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THE ELECTIONS: LESSER EVIL OR GREATER GOOD?
by Jack A. Smith
Email: jacdon (nospam) earthlink.net
Address: New Paltz, NY
28 Jan 2008
Clinton, Obama and Edwards may be better than the Republicans who seek the presidential nomination, but none of them is capable of truly meeting the needs of the American people. When will progressives go beyond voting for candidates representing the politics of the center and center-right?
LESSER EVIL OR GREATER GOOD?
By Jack A. Smith
01-24-08 Hudson Valley Activist Newsletter
We assume the majority of antiwar activists and political progressives are planning to vote for the Democratic presidential candidate in the 2008 elections, as most of them did in 2004.
Four years ago, newsletter readers will remember that we were sharply critical of the candidacy of Democratic Sen. John F. Kerry, who ran on the pledge to win the Iraq war if elected. Even though over 75% of Democratic voters were against the war in the fall of 2004, all but a relative handful supported Kerry on Election Day.
This year, Sen. Hillary Clinton and Sen. Barack Obama are the Democratic frontrunners (we’ll get to Edwards and Kucinich later in this article), and one or the other probably will prevail in the primaries and proceed to the White House, given the gross unpopularity of the Republican Party after two terms of reactionary George W. Bush.
It will be very difficult for the Democrats to loose this election. But their political centrism, excessive caution and dithering makes a defeat not entirely impossible even though the Republican candidates for nomination constitute the most alarming collection of opportunists, buffoons and neoconservative hyper-imperialists imaginable. Rep. Ron Paul appears to be the exception because of his defense of civil liberties and opposition to the Iraq war, but his extreme conservative/libertarian program rules him out of progressive consideration (see article below).
In our view there are positive and negative elements to each of the leading Democrats, with the emphasis on the negative. Let us explain, starting with the positive: It is unquestionably an advance for American society that either a woman or an African American man may well be popularly elected President of the United States in November.
This development is the latest stage in nearly two centuries of struggle in the U.S. against the social, political and economic oppression of women, and against slavery, Jim Crow apartheid and racial inequality. The collapsing sexist and racist opposition to electing any candidate other than a white man represents an extraordinary change in the thinking and mores of the American people, and stands as a tribute to struggle led by Martin Luther King Jr. and to the popular uprisings for peace, justice and equality throughout the 1960s to mid-1970s.
These struggles still have a distance to go before women and African Americans attain full equal rights in our country. But one senses an acceleration in the stride toward social progress in the mere fact that representatives of both these communities are getting close to exercising national political leadership.
Of course, there is a chance that former Sen. John Edwards may still obtain the nomination if Clinton and Obama cancel each other out in the primaries, which is doubtful, but this would amount to a pause, not an obstacle for women and blacks.
Clinton and Obama virtually share the same political positions with insignificant shades of difference. Edwards essentially agrees completely with their approach to foreign affairs, which posits that Washington must lead the world and expand its hegemony. The three march in lockstep, from their willingness to shovel endless tax dollars into the maw of Washington’s military machine to their total support for Israel’s suppression of the Palestinians. But on some domestic matters Edwards has positioned himself as a populist. His candidacy likewise contains positive and negative elements — the positive being his anti-corporate rhetoric, condemnation of poverty in America, and recent motion to the left of his two adversaries on the question of Iraq.
After eight years of Bush’s right wing governance, including three ongoing wars (don’t forget the “war on terrorism”), an assault on constitutional liberties, and a virtual class war against the American working class, lower middle class and the poor, it is understandable that many voters with progressive leanings view all three contenders for the Democratic nomination with a sense of relief, if not always enthusiasm.
Now we turn to the negative side of the Democratic frontrunners, starting with a simple truism: The ascendancy to the Oval Office of a woman, or a black, or a populist, or “anybody but Bush,” does not necessarily portend a politically progressive presidency.
For example, given the degree of racism and sexism in the United States, it was socially progressive in itself that a white woman (Madeleine Albright), a black man (Colin Powell) and black woman (Condoleezza Rice), were selected as first of their gender and color to serve as secretaries of state for the world’s most powerful country. They broke barriers of prejudice in so serving, and that was a plus. But each shared the view that “indispensable” America deserved to function as the world’s dominant power on the basis of its economic, political, military and supposed moral superiority. They thus promoted the interests of U.S. militarism, hegemony, imperialism, and war — a great political minus that is shared to one degree or another by the three “hopefuls” under discussion.
In a society divided by social classes such as ours, the principal issue involved in evaluating the presidential potential of Clinton, Obama and Edwards is not whether each will be better than Bush or the probable Republican candidate, which is taken for granted. It is whose interests will they primarily serve in actual practice and not in ephemeral campaign promises.
The candidates have two main choices within our present socioeconomic construct: (1) To principally attend to the interests of the great majority of the American people in terms of basic services, social welfare, economic well-being, and at least a touch of the good life, or (2) to principally gratify the interests of big business, corporate greed, the institutions of finance and investment and the small percentage of the population that possess the great bulk of the nation’s wealth.
Historically, American politicians and presidents have catered to the interests of wealth and power — the rationale being that a portion of the advantages bestowed upon the elite eventually trickles down to the masses of people. There is no indication that any of the viable 2008 candidates will manage to reverse this equation or do more than tinker with notions of social change beneficial to the great majority of American workers.
The three leading Democratic candidates incessantly campaign for “change” but do not define what their change means or explain how it will be brought about. Their reluctance to elaborate is because the change they really have in mind is so insignificant that a healthy ant could drag it back to the colony without assistance from a peer. So far, their most impressive political credential in terms of change is that they are not George W. Bush.
Politically, Clinton is a centrist, leaning toward the center-right domestically and internationally. She has long since left liberalism behind. Her position on the war has been obfuscating and opportunist.
Obama is a centrist with no intention of leaning left who seems to stand primarily for an intangible “hope,” an apolitical “unity,” and the vacuity of generational politics. He has even been criticized several times by liberal New York Times columnist Paul Krugman for seeming to attack some of Clinton’s positions from the right, not the left. Edwards is a centrist as well, though now making populist overtures to the electorate.
Of the three possibilities Edwards conveys the impression he is further to the left on the key issues of labor, the war and economic inequality. He has been sharply critical of corporate privilege and exploitation and has excoriated the political system’s indifference to poverty and economic inequality. He shuns corporate lobbyists and money. Edwards articulates the goal of ending poverty in the U.S. within 30 years, and has introduced a dozen or so concrete suggestions to bring this about. His program is too cautious and inadequate to the task, but at least he is pressing the issue. It is important to remember that if Edwards is elected, he cannot be unaware that his own party will block any effort beyond the superficial to transform his anti-corporate campaign rhetoric into reality.
Liberal Sen. Russ Feingold was critical of Edwards Jan. 18: “The one [candidate] that is the most problematic is [John] Edwards, who voted for the Patriot Act, [but now] campaigns against it. Voted for No Child Left Behind, campaigns against it. Voted for the China trade deal, campaigns against it. Voted for the Iraq War…. He used my voting record exactly as his platform, even though he had the opposite voting record.”
Each of these candidates, to one extent to another, is in liege to those who ultimately control the Democratic Party — an institution nearly as beholden to Wall St., big business and wealth as its reactionary opposite number. As Washington Post columnist Harold Myerson wrote Jan. 16, “When it comes to reining in Wall Street… the Democrats have been AWOL almost as much as the Republicans have been — not least because their presidential candidates get so much money from Wall Street.”
Even as it continues to attract a large liberal constituency and enjoys the backing of organized labor — both of which give infinitely more to the Democratic Party than the trifle offered in return — the party continues to situate itself ever more comfortably in the political center/center-right, and has long since eviscerated its center-left wing. The Progressive Caucus in the House has about 70 members that adopt liberal positions but they are not only an oft-outvoted minority within their own congressional delegation but in almost all cases follow Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s centrist political leadership.
The small remaining center-left is led by Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio, the most progressive of the Democrats seeking the nomination. His program on nearly every issue — from the war in Iraq to same-sex marriage rights and many issues in between — is to the left of the three leading prospects, and his colleagues in the Progressive Caucus as well. Democratic leaders have done their best to isolate Kucinich, who calls for congressional de-funding of the Iraq war and impeachment, positions they oppose. The national corporate media has virtually excluded him from news coverage. Kucinich entered the 2004 primaries as the left candidate as well, but at the convention he urged his followers to support pro-war John Kerry, and is expected to back the party’s nominee when the decision is made this year. This allows him to “live to fight another day,” but undermines his message.
In a long interview in the Jan. 19 Philadelphia Inquirer, Kucinich was asked by reporter Chris Hedges, “Why has the Democratic Party not done what it should do?” He answered: “Lack of commitment to Democratic principles. No understanding of the period of history we're in. Failure to appreciate the necessity of the coequality of Congress. Unwillingness to assert Congressional authority in key areas which makes the people's House paramount to protecting democracy. The institutionalized influence of corporate America through the Democratic leadership council. Those are just a few. (The interview is at http://www.alternet.org/module/printversion/74268.)
A harbinger of the anticipated performance of Clinton, Obama and Edwards is contained in the distinctly mediocre record of the Democratic majority since gaining control of the House and Senate in November 2006. Aside from the passage of a welcome but inadequate increase in the minimum wage, a failed but worthwhile attempt to eliminate a tax loophole that enriched certain multimillionaires, a modest package of energy enhancements, and a few minor but liberal accomplishments, the Democrats have been almost obsessively cautious and conservative.
A number of progressive House Democrats seek to alleviate some of the hardship faced by nearly 40 million Americans living in poverty, but there isn’t enough support to pass serious legislation. An Out-of-Poverty Caucus was formed in the House last year by some two dozen members. California’s Rep. Barbara Lee, a leader of the caucus, initiated an anti-poverty resolution that was unanimously approved by the House (with the Senate concurring) on Jan. 22, declaring, “it is the sense of Congress that the United States should set a national goal of cutting poverty in half over the next 10 years.” Unfortunately, it was a non-binding resolution without any specific action to be taken and will be ignored. This measure was the best Lee of could extract from an essentially indifferent Congress, but she views it as a first step, and undoubtedly will persist.
Liberal Democrat writer, radio host, and witty gadfly Jim Hightower, in referring to “the capitulation Congress,” had this to say about congressional Democrats Jan. 14: “The damage now being done to America's political psyche by the Democrats' fizzle is way out of the ordinary…. It is not some vague funk that's afflicting the public, not some general ennui caused by seven years of Bushdom. Rather, it's a growing despair — and a rising national embarrassment — brought on by an ongoing series of specific, disheartening collapses by Democrats, who are turning out to be weaker than Canadian hot sauce.” (http://www.alternet.org/story/72875/)
Congressional Democrats seem unable to construct a comprehensive program for immigration reform capable of deflecting the GOP’s hyper-nationalist thrust. They have advanced no serious challenges to the Bush Administration’s conduct of foreign policy, and won’t venture to impeach perhaps the most dangerous and duplicitous president and vice president in history.
The new Democratic Congress is failing the American people on the critical question of the subversion of civil liberties. The Democrats helped to pass Bush’s bill expanding warrantless spying. They also initiated on their own the “Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act,” known as HR 1955, which passed the house Oct. 23 by a vote of 404-6. It’s as bad as it sounds (and will write about it in the next issue). The Democratic Senate is soon expected to approve this appalling legislation. The Guantanamo prison camp remains open for business. The use of torture seems to be legal these days. And needless to say, the Patriot Act still hovers over our freedoms and privacy, patiently biding its time until our time is up.
The refusal of the "antiwar" Democratic House and Senate to defund the Iraq adventure will insure the continuing U.S. occupation and control of that broken and victimized country. The Democrats claim their hands are tied because Bush vetoed their several withdraw provisos attached to war funding bills. Actually, all they need do is refuse an Administration request for war money and then forcefully take their case to the people until the White House agrees to their terms. The trepidation of the party leadership in this matter is often ascribed to its craven fear of being criticized by the know-nothing war lovers as “soft on terrorism” or “lacking patriotism.” But that’s only part of the reason.
The Democratic Party’s public posture is that of desiring to “withdraw the troops,” but the policy in practice is to support a prolonged and partial withdrawal that will keep U.S. troops in Iraq for many years.
Why? Three reasons: (1) To avoid a defeat like Vietnam that might weaken the American government’s pretensions to world supremacy. (2) To control a country with enormous reserves of petroleum that Washington covets, and which is also located in a strategic sector of the world over which the U.S. is determined to extend its hegemony. (3) To make sure Uncle Sam does not simply walk away whistling an idle tune from a $2 trillion investment without extracting some financial and political compensation, no matter how long it takes.
Since much of the U.S. antiwar movement and most peace voters are going to support Democrats in November no matter how they equivocate over ending the war, the mass public political pressure required to force the speedy withdrawal of all American troops is becoming increasingly diluted, despite the large size of the opposition. The ANSWER Coalition and other groups with anti-imperialist perspectives will continue to be critical of the Democrats as well as the Republicans throughout the election campaign because they recognize there are two war parties, not just one. But the largest sector of the peace movement will focus its anger almost exclusively on the Republicans, as it did in 2004, in effect extending carte blanche to Democratic politicians who ultimately desire a prolonged, partial withdrawal and long occupation.
The Democrats and their leading candidates for the nomination are not indifferent to the interests of the great majority of the American people. They do care, in their way, and they are better than the Republicans. But they always will principally serve the interests of big business, wealth and Washington’s unipolar world leadership. As long as they do, there will be inadequate social programs and protections for working people at home, and an aggressive foreign policy abroad.
As customary in a society where the political left and the union movement have been beaten down, and progressive-thinking people have no serious organization or leadership, nearly all the antiwar and pro-civil liberties liberals and those on the center-left will end up supporting the “lesser evil” Democrats in November. In effect, this sanctions and perpetuates whatever the degree of “evil” is being supported in the process of rejecting a “greater evil.”
This raises a question: When will a substantial number of Americans finally decide to build a mass political party representing their own interests as peace-minded working people, and when will progressives finally choose the “greater good” in place of the “lesser evil” and work to bring it about?”
As a first step toward a better world, a left oriented mass mainstream party would espouse policies similar to those propagated by the moderate progressive parties in Europe. These parties do not go far enough, but they have managed to legislate programs for their people far in advance of what will ever be forthcoming from our present two-party system.
The leading candidates for the presidential nomination keep talking excitedly about their commitment to change in America. But none of them are willing to sharply cut the militarist budget, or to reconfigure U.S. foreign policy so that it is no longer based on hegemony and armed might. Not one will significantly reduce the number of Americans living in poverty, or sufficiently raise the taxes on the rich and corporations to approximate the semblance of progressive taxation. Not one will bring about universal single-payer health care. Not one will take the steps necessary to truly end racial inequality or rampant economic inequality in America.
It will be good for the right wing to be defeated in November. But a Democratic victory will not bring about the changes in domestic and international policies required to creatively contribute toward resolving the grave economic, social, political and environment challenges that confront the United States and the world in the 21st century. Our two ruling parties are part of the political problem, not the solution, and adequate change will not be possible as long as America remains governed exclusively by the right wing and the center/center-right.
This work is in the public domain