How Democrats Derailed the Peace Movement


“I will be voting to give the president of the United States the authority to use force – if necessary – to disarm Saddam Hussein because I believe that a deadly arsenal of weapons of mass destruction in his hands is a real and grave threat to our security.”

–Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.), Oct. 9, 2002

This article is excerpted from JOSHUA FRANK’s new book, Left Out!, just published by Common Courage Press.

Although it was indeed sad, it was not surprising that Dennis Kucinich, the feisty liberal representative from Ohio who ran – er, hobbled – for the Democratic presidential nomination, would roll over and play dead for Senator John Kerry just days before the 2004 Democratic Convention in Boston. “Unity is essential to bring change in November,” announced Kucinich on July 22, 2004. “Unity is essential to repair America. Unity is essential to set America on a new path.”

Despite Kucinich’s emphasis on the importance of “unity,” it wasn’t exactly clear what his “new path” mantra was all about. After all, Kucinich delegates failed (though they never really had a chance) to make “immediate troop withdrawal from Iraq” a central plank in Kerry’s narrow platform just one week earlier. Kerry, of course, promised to put more troops in Iraq and call on NATO to intervene in the occupation and essentially be a more kick-ass administrator of Bush’s egregious foreign policy than the neocons had been.

The second Democratic presidential candidate to abandon his antiwar base, Kucinich allowed his candidacy to be absorbed back into the dank establishment sponge. Just months earlier, Howard Dean embarrassingly touted the novel Democratic line of “unity at all costs,” snarling in late March 2004, “In the end, it is Generation Dean voting for John Kerry for president of the United States that is going to send George Bush back to Texas, where he belongs.”

Like Dean, Kucinich urged his former supporters not to succumb to Ralph Nader’s tempting antiwar allure even though John Kerry did not oppose the war in Iraq or the ongoing occupation. “I intend [to] reach out on behalf of the Kerry-Edwards ticket to unite our party with all those who may have felt left out,” he contended. “I will let them know that the time has come to unite in a common effort for change, which is essential, not only for America but for the world.”

Meanwhile, many Kucinich delegates at the convention felt dejected. Initially, the man for whom they had devoted much time and energy intimated that he would “release” them, paving the way for their robotic votes for Kerry.

Later, after hearing impassioned (and tearful) testimonies from his delegates, Kucinich changed his mind and told them to “vote their conscience.” Fair enough. But many voted for Kerry regardless. And what did they receive in return for their support? Not much.

Despite the generally symbolic role of the platform in modern politics (Bush in 2000 infamously bragged that he had never read the GOP platform), 17 Kucinich platform demands were axed in exchange for a borderline illogical statement with no indication of an exit strategy or an impending pullout from Iraq. It pledged to remove troops “when appropriate so that the military support needed by a sovereign Iraqi government will no longer be seen as the direct continuation of an American military presence.”

Absent from the platform was support for Palestinian rights, homosexual civil unions and marriage, as well as repudiation of the preemptive-war doctrine in principle and as executed in Iraq.

“I ask you, are millions of antiwar/anti-occupation Americans welcome in the Democratic Party? If such voters are indeed welcome, I urge you to demonstrate this by permitting debate within the party on the war and occupation issue, both in Miami and in Boston,” wrote Jesse Jackson, prior to campaigning for John Kerry, who said nary a word about the exponential proliferation of the racist prison-industrial complex, increasing poverty, or black male unemployment, now over 50 percent in New York City alone.

The Democratic National Convention itself was a difficult affair for many who attended. As polls indicated, 80-90 percent of the attending delegates declared themselves antiwar. Those trying to express such a view quickly received the muzzle.

Charles Underwood, the only Minnesota Kucinich delegate to vote for Kucinich, told Amy Goodman’s radio program Democracy Now!:

“I am just very disappointed that there is no ability to express any hope for peace on the floor of this convention. We have had our signs confiscated, we’ve had our scarves for peace, you know, ‘Delegate For Peace,’ confiscated. We have had people that tell us to sit down and be quiet.”

Meanwhile, the antiwar delegates were not lucky enough to hear any speeches at the DNC that reflected their point of view and were instead presented with two gung-ho militaristic orations.

Vice presidential candidate John Edwards told the antiwar delegates:

“We will always use our military might to keep the American people safe. And we, John and I, will have one clear unmistakable message for al-Qaeda and these terrorists. You cannot run. You cannot hide. And we will destroy you.”

Move Over, MoveOn

MoveOn, the liberal online advocacy group that backed both Howard Dean and Dennis Kucinich, had also been asking its members, who overwhelming opposed the Iraq war, to donate cash and time to the pro-war Kerry campaign.

Following the release of Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11, the organization sent an e-mail plea to its constituents.

“This is the moment for us to send Kerry a powerful message, one he’ll want to hear. The more we show Kerry that real people with strong, progressive values are key to his success, the more strongly he’ll fight for our values as president … it’s an especially good time to reinforce that we value this kind of leadership from John Kerry. Help send this message now by giving to his campaign through the link below.”

MoveOn was at least attempting to put pressure on John Kerry, you say? Unfortunately, an organization can’t donate money to a campaign without articulating certain demands, and MoveOn’s demands were far too meager.

When I e-mailed MoveOn staffer Noah Winer regarding the role he wanted his organization to play if Kerry prevailed in the election, he responded,

“It’s a big question, and I don’t think anyone can answer it unless it becomes a reality. It will take time and member input to find that new role. MoveOn will certainly continue to work on the issues our members care about, no matter who is elected.”

So I e-mailed Noah back and asked him whether MoveOn would be as hard on a Kerry administration as it has been on Bush, for Kerry would certainly continue the illegal Iraq occupation. Winer failed to reply.

Lacking any visible remorse just like Dean and Kucinich, MoveOn alienated its huge antiwar base, continuing to operate under the illusion that progressively garnered PAC funds could influence Kerry or any of the other New Democratic elite. Waging this futile effort, MoveOn should’ve known better.

History was not on their side. Prior to the Iraq war, for instance, MoveOn, hoping to stop Bush’s imminent assault, organized meetings between its members and U.S. senators. Few senators attended the gatherings, leaving their underlings and MoveOn spokespeople to debate this heated subject. Predictably, few listened, and most ignored the activists’ distress.

Despite what the spin doctors say, Democrats are largely to blame – not only for discounting the peace movement but also for laying the groundwork Republican hawks needed to justify attacking Saddam’s regime and waging Bush’s greater “War on Terror.”

Bush’s Iraq Attack

On Oct. 10, 2002, the House of Representatives voted 296-133 in favor of giving Bush the green light to punish Saddam. Standing shoulder-to-shoulder with President Bush on the White House lawn, Dick Gephardt, who helped draft the measure, explained,

“I believe we have an obligation to protect the United States by preventing [Saddam] from getting these weapons and either using them himself or passing them or their components on to terrorists who share his destructive intent.”

Meanwhile, Bush was amassing support for his war in the Senate. Helping Bush’s cause was Tom Daschle, the Democrat Majority Leader at the time, who surmised that Saddam’s threat “may not be imminent. But it is real. It is growing. And it cannot be ignored.” Hitching a ride on the war-wagon, New York Senator Hillary Clinton added,

“In the four years since the inspectors left, intelligence reports show that Saddam Hussein has worked to rebuild his chemical and biological weapons stock … his missile-delivery capability, and his nuclear program. He has also given aid, comfort, and sanctuary to terrorists, including al-Qaeda members. It is clear, however, that if left unchecked, Saddam Hussein will continue to increase his capacity to wage biological and chemical warfare, and will keep trying to develop nuclear weapons.”

Buying Bush’s war propaganda hook-line-and-sinker, the Democrats were all too eager to support the Iraq war. They believed Saddam had weapons of mass destruction and joined with Republicans in using it as a pretext to support aggression. They were convinced he was a threat to U.S. sovereignty. They even thought Saddam had ties to Osama bin Laden. The donkeys were bewildered.

As far back as 1998, President Clinton articulated his concerns about a possible Iraq threat, announcing after a Pentagon briefing, “If Saddam rejects peace and we have to use force, our purpose is clear. We want to seriously diminish the threat posed by Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction program.” It should come as no surprise that Senators John Kerry, Tom Daschle, and Carl Levin wrote President Clinton that same year to illuminate the threat Saddam allegedly represented, emphasizing,

“We urge you, after consulting with Congress, and consistent with the U.S. Constitution and laws, to take necessary actions, including, if appropriate, air and missile strikes on suspect Iraqi sites, to respond effectively to the threat posed by Iraq’s refusal to end its weapons of mass destruction programs.”

The tide, it seemed, had a window of opportunity to turn away from this prelude to war, but predictably, the Democrats, on their heels and hoping not to lose control of the Senate in a congressional election year, cowered in 2002. Although Rep. Kucinich perceptively saw the looming war as a momentous error and organized opposition in the House – some 130 votes – his decent effort failed.

With political interests and propaganda in mind, most establishment Democrats ignored his rationale, leaving the millions of protesters who took to the streets across America prior to the invasion with few representatives in Washington, historically or otherwise. And as the story goes, Bush easily got his way, much to the protesters’ chagrin: on March 19, 2003, U.S. forces rattled Baghdad with a military conquest like no other seen in history. The warmongers proudly dubbed their lethal deed “Shock and Awe.”

By then, the Democrats, who had failed to articulate any basis for citizens to vote for them as opposed to their Republican rivals regarding the Iraq situation, had lost control of the Senate as well as many seats in the House. They didn’t challenge Bush on any major issue. They supported his invasion of both Afghanistan and Iraq. It was a horrific display of political ineptness. The Democrats – unlike the millions of Americans who knew Bush and Co. had ulterior motives for unilaterally attacking Iraq – had been eager to back an illegal war.

By mid-summer 2004, the U.S. death toll in Iraq had reached well over 1,000, with soldiers dying at a pace that far outnumbered the Vietnam War at its comparable stage. Tens of thousands of innocent Iraqis had perished; millions more mourned the loss of loved ones. There were no WMD hiding beneath Iraq’s turbulent soil. Saddam didn’t have ties to bin Laden’s gang after all. Iraq had posed absolutely no threat to the United States, let alone its neighboring countries, which did not support the U.S. invasion.

Bush and the Democrats’ war had played right into the terrorists’ hands. According to intelligence reports, and bin Laden himself, recruitment for such groups escalated almost exponentially. The ensuing level of hatred toward the U.S. was unprecedented.

Needless to say, claims that this war has made the United States – and we the people – any safer are laughable. Democratic henchmen Al From and Bruce Reed must have been hallucinating when they proclaimed Kerry would protect America from all that is evil. Kerry, of course, has proven to be no different from Bush on foreign policy issues, save for the “D” next to his name on the ballot in 2004.

An aggressive unilateral policy only breeds terrorism, and Kerry’s foreign policy would have only nurtured future terrorist activity, as Bush’s is surely doing now.

Unfortunately, the same cretins continue to control the Democratic platform. They dictate what is or is not acceptable discourse within the party. Being antiwar, as we know, is most definitely unacceptable, which explains why those who listened did not hear Kerry breath even the faintest sigh of peace rhetoric along the campaign trail.

Although 82 percent of registered Democrats believed the war to be a grave mistake, according to a 2004 USA Today/CNN/Gallup Poll conducted on June 21-23, Kerry was steadfast in his support for the Iraq war. His own campaign platform was a glaring memento of the Democrats’ inability to offer significant alternatives to George W. Bush. They simply believed they could manage the situation more astutely. “This administration did not build a true international coalition,” Kerry’s campaign platform proclaimed. He simply would have done it better.

In the context of a party hell-bent on war, whose foreign policy is essentially identical to the Republican policy, it doesn’t matter how many MoveOn members donate money to the Democratic Party. In the end, such reformers are left with nothing. No party. No money. No hope. And – perhaps worst of all – no unity.

JOSHUA FRANK is the author of the forthcoming book, Left Out! How Liberals Helped Reelect George W. Bush, to be published by Common Courage Press. You can pre-order a copy at discounted rate at www.BrickBurner.org. Josh can be reached at: Joshua@BrickBurner.org.



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JOSHUA FRANK is managing editor of CounterPunch. His most recent book is Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, co-edited with Jeffrey St. Clair and published by AK Press. He can be reached at joshua@counterpunch.org. You can troll him on Twitter @joshua__frank

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