So, now the election is over. Kerry has lost and will mostly likely soon be forgotten. The sense of tension and even euphoria surrounding the last few months–euphoria at the uncertainty of the outcome, not at the prospect of any real change or progress–has predictably sagged with the sad, unhappy realization that, yes, in fact, George Bush will continue to be president, and this time with something more solidly representing a mandate. What do the Kerry supporters think about this?
What do the Kerry supporters who masqueraded as progressives, boldly proclaiming that they opposed Kerry on most issues, but were nevertheless going to vote for him and encourage others to do the same, what do these people think? The Noam Chomskys and Howard Zinns and the guy I keep bumping into who regularly reads CounterPunch? They supported someone they didn’t like, simply because he was a little less bad (and maybe not even) than Bush; someone who has been trying to hedge right and take over the policies of his opponent. Since the summer, their candidate has had numerous and growing opportunities to decimate Bush on both domestic and foreign policy issues, and he’s passed them up; in the last weeks of the campaign, Bush was reduced to repeating like a wind-up doll the only thing he could still claim about his presidency: “I will protect us from the terrorists; I will win the war in Iraq”. And Kerry still managed to lose worse than Al Gore, who basically had nothing going for him.
Well, my candidate didn’t win either and I know what I think about the situation. I voted for somebody with whom I largely agree, and his loss does not represent a failure of tactics or strategy, or of not having used a potential weapon against the other candidates at an opportune moment, or of having hired or fired an advisor too late or too early in the campaign. He lost because of fear, ignorance and cowardice. To defer progress is to work against it. It’s true, there are perhaps some moments when it’s prudent to compromise initially and wait for a more propitious occasion, but this election was far from being one of those moments.
To sum up a couple of things:
1. Bush has won the popular vote unequivocally, giving him something like a mandate for his overt imperialism, assaults on the Constitution and handouts for large corporations.
2. Among Bush supporters, according to the radio news, the key issue was not Iraq, nor the economy, but ‘moral values’. I’m far from suggesting that Kerry is a moral person, but let’s face it: Bush was an admitted coke-head (not that I find anything objectionable in this) who, as governor of Texas, signed execution orders for drug-dealers. This constitutes ‘moral values’. He prosecuted a war under manifestly false pretenses and admitted to doing so. Is it the candor that’s morally uplifting?
3. The Democratic Party savagely undermined democracy by obstructing ballot access for progressive third party candidates (not just Nader’s group, but the Socialist Equality Party as well). The Republicans have been intimidating potentially Democratic-leaning voters in order to obstruct democracy.
4. Hundreds of millions of dollars (billions?) have been spent by the two major parties to secure the White House. These are hundreds of millions of dollars that corporations have at their disposal because they have been progressively paying fewer and fewer taxes, and that individuals preferred to give to the two parties, rather than save and use for something else. Did the contributions individuals made force them to forgo buying another tv, another car, or forgo taking another weekend trip out to the country; did it make them turn off a light switch when leaving a room, or close the refrigerator door immediately, or not turn the air-conditioning up quite so high? Did the money they donated force car manufacturers to improve fuel-efficiency and safety features, or save the lives of any Iraqis or Americans? If not, then it was not money spent well.
Was it worth it to vote for Kerry, and to encourage, hector, force others to do so as well? Maybe, if in the end, progressive types now see for once that the politics of the Democratic party in moving right, in abandoning any progressive agenda, while still demanding the progressive vote, is not working. It didn’t work in 2000 and it worked even worse this time. Kerry campaigned as a hawk, but abandoned those areas of the country which actively support such a politics, instead hoping that liberals and progressives would see through his rhetoric and vote for him as the peace candidate. Give the American people some credit: they can still have a nose for certain types of bullshit: if they want a conservative candidate, they know that Bush is more efficient and honest than Kerry. Now it’s up to the progressives to realize that if they want a progressive candidate to win, they have to vote for one.
Many people said: “Vote for Kerry now and then push him to the left after the election”. Ok, now it’s after the election, and there’s no Kerry to push: is this the end of progress? The abandonment of Nader by progressive types is in some sense a positive thing, because it shaves off the people who were just on for the ride in 2000 when Nader was a curiosity item. The moment Gore lost and everybody started (wrongly) blaming Nader, these people realized that voting can actually have consequences. Precisely. This time around, it is probably the case that those people who voted for Nader and even Cobb did so in full awareness of what they were about. It is from this base of people, and those people who were effectively disenfranchised due to the nefarious efforts of the Democrats to quash any type of mass progressive movement either inside their party (Would the real Dennis Kucin! ich please stand up?) and outside, that a movement must be cobbled together. Of course, genuine progressives have always been trying to get grass-roots movements together, and for this very reason the election results are neither here nor there, since either or Kerry or Bush had to win.
Perhaps now, progressives who convinced themselves that a candidate who comes from the same corporate political structure as his opponent, and who, while differing from him with regard to the precise manner of increasing the power and profit that this structure yields to those who are a part of it, will see that such a person can no longer be dressed up as anything other than what he is. The Democratic party, which has survived for years by co-opting progressive movements, has ceased making any effort even to pretend to what to change the system of which it is an increasingly useless part. Many people said this year that Nader should get out of the race, or support Kerry in the end, as if it were obvious that Kerry and Nader were really on the same side. People should instead be asking progressive Democrats like Kucinich and Russ Feingold how long they plan to stay with a par! ty that finds their platforms intolerable. They should leave and join the progressive movement outside. But that would require them to overcome the fear of suddenly disappearing from mainstream politics.
I see the sad, hanging faces of the Kerry crowd around me today, as if a bright future had suddenly been extinguished. Kerry was not the Messiah, and he got what he deserved in taking for granted the progressive vote. Nader and the Greens who didn’t sell out, and all of the local and regional progressive groups (real labor?) with their disparate concerns, must continue to campaign, not only, or even primarily, for the next presidential election, but for the establishment of a network outside the mainstream that makes running for public office with an articulate and sensible platform feasible. And they must work, as they are already doing, to make democracy mean something more than simply standing in line for 2 hours every four years: unions, strikes, boycotts, demonstrations, local elections, or simply knowing the facts and refusing to be told lies. Especially that last thing.
ANIS MEMON can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org