-- Daniel Webster
Respected linguist Noam Chomsky has prioritized the removal of the President George Bush-led US government. It is not surprising the anarcho-syndicalist professor has identified the strategy of choosing the lesser evil of the corporate political duopoly that dominates American politics.
The Guardian reported that Chomsky has given his “reluctant endorsement” in the upcoming US presidential election to Democratic hopeful John Kerry. (1) This is hardly a ground-breaking story, however, as Chomsky had already stated in an online forum on 28 February, “I plan to vote against Bush, and the only way to do that will be to press the lever for the Democratic candidate, presumably Kerry.”
Even in early February Chomsky’s voting preference was revealed in an interview:
The political spectrum is narrow. Elections are essentially bought, and the democratic culture is severely eroded. Furthermore, the population is aware of it, by and large, but many feel helpless. It is also a very frightened country, particularly men, polls indicate. That has been true for a long time, and those fears are exploited by unscrupulous leaders to divert the attention of the people they are kicking in the face, not to speak of what they are doing to coming generations. Nevertheless, though differences are not very large, they do exist. The current incumbents may do severe, perhaps irreparable, damage if given another hold on power -- a very slim hold, but one they will use to achieve very ugly and dangerous ends. In a very powerful state, small differences may translate into very substantial effects on the victims, at home and abroad. It is no favor to those who are suffering, and may face much worse ahead, to overlook these facts. Keeping the Bush circle out means holding one’s nose and voting for some Democrat, … (2)
Chomsky has previously dismissed Bush as being “probably irrelevant,” (3) nonetheless, because his regime is so “cruel and savage” the replacement of this government is seen as a priority.
Chomsky even cautioned against a principled vote for a more progressive alternative: “No one should delude themselves into believing that they are taking a stand on principle if they help grant another mandate to the radical statist reactionaries around Bush -- unless the principle they adhere to is dismantling what remains of the progressive achievements of a century of popular struggle at home, and consequences internationally and for the future that we don’t have to dwell on.”
Chomsky’s reluctant support for Kerry is predictable; especially considering that he advocated pretty much the same action in the election between frontrunners George Bush Sr and Bill Clinton in 1992. “I voted for Clinton, not necessarily because I approve of his position, but because I think Bush would be worse,” said Chomsky in a 1995 interview. (4)
Chomsky did concede that Clinton’s “policies are continuing more or less the same” policies of Bush Sr.
There are some marginal differences between Bush and Clinton, but they are not enormous. They roughly have the same commitments. They differ on how best to provide for the needs of the corporate sector, although there might be some openings in the Clinton administration for some of the other sectors. One thing that is significant in my mind is that another four years of court packing by ultrastatist reactionaries would be extremely harmful to civil liberties in this country.
As the troubled Clinton presidency entered its twilight, Chomsky was less willing to openly endorse one particular candidate. A quote attributed to Chomsky on one webpage seems to indicate sympathy for a candidate outside the dominant two-corporate-party sphere: “Bush himself seems to be a total vacuum, but the people around him are frightening. I think it would be an uglier and more dangerous world if they come close to power. On the other hand, a strong Nader vote might encourage an active opposition no matter who is carrying out crimes in the Oval Office. Hard to assess, I think.”
That progressive sentiments are still held by Chomsky were revealed by his comments: “My feeling is pretty much the way it was in the year 2000. I admire Ralph Nader and Dennis Kucinich very much, and insofar as they bring up issues and carry out an educational and organizational function -- that’s important, and fine, and I support it.”
But the realities posed by a “war president” and his dangerous neo-conservative cabal has altered the electoral calculations this time around.
Although Clinton was relatively little known when he emerged on the federal scene, Kerry’s record in federal politics is an open book heading into the forthcoming election. Much of Kerry’s unpopular public record though is offset by Bush Jr’s more extreme right-wing politics than that of his father.
If the reality is that there is no viable candidate outside the corporate party duopoly then the choice is clear: Bush must be ousted. Contrary views are effectively marginalized and American democracy boils down to a choice between two obviously flawed candidates. But what are the repercussions for caving in to this self-fulfilling prophecy?
If the desires to defeat Bush leads to an exodus from alternative parties then how will that affect the progressive movement in the future? It seems a Bush ouster might be a small step forward for progressives and a giant step backwards.
The position of the anybody-but-Bush crowd
has merits and is understandable. Bush is horrible and to get rid of him
would send some kind of message, especially, if he were overwhelmingly
rejected in the November election.
Many of the people backing Kerry now were not backing him a few months ago. The corporate media character assassination of pseudo-progressive candidate Howard Dean and the utter marginalization of Dennis Kucinich were setbacks for supporters of a progressive alternative.
The differences between the Republicans and Democrats are minor, be they led by Reagan, Carter, Bush, or Clinton in power. Obviously a continuation of voting for the lesser-of-two evils will axiomatically tend to an entrenchment of the terrible status quo. To maintain this status quo all that is required is for one of the two corporate parties to field a presidential candidate who raises sufficiently alarming repugnance that progressively-oriented voters will flock to the lesser evil. Stephen Gowans depicted a compelling analogy of the futility of the nose-holding vote tactic:
For four years Bill received regular kicks to the balls by Sam’s right boot. At the end of the four years he was given a choice: four more years of getting booted in the groin by the right foot, or four years by the left. Bill could have said he’d accept neither. If he was going to get booted in the balls anyway, no matter which boot he chose, he wouldn’t choose either. Why should he be a party to his own ball-crushing? Instead, so angry was he at Sam’s right boot for four years of intolerable blows -- and charmed by the argument that the left boot was the only realistic alternative, and that the right boot really needed to be sent a message -- he decided he’d get even by choosing Sam’s left boot this time. Maybe it would be marginally better. Today, crouched over in pain, he feebly raises his right fist in victory. “I showed that right boot a thing or two!” (5)
Democracy is in need of a large dose of democratization. Power is manipulated by the State in an evermore-arrogant fashion in American society. Power is unlikely to willingly relinquish itself. Power did not benevolently bestow rights upon the people; rather the rights enjoyed by ordinary people were claimed through action. The anarchist Emma Goldman wrote, “No real social change has ever come about without a revolution. People are either not familiar with their history, or they have not yet learned that revolution is but thought carried into action.” (6)
Chomsky understands this, and having pushed for a progressive, inclusive, and democratic society most of his life, he prioritizes the serious threat manifested by the Bush cabal to the hard-won rights of Americans. “The people around Bush are deeply committed to dismantling the achievements of popular struggle through the past century no matter what the cost to the general population.” To preserve the gains won in the past, Chomsky calls for a current electoral strategy of solidarizing with the wing of the lesser evil over a progressive option.
For Chomsky there is nose-holding … “but that’s not the end of the story. The basic culture and institutions of a democratic society have to be constructed, in part reconstructed, and defeat of an extremely dangerous clique in the presidential race is only one very small component of that.” (7)
Meanwhile others are bent over in pain awaiting a revolution.
Kim Petersen is a writer living in Nova Scotia, Canada. He can be reached at: email@example.com.
(1) Matthew Tempest, “Chomsky backs ‘Bush-lite’ Kerry,” Guardian, 20 March 2004
(2) M. Junaid Alam, “An
Interview with Noam Chomsky on Bush and the Left’s Strategy for the
Elections,” Dissident Voice, 6 February 2004
(3) Anthony DiMaggio, “Noam Chomsky Analyzes the Bushies,” Alternet.org, 6 December 2002
(4) Ron Chepesiuk, Excerpted from Sixties Radicals, Then and Now (McFarland, 1995) p 133-146
(5) Stephen Gowans, “Thoughts on the ANC and Leftists for Kerry: Communists for Capitalism,” Counterpunch, 3-5 April 2004
(6) Emma Goldman, Anarchism What It Really Stands For (pamphlet distributed by Manufactured Dissent) p 10
(7) Alam, op. cit.
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