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In This Election Reality is Off the Table
Swatting at Flies
by ALEXANDER COCKBURN

Who would you rather have in your corner, Sasso or Baker? In its hour of need the Kerry campaign brings on board James Sasso, breathlessly described in one news story as "canny and ruthless", but mostly known to the world as one of the men who ran the Dukakis campaign in 1988, which was about as far from "canny and ruthless" as you can go without leaving the earth’s gravitational field. Right behind Sasso comes Stan Greenberg, fresh from his disastrous stint advising the Venezuelan right how to recall Hugo Chavez. Meanwhile the Bush crowd brings on former secretary of state James Baker to handle negotiations for the presidential debates. Yes, Baker, the man who negotiated the theft of the election in Florida in 2002. If you hunted for words that best describe Baker "canny and ruthless" would do nicely.

When historians come to dissect the Kerry campaign they will surely marvel at the rich platter of issues handed the Democratic candidate which he has thrust from him with shudders of distaste and instead turned back, like Mencken’s Bryan, to swat at flies.

Read the report of the 9/11 Commission, as Kerry and his "strategists" (a hold-all word these days, meaning anyone on a political campaign a reporter has been able to raise on the phone) have surely done and there are mounds of fragrant dung to hurl at Bush and Cheney: the warnings from the FBI and CIA ignored by the White House; the obvious lies about Cheney getting Bush’s go-ahead to issue the shoot-down orders that never reached the Air Force pilots.

You’d think that the Kerry campaign would have put together a group of 9/11 widows and, along the lines of the swift boat vets, had them trail Bush, denouncing him as the man who slept through the warnings of imminent attack by Al Qaeda. It’s all there on the plate, but Kerry has spurned it. 9/11 is off the table.

Read the US Senate report on the manipulation of intelligence to concoct the bogus WMD, used as the rationale for invasion. The report is replete with detailed stories of Cheney’s eight visits to the CIA hq at Langley to browbeat the analysts, plus scores of kindred jimmying of the data. Kerry could have said he’d voted war-making powers to the president, because he and his colleagues were served up lies.

But no, Kerry hops around on the issue all summer and then, after all the war-whoops in Boston, he loses it at the Grand Canyon, saying that ‘knowing then what he knows today’ about the lack of chemical, biological and nuclear weapons in Iraq, he still would have voted to authorize the war. This was after he sent out Jamie Rubin, former spokesman at the State Department, to tell the Washington Post that ‘in all probability’, Kerry would have launched a military attack to oust Hussein by now if he were president.

As a piece of tactical stupidity it’s hard to beat, particularly when there was absolutely no pressure on Kerry to say, or have Rubin say, any such thing. There on the plate in front of Kerry was probably the best documented account of White House deceptions in living memory and he thrust it away. Fake WMDs are off the table.

In fact the whole war is off the table, vanishing into velleities as Kerry refines and redefines, shifts from foot to foot and says he would have done it all different, As the WMD issue vanished back into the kitchen and Kerry began to plummet in the polls Rubin was redeployed. He apologized to the Washington Post for his ‘in all probability’ phrase and ventured that it was ‘unknowable’ whether Kerry would have waged the war. How about that for a rallying cry to those millions of antiwar voters out there! From No to Unknowable.

Spygate? The nation’s secrets being filched by Bush’s neo-Cons, passed to Israel and to Teheran? The only surprise here is that Kerry hasn’t already called for charges to be dropped against any and all suspects, and urged the dismissal of FBI investigators on grounds of anti-Semitism.

In Afghanistan America’s man Karzai can drive around bits of Kabul in relative safety, same way that America’s man Allawi can display himself in a couple of acres of downtown Baghdad. Elsewhere the Taliban rules and Osama takes his noonday hikes in the Hindu Kush. But for Kerry Afghanistan is off the table.

Pretty much everything’s off the table except for some Kerry rhetoric which no one believes about a health plan and taxing people who make more than $200,000. As Bush told the crowds in Ohio, the Kerry plan will never fly because everyone knows the rich don’t pay taxes anyway. The US Supreme Court? Kerry said in mid-summer he wouldn’t hesitate to nominate an anti-choice justice. On the heels of this crafty rallying cry to his core supporters he sent the Rubin-like disclaimer that he wouldn’t want to have a Supreme Court that reversed Roe v Wade..

At a quick count, off the agenda of debate this year are the role of the Federal Reserve; trade policy; economic redistribution; nuclear disarmament; reduction of the military budget and the allocation of military procurement; the role of the World Bank, IMF, WTO; crime, punishment and the prison explosion; the war on drugs; corporate welfare; forest policy; the destruction of small farmers and ranchers; Israel; Cuba; the corruption of the political system. The CIA is on the table but not in encouraging way since Kerry touts the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission which wants to back to the era before the Church hearings of the mid-70s. The Senate and House Democrats are now backing off opposition to Bush’s nominee as CIA director, Rep Porter Goss, seemingly on a signal from the Kerry Campaign.

So what have Kerry supporters and prospective supporters got to hang their hat on? Not much, which is why most of the ones I meet seem wan and out of sorts, reduced to mutterings about fascism’s march. It may indeed be on the march but there are no spirited vows from Kerry that he’ll stand in its path. Just the other day, in a debate on NPR one of his "strategists" boasted he’d drafted some of the Patriot Act’s language.

Once there was a vibrant antiwar movement, outside the Democratic Party, and therefore with some purchase on the candidates. Howard Dean took care of that, and the Democratic National Committee took care of Dean. Now there’s pro-war Kerry, with no aggressive antiwar movement to push him to the left. All’s quiet on the western front. The left is in a funk, spouting nonsensical scenarios about 9/11, abandoning all long-term issues. Meanwhile the Empire is out of money, the housing bubble due to burst in the not too distant future. Why talk about that? In this election reality is off the table. As someone said, back in 1995, "Political campaigns are the graveyard of real ideas and the birthplace of empty promises." Who said that? Teresa Heinz in the Utne Reader, just before she married Kerry. My bet is on a very low turnout.

I wrote a shorter version of this column for The Nation, which went to press on Wednesday. Since then the Kerry cmapaign has plunged deeper into blunder, earning a bitter rebuke from none other than Rev. Jesse Jackson. Last weekend Jackson was hosting a rally in West Virginia with Willie Nelson that drew 30,000 of the sort of core Democratic base that John Kerry has to activate in order to have a chance at defeating Bush. It so happens that Kerry was in West Virginia at the time and Jackson emplored him to attend. Kerry, showing his matchless sense of tactical misjudgement, declined. Whether this was Kerry’s usual instinct for steering clear of anyone with hint of a progressive spirit or stemmed from advice by his campaign consultant Bob Shrum, whose own career of misjudgement stretches back to George McGovern is unclear at this time. At present, Kerry is faltering in the crucial states of Missouri, Ohio, West Virginia and Florida. Kerrycrats are so shellshocked by the news of their candidates poor performance that they had nearly given up attacking Ralph Naderuntil an Oregon judge (Democrat) rebuked the slimey tactics the Oregon secretary of state (Democrat) had used to arbitrarily keep Nader off the ballot. Nader’s back; Kerry may be over.

ALEXANDER COCKBURN and Jeffrey St. Clair’s must-have new book on the 2004 elections, Dime’s Worth of Difference: Beyond the Lesser of Two Evils, is just out from CounterPunch / AK Press.