Since George Bush took office, he has run roughshod over anyone in his way to help his rich friends get even richer.
Bush’s corrupt administration exploited the tragedy of 9/11 to launch two wars to expand U.S. imperial domination, which has only increased our chances of being targeted for terrorism. An August 13 report from the Congressional Budget Office confirmed that Bush’s $1.7 trillion in tax cuts overwhelmingly benefited the richest 1% of the population. And Bush has aggressively attacked labor unions, women’s reproductive rights, same-sex marriage, civil liberties (especially of Muslim Americans), and environmental regulations.
Four years of Bush has been plenty for millions of Americans who are now eager to vote for anybody but Bush – whoever has the best chance of beating him.
Unfortunately, though, the Democratic candidate, John Kerry, is no real alternative. Many would be surprised to discover that Kerry, in fact, voted for many of Bush’s policies as a Senator from Massachusetts.
Kerry voted for Bush’s war on Iraq, the Patriot Act, “No Child Left Behind,” and the war on Afghanistan. On June 23, 2004, he voted to increase the Pentagon budget to $447 billion to continue Bush’s colonial occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq.
Like Bush, Kerry promises to cut the corporate tax rate and strongly supports “free trade.” He voted for NAFTA and the WTO, accelerating the exportation of decent jobs from the U.S. and increasing sweatshops and pollution in Mexico and other semi-colonial countries. Kerry also supports Israeli Prime Minister Sharon’s apartheid wall that is seizing even more Palestinian land – again, just like Bush.
Of course, differences do exist between the Democratic and Republican parties, but what stands out, especially in this year’s presidential race, is their similarities, not their differences.
On women’s reproductive rights, where Kerry and Bush have differences, Kerry stated that he believes life begins at conception and that he would appoint anti-choice judges to federal courts.
Similarly, Kerry opposes Bush’s bigoted proposal to write discrimination into the Constitution and ban same-sex marriage. But Kerry supports civil unions rather than marriage – a back-of-the-bus compromise that provides LGBT people far fewer rights and benefits. He also supports letting each state decide whether or not to discriminate against LGBT people’s right to marriage, and within his own state he supports a constitutional amendment to ban it!
Just about the only thing Kerry’s got going for himself is that he’s simply not George Bush.
The problem with the “anybody but Bush” strategy, though, is that it writes a blank check to John Kerry and the Democrats to do whatever they want. Electing Kerry would change the face in the White House, but it won’t fundamentally change White House policy.
Two Parties, One Agenda
The amount of corporate cash flooding into the coffers of both parties, sometimes from the very same corporations, says a lot about why both parties share the same basic corporate agenda. The Bush campaign set a fundraising record of $240 million, but the Kerry campaign also set a record for a challenger, trailing Bush by only $6 million! On top of this, the Republican National Committee has raised $245 million, and the Democratic National Committee has raised $156 million (New York Times, 8/21/04).
The arguments between Republican and Democratic politicians are usually over different strategies for carrying out the same corporate agenda. John Kerry, for example, might mask his corporate policies with a slicker gloss than the crass neo-conservatives in Bush’s cabinet.
Bush succeeded in implementing his right-wing corporate agenda not because most ordinary Americans have enthusiastically supported him. On the contrary, poll after poll shows most Americans oppose Bush’s policies. The key reason Bush has been able to push his unpopular agenda through is because of the active collusion of the Democrats in Congress, including Senator John Kerry.
Almost all the Democrats in Congress voted “to support the president” in the war on terrorism, giving Bush a free hand to wage war on Iraq. Every single Democrat in the Senate voted to increase the Pentagon budget to $447 billion. 193 of 260 Democrats voted for the Patriot Act. All but one Democrat voted for the war on Afghanistan.
Most Democrats voted for Bush’s tax cuts and “No Child Left Behind,” and 16 Senate Democrats, including Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle, voted for Bush’s deceptively named Partial Birth Abortion Ban.
Since a majority of the country opposes Bush’s policies and his approval ratings are the lowest they’ve been since he was handed the presidency, you’d think the Democratic candidate would be creaming this babbling buffoon. The race has remained close, though, because voters cannot get excited about Kerry’s me-too, copy-cat campaign in which he has been trying to out-do Bush’s conservative, militaristic image. Kerry is also deeply compromised by representing the discredited Democratic Party with its long history of broken promises.
Forty percent of Americans want the U.S. to withdraw from Iraq; 73% believe corporations have too much power; and 80% want universal healthcare; yet these views of the vast majority of the population are not being represented by either of the two main presidential candidates.
Ralph Nader’s Challenge
However, there is a candidate this year who is speaking up for the millions of workers who are shut out of the political system – Ralph Nader. Running as an independent, Nader is demanding the complete withdrawal of U.S. troops and corporations from Iraq, cracking down on corporate crime, and national healthcare.
He says he’s running because “mass concentrations of power, privilege, wealth, technology, and immunity have placed [corporations’] rampaging global quest for maximum profits in the way of progress, justice, and opportunity for the very millions of workers who made possible these corporate profits but who are falling behind, excluded and expendable.”
Nader also wants to abolish the racist death penalty and the War on Drugs, implement strong environmental protections, and end U.S. support for Israel’s occupation of Palestine.
Many people would strongly prefer Nader over Kerry, but they say Nader doesn’t stand a chance of winning. Voting for Nader would probably help Bush get re-elected, so wouldn’t it be better to vote for the Democrat, the lesser evil?
The Democratic Party always claims credit for passing laws protecting civil rights, workers, and the environment, but these gains were only won through mass struggles of ordinary people.
For example, under Richard Nixon, a conservative Republican, we won abortion rights, an end to the Vietnam War, the Environmental Protection Agency, workplace safety standards, expanded welfare benefits, huge increases in Affirmative Action programs, and much more. Of course, Nixon didn’t implement such progressive measures out of the kindness of his heart. The Black revolt, the anti-war movement, wildcat strikes, and the women’s liberation movement forced him to pass these reforms to ward off a revolutionary challenge to the capitalist system.
Liberal Democrat Bill Clinton, on the other hand, administered the genocidal economic sanctions on Iraq, allowed abortion rights to be eroded, dramatically cut EPA funding, and attacked Affirmative Action. Again, this was not because Clinton was more evil than Nixon but because the leaders of progressive movements failed to organize an effective fight-back which would embarrass their “ally” in the White House.
The only way to force profit-driven corporations and their two parties to accept demands that benefit workers and oppressed people is by organizing our own independent, powerful movements. Every vote for Kerry, though, will send the Democratic Party the message that they can get away with Republican-lite policies. The stronger our own mass movements from below and the more protest votes for Nader, the more we will pressure whichever corporate stooge is elected, and the more reforms we will win.
More Influence With Kerry?
Many prominent progressives, such as Michael Moore, Noam Chomsky, and Howard Zinn, agree with the importance of strengthening progressive movements but still urge people to vote for Kerry, especially in battleground states where the race is close. They acknowledge how pathetically similar Kerry’s policies are to Bush’s but claim that progressive movements would have more influence with Kerry than Bush.
But what influence did social movements have on the last Democratic president, Bill Clinton?
Remember Clinton’s promise to provide universal healthcare? Well, the number of uninsured rose from 36 to 45 million during Clinton’s eight years in office.
Clinton broke his promise to the gay rights movement on gays in the military, and he let down the labor movement on the minimum wage and the striker replacement ban.
He broke all these promises even though the Democrats controlled the House and Senate his first two years in office.
Clinton was elected with the support of civil rights groups like the NAACP, yet the number of people in jail almost doubled from 1.3 to 2 million and the number of executions tripled, with devastating effects on communities of color.
Clinton did fulfill his promises to his corporate masters, however, by aggressively pushing through NAFTA and “Welfare Reform” and presiding over the biggest polarization of wealth since the Great Depression.
Clinton was also elected with help from the women’s movement by promising to pass a Freedom of Choice Act to bar states from restricting abortion rights, and to repeal the Hyde Amendment which prohibits federal Medicaid funding of abortions. Clinton not only forgot about these pledges but even restricted abortion access. He barred federal employees’ health insurance from covering abortions; he banned abortions in military personnel hospitals abroad; and he prohibited federal funding of federal prisoners’ abortions.
As religious conservatives steadily rolled back abortion access during the Clinton years, the liberal leaders of groups like NOW and NARAL held back from calling protests, waiting in vain for President Clinton to come to their defense, allowing the terms of the abortion debate to shift in the right’s favor.
This election year, gay rights groups who are focusing on getting Kerry elected are refraining from fighting Bush’s attacks on same-sex marriage rights because they don’t want to expose Kerry’s rotten position on the issue.
Openly gay Representative Barney Frank (D-Mass.), for example, opposed gay marriages in San Francisco, arguing that “the time wasn’t right…When you’re in a real struggle, San Francisco making a symbolic point becomes a diversion.”
Rather than help build this emerging civil rights movement, Frank and other gay rights groups are focusing their energy on “the real struggle” of electing a candidate who opposes their civil rights!
The AFL-CIO labor federation is pouring an unprecedented amount of money into electing Democrats this year – $160 million. All this money for what? To elect corporate-controlled Democrats who will inevitably turn around and attack workers’ wages and benefits.
The labor movement should direct this $160 million and its powerful resources toward mobilizing support for the Million Worker March and pro-labor, independent candidates like Nader. Instead, AFL-CIO union leaders are actively opposing the Million Worker March because they claim a march on Washington to pressure D.C. politicians to adopt a pro-worker agenda distracts from labor’s main priority – electing Corporate Kerry!
This shows how any support at all for the Democratic Party, even if it is intended to be limited to a simple vote on Election Day, tends to undermine social movements – the only means by which workers and oppressed people have ever made real gains.
Time for a New Party
There’s no sense in progressive movements trying to compete with Corporate America for control over the Democratic Party. Workers and activists need to stand up for ourselves and get out of this abusive relationship with the Democratic Party once and for all.
Democratic presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich promised that supporting him would help pull the Democratic Party to the left. But when Kucinich endorsed right-wing Kerry at the Democratic National Convention, what compromises did his left-wing supporters get in return? Not a single change in Kerry’s platform. Nothing.
In fact, a New York Times/CBS News poll showed over 90% of convention delegates opposed the war on Iraq, yet the delegates, including Kucinich supporters, unanimously adopted a pro-war platform amid cheers, applause, and flag-waving.
Kucinich succumbed to pressure from top party leaders not to even raise his demand to immediately bring the troops home from Iraq in his speech at the convention. Delegates were prohibited from bringing peace signs into the convention, and one was arrested and thrown out for defying this dictate.
We are now approaching 1,000 American deaths in Iraq. How many deaths will it take before we stop supporting parties want to continue that nightmare?
Voting for Nader is the best way this election to popularize the idea of workers and oppressed people breaking free from the trap of big business politics and building our own independent political party. This crucial step would massively strengthen our movements by allowing us to unapologetically advance our own agenda and defeat the corporate agenda of both major parties.
“There were so many military men at the Democratic convention I almost expected John Kerry to mount the stage and recite the war speech from ‘Henry V.’ As it is, he called for bulking up the military, doubling the size of the Special Forces and crushing the terrorists. He hit Bush from the right, and when he got around to bashing the Saudis, I thought I’d wandered into a big meeting of The Weekly Standard [conservative magazine] editorial board.”
– Conservative commentator David Brooks’s description of the Democratic National Convention
“The differences between the Republican and Democratic Parties involves no issue, no principle in which the working class has any interest… every [worker] who has intelligence enough to understand the interest of [their] class and the nature of the struggle in which it is involved will once and for all sever [their] relations with both.”
– Eugene Debs, former leader of the American Railroad Union and Socialist Party presidential candidate