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WHAT WE THINK
The lesser evil is still an evil

May 16, 2003 | Page 3

ALMOST A year before the first presidential primaries and 18 months before the election itself, the call has already gone out for an "anybody but Bush" vote for the Democratic candidate for president.

This sentiment is widespread in the antiwar movement--among both new and veteran activists. The reasoning is that since mass protests didn't stop Bush's war on Iraq, we have to stop his war agenda at the ballot box.

It's not hard to see why people feel strongly about this. The Bush gang is the most right wing and corrupt administration to occupy the White House since the 1920s. Its leaders talk openly about decades of wars around the globe.

But the question that has to be answered is this: Do the Democrats offer an alternative worth voting for? The answer is no.

To start with, what are the main reasons cited for getting rid of Bush in 2004? The war on Iraq, the USA PATRIOT Act, tax cuts for the rich and attacks on abortion rights usually head the list. Yet Democrats gave Bush the margin of victory on each of these issues--often with the main candidates for the presidential nomination, from Joe Lieberman to John Kerry, leading the way. The truth is that a Democratic victory in 2004 will produce less of a change than the "anybody but Bush" advocates believe.

The Democrats and Republicans are both capitalist parties. They both get most of their funding from big business--and they put the interests of Corporate America first. The differences that separate them are minor compared to the fundamental similarities that unite them.

Nevertheless, there are differences--which is why support for "the lesser of two evils" isn't new to 2004. It emerges in every election.

In most cases, the Democratic candidate is to the left of the Republican--though usually not by much, and sometimes not even by a little. But is this difference reason enough to vote for the Democrat?

In 1992, Bill Clinton won the votes of many people who weren't enthusiastic about his candidacy, but who wanted to end 12 years of Republican rule in the White House. Yet the "achievements that Clinton himself counts as the most important of his presidency came right out of the Republican playbook: welfare "reform," the NAFTA free trade deal, law-and-order measures that led to a skyrocketing prison population.

In some cases--like welfare "reform"--Clinton got away with a much harsher attack than his Republican predecessors could have. The main reason why is that liberal organizations that mobilized to defend welfare from attacks by Republicans sat on their hand when Clinton lowered the ax. Why? Because these liberals didn't want to threaten Clinton's chances for reelection against the Republican "greater evil."

Thus, choosing the "lesser evil" in 1992 meant getting both the lesser and the greater evil. If Democrats know that liberals will stop complaining and fall in line behind them on Election Day, they can spend their time pandering to the right--or what the media call "moving to the center."

"The point is that it is the question which is a disaster, not the answer," the late American socialist Hal Draper wrote about lesser evilism. "In setups where the choice is between one capitalist politician and another, the defeat comes in accepting the limitation to this choice."

Breaking free from this straightjacket requires building struggles from below that put pressure on all the politicians--Democrat or Republican--to meet our demands, and history shows that this is what can force real changes from Washington.

This may not seem as "practical" as supporting the Democrats in 2004. But unless a movement from below organizes the fight, Washington's imperial wars and attacks on workers will continue--no matter which party holds the White House.

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