The 2004 U.S. presidential elections are international in every sense of the word. This does not mean that the concept of nation-state is over, much less that the international stage has become democratic. The United States is still somewhat of a democracy, though its edges have frayed substantially. As for countries refusing democracy, far too many of them still tend to do so under the most brutal infringement and abuses of its citizens’ basic freedoms and civil rights.
Unlike countries such as North Korea or Myanmar, however, the United States de facto runs a large part of the world. It does so either directly or indirectly. Needless to say, this has many repercussions on what the citizens of the world expect from an American leader. That is also why, when elections are merely limited to its national borders, it only covers part of the political equation that adequately describes American rule.
The world has no voting rights over the American president who will be leading them-either directly or indirectly. That’s why the United States is both democracy and dictatorship, since its political system is international in scope.
Internationally, the Bush administration’s foreign policy is the most unpopular of any American administration in recent memory. It was not very surprising, then, to see a recent poll showing the international mood to be overwhelmingly aligned against the prospect of George W. Bush’s re-election, at 76 percent of those polled by the German Marshall Fund.
Naturally enough those who see innocent civilians paying for the “war on terror” with their lives favor Democratic Party candidate, Senator John Kerry, as the next president. At home and abroad, their banner is now familiar: “Anyone, but Bush.” It is true that for many American voters, political activists and citizens, Kerry’s persona exudes a breath of sanity over the future of international affairs. He fought hard in “Nam”, got injured, and won medals. Then he turned against the generals and war masters by denouncing the entire endeavor on humanist and moral grounds. More than in recent memory, however, what the persona represents on a television screen, and the words it utters, makes the automatic nature of political opposition in the US seem moot at best.
This has less to do with the uncertainties, ambiguities and confusion of Kerry’s campaign, as many sly Republican pundits have festively observed, than it does with the fact that one of Kerry’s functions, as it were, is to calm the anti-Bush resistance in the United States itself. That job was reflected in his choice for an east coast white boy campaign set up with John Edwards named as his vice-presidential running mate.
Kerry’s v-p choice has all but extinguished the chances of having the flame of resistance simmering in the “other America”, in all of its cultural, religious, linguistic and economic diversity, register under his representation. This is why any prescription to vote in favor of Kerry, if only to block Bush, amounts to a ill-conceived gesture in which something akin to hope in the goodness of the afterlife ends up replacing political wisdom.
“Anyone but Bush” is an election fraud based on the same misguided belief that voting actually matters in the United States. Convincing oneself of the legitimacy of voting for Kerry, even as “reluctantly” as did Naomi Klein in a recent advocacy piece published by The Guardian, is an act of political nihilism, a dead-end.
Klein opines that under the Democrats, Americans will be led to think about “politics, economy and History” again. She seems to have forgotten that the whole battle waged by both the Republicans and Democrats is to pulverize legal and moral facts surrounding the Bush administration’s actions into a perpetual present, as if nothing the “enemy” does has a legitimate cause. And both the Republicans and Democrats picture the invasion of Iraq in the instrumental terms of managing a rowdy company, and breaking its employees’ trade unions.
A recent article in the New York Times claims that, in a bid to rekindle his flaccid presidential campaign, Kerry’s Senate colleagues are pressing him to take up broader issues. The Senate, however, has long been a thorn in the side of US democracy. As proof of its great concern over the fate of Americans, the Senate Armed Services Committee voted to repeal a prohibition on “mini-nuclear bomb” research in May 2003. Only two Senators, Kennedy and Feinstein, passed an amendment to block this new spark to building bombs whose purpose is not deterrence, but actual use. Senators Kennedy and Feinstein lost their battle.
John Kerry as a Senator never distinguished himself by opposing what has been an essentially war-mongering Senate, whether controlled by Democrats or Republicans. This is why the problem with the US government is as much the Senate as the Presidency. There is nothing purportedly “vague” about their positions. It’s just a matter of opening one’s eyes-and preventing them from being shut.
In the best of worlds, Kerry would have proven his worth by engaging only in an indirect battle against Bush on Iraq. Instead, he has only suggested escalating the war on terror until some supposed victory is achieved. Kerry should have strived to rally a majority of the roughly 55 percent of Americans who have dropped out of the “world’s greatest democracy” by simply not voting. Recall that recent presidents have been elected with “landslide” victories barely accounting for a third of the American voting population. There exists a wealth of voters just dying for a proposal, had Kerry known how to speak their heterogeneous language.
That is no easy task, especially when the language to be spoken involves terms that have now been deemed unsavory for the American media to voice. These terms involve higher taxation of the rich and corporations and the production and purchasing of guns, in exchange not just for universal quality health and education services, but for something much more astonishing: food and housing for America’s growing numbers of underprivileged and underserved.
America’s working and non-working poor have no active voice by which to bolster their vote. In addition to losing political and purchasing power, most Americans have also lost the right to a representation-form dealing with the most basic necessity of their lives: their jobs. Today, trade union representation in the US (though this is a broad feature of contemporary capitalist economies worldwide) is not merely a dirty word. In many industry sectors it has all but become illegal. Why would the disenfranchised then want to participate in a process stripping them of their most basic rights?
Outside of political action, there has been a long process of translating social ills into religious solutions. At times, they have culminated into salvationist visions of UFOs. Meanwhile, real grassroots from-the-people-by-the-people political solutions and reforms have been swiftly side-lined by the ruling establishment as “contrary” or “foreign” to the American way.
THE DEMS BLEW IT
In the run-up to the Democratic Party primaries, the media had ample time to rally progressive voters. Instead of tapping into this wealth of opposition votes, internal doings twisted Howard Dean’s ascension into humiliation after he skyrocketed to prominence on an anti-war ticket. Since then, Dean has proved to be the imposter he always was. More seriously, his disgrace has left the anti-war ticket with a severe blow to its credibility, which has allowed Kerry to ape Bush’s war-mongering in speech after speech.
In the campaign Kerry has since led, blind faith is expected from a population reared on local media that feed only obscure explanations and gut history of critical consequences. Love of country should never be an excuse for blind rage and revenge. Understanding economic disparity as the single driving force behind the US’s military might has fared even worse.
The bitter irony for progressives choosing Kerry is this. After decades of chastising the shift in television news to a parade of talking heads and pundits, that is, to empty-headed fashion model look- and sound alikes, opponents to Bush are now consolidating the idea that all of our politicians and pundits are and always were those vacuous head-body assemblages. Their primary task? To keep the President on the tube day after day, night after night. There is a word associated with this thought: personality cult.
Narcissism is the dominant mood in the developed nations. Not self-love, as simplistic understood, but the love of a group-self in the midst of desperation. Until recently, only America’s sternest critics have seen non-democratic societies as more desirable to live in. These political analysts bore out the deep, irreconcilable contradiction between the kind of life the American system provides for most of its citizens, and the hell it has often imposed on those unfortunate enough to live in nations falling under its zone of economic and geostrategical interest.
The hell of US invasions and occupation is an ever unfolding list. At times, it has taken root in Iran, at others in Guatemala, Dominican Republic, Korea, Vietnam of course, Haiti, El Salvador, Nicaragua, East Timor, Cuba, Chile-and Afghanistan. Ronald Reagan’s death was celebrated in the rightwing neoliberal press as the passing of the man who “beat communism”. But it was Jimmy Carter-a Democrat-who sparked the final battle, that is, to provide the USSR with its Vietnam in Afghanistan. And it was Bill Clinton who led the incessant bombing and enforced the U.N. embargo which made Iraq bleed for eight years. In the meantime, under his presidency the U.S. decided to assume the right to wage preventive war, all without Bush’s hoopla. The Democrat Party is no ally of progressives.
Being against Kerry is not tantamount to opting for Bush. I would be the last one to suggest one actually vote for Bush-although we might all have some stakes in letting him win.
Consider some of the hypocrisy around so-called Democratic “opposition” in the US. You have overheard the noise being made about the heroism of those who fought in Vietnam. There’s still the old bitterness around, of course, for those who fought and then went on to publicly denounce the US’s criminal invasion of that country. But what of the many, many others who took risks to their lives and careers by rejecting the war, and refusing to go? In a very American way, they demonstrated against Washington, and organized. What they interpreted Vietnam as being was the American power class’s political desire for world dominion. But these heroes have not been given space to voice their position. These heroes are still considered traitors for putting their finger on what both Kerry and Bush stand for: a political formula in which economic disparity is equated with political liberty. America’s future lies in the hands of the anti-Vietnam war heroes-those who refused to go.
The upshot is that it is impossible to trust any of the two parties to stand for the kind of “freedom” that is harmonious with economic equality and a long term plan for international diplomacy that will set up a legal framework to enforce a moratorium on American military interventions. Where real change at home can take place is in a solid restructuring of the House of Representatives, and especially of the presidency and Senate. These days, the latter two are merely the power windows through which America’s wealthiest are able to rule, irrespective of the party.
Conservative America blames single mothers for the misery in which they live. Their solution is for marriage to keep women at home. Failing such surrender of real liberty, the State refuses to help its people. Conservative America accuses the free spirits who strive out on professional careers that have nothing to do with becoming the technicians of the petroleum pollution war knowledge society. But failing to submit to it will wind persons up with no health and retirement plan and no means to pay for a quality education for their kids. Accuse Conservative America, but don’t give in to its cynical make over.
Bill Clinton had eight years to change the plight of those who do not accept the conservative agenda, and he did nothing. His successor, John Kerry, is even less inclined to. We should bear that in mind instead of the delusion that a “boring guy” like Kerry will guide us to smoother ground, let alone suggesting that it is “thanks [to Clinton that] the ‘progressist’ movements from the West began to pay attention to systems again.”
Surely, foreigners would object: American streets are superbly paved, their hospitals are among the best in the world, their cities glimmer in ways to prove the Conquistadores’ vision of El Dorado as a premonition of what was to come four hundred years after their invasion of the Gulf of Mexico, in the future states of Texas, Florida and Georgia. But the tourists do not know Pine Ridge, the Reservation of the Lakota Oglala Sioux. They remain oblivious of Oakland and the tattered remains of the Black Panther Party, while the South Bronx and South Central remain off limits due their high crime rates attributed to “Blacks”. The Justice that rules in such economic disparity is uniformly built upon violence and subjection. All that changes between rich and poor is the glean and power of one’s weapon.
As for the tiring question of Ralph Nader stealing votes from Kerry, it’s simply the case that Kerry has not catered to Nader’s voters. Judging by his campaign, it often seems as though Kerry’s task has been to avoid them outright. What’s most likely is that many Americans will simply skip the elections instead of voting for an impostor. This is the presidential election’s greatest failure.
So for those who can actually vote in this dictatorial world system, some meager advice: Don’t vote for Kerry, just don’t vote.
NORMAN MADARASZ, Ph.D., is a Canadian philosopher. He teaches and writes in Rio de Janeiro. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.