What's the Historical Alternative?
by Fran Shor

February 18, 2004

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It is becoming more evident every day that the presidential race in 2004 will be a match-up between John Kerry and George W. Bush. Ralph Nader is still toying with the idea of running although he is getting lots of discouragement from Democrats and even Green Party members. As a former Green Party activist who worked in the Nader campaign in Michigan in 2000, I, too, would discourage him from mounting an independent run for the Presidency in 2004. While Nader's efforts in 2000 could be seen as an outgrowth of the struggles for global justice and hoped for reforms in the US political system, these are less evident now in an age of revanchist US imperialism abroad and political repression at home. Moreover, what constitutes the historical alternative in 2004 is a question which, so far, very few on the left have yet to address.

Unlike any other presidential election in our lifetime, a right-wing dominated Republican Party will go into the 2004 election with a majority in the House and Senate. Moreover, they will, most likely, keep those majorities, especially since they have assiduously been gerrymandering Congressional districts (in places like Pennsylvania and Texas) to guarantee their control in the House. In addition, it's also likely that Republicans may pick up some seats in the Senate, especially from Southern states where Democrats like Hollings, Edwards, and Graham have relinquished their incumbency. To neglect this historically significant moment of Republican congressional majorities is to blind oneself, either out of moral myopia, political obtuseness, or sectarian stupidity.

Those who wish to promote a third party alternative from the top-down, i.e, running an independent or Green Party candidate for the presidency, are neglecting the continuing structural impediments against third parties, including lack of proportional and preferential voting. In addition, electoral reforms necessary for any meaningful political change are still not in place. This means abolition of the Electoral College and enfranchisement of millions of people (a large proportion of which are black men) who are deemed ineligible to vote because of a prison record.

If the aforementioned political realities aren't bad enough for prospects for the 2004 presidential election, the focus on the Democratic candidate, as either savior or fraud, is also distressing. When critics of John Kerry in journals and websites begin to parrot the smear campaigns of right- wing columnists, such as David Brooks, there is something deeply amiss. Of course, Kerry should be challenged on his voting record and influence-peddling, but please spare us distorting the record and belaboring the obvious. If you think that Kerry was an inauthentic participant in the Vietnam Veterans Against the War, go back and read his moving testimony in front of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations on April 23, 1971. Although Kerry has distanced himself from that moment, we need not cast aspersions on his anti-war activities, especially since the Republican smear-machine is already labeling him as unpatriotic and "weak" on defense.

It is also astounding that progressives manage to selectively highlight Kerry's record without acknowledging the failures of the Democratic Party as a whole. For example, to criticize Kerry for his vote on the Patriot Act is to ignore the fact that only one member of the Senate, Russ Feingold, voted against it. If one believes that Kerry would actually be no different on civil liberties issues than John Ashcroft and the Bush Administration, point to substantive evidence. Furthermore, to overlook his high ratings by NARAL, environmental, and other liberal organizations is to neglect the positives and accentuate the very real negatives in his record.

Most bemusing, however, is those who claim that Kerry's influence-peddling deserves special criticism as if the whole Washington establishment has clean hands on this matter. Such efforts to cast Kerry as the worst of Washington bunch are somewhat reminiscent of Claude Raines' mock-shocked response in Casablanca to gambling at Rick's. Furthermore, why should it be such a surprise that someone who can raise this kind of money is the Democratic front- runner for president? C'mon, did anyone really believe that Dennis Kucinich would emerge as the Democratic presidential nominee? Finally, regrets about the demise of supposed insurgent candidate, Howard Dean, a Vermont centrist who tilted left on the war in Iraq to mobilize support, are also suspect, especially when one considers his record and the rest of those Democratic "outsiders" like Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton.

Let's face it, our task is not to bemoan the fact that the Democratic Party and its 2004 presumptive presidential candidate, John Kerry, are lacking in left credentials. Our historic responsibility is to defeat Bush and turn back the advances of the right. In order to do this, we needn't immerse ourselves in the Democratic Party or wait passively for the election to cast our votes. First and foremost, we need to continue to delegitimize the Bush Administration on every front. We should renew and expand the teach-ins and demonstrations against the war on Iraq. We should join with women and people of color to mobilize in whatever campaigns in which they are engaged, from pro-choice marches and rallies to supporting the southern California food workers.

Given our limited resources and the frightful potential of a second Bush term, we should not be expending our intellectual or activist capital (excuse the expression) on railing at Kerry and the Democratic Party. It will be difficult in the face of the media framing of politics in 2004 to think beyond the electoral arena, but we must. And when we've completed our work in leafleting, debating, mobilizing, etc. our fellow citizens around those crucial issues of peace, human rights, and economic justice that are at the core of every progressive agenda, we can make sure that any vote we and they cast will be fairly and accurately accounted for. Whatever the outcome of the presidential election in 2004 (and we should be well prepared for every Republican dirty trick to steal this election as they did in 2000), we will still have to be out on the streets the day after the vote to struggle for our own rendezvous with history.

Fran Shor teaches at Wayne State University in Detroit. He is an anti-war activist and member of several human rights and peace and justice organizations. E-mail: f.shor@wayne.edu







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