"To be sure," as Progressive Review editor Sam Smith puts it, "there will be a consolation runoff in which we get to decide who we would rather do battle against for the next four years." But John Kerry’s emergence last week as the Democrats’ certain presidential nominee--barring a freak accident or scandal--guarantees that the White House will be occupied by a loyal member of the ruling political establishment who agrees on most of what has happened in Washington under George W. Bush.
That’s not the way it will look. Bush and Kerry are already slinging mud at each other. But the campaign rhetoric covers up the reality. "Kerry voted for so many of Bush's major initiatives that in order to disown them now, he can only argue that they were wrongly or dishonestly ‘implemented,’" wrote Washington Post columnist Marjorie Williams--who supports Kerry over Bush. "This amounts to a confession that his opponent made a chump of him for the past three years. In fact, one might argue that Kerry is a poster boy for all the ways in which congressional Democrats have allowed themselves to be rolled by the Bush administration."
At every election, the differences between the Republican and Democratic presidential candidates, no matter how slight, are all we hear about. This is the picture painted by the Washington establishment, of course, which benefits if the spectrum of political discussion is limited to a narrow band, bounded on right and left by the two mainstream parties.
But millions of people to the left of the Democrats who want to register their opposition to the cold-heartedness of the Republicans regularly put their hope in the seeming differences, too. They should take a closer look at what the Democrats say they stand for.
Last week--in the wake of the U.S.-engineered coup in Haiti--Kerry made a speech in southern California about his foreign policy beliefs. It might as well have been given by Bush. "I will not hesitate to order direct military action when needed to capture and destroy terrorist groups and their leaders," Kerry declared. As the Washington Post reported, "Kerry appeared to outline his own preemptive doctrine.
"Not a single word," wrote left-wing author William Blum, "about the tens of thousands killed by U.S. military actions in Afghanistan and Iraq; not a word about anything the United States has ever done anywhere in the world that could conceivably lead to anyone ever harboring justified resentment against the United States and seeking retaliation. Not a word about ending, or even lessening, interventions...It does not require total cynicism to point out that at most, at best, John Kerry's beef with the Bush administration over foreign policy--to the extent that he really has any--is a very minor difference of opinion between technocrats, Kerry offering a few tiny adjustments, a tweaking here or there."
Much the same could be said about Kerry’s stance on other issues. For example, Kerry echoed the rhetoric--"marriage is between a man and a woman"--used by Bush and the Republicans in opposing the right of gays and lesbians to marry. His pandering to bigotry left Kerry, according to Marjorie Williams, as the only member of Congress from Massachusetts to support the state legislature’s back-of-the-bus compromise that would ban gay marriage, but allow civil unions.
Many antiwar activists were drawn to the candidacy of Dennis Kucinich, who at least opposed the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq--as well as Howard Dean, whose reputation as an opponent of the war was a matter of style and rhetoric, not substance. But now, the presidential nomination has been handed to the most establishment of Washington Democrats--whose differences with Bush depend on which way the wind is blowing and the opinion polls are running.
For people who genuinely care about opposing the U.S. military machine and about standing up for justice and against oppression, there are many good reasons to vote against George Bush. But there are no good ones to vote for John Kerry.
Kerry doesn’t represent an alternative to Bush, but rather another form of the same political program that Bush stands for--sometimes presented with a kinder, gentler face, and sometimes not even that. We deserve better than this two-party system which consistently produces a choice between two evils.
Alan Maass writes for Socialist Worker. This article first appeared on the SW website (http://socialistworker.org/).
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