The 2008 Elections and The Peace Movement
Recent surveys show that American voters have a critical view of how things are going in the country, and that they are confident that the next American President will have the power to change much of what is wrong. Voters begin this election year with a grim assessment of the status quo. Roughly three-fourths say the country is on “the wrong track.” Some say the Democrats don’t have the spine to improve things. In my view, progressives have to push the Democrats to end the war, restore our civil liberties, particularly the right of “habeas corpus,” and to protect our environment.
In short, even if the Democrats win, the progressive peace movement needs to continue to “bear witness” to the crimes that our government, the CIA, and the Pentagonians are committing in foreign lands against people that have never harmed or attacked America. We must continue to protest, to act outside the electoral process, to stand up for our rights, speak our conscience, defend human rights, even if our so called “leaders” can’t.
Yet, I agree with those progressives who argue the need to strategically vote “democratic” in the elections - just to get some room to maneuver. The American unions, and most civil rights and environmental groups, consider it imperative to get the Democrats elected and in the White House, and they are certainly a part of progressive America. They may be right, given the lack of any genuine practical alternatives.
We need to vote for the Democratic nominee and get the neo-cons and the Republicans out of the White House. I know, I know - we have all heard this sorry story before, we have all been betrayed before, and the historical record of the party over the last few decades makes us nauseous.
Yet, I will still compromise and vote Democratic just because I fear what another Republican victory would do for the Supreme Court, and frankly, for the American people and the world. There is some evidence of division and stirrings of rebellion at the elite levels of the American ruling class, including among the intelligence agencies and the military, regarding the course being followed in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as the future course to be pursued with regard to Iran.
A Critical Historical Juncture For Americans
Tom Hayden, in THE NATION, writes that progressives and peace movement should vote Democratic in the next Presidential election to stop the further consolidation of power on the Right. I agree for many of the reasons cited below. I know that some will call me a “sell out” for compromising with the two party “duopoley” and for voting Democrat rather than voting for a Green candidate or a Peace and Freedom Party Candidate. In my view, we are at a critical historical juncture in American history. We cannot let the country move further to the political Right, or allow the Republican Party to remain in power. The pendulum needs to swing the other way just enough to give progressives more air to breath, more hope, and more freedom to speak.
Frankly, what has already occurred is historic, something I never thought I would see in my lifetime - that we have a woman and a black man of mixed decent as the two leading contenders for the Democratic Party Presidential nominations. All the other candidates have dropped out! More amazing is the pronounced support for Barack Obama among the liberal wing of the Democratic Party, represented by the recent rousing endorsements by John Kerry and Teddy Kennedy. Who would have, could have, predicted this?
Both Democratic candidates are intelligent and qualified to be President. Hillary Clinton has stirred the hopes of millions of women who would love to see a strong and intelligent female President sitting in the White House. Her victory would be historic. Barack Obama has charisma, and has attracted large numbers young and black people, while showing us that he can attract white voters and female voters as well. His message of hope and change seems to have tapped into the boiling well of frustration disturbing the American people. It is still an open question whether this type of frustration will translate into a Democratic victory against the pro-war John McCain, who will most likely be the Republican candidate in spite of Rush Limbo’s blustery squeals and protestations..
The tide of the “conservative revolution” that placed a clique of neo-con ideologues and warmongers in the White House has ebbed significantly as a result of a failing economy exacerbated by the costly debacle in Iraq. The Republican Party is facing a serious credibility crisis, and the polls and surveys show very low ratings for Bush and Cheney. I have personally talked with Republicans who are so disgusted with the Bush administration that they will vote Democratic in the next election. Independents are also leaning heavily on the Democratic side of the ledger.
Of course, anything can happen between now and next Fall, and none of us has a crystal ball. . Another terrorist attack could place the ball right back in the Republicans hands, although a terror attack in Spain had the opposite effect. We have no guarantee that the Democratic candidate would win.
What The Democrats Would Likely Do
Yet, the Democrats could potentially control both the Congress and the White House. If they win the elections by a big enough margin, they could begin to undo some of the damages that the Bush administration imposed on the American people. Of course the Republicans would squawk and resist and try to mobilize opposition. And it wouldn’t be easy -the Democrats would inherit a jittery economy on the verge of recession and an America suffering from a serious housing and financial crisis and two counter-insurgency wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Of course, they have some responsibility for both wars.
What else are the Democrats likely to do? They would raise taxes to provide more support to poor and desperate Americans. They could pass legislation in support of universal child health care, a first step toward universal health care, and pay for it through an increased progressive tax base that takes a greater amount of money from the rich. They would likely create a more favorable balance in the Supreme Court through the appointment process. They would protect Roe vs. Wade. They would restore “habeas corpus” rights and other civil liberties that were removed by Bush. These are not insignificant possibilities.
The Democrats certainly would be more supportive of the unions and the right of American workers to make a living wage. This is why most unions are saying it is essential that the Democrats win. They would be somewhat better on the environment and would most likely join the rest of the world in fighting global warming. Finally, there would be much pressure on them from the American people to end the war in Iraq, although here they will face resistance from the Republican Party, establishment bureaucracies like the Pentagon and the CIA, as well as the privately organized Right.
The Critics View: “Repugs and Dimocrats!”
However, I understand the resistance of those cynics who say “no,” who refuse to compromise and vote Democrat, or even participate in the electoral system. The wars go on and on, and a shameless bipartisan Congress keeps funding them. Little wonder, they say, that the American people have so little respect for Congress today.
The critics also say the Democrats have failed us in as much as they have refused to use the tools (like impeachment) available to them to prevent this country from degenerating into a hyper-militaristic and paranoid “fortress America” with fewer civil liberties. I would agree that the trend of reaction and regression has been very strong. Yet, we cannot afford to fail to reverse the reactionary trend, and we must do what we can to change this country for the better. And at this juncture in history, that means to vote Democratic.
Recently, I saw a cartoon poking fun at “the Repugs and Dimocrats.” I laughed. Nader is at least partly right when he claims the two party system is corrupt and compromised by money from the corporate establishment. Journals like COUNTERPUNCH, and many on the Left, believe that both parties are war parties, and that neither is capable of defending the Constitution or the genuine long term interests of the American people. In fact, COUNTERPUNCH argues that there is not “a dimes worth of difference” between them. I disagree , for the reasons cited above.
“Vote Democrat,” the critics mock, “that’s the same old recycled BS that we on the left are sold every Presidential election year.” Then we are invariably betrayed. And the wars go on and on, the environment disintegrates, and the gap between rich and poor grows exponentially.
In spite of my decision the vote Democratic, I would agree up to a point with those who maintain that the current two party system has increasingly been dysfunctional. Both parties have responsibility for the imperial overstretch that currently characterizes the American Empire. It may even be true is that the American political system as it is structurally organized cannot adequately address the serious problems we face, and needs serious transformation before the government becomes “a failed state.” We have a legitimacy crisis which is also a political crisis in America, and the possibility of two stolen elections testify to that.
With the critics, I agree that Ralph Nader did NOT cost the Democrats the election in 2000, a line promoted by the Democratic Party to absolve itself of responsibility. The election campaign in 2004 was poorly run, actually emphasizing John Kerry’s military service in Vietnam, a strategy that obviously backfired. Bush was selected by the Supreme Court and has been sitting in the white house ever since.
Many in the Democratic party also went along timidly with the rigged election, supported the invasion of Afghanistan, voted for the use of force in Iraq, voted for the “Patriot Act,” and voted over and over again to fund the war of aggression in Iraq, and refused to impeach Bush, etc., etc, And it is true that during the past decade the Democrats have been stumbling over themselves to show us that they worship the military as much as the Republicans. In fact, their behavior during the last decade has been abominable, and they have increasingly acted like Republicans embracing the deep structure of militarism and imperialism that is so dominant in our society and culture.
Like the critics, I am truly sick of it! Sick of the endless wars, the endless sell outs, the surrendering of our civil liberties, and the endless privatization of health care, education, and even warfare. So I don’t wonder why people are skeptical and cynical, or why Congress has such a low approval rating. Still, it is important that we thoroughly repudiate the Republicans in a landslide.
While I recommend that people vote for the Democratic nominee, I know that inevitably progressives and peace activists will once again be disappointed. Some will be further radicalized if there is no real change. We must stay active and hope that we can build a social movement that can change America. Right now, however, we desperately need air and room to breathe.