This past Saturday, Michael Moore came to the University of Wisconsin at Madison to stump for John Kerry. He spoke to a crowd of over 4,000 people and called upon these swing-state liberals to take up the challenge and boot Bush in the coming election. Moore’s performance inspired many to get out and work extra hard for Kerry in the coming weeks. He also reminded the crowd’s Nader supporters the importance of their campaign because for every Hollywood sellout this fall, there are hundreds of principled nobodies, risking life and limb among crazed democrats in liberal locales across the country. Madison’s progressive community turned out impressive numbers for Nader in 2000, in some wards as much as 30% of the vote. This will not be the case in 2004 as Madison follows Moore’s lead back into the big tent, as Dennis Kucinich calls it, of the Democratic Party. Yet in Wisconsin, Nader is polling comparable numbers to his 2000 campaign (i.e. enough to ‘spoil’ 10 electoral votes for Kerry) and Nader’s former base can’t understand why. Those most affected by Bush and Kerry’s shared agenda are Nader’s new base. In Madison, like nationally, these are the Muslim and Arab Americans, the poor, and the thousands of black families suffering from liberal Dane County’s incarceration rate the highest for blacks in the country. This is what Michael Moore and his following don’t understand. Whatever their mistakes and illusions, it’s worth comparing the Moore of today to the Moore of 2000.
In 2000, Moore was among the bold few to take a stand against the two-party system. Ralph Nader’s 2000 campaign, with Moore’s endorsement, prompted thousands to abandon the Democratic Party in favor of movement activism. Further, Moore helped deliver an ideological blow to the establishment – empowering millions of voters with the confidence to reject the Republicans and Democrats. Today, like in 2000, the primary roadblock barricade rather to progress is the two-party system that thrives on its miniscule spectrum. As long as slight differences keep us voting for the slightly less evil, the spectrum only shifts rightward.
As Moore said at a Nader rally in 2000, “We are at the place we are at now because we have settled for so less, for so long. If we keep settling it is only going to get worse. [With] the lesser of two evils, you still wind up with evil. We are being asked to choose the second worst candidate.” Yet Moore, like dozens of former Nader supporters, changed his mind this year, setting back his own progressive platform.
John Kerry on the Iraq occupation: “I’m not talking about leaving; I’m talking about winning.” Saturday night, instead of opposing Kerry’s position, Moore offered excuses for what will be Kerry’s continuation of Bush’s occupation of Iraq: “It’s going to ugly; it’s going to messy; human lives are going to be lost as a result of the irresponsibility of Bush, and Wolfowitz, and Rumsfeld and Cheney.” So Moore has preemptively apologized away the tens of thousands of deaths Kerry will inflict by trying to “win” in Iraq. Additionally Moore repeated his attacks against Bush for diverting from the real ‘war on terror’. “If [al-Qaeda] is going to kill us Mr. Bush, then why did you stop our special forces from going after them in Afghanistan?” Moore opposed Clinton’s persistent bombings of Iraq and the UN sanctions that killed over a million Iraqis. Moore should know that Democrats, like Republicans, are incapable of helping Iraqis even when they’re ‘fixing’ a mess left by a Bush before them. Moore’s newfound alliance with the Democratic Party, and his call to ‘go after them in Afghanistan’ gets at the most disastrous consequence of the ‘Anybody But Bush’ dilemma: Moore and his followers have accommodated their positions towards Bush’s, in the name of opposing Bush.
The strongest feature of Moore’s speech was his unapologetic call for gay marriage and abortion rights. But like everything else, his scathing attacks against the Right are dulled by an endorsement for the Democrat. Moore forgets what he once knew about the American political system. The Right is organized and without our own independent organized resistance, we will continue to lose ground. When the rightwing wants to ban gay marriage this is what they do: They get Republicans to push for a Constitutional Amendment banning gay marriage. Democrats exclaim “No! We can’t write bigotry into the Constitution! Let states decide.” And then the Democrats, as Kerry is doing, lead the charge to ban gay marriage one state at a time. The rightwing gets their way thanks to Kerry not in spite of him. This is the ill logic of Lesser Evilism.
Abortion? Republicans: “Overturn Roe v Wade!” Democrats: “No! We’re a friend of women! Just refuse federal funding of Abortions for the poor, require parental consent, and ban late term abortions.” Thanks to democrats, the right-wing gets its way.
Corporate tax cuts? War? Free Trade? Environment? The logic always works the same, and the lesson is always the same: Thanks to the Lesser Evil, corporate America gets its way.
Just as you oppose the wolf, so too you must oppose the wolf in sheep’s clothing leading the true sheep directly into the sheep-processing machine.
Moore attacked the Republicans for scaring us into voting for Bush. Yet Moore scares us into voting for Kerry. Without trumpeting Kerry’s conservative positions, Moore is left reminding us how bloodcurdling Bush is. To counter, consider a much more extreme example of the Left supporting the Lesser Evil: Hitler’s rise to power. In 1932 the German Left ‘got out the vote’ for right-winger Von Hindenburg (the Lesser Evil), to defeat Hitler. Hindenburg won. Victory for the Left, right? Wrong. Hindenburg in turn, appointed Hitler to the Chancellorship of Germany and the Nazis hit the ground running. The Nazis succeeded because the Left politically neutered itself by lining up with Hindenburg. To be clear, 2004 America is not 1932 Germany. The claim that Bush is teetering on Fascist is as ludicrous as the Republicans say it is. Rather the Hitler example makes my point in the negative. American Socialist, Hal Draper explains, “The stakes were extreme. This is exactly why 1932 is the classic case of the Lesser Evil, because even when the stakes were this high, even then voting for the Lesser Evil meant historic disaster when the stakes are not so high, the Lesser Evil policy makes even less sense.”
Moore dared to call Nader supporters selfish for our inconsiderate conscience-soothing vote. This was the sickest twist of the evening for surely the charge should be reversed. As Martin Luther King said, “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” Many forget that King wasn’t trying to convince racists. King’s audience was the ‘realistic’ liberals resisting his radical platform.
In the 1990s Moore understood all of this as he held his brilliant, contemptuous tongue for no one. He chastised liberals supporting Clinton’s bombing of Kosovo, “It is amazing to watch all these “liberal” congress members line up behind the President. In a way, I’m glad it’s happening, if only to show the American people there is little difference between the Democrats and the usually war-loving Republicans.” Yes, Michael Moore. It really is amazing, isn’t it?
CHRISTOPHER DOLS is a member of the ISO, and a student at UW-Madison. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org