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Fear Mongering 101

Progressives Hit the Road for Kerry

by JOSHUA FRANK

Remember in the waning days of the 2000 election when the Democrats bussed around Gloria Steinem to dispense fear that George W. Bush would overturn Roe v. Wade if elected? I do. In fact she came to Portland State University in Oregon, where I was a student, to convince us Green Party members that our support for Ralph Nader would surely cost Al Gore the election. It didn,t of course. Gore ended up winning the Beaver State.

However, Steinem in her livid style, yapped for an hour about Bush,s Supreme Court appointments. She claimed that back alley abortion clinics would surely spring back in to business if Gore didn,t win.

"We must wait until 2004 to challenge the Democrats," she gasped. "Not now, it is too grave a risk.

Fast forward to 2004. Steinem may not be on the swing-state trail trumping for John Kerry, yet. Perhaps soon, as the Democrats grow more and more weary of their flip-flopping "I,d vote for the war again … I am against it now, candidate. Or maybe she won,t have to, for a few well known progressives have stepped up to take her place as Democratic fear monger.

Who is on this new all-star roster? How about heavy weights Norman Solomon, Medea Benjamin and Daniel Ellsberg. All swing-state Kerry backers.

The well-heeled team is soon to embark on a West Coast swing-state excursion, much like Steinem,s four years back, organized by FAIR co-founder David Zupan. Said to be a "non-partisan tour, the group will speak in both Washington and Oregon, with a stop in California, hoping to convince progressives to vote for John Kerry instead of Ralph Nader in November,s contest.

They can get away with the "non-partisan label because Benjamin and Solomon have said they,ll vote for Green candidate David Cobb in their safe-state of California. But this won,t be a pro-Cobb-Green Party tour. It,ll be JFK all the way, baby.

Their swing stops, which kick off later this month, will include: Ashland, Eugene and Portland, Oregon, along with Olympia, Tacoma and Seattle, Washington.

You can bet their speeches in these cities will touch on all corners of the Anybody but Bush reasoning. Scratch that, the Nobody but Kerry (NBK) logic. We can,t challenge the Democrats now, they,ll say, it is too grave a risk. Gloria will be proud.

Signing on to a pro-Kerry letter in late July, all three speakers admitted, "We want Kerry to replace Bush, because a Kerry administration would be less dangerous in many crucial areas … we don’t want to endorse Kerry positions that are an insult to various causes we support … we are left this year with the improvised solution of endorsing one candidate in some states and another candidate in other states. So Solomon, Benjamin and Ellsberg have endorsed Kerry in swing-states but not all his positions. Does that sound logical?

Another paradox. Local Peace Coalitions and Anti-War groups will be hosting the events across the Pacific Northwest. "Oppose war, but vote for it. Seems to be the new NBK motto.

Solomon has already been prepping for his upcoming stump speeches. Taking a cue from Steinem, Solomon is using the Supreme Court issue to rally for the Democratic ticket. "As opponents of abortion rights, civil liberties, gay rights and other such causes work to gain a second term for George W. Bush, they try not to stir up a mass-media ruckus that might light a fire under progressives about the future of the Supreme Court and the rest of the federal judiciary. Solomon wrote in a recent column. "Likewise, those on the left who don’t want to back Kerry even in swing states are inclined to dodge, or fog over, what hangs in the balance. Kerry is hardly a champion of a progressive legal system, but the contrast between his centrist orientation and the right-wing extremism of the Bush-Cheney regime should be obvious. It’s too easy to opt for imagined purity while others will predictably have to deal with very dire consequences.

Solomon has underestimated progressives who won,t vote for Kerry in any state, however. Many understand what truly "hangs in the balance. They just are not buying the absolutism that accompanies such reason. Or, more aptly put — intellectual fear mongering.

Writing about the similar Democratic tactics used by Steinem and gang in 2000, Alexander Cockburn poignantly debunked the Supreme myth:

"A Democrat in the White House is no guarantee of a liberal on the Court. Truman put up four, all of them awful. By contrast, Eisenhower nominated the great liberal William Brennan, and Gerald Ford picked John Stevens, the court’s current liberal champion … Nixon’s nominee, Harold Blackmun, wrote the Roe v. Wade decision. Twenty years later, Bush Sr.’s nominee, Souter, wrote the Planned Parenthood v. Casey decision in 1992 reaffirming the "essential holding" of Roe v. Wade, and arguing that "choice" was now installed in the national culture … Throughout the nation’s history, the U.S. Supreme Court has generally been a reactionary force, and it will no doubt be so whether Gore or Bush are elected in November, or whether the Democrats or Republicans control Congress. A partial exception was the Warren court, which had the coincidence of two great justices, Brennan and William Douglas, and which was prompted by the rise of the Civil Rights Movement and the political assertion of black people trying to head off more drastic social explosions … Most progressives invest too much power in the Court, as if it were really an Olympian check against the Executive or Congress. It’s not. It wasn’t the U.S. Supreme Court that limited habeas corpus for people on Death Row, it was Bill Clinton’s Effective Death Penalty Act, fully supported by Vice President Al Gore … All they want to do is scare the pants off liberals with the idea that Bush would finish off Roe v. Wade. It’s a substantively vacuous and bankrupt position, but it’s all they’ve got left.

As the left sinks deeper in its own self-created muck, don,t look for the stalwarts of progressive action, like Benjamin and Solomon, to pull us out. Indeed they are working hard to keep us down by campaigning for Kerry in the only states that can force the Democrats to deal with progressive issues. It is sad indeed when members of your own team forfeit the game at crunch time. Nevertheless, it is not entirely their faults — they unfortunately have fallen victim to the very fear they are now spreading. It,s contagious. Watch out.

JOSHUA FRANK, a contributor to CounterPunch’s forthcoming book, A Dime’s Worth of Difference: Beyond the Lesser of Two Evils, is putting the finishing touches on Left Out: How Liberals did Bush’s Work for Him, to be published by Common Courage Press. He welcomes comments at frank_joshua@hotmail.com.