Putting Peace First

In recent debates the candidates were asked whether they will support the nominee of their party. Despite increasingly harsh rhetoric between the candidates only two candidates had the courage to put peace before their party and refused to issue blanket support for their party nominee. Rep. Ron Paul and Rep. Dennis Kucinich responded they would not support the nominee unless the nominee opposed war as an instrument of foreign policy.

This deserves loud applause from the peace movement. No doubt both candidates will pay a political price for taking such a stand. They may get the “Gravel Treatment” – presidential candidate Mike Gravel was harshly critical of the top tier candidates of the Democratic Party and now is excluded from the debates because the Democratic National Committee no longer considers him a serious candidate and the corporate media, which walks lock-step with the corporate parties, has refused to invite him to any debates. His campaign has all but disappeared.

Kucinich and Paul face other potential repercussions for putting the life and death issue of war and peace before party loyalty. Both are incumbent congressmen and if they are unsuccessful in getting their party’s presidential nomination will seek re-election to Congress. Will they find themselves with a well-funded primary challenger? And, if elected, will they find their committee assignments downgraded? Will they be appointed to subcommittee or committee chairmanships or passed over in favor of party loyalists? There are many ways for a political party to punish lack of party loyalty. So, Kucinich and Paul deserve a great deal of credit for publicly standing up for peace before party.

And, Kucinich and Paul did not just come out in opposition to the current disastrous occupation of Iraq. They came out more broadly for an end to the aggressively interventionist U.S. foreign policy that is dominated by militarism. This is the type of paradigm shifting policy change that is needed in U.S. foreign policy.

The fact that the U.S. spends as much as the whole world combined on the military ensures that every other aspect of American civil life is underfunded. It is why the debt is increasing, infrastructure is failing, the U.S. remains addicted to oil, college is overpriced, health care for all unachievable, and pre-school for children widely unavailable. If the U.S. wants to build economic security at home it needs to stop spending half the federal government’s discretionary spending on the military. If we want to build security from terrorism the U.S. needs to stop creating enemies faster than we kill them. If the U.S. wants “them” to stop hating “us” we need to stop behaving like an empire.

Sadly, at least one peace group, Friends Committee on National Legislation, is turning its back on these real peace candidates. FCNL whose slogan is “War is Not the Answer,” has published a voter guide that excludes Kucinich, Paul and Gravel – the three candidates who really believe war is not the answer. FCNL readers will not learn about these peace candidates in their on-line voter guide. Why? FCNL decided on an arbitrary cut-off point in polling that excludes these candidates. All the candidates that are included keep the military option for Iran on the table and do not advocate cutting military expenditures, only one (Bill Richardson) calls for complete withdrawal from Iraq. Are these “war is not the answer” candidates?

For Kucinich and Paul this stab in the back from a peace group comes at a bad time. Kucinich recently won a straw poll by the progressive Democracy For America and in early returns Kucinich is leading in the Progressive Democrats of America straw poll. Paul has been doing extremely well in straw polls around the country as well as in fundraising and in some polls is bettering candidates like John McCain. Both seem to be getting some traction but if the peace movement is not going to even report on their positions – a movement which should be the base of their support – then what hope do they have?

Sadly, the FCNL view is not uncommon among peace voters. Too many look at which candidate is most likely to win. Peace voters need to learn that voting for peace candidates is the way to increase their power. Voting for candidates who support the occupation or waffle on whether they will remove the troops in their first term is voting against the interests of peace. It is voting for war as the primary instrument of foreign policy and empire as the goal of U.S. policy – because that is the view of the candidates covered by FCNL. Peace voters need to have the courage to vote for peace candidates.

Paul and Kucinich differ on many issues – Paul is a free-market thinker who sees the solutions to economic disparity, lack of access to health care, poor education, the environment and the housing crisis in less government and more market-based solutions. Kucinich, while agreeing with Paul on bolstering civil liberties and individual rights, sees the solution to health care as ending the for-profit dominated health insurance industry and replacing it with a non-profit single payer system provided by the government. Similarly on environmental issues Kucinich favors a major government investment in alternative energy that is clean and sustainable, Paul doesn’t. Kucinich favors abortion rights, Paul opposes federal government involvement in abortion.

Peace voters have a choice between two solid peace candidates with two very different views of government and the economy, but they have more. Mike Gravel is another long-term peace advocate who has been active against war since the Vietnam era. Some peace voters may also see a candidate in Governor Bill Richardson who favors a complete withdrawal from Iraq, but is keeping the military option on the table for Iran and does not advocate shrinking the U.S. military.

And, in the General Election, peace voters will have other options no matter what the two establishment parties decide. The Green Party recently acquired a new member in Cynthia McKinney. The former Member of Congress recently registered as a Green in California and filed with the FEC to seek the Green presidential nomination. She has been strongly anti-war for her whole career and during her last congressional term sought impeachment of President Bush for his illegal invasion of Iraq.

Ralph Nader, the long-time consumer activist and former presidential candidate who has been working against the Iraq invasion and occupation since before the war began, is also considering a run for the presidency, possibly as a Green or as an independent. He has tirelessly worked to end the Iraq occupation and throughout his career has been an advocate for less spending on the military and more spending on the necessities of the people. Nader has also been a long-term advocate for impeachment of President Bush and Vice President Cheney for their deceptions and manipulations that led to the Iraq invasion.

Another Green candidate worthy of mention is Jared Ball. He is an assistant professor at Morgan State University in Baltimore, has a radio show in Washington, DC, and is founder of FreeMix radio which puts together a monthly hip-hop compilation. He is a veteran of Desert Shield/Desert Storm and an opponent of the Iraq occupation.

The Libertarian Party also has several candidates running and they are likely to nominate a peace candidate as well. The LP’s official position on the Iraq occupation is: “It is time for U.S. forces to withdraw from Iraq as quickly as possible in a manner consistent with the safety of our troops.”

Peace voters will have choices in 2008. There are several candidates who oppose both the Iraq occupation and the use of aggressive military force as the dominant approach to foreign policy. Peace voters make up the majority of Americans, but will they have the courage to vote their convictions or will they be manipulated by the two parties and the corporate media? Will they work and financially support peace candidates? It is a test for the peace movement to see whether it as the courage to put peace first.

Kevin Zeese serves as Attorney General in the Green Shadow Cabinet, and is a member of the Steering Committee of the Bradley Manning Support Network and an organizer of Popular Resistance. Read other articles by Kevin, or visit Kevin's website.

4 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. Michael Hureaux said on December 2nd, 2007 at 6:26am #

    Mike Gravel was eliminated from the debates because he doesn’t have a million dollars in assets to his campaign. That’s whyhe was shut out. The “left’ of the democratic party refuses to peep this shit for the intrusion upon the democratic process that it is. None of the major candidates have mentioned it, including Ron Paul. The fact of the matter is that networks are allowed to decide the “seriousness” of candidates based upon the amounts of money they are able to raise for a campaign. It’s small wonder Kucinich is kicked to the side. With standards like this, it’s only a matter of time before the requirement becomes five million, then ten million in funds, etc. People who vote for democrats don’t want to talk about capitalism. But capitalism is why we have the war, capitalism is why Gravel is shut out of the debates, and capitalism is why in another ten years, there’s going to be a formal single party system in the United States. People need to wake up and smell the fucking coffee.

  2. Paul Busch said on December 2nd, 2007 at 8:03am #

    I agree with the gist of Zeese’s article. Peace voters have been *way* too eager to vote against their own interests. Michael Hureaux is right, too. Until we have public financing of campaigns, they go to the highest bidder. That means corporate interests trump citizen interests. That’s also the reason we don’t have single payer universal health care. Zeese says that it’s because we’re spending too much on our military. We are, without doubt, spending way the hell too much on our military. But we’re *also* spending too much on our health care. We already spend more per capita on health care than any country in the world. And what do we get for that? Rich CEO’s and shareholders in the health care and pharmaceutical industries. 50 million completely uninsured Americans, tens of million more underinsured, and those with “full coverage” routinely turned down on their claims. As long as these corporations are calling the shots in the health care debate, Americans won’t get the universal coverage that they want and deserve (and are already paying for!).

  3. Robert B. Livingston said on December 2nd, 2007 at 12:16pm #

    This is a very nice summation of where we stand– although I would be surprised, but cheered if Ralph Nader ran as a real Green. I think his father would allow it if he were living– because truly– the Green Party is as more a child of Nader’s ideas than anyone else’s. While not synonymous with Nader– the Green Party is and has always “belonged” to Nader– just as a sometimes rebellious child, in a sense– not literally, still belongs to its parents.

    It is deplorable that the Friends Committee on National Legislation is turning its back on real peace candidates– but I don’t expect they will be unique and we are likely to see many others place their bets on candidates that look like more sure winners.
    (See Hirschhorn’s article about Robert F. Kennedy here at Dissident Voice.)

    The great humanist writer Erich Fromm has said that if we were betters we would be foolish to place our bets on a horse that stands a 20% chance of winning.

    But he also said– significantly– that when we are taking a chance over issues that involves life and death– we have no other real choice but to take that chance!
    Source: http://tinyurl.com/3ayel4

  4. Mike McNiven said on December 20th, 2007 at 8:14pm #

    Peace with social justice first:

    http://www.counterpunch.org/fiyouzat09292007.html