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How much difference between Kerry and Bush?
Slim pickings in Election 2004

Review by Adam Turl | September 17, 2004 | Page 9

Jeffrey St. Clair and Alexander Cockburn, eds., Dime's Worth of Difference: Beyond the Lesser of Two Evils. Counterpunch, 2004, 160 pages, $15.95.

EVERY ELECTION, the Democrats partly rely on amnesia--on the left forgetting how the Democrats voted for the war on Iraq and the USA PATRIOT Act, how they signed into law the "Defense of Marriage" Act and the anti-union Taft-Hartley Act. Because the Republican is invariably worse than the Democrat--and, in the case of George Bush, downright scary--we're told to vote for the party that, whatever its limitations, represents minorities, workers, women and gays.

But the Democrats' record flies in the face of that notion, as Jeffrey St. Clair and Alexander Cockburn make clear in a collection of essays titled Dime's Worth of Difference: Beyond the Lesser of Two Evils. Cockburn argues that elections aren't the decisive factor in the political direction of the country.

Giving the example of right-wing anti-Semite Richard Nixon, Cockburn writes, "by today's standards, [Nixon], under who aegis the Environmental Protection Agency was founded, the Occupational Safety and Health Act passed, Earth Day first celebrated...would have been regarded as impossibly radical."

The rising tide of social movements of the 1960s and early 1970s forced Nixon to do those things. When the movements ebbed and the economy went into recession, it was Democratic "lesser evil," Jimmy Carter, who took the first steps toward neo-liberalism and rekindling the Cold War.

While millions chronically stay home on Election Day, millions continue to vote for the Democratic Party, getting little--or worse--in return. In her essay, JoAnn Wypijewski describes the "benefits" to Jesse Jackson's Rainbow Coalition of supporting Bill Clinton for president: "The black stripe got the Crime Bill, women got 'welfare reform,' labor got NAFTA...advocates of D.C. statehood got nothing (though statehood would have virtually guaranteed two more Democratic Senate seats...)"

Although polls show that up to 60 percent of nonunion workers would join a union if they got a chance, Democrats have done nothing to make it easier for this large group of potential Democratic voters to organize. One is tempted to ask if Democrats enjoy losing elections?

Republicans manage to throw some meaty bones to their "base" of conservative Christians, xenophobes and pro-life wackos. But the Republicans aren't as scared of their "base" as the Democrats are of theirs--because the lifeblood of both parties is the same corporate cash and power that benefits from slashing wages and scapegoating minorities.

St. Clair exposes how Democratic National Committee head Terry McAuliffe, after some shenanigans with union pension funds, went on to manage the "cash for access" Clinton White House. For example, he arranged a presidential golf outing with (the now bankrupt) Global Crossing CEO Gary Winnick.

Global Crossing was blessed with a $400 million Pentagon contract, and Winnick endowed the Clinton Presidential Library with $1 million. Why was there no protest from Republicans?

Former President H.W. Bush had just received a mess of Global Crossing stock as a speaking fee--which soon skyrocketed to a value of $14 million. Some things are, evidently, just too important to "play politics" with.

Of course, if all the Democrats did were mimic Republicans and take bribes, nobody would vote for them. What about "good Democrats" like Paul Wellstone?

Green Party activist Jeff Taylor explains how throughout his years in office, the late Minnesota senator sacrificed principle after principle to remain a player in Washington. Taylor concedes that he probably did want to make things better. So how does one explain Wellstone's votes for the USA PATRIOT Act and the Afghan war?

Conventional wisdom was that "no" votes "would have been political suicide in an election year," Taylor writes. But, "[t]he irony is, as his integrity erodes, he'll loose more votes from those who care about integrity--and eventually he'll be neither right nor a senator." Wellstone, like all "good Democrats," delivered a left cover for the policies of Clinton and eventually even Bush.

As Cockburn and St. Clair argue, we need to reject a "choice" between two parties that agree on "trade policy, economic redistribution,...the CIA,...nuclear disarmament,...the military budget,...the World Bank, International Monetary Fund...crime, punishment and the prison explosion, the war on drugs, corporate policy, forest policy,...Israel [and] the corruption of the political system."

In 2004, there is a candidate who challenges the two main parties on these questions--Ralph Nader. While there are a few weaker essays, the lion's share of Dime's Worth of Difference gives those who support that challenge ammo against the amnesia and anemia of official politics.

This book is just in time to help build an alternative during this election--a task that, as Cockburn argues, "beckons to us, but on the battlefields of our choosing, not in the designated 'protest space' sanctioned and invigilated by the power that be." The sooner we get out of the designated "protest space" of the Democratic Party and get to work building the struggles that can win health care, gay marriage and an end to the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, the better.

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