Film producer and journalist Michael Moore, who has decided to endorse and actively campaign for retired Gen. Wesley Clark for the Democratic presidential nomination, has crossed the line in attacking at least one of Clark’s rivals.
Moore, in emails to supporters, and on his website (www.michaelmoore.com), asks forbearance on the part of those who have been pointing out Clark’s negatives, notably his role in the bombing of civilian targets in Serbia during the NATO Kosovo campaign, his dangerous order (disobeyed fortunately by a British commander) to have NATO troops confront Russian troops at the Pristina airbase where they had landed a contingent without NATO permission, and his record of supporting Republicans in the past.
Moore backs up this plea for grace by claiming that Dennis Kucinich –the most consistent and outspoken opponent of the Iraq war of all the Democratic candidates, and the only member of Congress running for the presidency who had the guts to vote against the November war resolution which Bush used as his “Tonkin Gulf” authorization to invade Iraq–is himself a waffler on the issue of the war.
As Moore explains, “Dennis Kucinich refused to vote against the war resolution in Congress on March 21 (two days after the war started) which stated `unequivocal support’ for Bush and the war (only 11 Democrats voted against this–Dennis abstained).”
After this nasty charge, he goes on to play coy, saying, “What’s the point of this ridiculous tit-for-tat sniping? I applaud Dennis for all his other stands against the war.”
But putting aside for the moment whether it makes sense–in the interest of ousting Bush–not to look too hard into the pasts of the various candidates for the Democratic nomination, as Moore is urging us to refrain from doing, let’s look at the truth of this particular libel against Kucinich.
What exactly was that resolution in March ’03 that Kucinich abstained on (he voted “present” rather than yes or no)? It called on congressmembers to “express suport and appreciation of the nation for the president and the members of the armed forces who are involved in Operation Iraqi Freedom.”
This was not a further authorization for war–something which Kucinich, who had voted against the original war authorization, would certainly have opposed. Rather, as the politically savvy Moore clearly knows, it was a meaningless “feel good” resolution, and a blatant Republican effort to “sandbag” Bush critics in Congress by offering up a “support the troops” resolution that they would find it politically hard not to vote for. The trick was, the resolution didn’t just say Congress members supported the troops and their families; it also said they supported the president.
As Kucinich spokesperson David Swanson explains, “Dennis supports the troops, but he doesn’t support the president, so he couldn’t support the resolution. But he didn’t want to vote against support for the troops, so he voted `present.'”
A purist might argue that Kucinich should have simply called the resolution for what it was–a dirty trick designed to silence war critics–and voted against it, which, as Moore correctly notes, a handful of Democrats did in fact do. But given the simplistic way the corporate media reports such matters, and the way Republican opponents could be counted upon to use it in a campaign, it is also understandable why Kucinich chose to simply abstain. (Just look how Moore and Clark are using it now!)
Moore is in fact shamelessly playing the Republicans’ game by trying to paint this decision by Kucinich as a waffle on the war. He and Gen. Clark shouldn’t be stooping to this kind of misrepresentation in order to win the nomination. In any event, such an effort, if it is designed to win over Kucinich supporters to the general’s cause, is going to backfire.
As for the notion that people shouldn’t examine the past positions of the candidates for the Democratic nomination, this is a recommendation for disaster. Candidates’ pasts don’t only reveal their political views, they reveal their ability to stand up under pressure, their political connections and liabilities, and their basic character. We ignore that record at our risk.
President Nixon, in 1968, tried to remake himself as a peace candidate, running against Hubert Humphrey. 25,000 more dead Americans and several million dead Indochinese later, we saw just what a man of peace he was. But of course, his past years as a cold warrior should have made it clear to anyone paying attention that his “peace” image was a sham. The same can be said of President Clinton, who ran in 1992 as a champion of minorities, gays and labor, but who then abolished welfare, enlarged the prison-slave system, and passed the NAFTA job destruction treaty. Anyone who examined Clinton’s history as governor of Arkansas would have been able to see this was no man of the people.
Furthermore, we need to know the past actions of the candidates, because it’s guaranteed that if there is anything embarrassing in their records, and they win the nomination, we can be certain that Bush’s campaign will dig it up and use it to the hilt in the general election.
No, Moore is wrong to suggest that we voters stop looking into the candidates’ pasts, though it’s obvious in Gen. Clark’s case why he’d be saying that.
That said, what should not be happening is that those pasts be misrepresented, as Moore is doing in Kucinich’s case.
DAVE LINDORFF is the author of Killing Time: an Investigation into the Death Row Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal. A collection of Lindorff’s stories can be found here: http://www.nwuphilly.org/dave.html