How should we, who are horrified by the wars, lies, and smirks of George W. Bush, approach the coming presidential election? Two arguments are being made.
One is, Bush has to be defeated, no matter what it takes.
This man has committed one criminal act after another. He has announced that aggressive war (relabeled “preemptive war”) is now central to American foreign policy. True to his word, he has used the U.S. military to carry out two wars of aggression, bringing death to countless thousands. Left in office, he will kill again.
He has announced that the US has the right to change the governing regimes of foreign countries when they do not suit US interests. He has announced that the US has the right to arrest foreign people in foreign lands, imprison them, and try them by U.S. military tribunals_or even worse, hold them indefinitely without trial, or charges, or lawyers, or any other of the most primitive legal protections. Again, he has been true to his word_witness Haiti and Guantanamo_and if re-elected to office, he will probably get worse.
He even boasted, Hollywood-Mafia style, in his 2003 State of the Union speech, that his government has secretly murdered people suspected of being U.S. enemies: “More than 3,000 suspected terrorists have been arrested in many countries, and many others have met a different fate. Let’s put it this way: they are no longer a problem to the United States and our friends and allies.”
It all amounts to this: he has taken the Empire out of the closet and made empirial rule official U.S. policy.
For these and other reasons, the argument goes, this man and his administration must be thrown out of office, whatever it takes. This argument is correct.
But there is another argument. The Democratic Party and John Kerry do not offer a genuine alternative to Bush and the Republicans. John Kerry has already made it clear enough that he is not against Bush’s imperial schemes in principle; rather, he argues only that he can manage the Empire more effectively. He has already called for an increase in the numbers of U.S. troops stationed around the world. He opposses “premature” withdrawal from Iraq. He supports the war against terror. His every word puts him square in the middle of the Democratic Party, which throughout the 20th Century, has been just as bad as the Republicans on questions of war and empire, if not worse. Supporting Kerry to beat Bush is a fool’s game. In the campaign between Kerry and Bush, the issues that truly matter won’t even be raised. We should support the candidate who openly opposses the U.S. empire, exposes, by his very presence, the empty choice between Bush and Kerry, and raises the issues that the American people have to face if we are to have any chance at all of re-building our democracy. That candidate is Ralph Nader. This argument is also correct.
Both of these arguments are being advanced by well-intentioned people who prefer democracy to empire, and want to vote the right way. Even those of us who don’t think much genuine change can come through any national elections, have got to make up our mind about this one. It would make it a lot easier to think about what the choice entails, if people on both sides would stop accusing each other of ignorance, cowardice, or betrayal. In particular, people who have chosen to vote for Kerry should stop accusing Nader of being “selfish.” Nadar is aware that he is bound to get more flak in this election than he got in the last one. He knows that the liberal defenders of the Democratic Party, who four years ago falsely accused him of electing Bush, will pull no punches this time around. His entire, honorable public career is already being re-evaluated and trashed by the punditocracy. He knowingly brings all this down on himself because he believes that someone in this campaign has to discuss the real issues, and make clear to the American people that the Democrats and the Republicans, taken together, make up one, ruling, imperial party. Taking up this burden is far from being selfish.
But aren’t these two truths contradictory? Won’t the Nader campaign take votes away from John Kerry, and thereby give an edge to George Bush? Doesn’t the Nader campaign run directly counter to the idea that Bush must be thrown out of office, “no matter what it takes”? We don’t think so. Rather, we agree with one of the arguments Nadar made in his speech announcing his candidacy: that a spirited, successful Nader campaign would bring more people to the polls, many of whom would vote for Kerry. We take Nadar at his word, translate it into the slogan_Support Nadar, Dump Bush_and propose it as a course of action. Nader is our candidate. We urge you to support his campaign in whatever way you can. Talk to your friends and neighbors. Write letters to newspapers. If you have money to spare, give some to the campaign. (We hesitated to mention this one. You probably could find some project_outside of electoral politics_which is more deserving of anti-imperial cash. But we include it, as our main point is that people should find ways to support Nadar in their own particular, political styles.) Always answer “Nader” in opinion polls. Work to create a political culture that supports the Nader campaign, and that continues to educate people about what the Democratic Party really stands for. If we do all this, then the day after the election, we can feel proud that we spoke the truth, as we knew it. But on the day of the election, vote to dump Bush. In some places that may mean voting for Kerry, even though he is not our candidate. In other places, like Massachusetts, people can vote for Nader, knowing that Bush has no chance to take the State. We are confident that people can make the right decision come election day. We are saying something that is true in most every large, national election, and is especially true this time: who you actually vote for is not as important as what you work for. Work for the anti-imperial candidacy of Ralph Nader, and vote for whomever you think gives us the best chance of beating Bush. But wouldn’t a Nader supporter who voted for Kerry be guilty of a last-minute betrayal of all she or he had worked for? No. Ralph Nader is not going to win this election. His is an educational campaign, an attempt to talk to the American people about what truly ails us. His place in the opinion polls will be a better measure of the extent that his message is getting through than the actual votes cast for him on election day. Ralph Nadar is not running because he expects to become, or wants to become, President of the United States. Thank goodness. That is one of the reasons he is our man. Given the role of the United States in the world, and the conditions of things at home, people who run for President with the intention of carrying out that office if elected, automatically define themselves as anti-democrats. Whoever becomes President without a mandate to dismantle the Empire, will be a bad one. The demands of the Empire require that the President lie and kill. (For example, a person incapable of giving the order to drop nuclear bombs on crowded cities would be automatically disqualified; being able to do that is part of the job description.) This is as true of Kerry, as it was of Bush, as it was of Clinton. And if we do manage to dump Bush, and Kerry is the next President, then four years hence we will have to dump him too.
The Bush people like to talk about Pax Americana, using Latin to remind us that their model is Pax Romana, the Roman Empire. But if they had studied history a little more, they would have known that the position of head of state of the Roman Empire was not an enviable one. To be chosen Roman Emperor was equivalent to a death sentence; some Emperors lasted a few years, some, like Constantine III, no more than a few months. We do not advocate assasination (it didn’t make any difference in Rome, and it would only make things worse in America) but we do think that anyone who assumes the mantel of the Imperial Presidency should receive a political death sentence. Every President who heads the Empire without working to undo it, should be impeached, or failing that, should be turned out of office, in disgrace, after four years. As for Bush, the Boy Emperor, it would be a historical catastrophe, and send a message of despair to the whole world, if he were to be reelected after all he has done. We have to dump him and wipe the smirk off his face. Dumping Bush doesn’t mean supporting Kerry. Putting Kerry into office is a just an unfortunate side effect. We’ll deal with him when the time comes.
Frank Bardacke is writing a political biography of Cesar Chavez and lives in Watsonville, California. He the author of Good Liberals and Blue Herons and is co-translator of Shadows of Tender Fury: The Letters and Communiques of Subcomandante Marcos and the Zapatista Army of National Liberation. He can be reached at: email@example.com