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What's at stake in Election 2004?

July 9, 2004 | Pages 6 and 7

AN UNRAVELING occupation in Iraq. The world grown more dangerous and violent because of the U.S. "war on terror." Civil liberties shredded. An economy that isn't adding substantial numbers of new jobs. The political issues of Election 2004 couldn't be more urgent. But will voting in the presidential election offer the chance to make a difference on these issues? ALAN MAASS looks at what's really at stake in Election 2004.

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MILLIONS UPON millions of people in the U.S. are terrified at what George W. Bush has in store for them if he wins another four years in the White House. This is the secret of the success of Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11--a documentary film that exposes the crimes of the Bush presidency, from the war for oil and empire in Iraq to the attacks on working people in the U.S.

Despite the slanders of the Bush administration--and the pious complaints from the corporate media about Moore's lack of "objectivity"--Fahrenheit 9/11 speaks to all the long-held doubts and questions about Bush's war on the world in the name of stopping "terrorism."

It isn't just "preaching to the choir," either, as the media claim. One "lifetime Republican" wrote in a letter to the San Jose Mercury News that the movie had changed his mind. "[W]hen you consider all of it," he said, "you cannot come to any other conclusion than this: The Bush administration and its benefactors have clearly manipulated the fears of the American people for the benefit of their own private interests."

Moore couldn't have put it better himself. But while Fahrenheit 9/11 was justly capturing front-page headlines last week, another story snuck by under the radar screen--John Kerry's presidential campaign announced that it had another big month for fundraising in June, bringing total contributions to a whopping $182 million.

That's nearly twice as much as George Bush raised in his record-setting 2000 presidential campaign--and it almost erased the overwhelming fundraising advantage that the Bush campaign was expected to have this year. The results of the money election underline how little difference there is between the two main candidates for the White House.

No one has any doubts about where Bush's campaign cash is coming from. The 314 Pioneers (who brought in $100,000 for the Bush-Cheney campaign) and 211 Rangers (who brought in $200,000 or more) responsible for most of the campaign's $216 million in contributions are top corporate executives, bankers, investors and assorted rich parasites.

But Kerry is raking in the big bucks, too. His campaign claims that $100 million of his total was raised through "small donations" of $200 or less, but that leaves nearly half the total in sums other than "small."

Kerry is no stranger to corporate cash. Over the past 15 years, he has raised more money from paid lobbyists than any other senator. And he has a proven record of delivering.

For example, after taking in big sums from the telecommunications industry--thanks in large part to his longstanding relationship with the Boston lobbying firm Mintz, Levin, Cohn, Ferris, Glovsky and Popeo, where his brother is a partner--Kerry helpfully sponsored at least two bills and cosponsored half a dozen others sought by the telecom bosses.

The truth about the U.S. political system is that it only gives the appearance of offering a choice. The real business is conducted behind the scenes--with money greasing the way, and the real powers that be using both Republicans and Democrats to get their way.

Nevertheless, for millions of people, this argument won't make any difference in how they vote in November. They rightly hate George Bush, so they have decided to vote for "Anybody But Bush"--to support the Democratic candidate John Kerry, no matter how much they disagree with him.

Liberal and progressive--even radical--voices are part of the Anybody But Bush chorus. "I think you'll agree that in just over four months from now, Americans will make the most important decision of our lifetimes," wrote the Common Dreams Web site in a recent fundraising appeal. "The bottom line? Will we rehire Bush/Cheney to lead us for four more years? Or, will we fire them?"

The desire to vote out Bush is understandable--but shortsighted. If Bush is "fired," what about the person who replaces him? Will they offer significantly different policies? The truth is that the Anybody But Bush syndrome has won over millions and millions of people who haven't taken the time to consider if defeating George Bush will defeat the policies that Bush represents.

Beneath the campaign rhetoric, Kerry isn't promising anything very different from Bush. The most important question of Election 2004 is the occupation of Iraq--no other issue "holds a candle," according to a recent Associated Press article.

Yet there isn't "a distinct Plan A and Plan B," AP reported. "Apart from transferring limited authority to the new interim Iraqi government this week, Bush has taken steps to share the burden of Iraq's security with more countries, as Kerry has urged. And Kerry, for all his sharp criticisms of Bush's handling of the war, has proposed no radical shift."

Kerry and Bush do have some real differences. Abortion is one issue that Kerry supporters highlight, because their candidate is pro-choice, while Bush is anti-abortion. But is this difference decisive to the future of abortion rights?

After all, there was a "real difference" on this issue in 1992. Bill Clinton was pro-choice, as opposed to the 12 previous years of anti-abortion fanatics in the White House. But the right wing's campaign of chipping away at abortion rights only accelerated during the Clinton era--and the "pro-choice" administration did nothing to stop it.

In fact, Clinton abandoned his promise to pass a Freedom of Choice law--and aped the increasingly conservative rhetoric of liberals and right-wingers alike about making abortion "safe, legal and rare." Voting for the difference between Clinton and Bush on abortion rights didn't make a difference in stopping the attacks that have made the right to choose unavailable to women in 90 percent of U.S. counties today.

If anything, the Clinton presidency gave an advantage to the anti-abortionists--because it demobilized a massive pro-choice movement that had stood up to the right wing in the streets, including two huge demonstrations in Washington, D.C., when the Supreme Court considered cases that could have overturned the legal right to abortion. The writings of the justices show that this pressure swayed their votes.

But during the Clinton era, mainstream women's groups like the National Organization for Women didn't mobilize against the anti-abortionists--pinning their hopes on keeping "pro-choice" Democrats in the White House, even as the right to choose was chipped away.

There are issues where Bush and Kerry have differences, but those who plan to vote for Kerry as a vote against Bush should take a closer look at the issues where there are no differences at all.

For example, from the point of view of Palestinians and their struggle against Israel's reign of terror, there is no "lesser evil" in 2004. The Kerry campaign has issued a new policy paper as fanatically pro-Israel as anything from the Bush administration's neo-conservative "hawks."

It fully backs the construction of the 425-mile "security fence" in the West Bank--what Palestinians rightly call an "apartheid wall" designed to steal more land and further intensify Israeli repression. Several months ago, Kerry called the wall a "barrier to peace"--a mild criticism that wouldn't be out of place coming from Colin Powell. But his campaign must have decided that this would cost Kerry too many votes--so the new position paper claims the wall's construction is part of Israel's "legitimate right of self-defense."

Kerry's paper also declares Yasser Arafat to be a "failed leader" who must be replaced, backs Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's plan for a unilateral withdrawal from Gaza and for the annexation of more West Bank land at the same time--and he repeats his support for Israel's murderous spring 2002 offensive in the West Bank that led to the nightmare in Jenin.

Look at all the issues, and what is striking is not how different the two mainstream candidates are--or how Election 2004 represents "the most important decision of our lifetimes"--but how much they have in common and how little our votes will decide.

Despite all the claims about the stark differences between John Kerry and George Bush--by the establishment media that always view elections within the narrow confines of Republicans vs. Democrats, and by liberals and progressives determined to vote for Anybody But Bush--a large minority of people are getting ready to say "none of the above" to the choice presented by the two mainstream parties. Among new voters registering in New Mexico, one quarter signed up not as Democrats or Republicans or even as Greens, but as independents--about twice the typical level.

This symbolizes the rejection of the political status quo--something that can be seen at the national level in recent opinion polls. Bush's approval rating has fallen to the lowest point in his presidency--42 percent, according to a New York Times/CBS poll.,

Yet this hasn't translated into an overwhelming lead for Kerry. Why? Because people don't trust him to offer anything different. Among those who had an opinion of Kerry, most disliked him and believed that Kerry says what he thinks voters want to hear. As a result, the campaign is locked in a dead heat.

Most people who have their doubts about whether John Kerry will do much different from Bush will still vote for him in November. But the outpouring of support for Ralph Nader's independent presidential campaign--his standing in the polls has grown during the year, and currently ranges as high as 8 percent--shows that millions of people want an alternative to the two pro-corporate, pro-war parties in Washington. Taking whatever steps we can to build that alternative is very much at stake in Election 2004.

"The Democrats are that pro-war"

PETER CAMEJO is a veteran activist, leading Green Party member and Ralph Nader's vice presidential running mate in Election 2004. He talked to Socialist Worker about the arguments for voting for the Democrats as a "lesser evil."

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WHEN JOHN Kerry calls for more troops in Iraq and some of the Democrats who are considered the most progressive are calling for a draft, it's the corporate world and the people who dominate American politics trying to prepare America for being able to continue the born-again imperialism that exists now. The Democrats are playing their role of trying to co-opt and demobilize the antiwar forces.

Part of Kerry's platform is that more troops will go to Iraq, and there wasn't a single public statement by a Democrat against it. They are that pro-war. Therefore, the policy of voting the lesser evil becomes a pro-Bush vote.

The great victory of the two-party system is the ability to associate policies with an individual--so that if there's hostility, you remove the individual, and not the policy. That's what's happening here--they're focusing all the anger and hate on the individual, and the policy remains.

So by voting for Kerry, what we're doing is simply changing the face that's presenting the policy. Kerry is a much more popular face, who can talk to broader forces and get rid of some of the problems that Bush has created for his own policy. This is the analysis that we have to consider before we start saying in any way, shape or form to go out and vote for Kerry.

The war against Nader

JOHN KERRY and the Democrats talk about standing up to the Republicans. But they've saved their real venom for Ralph Nader.

Nader's independent campaign is under siege from an all-out attack by a Democratic Party desperate to keep him out of the November election--and from a hysterical chorus of Anybody But Bush liberals who will say anything to smear him.

Nader already faces huge obstacles just getting his name on the ballot. To qualify in California, for example, an independent presidential candidate needs more than 153,000 valid signatures.

But the Democrats aren't relying on unfair election laws. Everywhere that Nader has tried to qualify, they have gone all-out to challenge him. Already, the Nader campaign has had to give up on its effort to qualify in Arizona, where it had gathered more than 20,000 signatures--only to face a costly lawsuit that sought to disqualify almost all of them.

In Oregon, the campaign organized a meeting of more than 1,000 people late last month--which qualified Nader as a candidate under the state's unique ballot laws. But Democrats tried to pack the meeting, pretending to support Nader in order to keep out genuine backers.

The all-out attack has reached into the Green Party, which nominated Nader as its presidential candidate in 1996 and 2000. At their national convention in late June, the Greens rejected Nader and his vice presidential candidate, leading Green Party member Peter Camejo--blocking Nader from using the party's ballot line in 22 states and the District of Columbia.

Instead, the Greens nominated unknown party activist David Cobb, who has promised to run a "safe states" strategy that doesn't challenge the Democrats in so-called battleground states where a good showing might tip the Electoral College vote for Bush. Incredibly, Cobb's running mate Pat LaMarche told a Maine newspaper that she might not even vote for herself if it would hurt Kerry's chances of beating Bush.

One part of the assault on Nader is the Democrats' complaints about the support he has gotten from conservatives. Several conservative groups have tried to mobilize supporters to aid Nader's ballot efforts, and a handful of campaign contributors are well-known supporters of the Republican Party.

The amount that Bush backers have given to Nader is penny ante--about $41,000 of the $1 million that Nader has raised comes from known Bush supporters, according to Business Week Online. But no one would care one way or another about what Republicans are doing if the Democrats weren't carrying out a scorched-earth campaign against Nader's access to the ballot.

And the conservative groups have at least been honest that they reject Nader's left-wing politics and are cynically looking for a way to hurt the Kerry campaign--both at the polls in November and by exposing his supporters as hypocrites beforehand.

Incredibly, the Democrats' gutter tactics have allowed Republicans to claim the high ground. Bush campaign spokesperson Tracey Schmitt, for example, declared last week that "[W]hen Republican volunteers see that there are Democratic volunteers trying to restrict the choice and keep Nader off the ballot, that they should work to expand the choice."

The Bush-Cheney campaign doesn't care about "expanding choice." But the Democrats' assault on Nader has allowed even Republicans to show that "democratic" is the last thing the Democratic Party is.

The abuse heaped on Nader's head has grown more vile--and not only from the Democratic Party machine, but liberals and progressives who have accepted the Anybody But Bush mentality. These people--especially those who supported Nader in 2000 and are now publicly trashing themselves and the campaign they backed--should be ashamed.

They will say anything--about Nader's supposed "egotism," his fictional connections to the Republicans, his alleged campaign corruption--to smear a man who courageously offered a real alternative in the 2000 presidential election and won the best showing for a left-wing candidate in half a century.

People on the left have reason to be critical of some of Nader's moves during this campaign--for example, seeking the right wing Reform Party's endorsement and acting more conciliatory toward Kerry and the Democrats than they deserve. But none of that is at issue in the slanders coming at him today.

The progressives who complain so bitterly about Nader are silent about Kerry's open advocacy of policies that barely differ with George Bush. They've saved their real bile for Ralph Nader--for daring to challenge the narrow confines of the spoiled political system in the U.S.

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