Lessons They Won’t Learn from November 2: A Word from Nader; A Last Look at Kerry and Michael Moore


“Why Is He Losing?” was the title I initially gave a column I wrote for The Nation a couple of weeks ago before the election. My editor there, Roane Carey, worried that this was maybe too pessimistic, amid supposed portents of a sudden swell for Kerry. So we called the column You Can’t Blame Nader for This.” Both headlines turned out to be true and here we are amid the ashes of a terrible defeat for the Democrats and for liberal hopes.

A distraught young person called me in tears on the morning after and I tried to console her by saying that in 1980 things looked pretty dark after Ronald Reagan and the Republicans swept into power, yet only twelve years later we had a draft-dodging adulterer ensconced in the White House and the Democrats back in control of Congress for a couple of years.

This didn’t help so I rushed her back to 1956 when Eisenhower was reelected and the skies looked dark. But only four years later we had a Democratic war hero-adulterer on the parapet of Camelot and the summer of love only seven years down the road.

By this time she was crying so hard she could barely hold her cellphone, an instrument owned by all those millions that hopeful Democrats kept explaining the pollsters were overlooking. I told her I’d call back in an hour or so as soon as I’d rounded up a silver lining.

Here’s what my colleague at The Nation, Justin Taylor, tells me, re the much ballyhooed youth vote. “Given a few days to pan things out, the consensus now seems to be that the youth vote spiked upwards about 9.3%, a considerable number from one election to another. The thing is that voter turnout as a whole went up by about that same number, so while the youth did in fact get more involved they did not in fact get more involved than anyone else–in conclusion, people really did come out in larger numbers than usual, by a good bit, this time; all the same, turnout still fell short of ‘expectations’ with regard to the percentage increase, which is likely what led people to misreport the initial numbers as tepid or in decline.

“With regard to John Kerry and the youth vote, there is good reason to
believe that while the young were probably more likely to go blue this
time, there is a rapidly expanding Republican Youth faction that likely voted in more consistent–if not larger–numbers than the Kerry crowd. Forget business-school blue-bloods, and think of those order-by-phone ads you see for Christain rock double albums on cable channels–all those dead-eyed looking white kids with the slow sway and the vague smiles; these are the wing-nuts of the next generation and they are largely of-age or coming-of-age to make their vote felt.”

So much for Bruce Springsteen, Rock the Vote and Eminem.

Youth, so an exit poll survey (by the Edison Media Research Group and Mitofsky International) tells us, had the same concerns, in the same order of priorities as the older echelons of the voting population: From the top: the economy, moral values, Iraq, terrorism. Bush cleaned up on moral values and the war on terror, with his own supporters rejecting the equation he himself made, between the war on terror and the war in Iraq (where Kerry had the edge).

Moral values this brings us to the well-known fact (greeted with amazement on Wednesday morning by the pundits) that the United States is a Christian nation. Tocqueville noticed this some time ago, and anyone driving today down any county road or state highway will see a lot of churches, still well ahead of casinos which are facilities also predicated on a relationship with Providence. The 2002 edition of the University of Chicago’s regular surveys reported that the adult population of the homeland is 53 per cent Protestant, 25 per cent Catholic, 3 per cent Christians of some other stripe, 3 per cent other religions, 2 per cent Jewish and 14 per cent holding “no religion”. Of the Christians, 25 per cent go to church once a week or more.

Even though the highest reading on any chart of Intolerance is that nourished towards Christians by secular liberals (after all, Christians believe in forgiveness and the possibility of redemption) I suppose we’ll have to put up with much earnest journalism from sensitive liberal writers driving into the Christian heartland to inspect and commune with the natives. I read one patronizing prospectus from a Californian free-lancer that sounded like an application by an anthropologist in 1925 for funding to inspect an African tribe.

Right after the sad call from the young thing, that Wednesday morning, I got a message came from my old friend Wilbur, who lives not far from Spartanburg, SC, the buckle of the Bible belt. “We did it,” he crowed in high good humor. “The bible thumpers and the gun toters.” True, in serious part.

The Democrats spent the year wasting money and passion attacking Ralph Nader whose early predictions of his ultimate drawing power at the polls turned out to be on the money. If the Democrats had wanted to identify a serious saboteur of their chances they should have homed in on Mayor Gavin Newsom of San Francisco whose okay to gay marriage saw all those same sex couples on the steps of City Hall embracing, on every front page and nightly news in America. Ohio had its proposition banning gay marriage and the drive to put it on the ballot and push it to victory brought the Christians out in their hundreds of thousands, marching to the polls across the rubble of their state’s economy.

Of course the Kerrycrats kept begging or hectoring those who questioned their appeals to vote for a pro-war corporate candidate. “Set aside these biases and quaint points of principle,” they cried. “All in under the Big Tent.” But suppose we were to have said, “Set aside your quaint obsession with abortion and the rights of gays to marry each other. All in under the big tent. One party under God!” Imagine the clamor at such a request to abandon bedrock principle. Precisely.

The Republicans rallied their base. The Democrats failed at this crucial test of the vitality of any mass political party. The south has gone. John Edwards failed to recover a single state. How much better it would have been for Kerry to have had the Rustbelt’s Dick Gephardt on the ticket where he would have won Missouri and maybe Iowa and put Kerry in the White House; or Bill Richardson of New Mexico.

The day of the vote I picked up the pre-election issue of the New York Review, with the cream of the liberal intelligentsia pouring out denunciations of Bush. Scarce one could bring himself (yes, the 14 were all men, almost all white,) to mention the difficult name Kerry. Russell Baker is one who did, and he wrote exactly what I’ve said in column after column this year: “The case against John Kerry is that not being George Bush an inadequate qualification for being president of the United States.”

Any successful presidential candidate has to project himself as a chapter in the American epic: the man from Plains; the man from Hope, traveling through light and shade, but always the same voyager in his inner essence. Where was Kerry from? Somewhere in the greater Boston area, a transient between one of six mansions. What was his inner essence? Kerry was like a man in front of an ATM machine, trying to figure out which of his credit cards had a positive balance: the war card, the peace card, the prosecutor card. Whatever positive balance he came up with never impressed enough of the voters. Bush? Every time someone excavated his idle, privileged youth, his evasions of military service, his drunken years, his business disasters, even his failures in the first hours of 9/ll, all it did was to confirm to most Americans that lives have many chapters and rebirths along the journey to redemption.

November 2, 2004, marks a terrible defeat for the liberal elites, whether represented by Paul Krugman in the New York Times, by Michael Moore in his baseball cap, by the New York Review, by that vast complex of delusion and self-aggrandizement known as the Democratic Party. Its establishment is truly in crisis now, from the labor leaders who squandered millions in vehement efforts to keep Ralph Nader off the ballot to the public interest groups have gave Kerry the green light to waffle on all the crucial issues, to the “strategists” who got their cut on the campaign ads and got it all wrong. I hadn’t the heart to warn the weeping young thing that they’ll be back in 2008, as wrong as ever and that mass movements have to build up momentum over years, not in the span of one election campaign and zeppelins of electronic hype.

A couple of days after the election I called Ralph Nader to see how he was doing. He was feisty.

“You will know within a week whether there’ll be a turn around in the Democratic Party. There’d have to be a complete turnover of personnel; a clean out of the stables.”

We talked about the No Fault mood in the Democrats’ high command, summed up in the imperishable remark of Terry McAuliffe, DNC chairman, on November 4, the aftermath of Waterloo, “This party is stronger than it’s ever been”. “When they campaign and leave out most of the states,” Nader remarked, “they’re destroying the farm team. If they abandon the red states they’ll lose everything in those states, right down to city councils. They’re destroying their whole congressional base. All that Republicans have to do is push them into the ocean. The Democrats are in a death dive. They’ll never say that they didn’t stand up for any progressive agenda for working families in America. Our only hope is that the Republicans fissure.”

Nader reckons that the Democrats spent somewhere from $10 to $20 million total to keep him off state ballots across the country. If they put a quarter of that money into the senate races in Kentucky, Oklahoma and Alaska or Florida they’d have recaptured the US Senate.

Reeling Kerrycrats like The Nation’s Katha Pollitt and Michael Moore have taken refuge in the odd posture that, so far from unwisely investing their political capital in a snooty North-Eastern fence-straddler who blew the all opportunities offered by an unpopular war and a grim economy, Kerry was a cutting edge liberal who fought a great campaign. Moore even cited as the last and most of his “Seventeen Reasons” not to be down-hearted on November 3, the following: “Finally and most importantly, over 55 million Americans voted for the candidate dubbed the #1 Liberal in the Senate.”

I doubt anyone, except maybe Moore, punched the screen for Kerry thinking “I’m voting for the guy because he’s been dubbed the #1 liberal in the Senate”. Most of the people voting for Kerry did so because he wasn’t Bush, and the Diebold machines quite rightly rejected this as “wasted vote” and tossed them into the Bush column. It’s a fantasy to write as Moore does that “If the media are looking for a trend it should be this–that so many Americans were, for the first time since Kennedy, willing to vote for an out-and-out liberal.”

This is complete nonsense, though not just the Pied Piper Moore, leading his troupes from one disaster to the next, but the Democratic Leadership Council will be waving this “liberalism” of Kerry as the rationale for moving the Democratic Party even further to the right.

Not long before the election Kerry’s senate record was carefully reviewed by Noah Belikoff (nbelikoff@yahoo.com) who researched John Kerry’s Senate voting record and the voter scorecards provided by progressive interest groups.

“Most of you know by now, (or should)” Belikoff wrote, ” that Kerry voted to authorize the war in Iraq, in favor of a massively-increased Pentagon budget, the Patriot Act, No Child Left Behind, and the NAFTA, that he supports the war on drugs, the building of more prisons, the right to military preemption, and opposes universal, single-payer healthcare, gay marriage, and the Kyoto Protocol. But you may not be aware of the following votes that he also cast in the Senate in the past few years, and of some of his voter scorecard ratings that are listed afterward.”

Then Belikoff’s devastating resume of Kerry’s vote followed, with the conclusion that that “A rigorous statistical analysis of Kerry’s *entire* voting record in the 108th Congress reveals, however, that he falls right in the middle of an increasingly conservative Democratic Party — tied with Joseph Lieberman, and only slightly more moderate than the conservative Dianne Feinstein” (This is a “real time” rating. At the time Belikoff did his survey, Kerry was tied with Lieberman. But a subsequent vote moved him into a pairing–perhaps prophetic–with Hilary Clinton, who’s not that far from Lieberman on all the essentials anyway.):

S J Res 45. Amendment to Iraq war authorization to require president to go through the U.N.: authority for war could be authorized only in the event of Iraq’s noncompliance with new U.N. resolution; a separate grant of authority would be required if the president wanted to act unilaterally. Oct 10, 2002. NO

S J Res 45. Vote to Reaffirm Congress’s Constitutional Power to Declare War: use of force not connected to an imminent threat (preemption) would require additional grant of authority from Congress. (Resolution Authorizing the Use of Force in Iraq) Oct 10, 2002. NO

S 257. Vote to deploy a National Missile Defense system capable of defending against limited ballistic missile attack as soon as it is technologically possible. Mar 17, 1999 YES

S 517. Vote to establish a new automobile fuel efficiency standard that would encourage increased use of alternative-fueled and hybrid vehicles. Mar 13, 2002. NO

HR 4775. Vote to Exempt the U.S. from Following Directives of the International Criminal Court and Will of International Community. Jun 06, 2002. YES

HR 3009. Enable the President to Place International Trade Agreements Above Worker and Environmental Protections with No Changes Permitted by Congress. Aug 01, 2002. YES

S. Con. Res. 23. Vote to Eliminate Bush Tax Cuts to Reduce Deficit Spending and Protect Domestic Spending Priorities. Mar 21, 2003. NO

HR 622. Economic Stimulus/Amendment to Provide Tax Breaks to Corporations. Jan 29, 2002. YES

HR 3734. Welfare Reform/Vote limiting previous rights of children, immigrants, the poor, and the elderly; limiting free speech rights of not-for-profit organizations; establishing national identification database. YES

S 254. Juvenile Justice/Vote for Tough on Crime__ Measures: children as young as 14 to be tried in adult federal court; opens some juvenile records to schools and employers. 1999 YES

S. 1956. Government Funding of Religious Institutions/Vote to require state governments to contract with religious institutions to provide taxpayer-funded social services, proselytizing permitted. YES

HR 3103. Health Care Reform/Vote to give government and businesses access to confidential medical information about individuals without their consent; establish a national patient identification system. YES

HR 2202. Immigration Reform/Vote to limit rights of new immigrants; shield INS abuses from judicial sanction; erect substantial barriers to those seeking asylum. YES

S. 1664. National Identity Card/Vote to establish a national identification system employing computer databases to keep track of all Americans. YES

S 1510, HR 3694 and others. Facilitation of Wiretapping/Votes to increase FBI wiretap authority; permit law enforcement agencies to use “roving” (indiscriminate) wiretaps; increase authorization for “emergency” wiretaps without the prerequisite of a court order. 1995-9 YES

Public interest group ratings:

ACLU 60%

Public Citizen (consumer advocacy) 27%

League of Conservation Voters (environment) 53%

Peace Action 20%

Citizens for Global Solutions (promotes democratic global institutions for solving the world’s problems) 63%

American Immigration Lawyers Association (advocate for justice and human rights) 0%

Workplace Fairness (employee rights) 20%

Friends Committee on National Legislation (the lobby group of the Quakers) 50%

Population Action International (family planning; educational and economic opportunities for women; slowing global population growth) 0%

The American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) 100% (for 20 consecutive years — an unblemished record of opposition to peace and justice in the Middle East)

Jews for Peace in Palestine and Israel -1

“In case you’re wondering,” Belikoff concludes, “about the claim by the RNC that Kerry is the most Liberal member of Congress is based on a very limited set of issues (abortion, gun ownership, and the like) that are of critical interest to conservative groups (the National Journal was specifically cited). A rigorous statistical analysis of Kerry’s *entire* voting record in the 108th Congress reveals, however, that he falls right in the middle of an increasingly conservative Democratic Party — tied with Joseph Lieberman, and only slightly more moderate than the conservative Dianne Feinstein: http://voteview.uh.edu/sen108.htm. (The number at the far right in the table indicates each Senator’s position on a liberal/conservative scale in which 1 is relatively liberal_ given the times.

It should also be noted that Kerry also has the worst attendance record in the Senate. His attendance for 8% of votes thus far in 2004 can be explained by the presidential campaign; however even in 2003 he voted only 36% of the time. (The average for all Senators is 97%). Remarkably, he also missed 76% of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s public hearings over the course of his 8 year tenure on that committee (http://www.factcheck.org/article.aspx?docID=241).

Kerry’s poor attendance record is significant in ways that may not be immediately apparent. This is because of the many times that his presence might have made a difference in very close votes. This is best illustrated by his absence for all of the following important and closely-contested votes (all of them prior to 2004):

H.R. 2658. Vote to Defeat an Amendment Designed to Identify U.S. Military Intentions on the Legal Handling of Detained Individuals (might have prevented Abu Ghraib). Jul 16, 2003. (passed)

S. 1050. Defense Authorization/Vote to Proceed with the Development of “Low-Yield” Nuclear Weapons. May 21, 2003. (passed)

H.J. Res 2. Vote to Restore Funding for Education, Medicare, Medicaid, and Other Domestic Programs Previously Cut in Republican-Drafted Bill. Jan 17, 2003. (defeated)

H.J. Res. 51. Vote to Increase the Debt Limit, Passing On Higher Debt Payments to Future Generations. May 23, 2003. (passed)

S. 1054. Vote to Prevent Budget Deficits By Delaying Implementation of the Dividends Tax Until the Federal Budget Returns to Surplus. May 14, 2003. (defeated)

S. 1050. Vote to Insure that Women Soldiers Have Access to Abortions When Stationed Overseas. May 22, 2003. (defeated)

S 3. Vote to Allow “Dilation and Extraction” Abortions In Cases Where the Mother’s Health Is Threatened By Pregnancy. Mar 12, 2003. (defeated)

S. 3. Vote to Require Hospitals to Make Available Emergency Contraceptives to Victims of Sexual Assault. Mar 11, 2003. (defeated)

H.R. 2658. Defense Appropriations/Vote to Defeat an Amendment to Redirect $1.1 Billion to Help Fight AIDS Pandemic. Jul 17, 2003. (passed)

H.R. 2658. Vote to Defeat an Amendment to Create an Independent Commission to Investigate the Role Played by U.S. Intelligence Officials in Developing and Using Erroneous Intelligence About Iraq’s Weapons Program to Justify U.S. Military Action. Jul 16, 2003. (passed)

H.R. 2658. Vote to Defeat an Amendment to Withhold Intelligence Funding Until the President Submits to Congress a Report Detailing the Role Played by White House Policy-Makers in Developing and Using Erroneous Intelligence About Iraq’s Weapons Program to Justify U.S. Military Action. Jul 17, 2003. (passed)

H.R. 2658. Vote to Defeat an Amendment to Require the President to Submit a Plan for Post-War Reconstruction of Iraq. Jul 16, 2003. (passed)

H.R. 2658. Vote to Defeat an Amendment to Require the Defense Secretary to Submit to Congress a Cost Estimate of Military Operations in Iraq. Jul 16, 2003. (passed)

H.R. 2658. Vote to Defeat an Amendment Designed to Prevent Part-Time Military Personnel From Being Stationed in Iraq for Extended Periods. Jul 15, 2003. (passed)

S 762. Vote to Kill an Amendment Expressing the Sense of the Senate that the President Should Develop a Plan to Raise Revenues to Fund the Costs of the War in Iraq. Apr 03, 2003. (passed)

S 762. Vote to Kill an Amendment to Provide Equipment to the National Guard and Reserves On Par with Equipment Afforded to Full-Time Soldiers. Apr 02, (passed).

There you have it. So you see, Mr Moore, you led a huge campaign, replete with disgusting vilification of Ralph Nader, which encouraged people to throw away their vote, on Kerry. What did the Kerry vote gain them? Nothing.

The same goes for the Labor movement, whose organizers spent untold hours and money challenging Nader’s ballot efforts. Better that they had devoted more time to a far more troubling expression of disloyalty to the Democratic candidate at the head of the ticket. For every three union members who voted for Kerry, there were two more who voted for Bush. That’s the problem, not Ralph Nader, who defied every variant of hysterical abuse in the necessary effort of describing what the problem was, and is. That if course is the job that also lies ahead for us.

Footnote: Bits of this column ran in The Nation that opportunely went to press November 3, allowing me a quick chomp on the “What Happened?” apple.





Alexander Cockburn’s Guillotined!, A Colossal Wreck and An Orgy of Thieves: Neoliberalism and Its Discontents are available from CounterPunch.