Issue 8 - Winter 2004

Moving From Protest to Politics: Dumping Bush’s Regime in 2004
by Carl Davidson and Marilyn Kat

The Social Base for Militarism

First, there 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 pro-military voters.

“In the 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.

“All 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.”

Even though 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.

Bush’s 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

The President’s 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 it."

The evangelicals 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.

Bush’s 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:

“With 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.

“People 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.

“In the 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.

“It is 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.

“In 2000 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:

Joe 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.

John 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.

Richard 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.

John 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.

Bob 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.

Gen. 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.

Howard 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.

Rev. 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.

Carol 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.

Dennis 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.

Expanding the 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.

Educating the 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.

Educating and 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 rivals.

Enhancing independent 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?

Developing an 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.

That’s 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.

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