From Protest to Politics: Dumping Bush’s Regime in 2004
Carl Davidson and Marilyn Kat
The Social Base for Militarism
is a reason Bush is making public appearances by touring the country’s
military bases and military towns. Apart from concerns for his personal
security, these areas represent a large institutionalized base of
United States today,” states an analysis in the Feb. 19, 2003
Japan Times by foreign policy experts Michael O’Hanlon and
Aaron Moburg-Jones, “there are 25 million Americans who have
served in the armed forces. Another 6 million people are heavily
involved in defense today, including 1.4 million active-duty troops,
nearly 1 million reservists, over 600,000 full-time civilian employees
of the Department of Defense, and 3 million contractors working
for the Department of Defense. Then there are the immediate families
of those individuals.
in all, perhaps 50 million adult Americans have a very strong
tie to the armed forces and many are highly motivated voters.
Over 60 percent of veterans are over 50 years of age, with nearly
40 percent over 65. This places veterans in an age group known
to demonstrate high voter turnout. Age is not the only reason
for high turnout among veterans; there is also patriotism. For
example, a poll taken by the veterans’ organization Veterans
of Foreign Wars showed that 91 percent of its members faithfully
trek to the polls.”
Bush is currently popular with this constituency, he by no means
has it locked up. Many veterans are from the Vietnam generation,
and a good number of them are highly dubious about foreign wars
where the country is not united. While the right wing may by very
good at tying yellow ribbons on trees and lampposts, they are lousy
at defending VA hospitals and veterans benefits. Any successful
anti-Bush candidate, however, is going to have to take a different
path than saying “Me too!” on “supporting our
troops.” He or she is going to have to turn the tables an
expose the hypocrisy and demagogy of flag-waving Republicans who
abandon vets and their families in real life after putting them
in unjust wars.
current popularity, however, reaches beyond military families. A
Current Zogby poll has Bush at 50% vs 32% against any Democrat among
likely voters. Even in left-leaning California, says Margaret Talley
in the April 16 Sacramento Bee, “Were the election held now,
45 percent of all California voters would choose the Republican
incumbent, according to a Field Poll released Tuesday. Another 40
percent said they would prefer whoever emerges as Democratic nominee,
while the remaining 15 percent either were undecided or planned
to support a third-party candidate.”
Key Bush Ally: The Religious Right
most solid constituency is among white evangelical Christians, especially
white Southern Baptists and white non-college-educated males. “Eighty-four
percent of them voted for Bush, providing nearly one-third of his
total. Evangelicals made up only 13 percent of Gore's vote,”
states the April 2001 Christianity Today, quoting a study done by
Akron University. The Christian right is strongly opposed to a progressive
social agenda; its main issues are opposing abortion rights, contraception
and “the Gay agenda”, along with support for militarism
and opposition to gun control.
But even here
Bush has some problems. States foreign policy specialist Edward
Walker Jr. in the Baltimore Sun: "If the war is put too much
in the context of, 'The Christian faith is somehow burdened, so
we have to assume the role of good Christians,' it sends a very
negative signal….The president has been very careful that
no one misinterprets this as a fight between religions, but he has
to be careful about quoting evangelical hymns. That kind of thing
gets picked up immediately. There are people actually looking for
also have a left wing, the most prominent of which was former President
Jimmy Carter, who strongly opposed the war. The Sojourners organization,
a left-to-moderate grouping of evangelicals, also added its voice
to the peace movement.
greatest weakness is on the economy. The right wing pundits are
befuddled over why more than 60% of Americans are opposing Bush’s
proposed tax cuts even as they support him on other issues. The
April 9 ABC News reported:
the war in Iraq, will our already weakened economy — marked
by job layoffs and hiring freezes — get better or worse? Unemployment
stands at 5.8 percent, or 8.5 million people, and the United States
is in the worst labor slump since World War II.
are traveling less, and the increased terrorism threat that accompanied
the war in Iraq has prompted many Americans to stay home and watch
TV instead of going out. As a result, service industries have seen
fierce cuts, with about 77,000 jobs slashed from retail stores,
bars, airlines and other service-oriented sectors.
public sector and manufacturing, cities and states unable to balance
budgets are laying off workers in some of the most important areas,
including teaching positions.
not for lack of demand for such jobs, but rather because municipalities
can't meet budgets. City and state revenue are down because tax
revenue is down. Tax revenue is down because more people are unemployed,
and there is greater demand for social programs.”
People are not
generally stupid about the economy. They know that large federal
tax cuts will either starve states and cities, or cause increases
in local taxes. They know that large deficits require large interest
payments to the banks that hold the deficit notes. They know that
those interest payments come out of their pockets, or out of the
budgets providing services to the elderly and the poor, and go into
the pockets of the bankers.
Pitfalls for the Democrats
The main danger
for the Democrats, however, is that they base their strategy on
the notion that the primary issue is the economy and everything
else is secondary. Instead, any successful candidate against Bush
has to make a primary issue of international, national and homeland
security. But it must not be a “me too” approach that
supports Bush on the main arguments, and only quibbles over tactics,
details and dollar amounts.
and again 2002, the Democratic Party suffered serious setbacks in
large part because it underrated the importance of national-security
issues to the American electorate,” state O’Hanlon and
Moburg-Jones. “In 2002, Democrats lost the Senate in large
measure over the perception—at least partly correct—in
states such as Missouri and Georgia that they had impeded formation
of a new department of homeland security in the interest of defending
the political interests of a traditional union constituency. Recent
polls on Iraq and the war on terrorism show that Republicans are
trusted to do a better job than Democrats by a margin of 20 percent
among potential voters.”
Instead in 2004
the Democrat national security platform must be an all-sided attack
on the national security policy of the Bush hegemonist clique, showing
how the future it proposes will make our country and the world less
secure, not more secure. Far from defending our freedoms, it will
be at great cost to our liberties. Give the relation of forces,
this will be mainly the critique of the multilateral Globalists—a
position that is some combination of the critiques currently espoused
by former Presidents Carter and Clinton and major voices of global
capital like George Soros. If the progressive left is strong enough
in the primaries, the overall platform will reflect some of its
concerns as well, but there should be no illusions that this will
be or should be an anti-imperialist position.
This last point
is crucial. It must be a national security policy that can first
energize both new voters and the traditional Democratic base. The
millions who hit the streets and the millions more behind them will
be looking for a bold alternative strategy about how our nation
can navigate today’s world without unjust war and repression
Without this there are no troops to deliver the votes to the polls
and make sure they get counted. But it must also be a national security
policy that the political center can recognize as its own and that
sow splits in the right. With the national security plank thus nailed
down, the Democrats can go on to add their traditionally stronger
positions on the economy and other social issues.
The peace movement
has the forces and alliances necessary to make a big difference
at the base. The critical question then becomes one of leadership.
Among the array of political and military leaders currently vying
for the job, do any have the right stuff? Let’s take a quick
look at the field:
Lieberman.(Conn). He’s hopelessly compromised by
being too avid a supporter of the war and too close to Bush on foreign
policy. Given a choice between a Bush wanna-be and Bush, voters
will opt for the real thing.
Kerry (Mass). He’s waffled on the war, but ended
up supporting it with reservations. He reflects the perspective
of the Globalists, and is both a decorated Vietnam war hero and
an early member of Vietnam Veterans Against the War. He took on
the GOP rightists when they attacked him as “unpatriotic”
for calling for “regime change” at home. He’s
raised a lot on money in New England and California. On the downside,
he’s viewed as elitist.
Gephardt. (Mo). He’s also compromised by helping
Bush push through the vote on Iraq. As a strong point, he does have
a lot of ties with the labor leadership. His financial support comes
mainly from the Midwest.
Edwards. (NC). Critical support for Bush on the war, plus
wants to develop a “Homeland Intelligence Agency” that
threatens civil liberties. Strong on civil rights and labor issues,
he’s generally compared to Clinton on both foreign and domestic
issues, and has raised a lot of money.
Graham (FL). Pro-war, but he is also one the main architects
of the Patriot Act. He also has a long history in the intelligence
community, and a strong base among Cubans in Florida.
Wesley Clark. (Ret) Supports the war now that it is underway,
but holds the Globalist critique of the hegemonists. He’s
a former leader of NATO and the war of Kosovo; a stealth candidate,
without much financial support at this time.
Dean (VT). Strong opposition to the war, with some wavering
once the fighting began. Militant opposition to the hegemonist clique
across the board, popular liberal in New England, but he’s
not well known elsewhere.
Al Sharpton. (NY). He’s got considerable support
in the Black community as a champion against police brutality and
for civil rights. Consistently antiwar, he also has some support
in the anti-imperialist left; negative baggage from the Tawana Brawley
case, and little support among whites generally.
Mosley Braun. (IL). Antiwar, some support in the Black
community and even more among middle class feminists. She’s
tarnished a bit by some scandals involving former associates and
the idea that she’s mainly a counterweight to Sharpton.
Kucinich (OH). Leader of the Congressional progressive
caucus, he organized, along with Barbara Lee, the antiwar vote in
Congress. He is a firebrand speaker of the peace movement and appeals
to both anti-imperialists and rank-and-file workers. Not much chance
of winning, but he has a strong ability to shape the debate.
This field mainly
falls into three groupings: Those worth defeating (Lieberman, Graham);
those worth supporting in the primaries (Dean, Kucinich, Sharpton,
Braun); and those worth watching to see how their strength and positions
evolve (Clark, Kerry, Edwards, Gephardt).
First Things First
But there are
several other priorities before settling on any candidate or series
of candidates. For the peace and justice movements especially, there
are a number of critical components of electoral work that are nonpartisan
and independent of any candidate.
electorate. Many people who are eligible to vote are not registered;
in many areas, this can be as many as one-third of the potential
electorate. Many demographic groups, moreover, are highly unregistered.
As it stands, the numbers of actual voters are tilted toward older
people, middle-to-upper income earners and non-Hispanics. Young
people are especially under-registered. Registering larger numbers
of voters from progressive constituencies can both offset similar
efforts by the right, aid new insurgent candidacies, and provide
the margin of victory in close races. Voter registration drives
in many states are also now much easier due to “motor voter”
reforms, and do not have to be tied to any candidate or party. It
is a mass activity that can involve tens of thousands of volunteers;
special programs can even be created for high school students seeking
community service activities for graduation requirements.
electorate. Voter registration can also include voter education
on targeted issues rather than endorsing a particular candidate.
This is important for 501C3 organizations and can include producing
a wide range of literature, community forums, press conferences,
teach-ins and media events—all aimed at helping to shape the
terms of the debate and discussion leading up to the election and
having an ongoing impact afterwards.
influencing the candidates. Simply registering a good number of
voters will not go unnoticed by almost any politicians, but there
are many more options. “Candidate Nights” are popular,
where a range of candidates or their representatives are invited
to present their positions and be questions, or to debate their
political organization. Organizations like Peace and Justice voters
2004 develop, as a matter of course, all the core resources of any
political organization: staff, volunteers, its own bank account
and sources of funding, lists of supporters (email and snail mail),
and assessments of where each precinct’s potential voters
stand on the relevant issues. After the 2004 election, these resources
do not have to disappear; the main point is that they do not belong
to the Democrats or any other political party or candidate. Instead,
they are the embryos of autonomous community base organizations
that can form the foundation of a variety of progressive political
parties, alliances, candidates or activities in the future.
How does it all fit together?
electoral arm for the peace movement can make solid achievements
in the next 18 months. But when all is said and done, it will only
be one component among many needed to defeat Bush and the War Party.
Presidential campaigns in the U.S. are enormous financial enterprises.
Bush already has set a budget of $200 million—and he doesn’t
even have to run against contenders in the primaries.
why the candidate to defeat Bush in this time frame has to have
the backing of a major faction of the U.S ruling class. This is
the only source of the bulk of material resources needed to do the
job in the given time. We might want a system that works differently,
and many of us will do all we can in the present to bring it into
being in the future. But in the meantime, it does no good to pretend
that things are otherwise.
We will be among
a number of mass allies of the anti-Bush Globalists. As such, we
can have some influence on the parameters of the campaign’s
debates and issues in the primaries; we may even get a plank or
two in the platform, or a say in who gets to be the running mate.
We will have some influence because it is bound to be a close race;
every vote will count, and the extra voters we bring to the polls
can provide the edge for victory.
We should do
this without illusions. The day after Bush’s defeat, the U.S.
will still be an imperialist power. The point is that it will be
governed by a set of policies that, in the short run, are not quite
as dangerous to peace abroad and civil liberties at home. Our movement,
moreover, will come out of the battle far more organized and with
far more influence than we have now.
Those are gains
worth fighting for. Let’s see if we can make it happen.
Carl Davidson and Marilyn Katz are steering committee members
of Chicagoans Against War on Iraq ( www.noiraqwar-chicago.org ).
Davidson heads up Networking for Democracy, a group working on "digital
divide" issues in the inner city; Katz is the president of
MK Communications, a public policy consulting group. Both live in
Chicago and have a long history in the peace and justice movements
going back to the 1960s.