by Louis Proyect
(Swans - December 19, 2005) Last year radical supporters of John Kerry kept insisting over and over that unless George W. Bush was removed from office, the consequences for Third World peoples would be disastrous. Tariq Ali warned that a Bush victory would be a mandate for stepped up economic penetration of the South and military intervention against any nation impudent enough to resist such penetration. Urging a vote for Ralph Nader was tantamount to scabbing against struggles for national liberation.
Domestically, refusing to vote for Kerry was interpreted as being indifferent to the nation's elderly who would be forced to fend for themselves as Social Security was abolished in favor of a privatization scheme designed to favor Bush's Wall Street backers.
As it turned out, these looming threats and others just as dire failed to materialize. Bush has been on the defensive on foreign policy, especially in Latin America. With things going so bad in Iraq, it would be impossible for him to invade Venezuela or Cuba. He simply lacks the political support for such an adventure. On Social Security, his privatization schema was dead in the water not long after it was proposed.
Pundits offering advice to this failed president have urged him to retreat from the neoconservative agenda, the New York Times's David Brooks most notably. In a December 8 Op Ed column, Brooks wrote:
Conservatives are in power but out of sorts. Fifty years after the founding of the modern right, conservatives hold just about every important government job, yet the conservative agenda has stalled. Federal spending has surged. Social Security reform is dead. And when voters are asked which party they trust on key issues, they decisively reject conservative ideas.
On the economy, Democrats are trusted more, 56 to 34. On education, it's Democrats 55 to 32. On taxes, Democrats 48 to 38. On health care, Democrats 54 to 29.
For members of a movement that is supposed to be winning the battle of ideas, conservatives are in a mess.
If any other arguments were required against leftist supporters of John Kerry, it has been the utterly abject refusal of the party to take a strong stand against Bush. Kerry, Biden and Hillary Clinton, three of the party's most powerful leaders, continue to urge that the USA stay the course. They offer all sorts of criticisms about how the war has been conducted, but refuse to back the only sensible course: immediate withdrawal. Despite the limitations of Congressman John Murtha's proposal, which stops short of immediate and unconditional withdrawal, Kerry made sure to disassociate himself from it. When the question of a timetable for withdrawal came up in an interview with CNN's Wolf Blitzer, Kerry stated, "You set out a timetable, not for withdrawal, but for success, that allows you to withdraw." If there is any difference between this formula and George W. Bush's, it would require somebody trained in Talmudic logic to detect it.
If Americans are getting fed up with the president, they show no signs of switching allegiance to the Democrats. In a Harris poll conducted in November, only a quarter of Americans polled give Democrats a positive rating, compared with 31% in August, while Republicans' approval ratings fell to 27% from 32%.
The basic problem is that on broad policy questions, there is very little to differentiate the two major capitalist parties. And when there are differences, the Democrats show very little fighting spirit to resist Republican initiatives. This was most obvious in the vote for Supreme Court nominee John Roberts, who received the vote of Russ Feingold, a prominent Democratic Party liberal who, despite all evidence to the contrary in the nominee's record, stated,
Judge Roberts's impeccable legal credentials, his reputation and record as a fair-minded person, and his commitment to modesty and respect for precedent have persuaded me that he will not bring an ideological agenda to the position of Chief Justice of the United States and that he should be confirmed.
In the New York Review, by no means a voice of the radical movement, William L. Taylor wrote:
Roberts was first employed in 1981 and 1982 as a special assistant to the attorney general, William French Smith. He went from there to the Reagan White House in November 1982, where he served as associate counsel to the President for three and a half years. During this period, Roberts played an important part in the administration's efforts to curtail the rights of African-Americans, to deny assistance to children with disabilities, and to prevent redress for women and girls who had suffered sex discrimination. He also justified attempts by the state of Texas to cut off opportunities for the children of poor Latino aliens to obtain an education. Roberts was in favor of limiting the progress of African-Americans in participating in the political process and of making far-reaching changes in the constitutional role of the courts in protecting rights.
The Nation Magazine, which provided most of the left-of-center firepower for John Kerry's campaign, seems to be rebelling somewhat against the Democratic Party's tendency to tail-end the White House. In a widely-noted editorial from the November 9 issue, they promised, "We will not support any candidate for national office who does not make a speedy end to the war in Iraq a major issue of his or her campaign."
In reviewing some of the major possible candidates, the aforementioned Russ Feingold passed muster: "To their credit, would-be presidential candidate Senator Russell Feingold and former Senator Gary Hart have recently made strong antiwar statements."
A closer look at Russ Feingold might be in order. In an October 10 interview with salon.com, he stressed that he was only opposed to keeping ground troops in Iraq. Air power would still be used to defeat "terrorists."
So the first thing is, I want the plan to recognize that drawing down our troops in a logical and safe way is a way to defuse the intensity of the insurgency, especially the continuing and growing presence of foreign insurgents. The second recognition of the plan should be that the current troops-on-the-ground military mission is not really the future for Iraq... The plan should recognize that it is our intention to continue joint military operations with the Iraqi government, with their permission, but targeted, laserlike attacks on terrorist elements, just as we are doing with other countries around the world, in the Philippines, Indonesia and other countries. In other words, we are not invading those countries. We are cooperating.
He adds, "This is not just leaving as we did in Vietnam or as we did in Somalia. That's a mistake." Such a juggling act makes one wonder what persuaded The Nation that Feingold had put forward a "strong" antiwar statement. As long as we have their "permission," we will use laserlike attacks on terrorist elements. This is simply another way of saying that the U.S. will have a continued presence in Iraq for the foreseeable future. The Bush administration itself has come up with a plan in which US troops would gradually withdraw to four heavily fortified air bases in the four corners of Iraq. From there, B-52s, F-104s, and Blackhawk helicopters would presumably be used to blow "terrorists" to smithereens.
Here's a reminder of the kind of "laserlike" capabilities that are in store for Iraqi "terrorists" under a Feingold peace plan:
The airstrikes in Falluja in the past three days by American warplanes and helicopter gunships have been the most intense aerial bombardment in Iraq since major combat ended nearly a year ago, military officials said Thursday.
In the past 48 hours, Air Force F-15E and F-16 warplanes, and carrier-based F-14 and F-18 fighter-bombers, have dropped about three dozen 500-pound laser-guided bombs in three different sections of Falluja, Air Force officials said, destroying more than 10 buildings and 2 sniper nests identified by troops as sources of attacking fire, and other targets.
By day, AH-1W Super Cobra helicopters have hovered over the city, launching Hellfire missiles at guerrillas who fire on the Marines. By night, lumbering AC-130 gunships have pounded trucks and cars ferrying fighters with the distinctive thump-thump of 105-millimeter howitzers. British Tornado ground-attack planes are also flying missions over Falluja, and remotely piloted Predator reconnaissance aircraft prowl the skies.
(New York Times, April 30, 2004)
Now these bases in and of themselves may not be sufficient to guarantee victory over the resistance. At best, they will be capable of guaranteeing misery and destruction from the air for years to come. It was exactly this sort of "low intensity warfare" that marked the Reagan era, when US ground troops were conspicuous by their absence except in places where the "enemy" was particularly weak and isolated, like Grenada. In any event, the left has no business voting for somebody like Russ Feingold whose "peace plan" for Iraq conceals naked imperialist ambitions.
Despite the Iraq litmus test -- such as it is -- there are signs that any kind of Democratic Party victory will mollify the Nation Magazine. In John Nichol's profile on Tim Kaine, who was just elected governor of Virginia, the reader might be left with the conclusion that he was just forwarding campaign literature: Kaine "is a graduate of Harvard Law School, a savvy legal advocate who made a name for himself working with the American Civil Liberties Union and other groups to battle housing discrimination, and a multilingual world traveler who responds to questions with references to Federico Fellini's films and Mario Vargas Llosa's novels." Can't get much better than that, right? Yet the reference to the Peruvian reactionary Vargas Llosa might be a tip-off.
Kaine is a Catholic who is opposed to the death penalty on religious grounds, but promised to carry it out since "it is the law." This was a blatant maneuver to undercut Republican attacks on his suitability to be governor. Obviously, you are not fit unless you are ready to send mostly black and poor people to meet their maker. But Kaine's main appeal to voters is that he would continue to carry on with the program of the outgoing governor Mark Warner, whom he served as lieutenant governor.
Warner was a keynote speaker at the last Democratic Leadership Council in Ohio. The DLC is the caucus of centrist politicians in the party, including Hillary Clinton and Albert Gore. It is also mainly responsible for the disaffection of Democratic Party voters, who remain uninspired by the DLC's Republican-lite vision. Kaine told the DLC gathering that the Democrats will become the majority party once again by following these guidelines:
Well, I think we start by simply telling the truth -- simply telling the truth; by being straight with people on issues ranging from fiscal matters to America's role in the world, and by recognizing in a very real way in 2005 the issues in this country are no longer Left versus Right or liberal versus conservative, it's about the future versus the past.
It is entirely possible that Warner himself might be tapped as the party's presidential candidate next election since he appears to be the second coming of Bill Clinton, an apt symbol of the party's breach with progressive politics. Just as Clinton cut welfare, so would Warner cut Medicaid, especially the funds being allocated to keep octogenarians in nursing homes. They would be much better off in their children's homes, just as they were before New Deal type legislation began to socialize the costs of caring for the very poor and the very sick.
Contrary to Warner, the issues are still very much ones of Left versus Right no matter how much our friends on the Left defend those issues one day and then urge a vote for Right-leaning politicians the next.