so predictable–and familiar.
First, there are the assurances that it is the most crucial election in history, one that demands we abandon all principle and accept the "lesser evil," invariably a moderate Democrat, to defeat the incipient Republican madman. The Democrat, predictably, puts the progressive vote in his bag and proceeds to move further to the right, toward the "center," dragging the Left along with him.
As the election draws closer, leftists, progressives, and labor activists, agree to stifle their own demands, to refrain from any statement, protest, or struggle, that might embarrass the Democrat and hurt his chances for election.
Some Democratic politicians are chosen to play a special role, echoing more popular themes: peace, pro-labor, universal health care, and so on. Their role is to corral millions of people who are disillusioned with the Democratic Party, and bring them back into the party fold so that the conservative Democratic candidate–who cannot and will not deliver–can be elected. These specialists are named Eugene McCarthy (1968), George McGovern (1972), Jesse Jackson (1984), and Dennis Kucinich (2004).
If there is a third party running, those planning to vote for it as an alternative are frightened with the prospect that they are not only tossing their vote away, they are actually helping the right wing to victory. The result is a period of demoralization and demobilization of the Left. Promising movements–for gay marriage, for example–are shelved because "now isn’t the appropriate time."
What is different in this election is the degree to which the Democrat in this race doesn’t even make a pretense of any meaningful reform–not even a sop to his left–and the scale, nevertheless, of the Left collapse into his camp. War in Iraq and "war on terror?" Kerry will do it better than Bush. Wealth and poverty? Kerry’s not a "redistribution" Democrat. Gay marriage? Kerry’s opposed to it. Social services? They will be sacrificed to perfecting the military machine and balancing the budget. In 1964 Johnson at least pretended he was the peace candidate. Kerry hasn’t even felt the need to lie. Indeed, he is putting himself forward as the stronger defender of U.S. interests.
Michael Albert of Znet wrote recently,
Kerry is a vile warrior happy to defend corporate interests… Both Bush and Kerry represent corporate and other elite interests and agree on preserving inequity and corporate domination. Neither candidate is a friend toworking people, women, minorities, or to anyone poor or weak.
Albert stands with a number of leftists who provide us with an accurate assessment of Kerry and what he stands for, and then turns around and argues, "Holding one’s nose and voting for Kerry in contested states is a good thing to do." Perhaps his campaign slogan should be, "Vote for the vile warrior."
Others have made the argument that Kerry’s election will send a message to the people of the world that we reject the Bush agenda. Tariq Ali, for example, said recently, "A defeat for a warmonger government in Washington would be seen as a step forward."
There is no doubt that a Kerry victory will be seen as a step forward, both domestically and internationally. Unfortunately, Kerry has made it abundantly clear to us that his victory will not be a step forward. A victory for Kerry would not constitute a defeat for a warmonger government, but the installment of the other party of war to run the warmonger government "better" than Bush. The confusion over what Kerry represents, if elected, will act to disarm the antiwar movement for a period, until Kerry’s actions reveal what he really stands for. Though this should not be necessary. Kerry is telling us now that even had it been revealed before the invasion of Iraq that there were no weapons of mass destruction, he still would have voted for war. What more do we need to withhold our votes from this "vile warrior?"
Even if we assume what can’t be assumed, that Kerry would be less of a militarist than Bush, are we really saying: Vote for the guy who will conquer two countries instead of three? Is that really what American elections are reduced to? The tragedy, as in virtually every presidential election, is that we accept, to quote Hal Draper, "the limitations of the choice."
Every new generation of radicals is forced to relearn the lessons of previous generations about the character of the Democrats in particular, and the stifling two-party system in general. In the 1960s the New Left learned the lesson when Johnson promised peace and gave them war.
The politics of successive administrations–whether Democratic or Republican–have had as their main aim the rebuilding of U.S. power internationally, economically, militarily, and politically. If Kerry is elected he has made clear that this will be the policy of his administration.
No matter what the outcome in November, the tasks of those who are opposed to capitalist globalization and war will remain. By collapsing behind the "Anybody But Bush" mantra, the Left has weakened rather than strengthened its hand.