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Does a Democrat deserve your vote?

July 18, 2003 | Page 3

WHAT ARE you willing to swallow to get rid of George W. Bush? That's what the question comes down to for many people looking ahead to the 2004 election--and trying to decide which of the Democratic Party candidates they can stand to vote for.

Naturally, people on the left want to get rid of Bush. From the bloody colonial conquest of Iraq, to tax breaks for the rich, to anti-union attacks, millions of people have good reason to want to stop him any way they can.

So it's no wonder many have concluded that the left should vote for a Democrat--any Democrat, no matter how conservative--as the "lesser evil" in 2004. But just how "lesser" is the "evil"? In the case of Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.)--Al Gore's running mate in 2000 and the leading conservative Democrat running for the nomination--there's very little difference between him and the Bush White House, on anything from the Iraq war to proposals to reform health care.

The pathetic record of Lieberman and the other Washington insiders in the Democratic field explains the emergence of Howard Dean, the former Vermont governor who has built a following because of his willingness, unlike his rivals, to sharply criticize Bush. This "straight talk" may be appealing. But a look at Dean's record shows that he's not the liberal he's made out to be. For example, he opposes universal health care as too expensive--and has even proposed raising the retirement age to 70 to "save" Social Security.

Running to Dean's left is a group dismissed by the Washington establishment as "fringe candidates"--Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio), Rev. Al Sharpton and former Illinois Sen. Carol Moseley-Braun. Their positions are more in step with the views of activists in the antiwar and global justice movements.

Kucinich, in particular, is winning support from activists. Earlier this month, for example, a group of well-known women writers led by Barbara Ehrenreich issued a statement titled "Feminists for Kucinich." Oddly, the statement implies Kucinich's support for a woman's right to choose abortion--without mentioning his long history as a supporter of the anti-abortionists, until he "changed his position" recently.

Nor does it come to terms with the fact that Kucinich is an extreme long shot to win the Democratic nomination--since the big-business interests that control the party's purse strings despise his liberal politics. Anyone who doesn't admit this is avoiding the key question--of what they would do when Kucinich fails to win.

The Feminists for Kucinich statement concedes that left wingers should "vote your head in November." Translation: Oppose a left-wing third party campaign, like Ralph Nader's in 2000, and support whatever Democrat emerges with the nomination, no matter how conservative, in the name of defeating Bush.

This dynamic shows how--rhetoric aside--Kucinich's real role in the Democratic Party is to round up the left and deliver it to the eventual nominee. This isn't a new phenomenon. Rev. Jesse Jackson's 1984 and 1988 presidential campaigns mobilized Black voters and the left in the primaries--then funneled them to the lackluster moderates Walter Mondale and Michael Dukakis.

During both campaigns, radicals believed that Jackson's Rainbow Coalition would be the launching pad for a left-wing political alternative. Both times, they were proved wrong when Jackson fell in line behind party leaders.

This contributed to the rightward shift of the whole spectrum of national politics--and postponed yet again the urgent task of building an alternative to the two corporate parties. That's why the politics of lesser evilism is a trap--one that the left should resist.

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