In Two Parts
So, there are many problems with this upcoming election. And Bush is a big one of them.
But I think the focus on voting "against Bush" (i.e. anyone but Bush) misses the real problem -- it's like when they tell you not to aim a fire extinguisher at the flames, but rather at the base.
The problem, to me, the real problem, is the 50% of (prospectively voting) Americans or so who support Bush. The election last time was close as well. What this tells me is that despite all of the horrible things most of "us" on the Left think he's done, most of the voting public is still behind him. What this implies is that a conservative or almost evenly split Congress seems here for the next cycle; this means that a prospective Pres. Kerry would still have the same culture wars to fight, now with the virulently opposed masses having swithed sides, from being those on the Left to those on the Right. Prophecy becomes reality, and we have a weak, indecisive president -- someone not willing to risk political capital on being unpopular, without an overwhelming mandate, faced with a majority-opposition or razor-thin Democratic Congress.
There's no reason to think that the country will become less polarized in the coming months or years. Kerry has shown his unwillingness to stake a claim for any potentially unpopular position that he thinks is right and fight to bring people towards him, rather, he incrementally moves towards where he perceives the "swing" masses to be.
Not that this is out of the ordinary, or exceptionally bad behaviour on the part of a politician. But it does seem extraordinarily dense when, at least in March when a University of Maryland survey (pdf file) found that, essentially, the better a person understood the circumstances around 9/11 and Iraq, the more likely they were to vote for Kerry. I.e. a majority of people polled in March still thought WMDs had been found in Iraq and that Iraq and al-Qaeda had significant ties. (Much has happened since then, I encourage any comments with more recent info, but that may not mean much considering that the article says the numbers of people with such beliefs unsupported by the Bush Administration's own (occasional) statements didn't change much from months prior to the study (of course, there are also many Administration statements, including those in the linked article there, that purposefully muddy their own admission that Iraq was not allied with 9/11, but there you go.) Of course, there's that pesky correlation does not prove causation bit, meaning informing people that they were misled may not necessarily cause them to change their vote (especially in this case where a National Guard Colonel said, I shit you not, “What he was saying about George Bush not telling the truth on Iraq - I just don't believe that. George Bush did tell us the truth, so I guess I couldn't believe what Kerry was saying.” Maybe he preceded this with a half hour case presenting how Bush could possibly have been construed as telling the truth, but otherwise, this is a very scary case of Bush-poisoning – up there with “The President got an honorable discharge, therefore he must have completed his National Guard duties” fallacy… read any of the recent White House Briefings to see Scott McClellan trying to avoid a future perjury charge by specifically refusing to answer to the Prez’s whereabouts on his missing Guard duty days, with only the tautology of “he was honorably discharged, therefore he must have served honorably and completed his obligations.” Sort of like, my dog’s name ended up on an SAT score with 1600, therefore my dog must’ve taken the SAT and received 1600. (Further parenthetical comments: here and here (free subscription required) are articles implying that the documents and their discovery as possible forgeries may have been, at least in part, a Republican operation…)
Whew… all that is to say, while Kerry is ambling towards the Right in style unmatched even by Clinton- (waffles, flip-flops – where does the Right Attack Machine find these mundane monikers?)-esque standards, Bush of course, is worse, by staking a claim, and only moving from the claim when it is proven the claim is wholly wrong. When this happens, he slightly moves his claim (the only time he’s guilty of nuance, natch) and claims, Kosh-like, that “We have always been here”.
The point being, here now in the second paragraph I introduce as a sum-up, if we’re to fix the problems with US image and (more importantly) US actions, changing the face of the government won’t do. We must change not only the face, but the being of America. This is necessary as a pragmatic and as an intellectually honest move. Pragmatically, having 50% of the electorate thinking the disastrous Bush policies are working means that with Kerry prez or not, the root problems in terms of (in my opinion) an ill-informed public, subject to jingoism and American exceptionalism, will not change. How many minds has Bush changed? (By the by: Dennis Miller: Get the fuck out of here.) Would Kerry be able to change more hearts and minds here and abroad?
(see next post for an interesting piece on hearts and minds abroad)
Act II: Stomp Box Hear Me Shout
More Reasons to Not Vote For Kerry, This Having Largely Been Ignored in Act the First
Last I checked, we in the United States had some type of electoral system. Setting aside the problems of voting by fiefdoms, I mean states, instead of by popular majority, even those problem fiefdoms of Lord Vassal Jeb, there seems to be an important flaw in the reasoning of “Anybody but Bush” in this election.
Many, many people say we must vote for Kerry, because at worst he’s marginally better than Bush.
Let’s accept this premise for a moment. Let’s also accept the premise that there actually ARE better candidates in the Democratic Party than Kerry, in terms of a truly Left agenda, and/or that Kerry could at least try to hold on to some of the sentiments of the Left base, taking moderates into account but not cutting off his Liberal nose to spite his Independent Voters face in Running to the Right of them. (Or something that makes sense.)
Given these premises, it is fairly logically inconsistent, I think, to vote for Kerry over Bush.
Why? In an electoral system, the only true job review, and hiring and firing power the people have is an election (and possibly recalls, but this is not the case for the presidency of the US). Thus, any other leverage is not a significant threat to a candidate. Deciding to vote for a candidate, say, Kerry, no matter how much you’re “holding your nose” about what he apparently thinks of as policies in effect tells our public employees “We will always support you in times of crisis, no matter how much you contributed to the crisis and how little you resolve to do about it that’s different should you be elected.”
Now, there is a logically consistent argument to be made that this is an emergency, that Bush is really bad. This is an argument made by people who haven’t read Howard Zinn (or, sadly, ARE Howard Zinn). There have been many many really bad guys who were president. There have been few, if any, times that the wealthy establishment thought things would truly, radically change for the worse with a change between establishment administrations. The two parties have basically managed to funnel all conflict into internal battles, such that if you don’t like one guy (and for president, it’s always been guys), you have to vote for the other one, no matter how nauseous the other one is (thanks to Continuum friend Kelly, I have now used “nauseous” in its originally correct meaning).
Ok, so, maybe like Howard Zinn and Noam Chomsky, you think THIS time, it’s really REALLY bad, and we REALLY need to vote for Kerry. Setting aside for the moment that thousands of civilian innocents in other countries have died under Republican AND Democratic presidents (say, Carter and the Somoza Regime, JFK and LBJ and Viet Nam and almost Cuba, Clinton and Yugoslavia), which I actually think is a convincing argument that there’ll still be death and ruination under Kerry -- and I don’t think there’s much worse than that that can be done in the world -- if Kerry is going to sanction the death and ruination of Afghanistan and Iraq, and the loss of our men and women and the men, women, and children of those countries, what have we gained? (Though Noam Chomsky seems to believe in a sort of force-magnification theory, where because of the immense US power, a small change for good/less evil reaps significant benefits. Others, me among them, aren’t so sure – see previous posts, mainly this one.)
Ok, but setting that aside seriously now, I can actually kind of see this argument, and maybe it’s even true, but my problem is PEOPLE SAY IT EVERY GODDAM SINGLE TIME. That doesn’t invalidate out of hand the idea that this time, I really mean it, but my question is when will it be a safe time for it? Hmm? Every Republican president (rather like the Democratic ones) has presided over massive deaths overseas caused directly or indirectly by US policies. So let’s say Kerry gets 8 years and Edwards 8 years – will it be safe then? Or will it be too important to consolidate 16 years of “relatively less evil” Democratic governance? Will the Republican candidate be someone that we on the Left can actually live with and enjoy as President, so that it’ll be safe to vote for 3rd party? Because that’s what this argument requires (or an absolutely sterling grassroots movement building unprecedented steam in the next two decades). It requires that we know, in the short term at least, that the candidate we oppose (or oppose more) ABSOLUTELY is an acceptable alternative, so it is safe to vote for Nader, or his intellectual and moral inheritors. Hmm? Can someone out there imagine the GOP running a candidate that isn’t grating to our very values in the near future? I mean, they get OFF on this stuff. C’mon! It’s always going to be “too important” an election to go off the beaten path, the road less taken – this viewpoint is a permanent road to the status quo, a message to the GOP that they should always run hard right candidates, and a message to the Democrats that if they run a Halibut Named Eric then we’ll all still toe the line.
You cannot win a war of attrition.
Kerry has made clear he will continue the substance of Bush’s policies. People say that’s an election year ploy, that he doesn’t mean it and that he will return to the fold, but how the hell do you support a candidate on the premise that his election year promises are the opposite of what you want, and therefore he’ll do the opposite of what he says? Don’t candidates actual policies usually reflect a thin-gruel version or even a reneging on their promises? Is that our hope, that in John Kerry’s case, his promises really are the opposite of what he plans to do? (As my mentor JV said, when I was a Kerry supporter earlier this year, this point of view/ray of hope rests entirely on the idea that Kerry is a complete and unadulterated liar right now.) Besides this, it misses the last point I want to make:
BUSH is not the REAL problem, as I said in Act I. The REAL problem are the millions of people who support him and his regime. The Continuum’s good friend L points out that elections are not the time for brave failures, for a really Left candidate to go out on a limb. But I think just the opposite is true – as the research indicates that the better informed a person is, the greater the statistical chance that they oppose Bush/support Kerry, why isn’t an election year the CHIEF time to begin a campaign of education? Not “negativity” – negativity, to me, is using flimsy attacks based loosely on facts. (Everything, more or less, that Bush & Co. are doing.) No, the campaign of education doesn’t even have to have scripts. Use Bush’s own words against him. Many have pointed out, he’s “flip-flopped” (ps I am SO fucking tired of hearing about flipflops… flip-y-flop-ies in Portuguese, if you were wondering), on nation building, on negotiations with North Korea (against it, for it, against it, for it in a different way…), if you remember the plane downed in Asia, he went back and forth then (No apology, apology, non-apologizing apology), on consulting with the UN before going into Iraq, about appointing commissions to investigae 9/11 and Iraq, to creating a dept. of Homeland Security, and of making the HS head a Cabinet level position (how can you argue HS is your top priority but think that the head of it shouldn’t be among the most senior staff?). Use Dick Cheney and Rumsfeld caught, on tape, lying about how they described Iraq (an “imminent threat”) and the connections between 9/11 and Iraq (they’re pretty clear vs. we never described them as definitive). Consistently EXPOSE that many people think 9/11 and Iraq are connected, and that the Pres. Himself has said they are not, according to the evidence – but also said they are, and implied it at every opportunity. (If they’re not connected, what are we doing in Iraq, did we go there just to create terrorists in order to MAINTAIN the war on terror… Ohhhh, they’re good) Mention, for God’s sake, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace report that not only shows the Administration had to have been intentionally misleading us before the war, but shows that the UN and PRE-2002 US intelligence says about Iraq – essentially that they do not have most of the 12 listed types of Biological, Chemical, or Nuclear weapons, or we are not sure if they have it, or in a few cases, we think maybe they have it. Note (please, please fucking note) that the intelligence AFTER 2002 from the US all says “Definitely.” How can we let them get away with this, when they say every major intelligence agency thought Iraq had nuclear weapons? OUR intelligence agency didn’t, two years into Bush’s term! The UN inspectors didn’t think so. Former inspector (Scott?) Ritter said “Absolutely no”, and Hans Blix and Mohammed al-Baradi both at least said “Woah woah woah guys – we’re the nukes experts, and we think we have time for a little more not-killing-civilians here.” Why don’t we see this? Or Rep. Henry Hyde’s independently-reviewed report finding hundreds of mischaracterizations and at least 5 lies by Administration officials in the lead up to war? (Hey, what say we change that to Rep. Henry Waxman, D-CA? Rep. Hyde was recently awarded something or other by Grover Norquist, so I imagine he’d rend his own eyes from his sockets before supporting my causes by and large.) Waxman’s report here. Also great: just saw on Waxman’s site a comprehensive report on the Bush Admin’s War on Public Information (Operation Enduring Shut-up-Of-course-We’re-Telling-the-Truth). Go to that as well here.
The point is, the election is THE time to educate people – and with Rep. Waxman’s work alone, WE HAVE THE TOOLS, or at least, the evidence, to do just that. Everything an election candidate says is news – and your message can get everywhere.
Thus, the logical requirements as I see them for a candidate to do their job correctly, and reflect the views of their base, has been waived by those willing to vote for Kerry. In the spirit of staunching the bleeding, we (using the reverse royal we, i.e., you) have decided to support a candidate who will not use this particular “bully pulpit” to educate people right now, when every news station will echo-chamber the every quotable comment. We have decided that Kerry will in fact do MORE than he promises, in the exact OPPOSITE direction than what he promises. We have decided that Bush is more dangerous than the other war criminals in our past, who ordered, advocated, or turned a blind eye to the deaths of so many innocent people in Dresden, Nagasaki, Honduras, Guatemala, Viet Nam, Korea, Argentina, Iran, Afghanistan, Iraq, Nicaragua, Haiti, Sudan, the Phillipines, and on and on, Dem and GOP alike. We have decided to abrogate our one true time to exert leverage on our supposed Democratic party. To make the progress we hope to make under Kerry. Because the only, and I mean ONLY way they will listen to us is if they think there is a legitimate chance of losing if they do not.
If we take away all chance of that, all chance of the loss of support, we take away the very purpose of democracy, and give the men and women of many stripes in our government the go-ahead to continue to kill, browbeat, and swindle in our names. Make no mistake – Kerry has vowed to stay in Iraq, has said he would’ve gone into Iraq as well, has chewed out Hugo Chavez and Fidel Castro, who have tried to help the poorest of their people, and for once in history, are having some success, rubber stamped the military coup of an elected president who (from what I’ve read) was genuinely concerned with the welfare of his people in Haiti, has said he would appoint pro-life judges, “drill everywhere [he could] but ANWAR, and just generally behaved in every way counter to my beliefs. (It’s argued that he, or an Al Gore, wouldn’t have actually gone into Iraq – so why the hell is he saying he would, ESPECIALLY considering a majority of Americans now think it was a mistake? WTF?)
If we vote for someone we truly believe in (Kerry, if that’s who you believe in after reading this screed), then we will have told the Democrats, told all of the parties, that we won’t vote for you unless you follow the wishes of your base, of the people. If we vote for Kerry because we are afraid of Bush, we are telling the parties that if we are afraid, they can do and say what they want. And as much as I think the Democrats are noticeably, if at many times only slightly, less evil than the Republicans, I don’t put it past them to use the very proven tactic used now – if we are afraid, if we are made to feel an urgency about the consequences, we will go and do exactly what they want – which is to vote for the one you find “least bad” – and they can continue on being bad, as lost as they’re less bad than the other guy.
That’s all they’ll have to do.