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DEBATING THE ELECTIONS
SHARON SMITH:
The Democrats don't deserve our support

September 19, 2003 | Page 6

SHARON SMITH is a Socialist Worker columnist, contributor to the book Iraq Under Siege and a member of the International Socialist Organization.

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AFTER THE 2000 election, Green Party presidential candidate Ralph Nader was roundly denounced by Democrats as a "spoiler" who helped George Bush defeat Al Gore (ignoring the U.S. Supreme Court's decisive role during the Florida debacle in stealing the election for Bush). As the 2004 election approaches, the vast majority of the left--including many who campaigned for Nader in 2000--has made defeating Bush (by implication, with a Democrat) its number one priority.

The Green Party itself is considering a "safe states" strategy--campaigning for a Green candidate only in states where Democrats or Republicans hold an uncontested majority, effectively an endorsement of the Democrats. As left-wing journalist Norman Solomon wrote recently, "The Bush team has neared some elements of fascism," while Z Magazine's Michael Albert argued, "However bad his replacement may turn out, replacing Bush will improve the subsequent mood of the world and its prospects for survival."

These are widely accepted justifications for rallying behind the Democrats as "the lesser of two evils." By this "lesser evil" logic, many progressives now attracted to Howard Dean and Dennis Kucinich because of their opposition to the Iraq war will ultimately end up supporting a mainstream Democrat who seeks to win swing votes from the Republicans. Dean himself--who boasts, "I was a triangulator before Clinton was a triangulator"--might well fit the bill.

Out of sheer hatred for Bush, progressives can agree that the war party in power should be brought down. But the Democratic Party is a war party in waiting.

"Lesser evil" support for the Democrats has been repeated by sections of the left every four years since the Great Depression. But far from broadening the scope of left-wing politics, it has stunted the development of a radical social movement in the U.S. For this reason, it is necessary to view the role of "lesser evil" politics historically.

The term "fascist" has also been applied to conservative Republicans Barry Goldwater in 1964, Richard Nixon in the 1970s, as well as Ronald Reagan and George Bush Sr. in the 1980s, to express the urgency of voting Democrat on Election Day. To be sure, this Bush administration, dominated by neoconservatives, models itself on Reagan's.

And there are differences between the Democratic and Republican Parties on issues such as abortion rights. But the two parties, each funded and controlled by corporate donors, agree on fundamental aims, if not on the strategies to achieve them.

Both are pro-capitalist and pro-imperialist--dedicated to furthering the interests of the U.S. ruling class at home and expanding U.S. power globally. Bloody wars and political repression are neither unique to this Bush administration, nor to Republicans.

Democrat Harry Truman's first presidential act was to order two atomic bombs dropped on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Lyndon Johnson, the Democratic Party's "peace candidate" in 1964, had by 1965 massively escalated the Vietnam War--a war that killed 1.3 million Vietnamese and 58,000 U.S. soldiers.

Nor is Bush's USA PATRIOT Act the first time that the party in power has used large-scale repression at home. Democrat Woodrow Wilson signed the Espionage Act of 1917, banning protest against U.S. participation in the First World War, and his administration detained and deported thousands of immigrants. In 1942, Democrat Franklin Delano Roosevelt forcibly "relocated" the entire Japanese-American population on the West Coast into concentration camps for the rest of the Second World War.

The Democratic Party's reputation as a liberal alternative to the Republicans is greatly exaggerated--mainly by its liberal supporters. One need look no further back than the Clinton administration.

As a candidate in 1992, Clinton promised to "put people first," but instead of advancing liberal principles, Clinton stole the Republican's agenda on key issues. The hallmark of Clinton's presidency was ending "welfare as we know it" in 1996--dismantling 61-year-old New Deal legislation obliging the government to provide income support to the poor.

Clinton also helped to pave the way for Bush's USA PATRIOT Act when he signed the 1996 Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act. Also in 1996, Clinton signed the Defense of Marriage Act, banning gay marriage, and under his tenure, the U.S. prison population nearly doubled in size.

There is no reason to assume, as many do, that a Gore presidency would have avoided war after September 11. Clinton oversaw UN-sponsored sanctions against Iraq that led to the deaths of more than 1 million Iraqis, and U.S. warplanes dropped bombs on Iraq almost daily during his time in office. And Clinton signed the Iraq Liberation Act in 1998, calling for the U.S. "to seek to remove the regime headed by Saddam Hussein." Clinton's Secretary of State Madeleine Albright admits in a recent Foreign Affairs article, "I personally felt [Bush's new Iraq] war was justified on the basis of Saddam's decade-long refusal to comply with UN Security Council resolutions on weapons of mass destruction."

There is another reason why supporting the Democrats as a "lesser evil" is a mistake. For nearly a century, this logic has blocked the possibility for building an alternative to the left of the Democrats. Every four years, leftists must betray their principles simply to keep a Republican out of office.

In 1964, antiwar activists adopted the slogan "Half the way with LBJ," only to see Johnson escalate the Vietnam War. In the 1990s, liberals scurried to provide cover for Clinton's welfare repeal. As former Health and Human Services official Peter Edelman noted, "So many of those who would have shouted from the rooftops if a Republican president had done this were boxed in by their desire to see the president reelected."

Largely because the left and the labor movement have remained tied to the coattails of the Democratic Party since the 1930s, the U.S. remains the only advanced industrial society without a labor or social democratic party funded by unions instead of big business. If the left is to move forward, its collective memory must stretch further back than the last Republican administration--and it must set its sights much higher than promoting the current crop of Democratic Party contenders.

As social activist Howard Zinn argued in the pages of this newspaper, "[T]he really critical thing isn't who is sitting in the White House but who is sitting in--in the streets, in the cafeterias, in the halls of government, in the factories. Who is protesting, who is occupying offices and demonstrating--those are the things that determine what happens."

The course of the struggle, not the outcome of the 2004 elections, will shape the future of the left--and experience has shown that endorsing the Democratic Party pulls the left into its fold, not the other way around.

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