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The Democrats don’t deserve our support

by Twiddle Sunday, Nov. 30, 2003 at 5:16 PM

There is no reason to assume, as many do, that a Gore presidency would have avoided war after September 11. Clinton oversaw UN-sponsored sanctions against Iraq that led to the deaths of more than 1 million Iraqis, and U.S. warplanes dropped bombs on Iraq almost daily during his time in office. And Clinton signed the Iraq Liberation Act in 1998, calling for the U.S. "to seek to remove the regime headed by Saddam Hussein." Clinton’s Secretary of State Madeleine Albright admits in a recent Foreign Affairs article, "I personally felt [Bush’s new Iraq] war was justified on the basis of Saddam’s decade-long refusal to comply with UN Security Council resolutions on weapons of mass destruction."

DEBATING THE ELECTIONS

SHARON SMITH:

The Democrats don’t deserve our support

September 19, 2003 | Page 6

SHARON SMITH is a Socialist Worker columnist,

contributor to the book Iraq Under Siege and a member

of the International Socialist Organization.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

AFTER THE 2000 election, Green Party presidential

candidate Ralph Nader was roundly denounced by

Democrats as a "spoiler" who helped George Bush defeat

Al Gore (ignoring the U.S. Supreme Court’s decisive

role during the Florida debacle in stealing the

election for Bush). As the 2004 election approaches,

the vast majority of the left--including many who

campaigned for Nader in 2000--has made defeating Bush

(by implication, with a Democrat) its number one

priority.

The Green Party itself is considering a "safe states"

strategy--campaigning for a Green candidate only in

states where Democrats or Republicans hold an

uncontested majority, effectively an endorsement of

the Democrats. As left-wing journalist Norman Solomon

wrote recently, "The Bush team has neared some

elements of fascism," while Z Magazine’s Michael

Albert argued, "However bad his replacement may turn

out, replacing Bush will improve the subsequent mood

of the world and its prospects for survival."

These are widely accepted justifications for rallying

behind the Democrats as "the lesser of two evils." By

this "lesser evil" logic, many progressives now

attracted to Howard Dean and Dennis Kucinich because

of their opposition to the Iraq war will ultimately

end up supporting a mainstream Democrat who seeks to

win swing votes from the Republicans. Dean

himself--who boasts, "I was a triangulator before

Clinton was a triangulator"--might well fit the bill.

Out of sheer hatred for Bush, progressives can agree

that the war party in power should be brought down.

But the Democratic Party is a war party in waiting.

"Lesser evil" support for the Democrats has been

repeated by sections of the left every four years

since the Great Depression. But far from broadening

the scope of left-wing politics, it has stunted the

development of a radical social movement in the U.S.

For this reason, it is necessary to view the role of

"lesser evil" politics historically.

The term "fascist" has also been applied to

conservative Republicans Barry Goldwater in 1964,

Richard Nixon in the 1970s, as well as Ronald Reagan

and George Bush Sr. in the 1980s, to express the

urgency of voting Democrat on Election Day. To be

sure, this Bush administration, dominated by

neoconservatives, models itself on Reagan’s.

And there are differences between the Democratic and

Republican Parties on issues such as abortion rights.

But the two parties, each funded and controlled by

corporate donors, agree on fundamental aims, if not on

the strategies to achieve them.

Both are pro-capitalist and pro-imperialist--dedicated

to furthering the interests of the U.S. ruling class

at home and expanding U.S. power globally. Bloody wars

and political repression are neither unique to this

Bush administration, nor to Republicans.

Democrat Harry Truman’s first presidential act was to

order two atomic bombs dropped on the Japanese cities

of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Lyndon Johnson, the

Democratic Party’s "peace candidate" in 1964, had by

1965 massively escalated the Vietnam War--a war that

killed 1.3 million Vietnamese and 58,000 U.S.

soldiers.

Nor is Bush’s USA PATRIOT Act the first time that the

party in power has used large-scale repression at

home. Democrat Woodrow Wilson signed the Espionage Act

of 1917, banning protest against U.S. participation in

the First World War, and his administration detained

and deported thousands of immigrants. In 1942,

Democrat Franklin Delano Roosevelt forcibly

"relocated" the entire Japanese-American population on

the West Coast into concentration camps for the rest

of the Second World War.

The Democratic Party’s reputation as a liberal

alternative to the Republicans is greatly

exaggerated--mainly by its liberal supporters. One

need look no further back than the Clinton

administration.

As a candidate in 1992, Clinton promised to "put

people first," but instead of advancing liberal

principles, Clinton stole the Republican’s agenda on

key issues. The hallmark of Clinton’s presidency was

ending "welfare as we know it" in 1996--dismantling

61-year-old New Deal legislation obliging the

government to provide income support to the poor.

Clinton also helped to pave the way for Bush’s USA

PATRIOT Act when he signed the 1996 Anti-Terrorism and

Effective Death Penalty Act. Also in 1996, Clinton

signed the Defense of Marriage Act, banning gay

marriage, and under his tenure, the U.S. prison

population nearly doubled in size.

There is no reason to assume, as many do, that a Gore

presidency would have avoided war after September 11.

Clinton oversaw UN-sponsored sanctions against Iraq

that led to the deaths of more than 1 million Iraqis,

and U.S. warplanes dropped bombs on Iraq almost daily

during his time in office. And Clinton signed the Iraq

Liberation Act in 1998, calling for the U.S. "to seek

to remove the regime headed by Saddam Hussein."

Clinton’s Secretary of State Madeleine Albright admits

in a recent Foreign Affairs article, "I personally

felt [Bush’s new Iraq] war was justified on the basis

of Saddam’s decade-long refusal to comply with UN

Security Council resolutions on weapons of mass

destruction."

There is another reason why supporting the Democrats

as a "lesser evil" is a mistake. For nearly a century,

this logic has blocked the possibility for building an

alternative to the left of the Democrats. Every four

years, leftists must betray their principles simply to

keep a Republican out of office.

In 1964, antiwar activists adopted the slogan "Half

the way with LBJ," only to see Johnson escalate the

Vietnam War. In the 1990s, liberals scurried to

provide cover for Clinton’s welfare repeal. As former

Health and Human Services official Peter Edelman

noted, "So many of those who would have shouted from

the rooftops if a Republican president had done this

were boxed in by their desire to see the president

reelected."

Largely because the left and the labor movement have

remained tied to the coattails of the Democratic Party

since the 1930s, the U.S. remains the only advanced

industrial society without a labor or social

democratic party funded by unions instead of big

business. If the left is to move forward, its

collective memory must stretch further back than the

last Republican administration--and it must set its

sights much higher than promoting the current crop of

Democratic Party contenders.

As social activist Howard Zinn argued in the pages of

this newspaper, "[T]he really critical thing isn’t who

is sitting in the White House but who is sitting

in--in the streets, in the cafeterias, in the halls of

government, in the factories. Who is protesting, who

is occupying offices and demonstrating--those are the

things that determine what happens."

The course of the struggle, not the outcome of the

2004 elections, will shape the future of the left--and

experience has shown that endorsing the Democratic

Party pulls the left into its fold, not the other way

around.

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