Published on Counterpunch.org on 05/04/04
With the launching of the new fiercely partisan and influential liberal radio network nationwide, Air America, John Kerry seems poised to whisk the presidential nomination for the Democratic Party and could even win simply because he is not Bush.
According to an unnamed former Bush official, “Kerry might wage a more effective war on terror than Bush because he was likely to take a more complex approach, looking at broader threats while coupling military force with “soft power” such as alliance building and a battle for hearts and minds” (Reuters, 05/03/04 “Bush or Kerry, ‘War on Terror’ Unlikely to Change”).
What is the massive anti-war movement in the United States to do when the difference between the two major candidates extends to the use of “soft power”?
While there are certainly some differences between the two candidates and Kerry is likely a shade better than Bush, should we settle for his Bush-like stand on the war? The common Democratic refrain goes like this: “I trust John Kerry to do what’s right for America. After all, his record in Vietnam and the amazing antiwar speech he gave after returning from Vietnam spoke to all the things that need to be done to bring this country back on track. And anyway, I’ll vote for Anybody But Bush”.
But why should we trust our leaders? What role does trust play in a democracy? I trust my family and my friends and even they screw up sometimes and break my trust.
Perhaps we ought to judge Kerry by his more recent speeches rather than what he said 30 years ago when he was an anti-war activist, war veteran, and someone less invested in the current establishment. Kerry whole-heartedly embraces Bush’s “war on terror” as a legitimate concept. We laugh at the simplistic rhetoric of Bush’s “good vs. evil”. But John Kerry calls it “a clash of civilization against chaos”. Bush’s rhetoric may be more religious and emotional, but Kerry’s is just as judgmental and generalized.
Certainly the “war on terror” is not all we should judge candidates by. George Bush’s domestic economic policies have ravaged the poor and middle class. But lest you thought that Kerry’s economics would be kinder and gentler than Bush’s, Warren Buffet, Kerry’s economic advisor downplays any difference between the two saying the election will simply be a “referendum on George Bush”. He even said, “The Kerry campaign is quite unimportant compared to how people feel about Bush when they go into the voting booth”. Consider the presidential poll results which consistently hover around 43-46% for either candidate. Any lead falls within the statistical noise.
If John Kerry wants our votes, John Kerry ought to earn them. By this I mean it is up to us in the anti-war, or pro-justice movements to demonstrate that we weren’t kidding when we marched in the millions against the war in Iraq. It is up to us to send a warning sign to John Kerry or whoever turns up as the alternative to Bush that he has to work to earn our votes. Simply being ABB (Anybody But Bush) does not qualify him.
When ten million people marched against Bush’s war in Iraq last year, he glibly dismissed us as a “focus group” simply because he could: Bush does not need us to get re-elected Â he already has support of about 40% of the voters. But why should the other 40% hand over our votes to Mr. “Bush-lite” Kerry without a fight? Imagine a march of over a million voters all across the United States, not against the idiot Bush who has not earned the right to be a public servant anyway, but against John Kerry. Imagine hundreds of thousands of voters demanding that Kerry adopt an anti-war and anti-occupation position publicly and fast if he wants any assurance of beating Bush at the polls. Imagine these voters insisting Kerry adopt a progressive agenda on Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine, the USA PATRIOT Act, welfare reform, and other life-and-death issues.
This will accomplish two things: it will remind public officials everywhere that voters will not succumb to a “lesser of two evils” approach which often means that candidates need only be a shade better than their incumbent opposition. And, it will remind public officials that once in power, that same constituency will not hesitate to take to the streets again to hold them accountable to their promises.
One only has to look at the recent election in Spain to see this in action. When the Spanish incumbent prime minister, Jose Maria Asnar stood for re-election after defying his people’s wishes, he was promptly ousted and replaced with the socialist Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero whose campaign platform was based on a pullout of troops from Iraq. What’s more, once elected, even more Spaniards than expected turned out for the anti-occupation demonstrations of March 20th, reminding Zapatero that his election was not based on an act of faith Â he would be held to his promises. As a result, Spain has taught us a lesson in democracy: the electorate determines the actions of its elected representative. The electorate’s relationship to the elected after all, is supposed to be a master-servant relationship. Hence the term “public servant”.
We have to hold Kerry accountable before he gets elected while he is still in the position of having to court voters. Rather than “backing Kerry”, we need to stand in front of him, to remind him who’s boss: the people of the United States of America, not a Democratic presidential candidate who thinks he can mimic an idiot (Bush) and laugh his way into the White House.
Sonali Kolhatkar is the host and co-producer of Uprising, on KPFK 90.7 fm, Pacifica Radio. She is also the co-Director of the Afghan Women’s Mission, a US-based non-profit working in solidarity with Afghan women.