there was any question about John Kerry being a "liberal," the Massachusetts
senator cleared it up during the February debate of Democratic presidential
contenders in New York City. No way, Kerry said.
"It's absolutely the most ridiculous thing I've ever seen in my life," Kerry snapped--before proudly coming up with a long list of his less-than-liberal credentials, including "deficit reduction" and putting "100,000 police officers on the streets of America.
After a brief flirtation with populist rhetoric and his uptight version of being a "regular guy" that helped get him the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination in primaries earlier this year, Kerry has quickly eased back into a role he seems much more comfortable with. Sounding like his opponent, George W. Bush.
So while Kerry criticizes the way Bush went to war in Iraq, he supports extending the brutal occupation and sending in more troops. Kerry’s answer to workers getting the short end of the stick in the U.S.’s jobless recovery is a tax cut to U.S. corporations that will supposedly create jobs in the U.S.--a not-so-new spin on an old Republican plan.
Anyone familiar with the logic of "electability" touted by the Democratic Party establishment won’t be surprised by the shape that Kerry’s campaign has taken. As Newsweek political reporter Howard Fineman advised in an April column, Kerry needs "a coherent, centrist vision." But "Kerry can't occupy the center if he's defined as a mere liberal," adds Fineman.
Fineman’s suggestions? Kerry should run ads reminding voters "that he was a prosecutor and that he voted for welfare reform in 1996, a brave (for Massachusetts) stand that drew picketers to his home."
Salon’s liberal columnist Joe Conason had more of the same advice in an article titled "Branding Kerry with the L-word." In response to Republican ads claiming that the senator is a "Massachusetts liberal," Conason discussed the qualities that might shield Kerry from this "attack."
Talking about his service in Vietnam, sports, hunting and motorcycles "doesn’t fit the stereotype of the left-wing wimp," Conason wrote. "Moreover, his voting record is sufficiently mixed to frustrate the more conventional forms of stereotyping. Like Bill Clinton, Kerry has inoculated himself as an advocate of fiscal responsibility and welfare reform, and a tough opponent of crime...
"The Republicans will soon start spending millions to negatively define him as a ‘Massachusetts liberal.’ When they do, Kerry will have a chance to show why those are really fighting words."
According to the logic of the Democratic Party establishment and their mouthpieces, the only candidate that can beat Bush is the one that’s just as tough as Bush. As for people who actually want to see an end to Bush’s rotten reign--people who opposed the war on Iraq and Bush’s giveaways to Corporate America--they should keep quiet, while Kerry moves to the right to look for more votes.
So anyone who supports the right to abortion, a federally funded social safety net and union rights, and who opposes the occupation of Iraq and U.S. support for Israel has to set these concerns aside--while a candidate who is supposedly attractive to the widest mainstream audience is put forward.
This logic of appealing to the widest possible audience misses an important point about the American electoral system. The most important votes cast for the next president won’t be counted at the ballot boxes, but have already been cast--from the coffers of Corporate America.
The Washington political system is all about money, funneled to the politicians through campaign contributions. And while Bush still has a sizeable fundraising lead when it comes to corporate cash, Kerry is getting his share. That’s why, rather than being "anybody but Bush," Kerry represents the "somebody besides Bush" that the U.S. ruling class can be happy with.
"You can't be a Democrat who loves jobs and hates the people who create them," was Kerry’s message to corporate backers at a February stump speech in St. Louis. "What we have to do is recognize that there is an enlightened, good capitalism, and there's a robber-baron capitalism. What George Bush has unleashed is a creed of greed that does a disservice to all people in business."
With 19 years as a senator serving on several senate committees, Kerry has a long and proven relationship with the people who reign over Corporate America. In addition to the transportation and health care industries, Kerry has powerful ties to lobbyists for the telecommunications industry.
Michael Whouley, a Kerry political aide, is a lobbyist for telecom giant AT&T. Kerry has also accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars from the Boston lobbying firm Mintz, Levin, Cohn, Ferris, Glovsky and Popeo--Kerry’s brother is a lawyer at the firm--which represents communications firms and the Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association. Not surprisingly, Kerry voted in favor of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 that paved the way for the current media consolidation and huge cable television fee increases.
If Kerry throws a little anti-corporate rhetoric into his stump speeches, ultimately, Wall Street isn’t that upset. "The anti-business message bothers me, and I’m going to talk to him about that," John Catsimatidis, the CEO of food and oil conglomerate Red Apple Group, told the Wall Street Journal. "But...you’re never going to have the perfect candidate."
Stephen Robert, a self-identified moderate Republican from the Wall Street firm Robert Capital Management Group, who was one of about 20 potential fundraisers at a private dinner with Kerry in New York in February, confirmed that corporate honchoes are prepared to accept Kerry as Plan B. "I’m calling everyone I know and telling them that they have to give," Robert told the Journal. "Every day, moderate Republicans call me and say, ‘I want to get on board.’"
Similarly, Kerry went after support from Big Oil--at a fancy fundraiser in San Diego this month, hosted by grocery mogul Ron Burkle, who sits on the board of Occidental Petroleum. Big business support for Kerry and the other politicians in Washington isn’t simply about what the rich can buy with their contributions--an oil or reconstruction contract in Iraq, hefty tax breaks or the destruction of workers’ rights and safety on the job.
The U.S. ruling class is interested in maintaining the status quo on any number of issues--like preserving the "traditional family" against the fight for gay marriage, or keeping government spending on programs for the poor on a tight leash. And of course, there’s upholding the right of the U.S. government to play the world’s cop around the globe.
Kerry may complain about being "misled" into supporting the war in Iraq--although prior to his vote, he was briefed by former chief United Nations weapons inspector Scott Ritter, who told him that Iraq didn’t have any weapons of mass destruction. But Kerry’s own statements about foreign policy sound little different from Bush’s.
Kerry proposes "a bold, progressive internationalism--backed by undoubted military might--that commits America to lead in the cause of human liberty and prosperity. "If Democrats do not stand for making America safer, stronger, and more secure, we won’t win back the White House--and we won’t deserve to."
This is what Democrats have to offer the millions of people in the U.S. who hate Bush’s war for oil and empire in Iraq--and who want the Pentagon war machine turned off. The tragedy is that the Democrats’ chief cheerleaders among the leaders of organized labor and mainstream liberal organizations will let Kerry get away with more--not less--than Bush, all in the name of taking back the White House.
The assumption is that the millions of ordinary people who hate George Bush have nowhere else to turn. That’s what the Democratic Party is betting on. We need to show them that they’re wrong--and make the case for a political alternative that’s independent of the two corporate parties.
Elizabeth Schulte is a correspondent for Socialist Worker. This article first appeared on the SW website (http://socialistworker.org/).
Other Articles by Elizabeth Schulte