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(Editor's Note: The following is an excerpt from Joshua Frank's new book Left Out!, just published by Common Courage Press)
Yaaaawn. It is November 3, the day after George W. Bush won his reelection campaign. No, I am not exhausted because I stayed up into the wee hours of the morning glaring into a fuzzy TV set watching the polls roll in. I am just bored. John Kerry phoned George Bush earlier today to concede the race and gave his lifeless concession speech later in the afternoon.
The Democratic elite are not going to wage a fight over the Ohio electorate, where the vote split is greater than 136,000, even though some 150,000 absentee ballots have yet to be counted and voting fraud is fast making its way into the headlines. But if the tables were turned, you can bet the Republicans would have flown James Baker out to Ohio to begin the recount and wring the necks of some Democratic operatives. The Democrats aren't much for fighting, as we well know, so no alarms have been sounded.
Anyway, Bush not only kicked Kerry's butt in Ohio. He also slapped him around in Florida, where the vote margin for Bush exceeded 376,000 votes. Luckily, the spread was such that Ralph Nader's measly 32,000 votes in the Sunshine State could not be blamed for Kerry's brow beating. The Democrats proved unequivocally that they can lose all on their own.
Given that Nader's presence in 2004 hardly aided Bush's victory at all, it looks like all the time and millions of dollars spent by Democrats and their liberal cohorts to keep Ralph off the ballot were all for naught. Not to mention an awful strategy. In fact, some of the sultry attacks on Nader came from the same group of funders who drove Howard Dean out of the primary race.
Many of these DC opportunists came together to form Naderfactor.org, which begged Nader not to run, and then attempted to smear his character once he defied their plea by announcing his candidacy to Tim Russert on Meet the Press. It should be noted that the president of the Naderfactor was Tricia Enright, the Dean campaign's former communications director, who transitioned herself with ease from the Dean camp to the dark Kerry quarters. No qualms were raised. What a waste.
Enright wasn't the only Democrat working to silence Nader. In fact, a fair number of the Kerrycrats were behind the "dirty tricks" to keep Nader off the ballot in swing states this year.
Writing for LeftHook.org in early October, Toby Shepard had this to say about the shenanigans:
"Take Oregon. After Nader volunteers collected more than the required 15,306 signatures (a total of 18,186) needed to appear on the state's ballot, Secretary of State Bill Bradbury invented reasons to disqualify his constituents. If signatures appeared illegible, (despite printed names appearing directly below 'illegible' signatures) Bradbury disqualified them. In one instance, a volunteer had begun to write a '7' to mark the day of the month, realized the error, crossed it out and wrote '8.' Bradbury discarded the entire sheet. Bradbury even threw out 2,354 signatures (which had already been verified by individual counties) because they were submitted without page numbers. All in all, Bradbury left Nader 218 signatures short of being on the state ballot. Three cheers for democracy.
"In Pennsylvania, a law firm by the name of Reed Smith successfully barred Nader from appearing on the state's ballot. According to the Washington Post, the firm (whose PAC gives primarily to the RNC) counsels 29 of the top 30 US Banks, 26 of the Fortune 50 companies, 9 of the top 10 pharmaceutical companies and 50 of the world's largest leading drug and medical device manufactures. The New York Times quoted one lawyer as saying '8 to 10 lawyers in [the] firm were working pro bono on the case, 80 hours each a week for two weeks.'
"In Arizona, large Democratic donors employed the services of three corporate law firms to file frivolous challenges to Nader's ample number of signatures. 1,349 signatures were thrown out because the volunteer who had collected them failed to provide the correct name of the county, despite filling out the rest of their address accurately.
"In Ohio, the law firm of Kirkland and Ellis (of which Kenneth Starr is a partner), whose former clients include Dow Corning (breast implant litigation), Brown and Williamson Tobacco (anti-smoking cases brought by state attorney generals), and General Motors (product defect cases against victims of injuries), has provided two full-time lawyers to keep Nader-Camejo off the ballot."
This is what democracy looks like. The Democrats should have used their money and energy to register voters in Florida and Ohio instead. Or better yet, allocated those funds to make the case for voting pro-Democrat as opposed to anti-Republican. Then again, there were not many exciting things to say about Senator Kerry, aside from a few snide jokes regarding his botoxed cheeks and perfectly groomed mane.
No doubt we should have seen the writing on the wall back in July when the Democratic National Convention proved to be nothing more than a glorified war parade, with Kerry floating by reprehensibly announcing he was "reporting for duty."
Since Kerry's ambiguous proclamation in Boston last summer he has trounced around the country defending his call for the continued US occupation of Iraq. In Florida during the first presidential debate, Kerry even boasted of his numerous veteran military backers, "I am proud that important military figures are supporting me in this race: former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff John Shalikashvili; just yesterday, General Eisenhower's son, General John Eisenhower, endorsed me; General Admiral William Crowe; General Tony McBeak, who ran the Air Force war so effectively for his father -- all believe I would make a stronger commander-in-chief."
With Kerry singing such a militaristic tune, it should come as no surprise that The New York Times' former conservative columnist William Safire dubbed Kerry the "newest neo-conservative" who is even "more hawkish than President Bush," on October 4, 2004.
Safire, no doubt, was right on the mark. When Kerry sought to show voters that he would have been tough on terror, for instance, he did so by defending Bush's pre-emptive policy. "The president always has the right, and always has had the right, for preemptive strike. That was a great doctrine throughout the Cold War. And it was always one of the things we argued about with respect to arms control."
So much for distancing himself from the Bush agenda. No wonder the Democrats were more energized against Nader than for Kerry. If anything, Kerry was simply saying he could do the whole thing better, and in fact did say as much. " will hunt and kill the terrorists wherever they are," Kerry belted out in the first presidential debate. "I can do better." Kerry also said he would accomplish his goal by not backing off "of Fallujah and other places," which, he proclaimed, "[sends] the wrong message to terrorists."
So much for options in 2004. Progressive voters were told that they had to vote for a pro-war candidate. There was no choice. Period. We were all left out, and that makes me wonder: What ever happened to the anti-war movement anyway? You'd think they would have raised some hell over Kerry's hawkish pose on Iraq. Maybe these seasoned activists have been on a nice vacation, or out campaigning for Kerry since his nomination. Talk about hypocrites. We'll see what kind of credibility they'll have now that they are getting back to work.
Predictably, Election Day was by and large a miserable venture for the Democrats - and not just in the presidential race. Along with Kerry, who plotted his own demise, South Dakota's veteran Democratic Senator Tom Daschle, went down in flames to his handsome younger challenger, John Thune. The Republicans, with the help of Tom Delay's redistricting in Texas, also extended their 12-year reign of control in the House of Representatives.
The Dems did manage to pull out a few wins, however, including the great triumph of Cynthia McKinney in Georgia and Barack Obama's landslide victory in the Illinois Senate race against right-wing radio personality Alan Keyes. Young Obama is often referred to as the new hope to transform the Democratic Party into a progressive powerhouse.
His speech at the Democratic National Convention was said by some to have outshined that of Howard Dean and even Bill Clinton. But like Dean, Obama should not be mistaken for a progressive. Just one day after he stole the spotlight at the convention, Obama told reporters, "On Iraq, on paper, there's not as much difference, I think, between the Bush administration and a Kerry administration as there would have been a year ago." He added, "There's not that much difference between my position and George Bush's position at this stage. The difference, in my mind, is who's in a position to execute."
Writing for CounterPunch, Eric Ruder said of Obama: "[He] is a gifted politician. Like Bill Clinton, he knows how to encourage people of opposite political beliefs to see what they want to see in his speeches and policy prescriptions ... Obama finds a way to talk left -- but makes it clear that he will never pose a threat to corporate interests or make a policy proposal that would carry a hefty price tag. In Illinois, where it's obvious that the death penalty system is too flawed to fix, Obama is celebrated by liberals as a crusader for death penalty reform -- but he continues to support capital punishment for 'punishing the most heinous crimes.'"
Ruder adds, "Obama calls for tax breaks for American workers and government measures to create jobs. But he's a supporter of Corporate America's 'free trade' agenda ... Obama claims to be a defender of the public school system who will campaign to put more teachers in classrooms. But he also trumpets charter schools -- with their record of union-busting and siphoning funds from public schools."
Much like Howard Dean did for a fleeting period, Obama's victory has given many progressive Democrats reason to believe that change may be on the way for their party. Change is certainly on its way, but how fruitful it will be remains to be seen. To be sure, you can expect a fight within the Democratic chambers in the months and years ahead, as Joe Trippi warned on Now with Bill Moyers. Trippi, who told Moyers the Dean movement isn't dead yet, suggested, "I think what's gonna happen is the first initial response is gonna be to reform the Democratic Party from within."
In fact, Dean's progressive funds helped elect Democratic Governor Brian Schweitzer (who ran with a Republican as his Lieutenant Governor) in the state of Montana, which is a conservative bastion. Dean's organization, Democracy for America (DFA), which he formed after dropping out of the primaries, helped elect a total of 31 democratic candidates in 2004, 15 of which will be first-time office holders.
However, the looming fight within the Democratic Party may be a wasted effort. For it will be waged not by true progressives like Dennis Kucinich, but by purported progressives like Obama and Dean. We know what happened to Dean as well as Kucinich in the primaries, and you can rest assured that any fight for policy "change," even if waged by centrists, will again be muted much like Dean was this election season. The Democratic establishment will surely look at Kerry's loss and pump up their rhetorical machine to call for the Democrats' continued attempt to outflank the Republicans to the right -- even though this strategy has been a losing one for years.
As Al Sharpton told Playboy during the Democratic primary race, "This whole centrist move, which I consider a Right move, hasn't worked politically. Centrists keep saying we can't win without going to the center. Well, they have been in charge of the party since 1992. It's 11 years later, and we have lost everything. We lost the House in 1994 with Gingrich, and we failed to regain it in 1996, 1998, 2000, and 2002. How do you lose five Super Bowls and not say there is something wrong with this coach and this game plan? Aside from the fact that I don't believe in what they are saying -- pro-death penalty, pro-business deregulation, pro-NAFTA -- politically it hasn't even worked. They act as though they are outsiders shooting at the inside. They are the insiders. They have control of the party, and they have failed. They have put this party on its deathbed."
While the losses may seem to be coming to a head just now, the Democrats have been lying in their current state for quite some time.
Consider, for instance, Jesse Jackson's populist Rainbow Coalition, which took on the Beltway establishment in the 1980s. Once Clinton took the helm in 1992, the group had little to show for their arduous efforts. "By a brisk accounting of 1993 to 2000, the black stripe of the Rainbow got the Crime Bill, women got 'welfare reform,' labor got NAFTA, gays and lesbians got the Defense of Marriage Act. Even with a Democratic Congress in the early years, the peace crowd got no cuts in the military; unions got no help on the right to organize; advocates of DC statehood got nothing (though statehood would virtually guarantee two more Democratic Senate seats and more representation in the House); the single-payer crowd got worse than nothing." As Jo Ann Wypijewski writes in Dime's Worth of Difference: Beyond the Lesser of Two Evils, "Between Clinton's inauguration and the day he left office, 700,000 more persons were incarcerated, mostly minorities; today, one in eight black men is barred from voting because of prison, probation, or parole."
In short, as on so many other issues, the Democratic Party disarms its progressive wing in order to enable a rightward move. It should be clear to any would-be-challenger that the Democratic Party is not open to the politics supported by its base -- minorities, the poor, and unions.
This democratic shortcoming, along with Kerry's failure to inspire the American electorate, explains why the Democrats faltered in 2004, despite a seemingly massive grassroots undertaking to oust Bush. With November 2 as evidence, it is safe to say that hatred for an incumbent is not enough to elect a challenger. Bush was and is hated, no doubt. But many who supported John Kerry were uninspired by his campaign. For he failed to distinguish himself from his Republican opponent on a range of issues -- from war to the economy, from trade to civil liberties. It was textbook"lesser-evilism," and as was the case in so many elections before, it was a losing strategy. Democrats must learn to offer alternatives if they ever want to win. But don't count on them for that.
Kerry's campaign was also consistently in a tailspin. Jeffrey St. Clair and Alexander Cockburn summed it up nicely after Kerry's concession:
"Week after week Kerry and his boosters displayed an unmatched deafness to political tone. The haughty elitist from Boston probably lost most of the Midwest forever when he said in the high summer that foreign leaders hoped he would win. The applause of the French in Cannes for Michael Moore's 9/11 was the sound of the cement drying over the corpse of Kerry's chances of carrying the Midwest. Soros's dollars were like flowers on the grave ...
"If there was a visual premonition of why George Bush would achieve a popular majority beyond challenge, it was probably the photographs of gay couples celebrating their marriages outside San Francisco's city hall. America is a very Christian country ... October surprises? No candidate was more burdened by them than George Bush. Just in the last couple of weeks, headlines brought tidings of US marines killed in Baghdad and other US troops rising up in mutiny against lack of equipment to protect their lives. The president's brother Neil was exposed as influence-peddling on the basis of his family connections. The economic numbers remained grim as they have been all year. And this was just the icing on the cake. You can troll back over the past fifteen months and find scarcely a headline or news story bringing good tidings for Bush. History is replete with revolutions caused by a rise in the price of bread. This year the price of America's primal fluid -- oil -- on which every household depends, tripled.
"But Kerry and the Democrats were never able to capitalize on any of these headlines, a failure which started when Democrats in Congress, Kerry included, gave the green light to the war on Iraq, and which continued when Kerry conclusively threw away the war and WMD issues in August. When he tried to do a chord change at NYU on September 20, it was too late, and even then his position remained incoherent. He offered no way out. More tunnel, no light."
When all the hype about the "youth vote," "e-activism," "buses to Ohio," and "house DVD parties" withered away so tragically and so pathetically on Election Day 2004 -- and with devout Kerry-Edwards supporters battling denial -- the only leftist forces remaining were the Anti-Anybody-But-Bush crew. Not surprisingly, the anti-ABBers were feeling vindicated.
Joshua Frank is the author of Left Out!: How Liberals Helped Reelect George W. Bush, published by Common Courage Press. Visit www.brickburner.org to order your copy today! Frank can be reached at
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