WHAT WE THINK
September 26, 2003 | Page 3
THE UPROAR over retired Gen. Wesley Clark's announcement that he would run for president showed the sad state of the Democratic Party--but also of those on the left searching for a reason to be excited about voting Democratic in 2004. Clark's entry into the race for the Democratic presidential nomination was greeted as a godsend by many Democrats. Not because of what he stands for, mind you, but because of his old job title.
"He takes the stigma that Democrats are weak on national security away from all of us," declared Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.), a leader of the Black Congressional Caucus. Naturally, the Democratic Party establishment is delighted. To them, Clark can take the wind out of the sails of Howard Dean and the other contenders for the nomination, who party leaders think are veering too far left.
But some liberals and progressives who should know better have made fools of themselves welcoming Clark's candidacy. "Call me star-struck," wrote Robert Kuttner, co-editor of the American Prospect magazine, "but he'd instantly be among the top tier." Worse was Michael Moore, one of the best-known supporters of Ralph Nader during the last presidential campaign, who gave out a big wet kiss to Clark in an open letter ridiculously titled "A Citizen's Appeal to a General in a Time of War (at Home)."
"The General vs. the Texas Air National Guard deserter!" Moore wrote. "I want to see that debate." But would he really?
After all, it's not clear that Clark has any real disagreements with Bush. This is a man who, according to Newsweek magazine, was itching to join the Bush national security team after September 11, but was blocked by White House adviser Karl Rove. "I would have been a Republican," Clark reportedly fumed to two prominent GOP officials, "if Karl Rove had returned my phone calls."
Within days of announcing his candidacy, Clark had flip-flopped several times on the one issue that got him so much attention--the Iraq war. Of course, it should be hard for anyone to take Clark seriously as an antiwar candidate after the 1999 war against Yugoslavia, which he presided over as supreme commander of NATO.
"I was on the ground in Serbia and in Kosovo when he ran the war there," British journalist Robert Fisk said in an interview on the left-wing radio program Democracy Now! "He didn't seem to be very antiwar at the time...NATO in its war against the Serbs committed a number of acts which I think are very close to war crimes, and General Clark was the commander."
Moore's cheerleading for Clark is another example of the diminished expectations among progressives so desperate to beat George W. Bush that they will settle for almost any Democrat. Howard Dean, for example, is the hope of many liberals and even radicals--even though he supports the death penalty, calls for "sacrifices" to balance the budget and talks about raising the Social Security retirement age to 70. Yet these intolerable positions are excused by some in the name of "electability."
Even Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio), probably the most liberal of the presidential candidates, is treated with kid gloves when it comes to his longstanding opposition to abortion, for example, or his lifelong refusal to step outside the Democratic Party. Millions of people want to get rid of Bush and his right-wing administration in 2004--and even the more conservative candidates for the Democratic nomination are playing to this sentiment with their rhetoric.
But on the substantial issues, the differences between the Democrats and Republicans are really much smaller than what they agree on. The not-so-antiwar, Republican-wannabe Wesley Clark is an abject example. But so is Dean, whose real political positions are much more conservative than his carefully crafted anti-Bush rhetoric has led many to believe.
The American socialist Eugene Debs--five times the presidential candidate of the Socialist Party--once said, "I would rather vote for what I want and not get it, then vote for what I don't want and get it." Those who support Clark or Dean or the other Democrats as the "lesser evil" are getting ready to vote for what they "don't want."
We can't settle for this. We have to commit ourselves to building a real political alternative--and focus our energies not on trying to identify the hope for change among the candidates of a capitalist party, but on relying on our own strength to build struggles throughout society.