A Possible Bright Side?

We are nearing the end of 2004. And if there has been one lesson that we should have all learned this year it is that the U.S. electoral system sets all challenges to the power-elite up for a horrifying defeat. Hence the reason so many liberal and progressive voters deemed John Kerry our only hope for defeating George W. Bush this November. Faulty logic indeed.

They said, and still say, that Kerry was at least marginally better than Bush. After all, who in his or her right (or left) mind did not support the Kerry campaign? Bush, we were told, was (and now again is) the worst president in history. An Adolf in the making.

Or is he? Bush is bad, no doubt. But he has yet to drop an A-bomb on a civilian population. Only Democrat Harry Truman did that. Okay, so maybe Bush is the second worst president.

No progressive would defend Dubya’s doings, though. He lacks any redeeming qualities. But has Bush really been the greater evil during the past four years? Has he done a worse job than Bill Clinton did? Sure, we have eight years by which to judge Clinton, compared to Bush’s four, but let’s give it a quick whirl.

The environment? Sure Bush has been awful, but Bush’s forest plan was actually re-written with the help of two Democratic senators, Ron Wyden of Oregon and Dianne Feinstein of California. As veteran forest activist Michael Donnelly wrote in CounterPunch in December 2003, “Perhaps the greatest irony is that the forests have fared far better under Bush than they did under his Democrat predecessor. Under Clinton’s [Salvage Rider] plan, some 1.1 billion board feet of Ancient Forest stumps were authorized annually. Much to industry’s chagrin, under Bush, around 200 million per year has been cut. Already, that means that 2.7 billion board feet LESS has been cut under Bush than would have been under a Gore administration with the Big Greens usual silence regarding Democrat stump-creation.”

Yes, you read that correctly. Clinton’s plan was actually worse for our national forests.

The economy, many believe, was in better shape under Clinton than Bush. On Dubya’s clock the U.S. has lost close to 2 million jobs. Of course, many of these job losses were leftovers from the neo-liberal Clinton years. Under Clinton, as economist Robert Pollin has pointed out in his book Contours of Descent, “The distribution of wealth in the U.S. became more skewed than it had at any time in the previous forty years. No question, an increasing number of U.S. jobs began to be outsourced at an unprecedented rate as well.”

Wage gains for average workers during the Clinton boom remained historically weak, especially in relationship to the ascent of productivity, Pollin argues. “This ‘heightened sense of job insecurity,'” he continues, “lies at the very foundation of the Clinton administration’s economic legacy.”

Things were not any better abroad. Under Clinton, the World Trade Organization (WTO) enhanced its strength, piquing the anger of thousands of protesters who took to the streets of Seattle in 1999 to demonstrate against the WTO’s power.

Clinton also bolstered the influence of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in the developing world, and passed the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) with few qualms from liberals and many progressives. It’s no coincidence that neo-liberalism is now dictating the free-market economy despite the claims of some who argue that neo-liberalism has declined under Bush.

“Had [the original promises] come true, NAFTA would have been an enormous boom, and we would all be cracking champagne,” says Lori Wallach, director of the consumer rights group Public Citizen. “But instead we have got the 10-year record, and it’s pretty damn grim. NAFTA’s 10-year record,” Wallach adds, “demonstrates that under the NAFTA model, most people in the three countries were losers, while only a few of the largest corporations who helped write NAFTA were the major winners.”

For those still caught up in a love affair with Kerry’s Democrats, beware: It was under Bush — not Clinton — that the U.S. briefly challenged the WTO’s legitimacy over steel imports. Bush eventually lifted the tariffs, but he held out longer than expected. While it is conceivable that Kerry would have done the same, the presidential-hopeful was no doubt an ardent free-trader, particularly compared to Bush, who, unlike the New Democrats, is somewhat hesitant to embrace such dogma. Although he supports the expansion of NAFTA into CAFTA (Central American Free Trade Agreement) and the FTAA (Free Trade Areas of the Americas), the Bush administration has not made these free trade pacts a top priority like Clinton and Al Gore did with NAFTA.

This reality stands in stark contrast to the fabulous label we hear whenever Democrats and Kerrycrats defend Clinton’s economy.

And what about welfare reform — or as the Democrats called it, “The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act”? Could you imagine Bush getting away with signing a piece of legislation into law as horrid as the bill passed under Clinton? In fact under Bush, Democrats have halted the reauthorization of welfare reform three separate times. Where was this defense under Clinton? Don’t think so many would have watched silently had it been Bush who signed it into law in 1996. “It is the end of welfare as we know it,” Clinton declared. How right he was.

“[M]ajor research studies now report that welfare reform harms families. Young children are going hungry, rushing to emergency rooms, being hospitalized and being abandoned at higher rates,” welfare expert Sanford F. Schram wrote in 2002. “A personal responsibility act that simply pushed single mothers into low-wage jobs without making any provision for the care of their children was a contradiction in terms – it was irresponsible. It was immoral. It still is, and now the evidence proves it.”

Iraq? That was the last straw for most, who simply did not want to believe that a Democratic administration could have attacked Iraq under false pretenses. Never mind the fact that the Democrats authorized bombings throughout Clinton’s tenure and passed the Iraq Liberation Act in 1998, giving the U.S. the right to whack the country for the slightest provocation-or no reason at all. It is also worth mentioning that the Democrats overwhelmingly supported Bush’s invasions of both Afghanistan and Iraq. Unfortunately, it’s hard to imagine the Democrats doing things any differently if they had won back the White House.

The Patriot Act? This of course, was a bipartisan nightmare based on the assumption that curtailing civil liberties would make the U.S. safe from terror. Given that Clinton had a version of his own following the Oklahoma City bombing called the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, there is little reason to believe the Democrats would not have moved forward with a more egregious version following 9-11, with their mass support for John “Thank God He’s Resigned” Ashcroft’s version, as our conspicuous souvenir.

For those that looked with an open mind, it was difficult to discern any tangible difference between Bush and Kerry.

Affordable health care? Both derided universal health-care as outlandish radicalism, even though Richard Nixon was the last to propose it. And for those suffering from chronic conditions like cancer or HIV/AIDS, they shouldn’t have expected huge breakthroughs from John Kerry if he had won (no he didn’t win), who remains silent about government giveaways of taxpayer-funded research to these companies.

Gay and lesbian rights? Both were, and are, homophobes who oppose gay marriage, and John Kerry supports the Massachusetts state ban as he “triangulates” and votes against comparable federal legislation.

Surely there must be some distinction, you say? Certainly not the war, empire, tax breaks for the working class, or trade. In fact, if the Clinton years are anything, they are a testament to how the Left reacts to Democratic administrations. They get by with whatever and however.

Privatize social security? Could certainly have happened under Kerry. Shit, it almost did under Clinton. Thanks for the save Monica “Goalie of the Year” Lewinsky.

Invading Syria or Iran? Given the Kerry rhetoric, it surely can not have been ruled out. Illinois Senator-elect Barack Obama, the new Howard Dean of the Dems, has entertained the possibility of “surgical strikes” on Iran.

The military draft? That is more likely to happen under the Democrats than Bush. After all, it was Kerry who wanted to increase the military by 40,000 troops, though he did not specify where this new strength would come from. It was the Democrats who authored the legislation the first time around anyway. And don’t forget who it was that got us in and out of Vietnam: The Republicans — as a result of mass social movements.

So the questions should now be raised: Is Bush, now that he has won, better equipped to rally and unify opposition to U.S. policy than was Kerry had he pulled it off? What about on the home front? Will liberals who backed Clinton despite his gaffes be tougher on Bush now that Kerry is covered in ashes from his electoral burn? Will minorities fare better under Bush than Kerry simply because there will be more pressure on his administration, where they would have caved to Kerry as they did under Clinton? We can safely assume that Kerry would have continued what Clinton began. For he was a staunch proponent and favorite of the Democratic Leadership Council, which he helped found.

For those hoping a national uprising is in the making, Bush is will certainly be the rallying point. Although disenfranchisement would have continued under either administration, the popular upheaval, we can hope, will be the greatest under Bush. Sadly, Bush has perhaps proven to be the left’s best organizer. His policies brought record numbers into the streets prior to the Iraq invasion. Even though more Iraqis perished during Clinton’s first four years in office than on Bush’s watch thus far, and Clinton didn’t inspire even a fraction of the uproar, global or otherwise.

Depressing, yes, but all too true.

As historian Gabriel Kolko argues in Dimes Worth of Difference: Beyond the Lesser of Two Evils, Bush may well be the better man to destroy the reaches of the U.S. Empire. He believed that keeping Bush in office could make old alliances such as NATO obsolete, humbling American foreign policy by forcing us to deal with our own arrogance. We cannot pursue a go-it-alone strategy forever. Kerry, as he’s admitted, would have done his best to stop this trend of U.S. isolation in foreign hostilities — and reestablish America as the unequivocal global menace. Bush’s go-it-alone policy is unsustainable. Kerry planed to make the war sustainable by leaning on allies.

Now that Bush is reelected, Kolko explicates, America’s allies and friends will have to confront such stark choices, a process that will redefine and probably shatter existing alliances. Many nations, including the larger, powerful ones, will embark on independent, realistic foreign policies, and the dramatic events in Spain have reinforced this likelihood. This, he says, will force the U.S. to become a more tolerant member of the global community.

Had Kerry been elected, postulates Kolko, the Senator would have done his best to bring back the global alliance that has caused insurmountable problems for so many around the world. A Kerry victory, then, would have stifled our unified anti-capitalist resistance to empire while four more years of Bush could inadvertently strengthen our cause by broadening the anger of resentment towards the U.S.’s global supremacy.

Of course this rationale goes against virtually all lefty/liberal discussion about the dark election of 2004. But now that Bush has won, why not look at the possible bright side?

Let’s keep up our movements. For it is social movements that have historically been responsible for radical social change in this country. We are the force behind those principled tides. Not presidents. Not political parties. Perhaps we can use Bush to our advantage and continue our fight against global injustice with him in the Oval Office.

JOSHUA FRANK, a contributor to CounterPunch’s forthcoming book, A Dime’s Worth of Difference: Beyond the Lesser of Two Evils, is putting the finishing touches on Left Out: How Liberals did Bush’s Work for Him, to be published by Common Courage Press in 2005. He welcomes comments at frank_joshua@hotmail.com.


JOSHUA FRANK is the managing editor of CounterPunch. He is the author of the new book, Atomic Days: The Untold Story of the Most Toxic Place in America, published by Haymarket Books. He can be reached at joshua@counterpunch.org. You can troll him on Twitter @joshua__frank.