A few days ago I received a letter from you sent to me as one of 75 members of your 2000 advisory group who now urge voters in swing states to vote for Kerry (www.Vote2StopBush.com).
You asked us to reconsider, pointing out that Kerry's commitment to escalate the war in Iraq with more troops, and his demand on Bush to not back away from destroying urban centers of the Iraqi resistance despite likely high levels of civilian casualties, has now so irrevocably committed a Kerry Administration to war policies that most liberals and progressives will have to spend their energies in coming years in opposition.
You are right. We will be fighting against Kerry's war policies, just as we would be resisting Bush's policies.
And you are wrong to think that this is sufficient reason to back away from supporting Kerry under the current circumstances.
On the contrary, if the only question facing us were how to most effectively end the war in Iraq, it would still be reasonable to back Kerry against Bush, not only because a new Bush Administration would likely outdo anything Kerry would come up with in insensitivity to civilian casualties, not only because a 2nd Bush term would more likely result in new interventions (possibly in Iran, Syria or North Korea), but also because we are far more likely to be able to rally Americans to oppose Kerry's war policies later if we show enough wisdom to support him now.
Why wisdom? Because most of us know, and you seem repeatedly to forget, that this election is not only about Iraq. Americans also care about the Supreme Court being packed with right-wing fanatics who will overturn Roe vs. Wade, eliminate gains won for minorities, weaken worker rights, effectively dismantle social security, weaken the barrier between state and fundamentalist approaches to religion, and extend into every aspect of American society a Guantanamo Bay-style destruction of civil liberties in a frenetic search for potential terrorists. This is why even those of us who abhor "lesser-evil" politics have made an exception in 2004.
Ralph, you are right to complain that none of this would be on the agenda had liberal Democrats had the backbone to stand up to Bush in the four years after they had won a presidential majority of voters in 2000, or if they had nominated a candidate willing to challenge not just the details but the spirit of militarism and repression that is inherent in a "war against terrorism" that has no boundaries and no possible end.
That is precisely why we needed you to be an effective political leader this year, rather than a quixotic and self-righteous outsider. You could have run in the Democratic presidential primaries, and then with the large support you certainly would have amassed after Dean's campaign faltered you could have made powerful demands on the candidate that could not be ignored: either unequivocally and powerfully oppose the war and articulate clearly an environmental agenda to heal the planet or our forces will not be with you in the general election. You could have represented the peace and justice and environmental forces inside the Party when the pressure was on to be silent and go along with a strategy of tilting to the right that we knew would weaken rather than strengthen the Democratic candidate. Even as an independent candidate you could have publicly offered a deal to withdraw if Kerry had backed peace and justice measures that you specified. Instead, you have allowed the enemies of a peace agenda to dismiss you as a self-involved egotist whose only concern is himself and not the country.
I know this charge to be false and unfair, Ralph, and I know your anger is based on the way that Congressional Democrats consistently ignored your policy initiatives and betrayed their own constituencies on key issues of social justice and the environment. But Ralph, changing them requires a powerful strategy of engagement-and your path, precisely because it is so easily dismissed as self-indulgent, isn't doing that.
You are right that there must be an independent force that can push them toward a progressive agenda. But Ralph, that force could operate both within and outside the Democratic Party, using the Democrats as a mass arena while still building a third party alongside it. You could still lead that force tomorrow were you to publicly urge your supporters in the swing states to vote for Kerry today. For the sake of your own progressive agenda, and for the millions of people who respect all that you did in the past in the fights for social justice, please do that now before you permanently weaken your capacity to rally Americans in the future.
Rabbi Michael Lerner is editor of Tikkun Magazine (www.Tikkun.org), rabbi of Beyt Tikkun synagogue in San Francisco, and author of nine books including Spirit Matters: Global Healing and the Wisdom of the Soul, Healing Israel/Palestine and The Politics of Meaning: Restoring Hope in an Age of Cynicism.