Many frustrated progressive Democrats have been bemoaning the lack of aggressiveness of the Democratic Party and its presidential standard bearer John Kerry in this campaign. While Republicans in Florida and Michigan work to bar or scare off black voters, and smear Democratic candidates with vicious ad hominem attacks, lie blatantly and stoke voter fear of terrorism, the Democrats have largely campaigned as if it were all a gentleman’s game of tennis.
For example, according to a report in the St. Petersburg Times in Florida, the Bush campaign filed its election documents with the secretary of state’s office in Tallahassee a day late, thanks to the Republican Party’s decision to hold its nominating convention so unprecedentedly late (and conveniently close to the 9/11 anniversary). Technically, that late filing should have prevented Bush’s name from appearing on Florida ballots in November. But did Democrats seek to make the state follow the letter of the law? No. The Democratic Party, incredibly, gave Republicans a pass and failed to challenge them! (Just imagine what would have happened had Kerry’s people filed their papers a day late)
Ironically, the one place the Democrats have played hardball is in seeking to block access to the ballot by independent candidate Ralph Nader–and not just in Florida. Here, the Democratic Party machine has pulled out all the stops, challenging signatures, hiring pricey attorneys, defending arcane anti-democratic rules, and even using deception on occasion, in at least one case sending its own volunteers to Nader volunteer sign-up events to prevent genuine volunteers from getting into meetings.
How can it be that the Democratic Party would be so capable of playing in the mud when it comes to Nader, yet so timid when it comes to battling the GOP?
The answer may be that besides posing a threat to Democratic hopes of victory in November, Nader also threatens the cabal of Democratic Leadership Council conservatives (Kerry among them) who have been controlling the party’s dismal destiny of decline for over a decade.
A strong Nader showing this November, even if it did not derail Kerry’s presidential hopes, would demonstrate that the party has been abandoning a key part of its base–the progressive wing that rejects the pro-corporate, pro-empire, pro-militarist stance of the party leadership.
For a party elite that has been trying desperately to cozy up to the big corporations that dominate the American economy and polity, this threat is far worse than just losing a presidential election.
At this point, I don’t know where I stand on how to vote November 2, especially living as I do in the swing state of Pennsylvania. As disappointed in and suspicious of Kerry as I am, I suspect he would be far more susceptible to public pressure and dissent as president than Bush has been, and that he could be forced into ending the war and undoing some of the more dreadful domestic policies implemented by Bush over the past few years, but on the other hand, the Democratic Party will never be turned into a genuine alternative to the Republican corporatist ideology if progressives just keep voting for every corporate lackey that it puts up as its candidate for president.
What I am certain of though, is that any effort to deny voters the chance to vote for a viable alternative viewpoint such as that offered by Ralph Nader is profoundly undemocratic and ought to be condemned.
DAVE LINDORFF is the author of Killing Time: an Investigation into the Death Row Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal. His new book of CounterPunch columns titled “This Can’t be Happening!” is published by Common Courage Press. Information about both books and other work by Lindorff can be found at www.thiscantbehappening.net.
He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org