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A Fake Choice: Behind Bush and Kerry’s Narrow Debate
by Alan Maass
October 15, 2004
First Published in Socialist Worker

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“These first three debates,” New York's Newsday declared in an editorial, “have been scintillating and revelatory. Nobody who has listened can come away saying there is no difference between the candidates.”

In St. Louis, a “town hall” meeting with a carefully selected audience, almost all of them white, asking pre-screened questions--that’s scintillating? Two candidates who spend days being drilled by their handlers and advisers about how to squeeze their standard, non-committal sound bites into the form of answers--that’s revelatory?

Conservative columnist George Will gave the more honest view: “Presidential debates are to real debates as processed cheese is to cheese. They are preceded by elaborate negotiations to prevent the unseemly outbreak of anything debate-like, such as a sustained development, and critique, of arguments.”

Like everything about Election 2004, the debates between the Democratic and Republican presidential tickets have been designed to highlight the candidates’ limited disagreements--while hiding the much larger areas of basic agreement on fundamental questions.

Take the U.S. occupation of Iraq. Once you cut through Kerry’s narrow criticisms of how the Bush administration carried out its war on Iraqis--and Bush’s whining complaints about Kerry’s “flip-flopping”--the two candidates have almost identical answers to the question of what happens next: keep U.S. soldiers on the ground, get other countries (somehow) to contribute forces for the occupation, make sure a pliant Iraqi government is installed, and, above all, crush all resistance, wherever it emerges.

When the questions turned to domestic policy at the St. Louis “town hall” debate, Kerry emphasized his record of support for conservative policies first championed by Republicans--the vicious welfare “reform” law passed under Bill Clinton, law-and-order legislation that put more cops on the street, balancing the federal government budget by slashing programs that benefit working people.

Even on an issue where there is a difference between the candidates--a women’s right to abortion--Kerry scrambled to put the matter in the conservative terms that have given up ground to the anti-abortion fanatics over a period of decades. And that’s not to mention the range of issues--from full-throated support for Israel’s apartheid, to opposition to gay marriage--where the two candidates agree.

What this illustrates is how far the two mainstream parties have together traveled to the right--a far greater distance than the differences, when they exist at all, between Bush and Kerry today.

And this, in turn, shows the truth about the two-party system. It isn’t designed to offer a real choice, or even a real discussion about important issues. The Republicans and Democrats exist as two wings of a single political establishment--and define the outside limits of debate to a narrow political spectrum that doesn’t contain anything which might threaten the system as a whole. Both parties are fueled by corporate cash--which gives the tiny minority of rulers veto power over what happens in Washington. They offer a “choice” on Election Day--but it is a fake choice.

Millions of people are looking at Election 2004--with a sense of urgency about the need to get rid of George Bush. That’s understandable. Everyone who stands for justice and democracy wants to see the end of Bush’s reign.

But John Kerry is proving with every debate appearance and every campaign speech that you can succeed in getting rid of Bush, but fail to get rid of Bushism--that the Bush agenda pursued relentlessly over the past four years can remain in place, with John Kerry and the Democrats running the show.

That’s because the “Bush agenda” doesn’t belong uniquely to the Republicans and the neoconservative hawks who inhabit the White House. It represents a program--for expanding U.S. power abroad, and defending the wealth and privileges of corporations and the ruling elite at home--that both parties of the Washington establishment are firmly committed to, even if they disagree at times over how to implement it.

What we need isn’t the least bad of these two rotten choices, but an alternative to the two-party duopoly. And you can show your support for that alternative in Election 2004--by supporting the independent campaign of Ralph Nader and Peter Camejo. Nader and Camejo oppose the U.S. occupation of Iraq; support union rights and the government programs that both Republicans and Democrats want to cut back; and represent a left-wing challenge to the political stranglehold of the two corporate parties.

Nader is far from a perfect candidate. He was wrong to accept the endorsement of the right-wing Reform Party--and now the ballot line of the Independence Party in New York. This undercuts his campaign’s stand for progressive politics--and the efforts of all the activists who worked so hard to get Nader on the ballot and to challenge the slanders against him from the Anybody But Bush liberals.

Still, Nader and Camejo represent a genuine alternative to politics as usual--and one that hasn't compromised in challenging the two corporate parties. They deserve your support.

Alan Maass write for Socialist Worker. This article first appeared on the SW website (

Other Articles by Alan Maass

* An Interview with George Monbiot
* Neither Kerry’s Critics Nor Supporters Will Talk About the Real Vietnam
* The Green Party’s Step Backward
* Sex, Lies and Bill Clinton’s Book
* Corporate America’s CEO Pay Heist
* Why John Kerry Doesn’t Deserve Your Support
* A Challenge to the Politics of "Lesser Evilism"
* Saved from Execution, But Still on Death Row: We Won’t Let Kevin Cooper Die