July 19, 2004
Dear greens & dear Greens,
(Swans - July 19, 2004) Relax. Rejoice! Ralph Nader did throw the election to George Bush. Stop running away from this fact. Admit your sins and move forward. Those nasty Democrats were right -- your vote for Ralph Nader in two key battleground states was the difference between life and death (beside of course the 250,000 registered Democrats who voted for Bush in Florida...). It is true that many of you didn't understand the implications of your vote. Nobody could have foreseen what a Bush presidency, especially with the power it received in a post-9/11 world, could possibly do to this country and this earth.
Rethink your strategy, Greens. Rethink your philosophy. You have entered the political world with more power than you realize -- just by voting your conscience. But isn't voting your conscience a failed strategy? Only because you are so idealistic and righteous, it was. You had a direct hand in electing George W. Bush. Things have to get worse before they get better, right? All those thousands of Afghans and Iraqis killed, as a sacrifice for an increasingly active proletariat? The birth of a movement on the backs of the millions of Americans who have lost their jobs, their health care, their homes. Sounds like conscience to me!
Nope. But what it was, and what it is, is political power. Wield it wisely, but wield it. You have a vision for the earth that is far grander than anything the Democrats or Republicans can dream of. You have a passion for justice that makes John Kerry look like Saddam Hussein. You have a thirst for democracy and sustainability that makes Al Gore look like George Bush. And what did you do? You elected George Bush President.
Now, if that doesn't send a message to the Democrats, I'm afraid I don't know what will. I'm afraid that the Democrats don't really care about the message -- that they are just as happy with Bush in power as anyone. The Democratic Party, itself a grand old party dating back to the rich white males of 1828 and earlier, is irrelevant to the struggle for social justice. And now, as they castigate Ralph Nader, and soon, when they castigate the Greens for running David Cobb, consider what they are asking you to do. They are saying this election is too important for party building, too important to distinguish between the Greens and the Democrats, too important to dissent. John Kerry is the only person with a credible shot at beating Bush, and as such, you are obliged to help him win.
On the other hand, the United States of America needs deep-rooted, fundamental change, and it needs it fast. This change will not come from maintaining silence out of fear that speaking up will help George Bush stay in office. Sadly, our political system does not accommodate meaningful discourse, and it is even less hospitable to meaningful discourse outside of a handful of well-covered elections. In order to get a message out, then, it is almost required to do so through the electoral arena. The argument that this should be done through local offices isn't adequate, because third parties don't have much of a chance to build locally without higher profile candidacies. Running a visible campaign for Governor has more of an impact than running and winning school board seats, but even a decent gubernatorial campaign is more likely if a critical mass of people have been inspired by a run for president. It was just that run in 2000 -- a full-fledged campaign dedicated to building a viable alternative -- that made an important leap forward in establishing a genuine opposition, yet simultaneously gave power to the worst administration in US history.
I believe that the presidential election of 2004 is too important to be viewed merely in terms of party-building and long-term change. Simply running for attention, or for ego as the accusation is so often made, or even for getting out a message of social justice, is not enough. That said, there is plenty to run for in 2004, despite the chance that many will be running for Canada if it ends poorly. Either the Bush presidency has been so damaging to this nation and this world that a robust opposition is necessary, or it has not been so bad as to warrant comparisons to fascism or Nazi Germany. If democrats are going to make the argument to an independent or third-party campaign for president that another four years are going to destroy our civil liberties and the standing of our country, then they better well be able to make that argument in running against him. Instead, cautious Kerry can only make an earth-shatteringly mundane Bush critique.
One commonly advanced criticism of the Kerry campaign is that "Anybody But Bush" (1) is not enough to beat Bush. I disagree. Bush's presidency has been so flagrantly disastrous that a well-articulated condemnation of everything his administration has stood for and accomplished is enough to sink Bush hard. The Karl Rove mirage of Bush's powerful, steady leadership can be dissipated with heavy doses of the truth, and election-year documentaries like "Fahrenheit 9/11" can only help. But towards what end? Towards electing John Kerry and his brand of imperial patriarchy? Kerry is even adopting the Rove technique of propagandized campaigning. Subliminal messaging, Hollywood lighting, and on-message surrogates will eventually solidify Kerry's lead in the head-to-head match up with Bush. He has been out-fundraising, out-pandering, out-faithing, and out-hawking Bush, and the enormous benefit-of-the-doubt he has been given by so-called Democrats and progressives is startling. Self-censorship and contortions of logic rule the day. The parody group Billionaires for Bush amazingly neglects the fact that Kerry himself is, or is at least married to, a billionaire, according to the Los Angeles Times. (2)
So the Democrats, who have capitulated on issue after issue, are seen as the only answer. Even after Nader's 2000 Green Party run, and after the disastrous mid-term elections, and after voting for a war that was clearly catastrophic to our interests (not to mention the simple barbarity of the pursuit), the Democrats continue to enact Republican policy and enforce corporate rule. And out of fear, they are finding folks bending over backwards to cheerlead for them. Instead of inspiring people to get politically active as a means of empowerment or being the change they want to see, people are being herded into a corral where their thinking is being done for them. $50 to John Kerry to save the planet? Sign me up! Never mind that that $50 will be going directly to Disney or Fox or General Electric, and will find its way back to John Kerry somehow down the road. Never mind that the television ads that $50 will help produce will be as shallow and uninformative as you can get. Never mind that the ads will be run over and over again, in 20 battleground states which will be choosing our next president. And never mind that once in office, John Kerry is not going to save the planet after all!
We need to think bigger than John Kerry. It is true that this election is a referendum on the Bush presidency. It's just that John Kerry isn't up to the task of articulating just what the Bush presidency has been. We need candidates like Ralph Nader, who can unabashedly call for the impeachment of Bush and Cheney. We need candidates like David Cobb, who can build an opposition movement through a political party with an inspired platform and a commitment to global cooperation, not domination. We need to use this race to push for electoral reform like Instant Runoff Voting (IRV) and the Citizens' Debate Commission. We need to end the self-defeatism. Bush is not a lock. It's a really plain case to make: Bush had no mandate, governed without restraint, manipulated Congress and possibly the judiciary, was steeped in corruption, divided the country and divided the world against us. By not making this case, a lot more than four more years is at stake.
At the end of the day, we owe it to the world to ensure that George Bush does not win this year's presidential election. Not because Bush is the fundamental problem, and certainly not because John Kerry is in any way the solution. But the truth of the matter is that the global village will breathe a gigantic sigh of relief when we end his horrible career. We also owe it to the world to be creative in how we retire Bush, and what institutions we have in place afterwards. We need to stand up for peace, and if it comes down to voting for Kerry in a battleground state in exchange for two votes for a peace candidate in a non-swing state, then make it so. We need to stand up for democracy, and if it means civil disobedience when the warmongering Democrats convene in Boston, or the warmongering Republicans convene in New York City, then so be it. We need to stand up against the patently corrupt two party system, and if it means supporting an Independent candidacy that isn't directly concerned with building a third party of the Left but is more focused on building bridges in the pursuit of electoral reform, then throw Nader some money or some volunteer time. If you believe instead that building a viable alternative over the long-term is more important, then get involved with David Cobb's Green Party campaign or with a campaign for local office. Above all, make sure that what you do makes some greater impact than what pulling the lever for a rich white man could ever do. Make every effort you can to engage your friends, relatives, office mates, neighbors, and even complete strangers. Find a swing state voter registration project to help out, or register voters in non-swing states because everyone in this country deserves to participate in this, the most fundamental election we have ever faced.
The assault on everything that is good about the United States must be confronted, or the United States of America and what it theoretically stands for, will perish. What little voice we have in these matters must not, for fear, be sacrificed.
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Notes and Resources
1. Anybody But Bush exquisitely captured by cartoonist Ted Rall: http://www.ucomics.com/rallcom/2004/02/28/ (as of July 15, 2004). (back)
2. "Estimate of Heinz Fortune Doubled," by Ralph Vartabedian, Los Angeles Times, June 27, 2004. (back)
Greens on Swans
US Elections & Democracy on Swans
Eli Beckerman is a Green Party activist.
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