First the good news: Joshua Frank is a first-rate journalist who's written a superbly researched, incisive book about who and what the Democrats really are. Now the bad news: Joshua Frank is a first-rate journalist who's written a superbly researched, incisive book about who and what the Democrats really are.
Depending upon your outlook, you may not care that there are still real journalists out there, like Frank, who are willing to search for and describe the truth. You may be one of those "fundamentalist" types who still believe what Mommy and Daddy and whatever relevant Authorities told you when you were one to ten years old -- the years of impression, the mind-minting years, the years of language-acquisition and consequently, myth acquisition: that the Democrats are the "party of opposition," the defenders of "the little guy" and all that's worth fighting for. Mr. Smith goes to Washington, etc.
It's been five years since the appearance of Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St. Clair's The Al Gore User's Manual, which gave us a detailed account of the real Al Gore, who was no more an "environmentalist" than Lee Iaccoca, no more a "typical American" than his rival, George W. Bush. One wonders whether if more people had known the truth about what the Democratic party was and is, Ralph Nader would have received more votes than "Bronx Cheers," or if people would still have blamed the man whose life was spent working for the public good for lost votes for/against two men whose lives had hitherto been spent living off the fruits of public misery. Perhaps the User's Manual came out too soon; people were still high on the deeply inhaled myth of Clintonian prosperity, though by the 2000 election the bubble had burst; lives and markets had begun to crash.
Joshua Frank's Left Out deals with the myth that "America would be 'A.O.K' again under a Democratic president." Just as it had allegedly been flying high with Clinton and his co-pilot (Hillary? Gore? Blair?).
The first part of the book, filling half of its densely sourced and researched, yet blazingly readable 211 pages, deals with the phenomenon of the alleged "progressive outsider" Howard Dean, Vermont Governor, M.D., and putative challenger to the neo-liberal, Clinton-influenced Democratic Leadership Council's (DLC) lock on the Democratic party.
But Frank's analysis of Howard Dean is "about" Howard Dean in the way Robert Penn Warren's novel All the Kings Men was "about" an earlier populist challenger to the Democratic liberal elites, Louisiana Governor Huey Long. Long's popularity and the cult of personality that surrounded him led many to wonder aloud (a cunningly oblique method of character assassination) if "fascism could come to America." Well, we know the answer to that -- though a close reading of Bertram Gross's Friendly Fascism published in 1980, might be in order -- and so does Frank.
Part One of Left Out is not about Dean as an individual phenomenon, which could be sloughed off, like Long was by the Depression-era Democrats, as a "fluke", but about the system that allows such individuals to rise to power, only to be put back in "their place" by the real rulers of the Democratic Party come election time. Frank's systemic analysis avoids the excuses we hear about "bad apples" (which allowed the ultimate insider/party hack, Richard Nixon, to be cut loose from the Party that nurtured him and that he served so well from the McCarthy era on, as an "aberration.")
True, George W. Bush and Company might be roaring along at 120 mph in a gas guzzling SUV while Gore and later Kerry pretended to obey the speed limit -- though eagerly put the pedal to the metal when the arbitrary speed limit jumped from 55 to 65 in various states -- in a slightly more ecological European or Japanese sedan, but both are burning environmentally hazardous fossil fuels in their journey down what Sioux Medicine Man/American Social critic Lame Deer called "that great American superhighway toward oblivion."
Frank makes clear in the beginning that the "Dean Phenomenon" had less to do with Dean himself than the arduous efforts of self-proclaimed "Deaniacs" who used the Internet to spread the message of "change". The Deaniacs were composed of diehard Democrats who couldn't bring themselves to vote for the same old mush offered by the party leadership but at the same time wouldn't admit "The Party" is over and let go (perhaps to create a new, grassroots organization that really would speak to "the people"), as well as Internet savvy college students and twenty-somethings looking for change and believing they found it in Dean. But, as Dean discovered during the Iowa primaries, the Internet is still an untested, unpredictable medium. Websites and mass emailing campaigns can create a buzz among activists and journalists, but the net is still not as omnipresent as television in voters' living rooms. A well-organized petition or signature campaign entailing legwork, phone-calls, canvassers and people talking to people the "old fashioned way" might have reached Iowa Democrats before the primary.
But by then it was too late, and seeing their chance, the DNC, DLC and other party elites pounced. They savaged Dean the way they had savaged Nader four years earlier, but unlike Nader, Dean was a Democrat, trying to work within the system, and he was certainly no progressive. What at first frightened, then, once they realized it could be contained, infuriated the DNC/DLC masters was the way in which Dean "earned" his contributions:
"Unlike his rivals in the campaign to unseat Bush, Dean claimed to actually be in tune with his community of faithful supporters, who by June of 2003 had raised over $10.5 million for his campaign. Bringing in over $15 million in small online donations -- which typically averaged a meager $25 a pop -- Dean broke the record for money raised by a single Democrat in one period by the presidential race's third quarter.
"It was the making of a new wave of democratic participation -- call it 'credit card activism' -- where tech-savvy liberals latched onto Howard Dean's unorthodox campaign while he challenged the Iraq war and took on the Democratic Establishment (Democratic National Committee, DNC, and the Democratic Leadership Council, DLC) by raising bundles of cash outside the Democratic normal corporate circles.
"When the online activist organization MoveOn.org held their mock primary in late June 2003, the Dean campaign received an added boost, receiving funding from their own broad membership base. Echoing the beliefs of these liberals, Dean felt that the DC insiders were taking their party 'too far to the right.' And they were none too happy," wrote Frank (Left Out, p 34).
But was Dean really going against the grain, or was he merely using an image the Democratic elite themselves created for him as the "progressive outsider" to define himself as something he was definitely not?
"The story of how Howard Dean went from a supposed attacker, battering down the stodgy gates of the Democratic institution, to an insider hell-bent on weakening the party, further explicates that he and his party in fact helped reelect George W. Bush. What follows should serve as a dramatic warning of what the liberal end of the Democratic Party actually looks like, and why such a slight alternative to the Republican Agenda will not win important elections," wrote Frank (LO, p35).
How did Dean and his party help Bush? By driving down the same "super-highway to oblivion," only slower, a bit more cautiously; hence, "like" Bush, but not Bush. What "follows?" A detailed, description of what Dean and his party are really about, and it's not pretty.
First, Frank puts the real Dean, not the media inflation/creation, under the journalists' microscope and finds . . . a Republican in "Democrat Drag."
As five-time governor of Vermont, Dean did to that state what Bush/Clinton/Bush did to the Nation as a whole (and Clinton and Bush Jr. did to Arkansas and Texas respectively).
He "balanced the budget" on the backs of the poor, the handicapped and the elderly, cutting social services while allowing corporate interests to develop on protected wilderness, pollute the environment and pay less than their fair share of taxes.
Dean criticized Bush for meeting privately with energy hucksters such as Ken Lay and closing the records of Cheney's "energy task force," yet he himself plotted Vermont's energy policy behind closed doors with the Vermont Energy Group.
His environmental policy was straight out of the pro-business-citizens-be-damned handbook. He turned a blind eye to corporate polluters and Big Agriculture's dangerous use of pesticides, despite frequent complaints by Vermont's citizens (LO, pp. 84–86).
"Dean's lackluster farm policies forced native Vermonter John Tremblay to move his family to New Hampshire. During his move Tremblay contended in the Vermonters for a Clean Environment report that Dean 'is a businessman with big money. He is not a farmer. He doesn't care about the people or the environment. He doesn't care that the air stinks or that there are flies everywhere. He doesn't care that his trucks ruin roads and make it unsafe for your children to ride their bikes. He doesn't care that he destroys your way of life, and unfortunately the state of Vermont doesn't care either.'" (LO, p86)
Tremblay could have been talking about Texas under Beef and Oil friendly Bush or Arkansas under Tyson Chicken Clinton. Or about the United States of America under both.
Perhaps most hypocritical of all was Dean's position on the death penalty and medical marijuana. A former doctor who allegedly took the Hippocratic oath to "do no harm," Dean seemed as enamored of capital punishment as his alleged "rival" Bush, who excised over 130 human beings from the planet during his tenure as Governor of Texas.
[Note: this reviewer has never read the famous Hippocratic -- hypocritical? -- "oath"; perhaps it's merely the expletive spit out by recent med-school graduates when they receive their bill.]
"The problem with life without parole is that people get out for reasons that have nothing to do with justice. We had a case where a guy who was a rapist, a serial sex offender, was convicted, then let out on what I think an believe was a technicality, a new trial was ordered and the victim wouldn't come back and go through a second trial," Dean told Meet the Press in June of 2003.
Better one guilty man die than a thousand innocents go free on "technicalities" such as the Bill of Rights, Dean seemed to be saying.
Dean's position, on drug policy, as governor and presidential candidate, mirrors the draconian policies favored by both the Republican and Democratic parties and enforced by both Presidents Clinton and Bush II in which hospice-like organizations that administer marijuana to cancer, aids and glaucoma patients are raided by the DEA. There are thousands of drugs with harmful side effects and addictive properties manufactured by big pharmaceutical companies and sold legally by prescription. Because of the government's bizarre phobia of marijuana, the drug hasn't been studied fully for its various healing properties, yet it is known to ease the nausea and sickness caused by legal drugs used in chemotherapy and other legal procedures. Why would a doctor prevent terminally ill patients from obtaining relief from pain by any means necessary?
[Note: also, as far as this reviewer knows, examples of people getting "doped up" on pot and robbing a convenience store at gunpoint or beating up family members are relatively rare.]
Frank shows that the Dean Phenomenon wasn't all that phenomenal. Howard Dean was no more "progressive" than the "mainstream" candidates of the DNC/DLC party elite. He was attacked viciously and vigorously by his "fellow Democrats," especially around the time of the Iowa Primaries, merely because he'd threatened the "business-as-usual" method of cadging corporate donations. By the time of the New Hampshire Primaries, he ran a distant third behind Party favorites Kerry and Edwards. But then, he faired better than the truly progressive Dennis Kucinich and Al Sharpton, who were barely acknowledged at all.
As Part One of Left Out demonstrates, even a conservative challenger will incur the wrath of the Party Masters if he threatens their hegemony in any way. Hence, Dean, who hasn't a progressive bone in his body, was labeled a "liberal kook" and "too far to the left" to run a "real" candidacy, whereas the Party's Chosen ones, Kerry and Edwards, who followed the same political philosophy as Dean, but who got their money "the old fashioned way," won the approval of the Party and the Media, "We the people," as usual, were conveniently ignored. We'll vote Democrat anyway, won't we? Unless we're willing to "throw our votes away" on a third party, which in the DNC's view is equivalent to voting Republican, we have no choice. Hence, the true platform of the Democratic Party in 2004 was the same as it was in 2000: Anybody But Bush (ABB).
Though "liberal" filmmaker Michael Moore stumped briefly for "war hero" (in Clinton's murderous, illegal Bosnia campaign) General Wesley Clark, the candidates of the DNC/DLC's choice were never in question, once Dean's brief flame flickered: Kerry and Edwards.
What did Kerry, the man who would unseat the tyrant George Bush, who was repeatedly compared to Hitler (and rightfully so, though people in glass houses...) throughout the campaign, represent? What changes would he bring to America? As it turned out, the only change Kerry offered was orthographic: instead of "President Bush" the newspapers would have to print "President Kerry."
The war in Iraq, an outrageous, racist, oil-inspired, cruel, murderous adventure supported from the get-go by both Republicans and Democrats by large majorities in the House and Senate, would not be stopped. Rather, Kerry would do a "better job" than Bush in ravaging Iraq.
The War on Terror? The War on Drugs? Campaign Finance reform? The Environment? An Israel-slanted Mideast policy? The unspoken but obvious "war" on minorities as exemplified by the "Prison Industrial System" (PIS) and capital punishment?
On nearly every issue, Kerry was more or less in agreement with Bush in that the "issue", whatever it was, had to be dealt with firmly, with grave war metaphors and tough talk. The only difference was the way in which these numerous "wars" would be fought -- Kerry's strategy for winning wars against diseases, ideologies, methodologies, nouns, adjectives, adverbial clauses, was somehow better, less costly and smarter than Bush's.
Of course, this is nothing new. "McCarthyism" played itself out during a Democrat's tenure, as did the first years of heavy fighting/bombing of the Viet Nam war. But even Lyndon Johnson had the liberal fig leaf of the "Great Society" to balance his warmongering. The real leap of bad-faith for the Democrats, the poisoning of the well which will never yield potable water again but must be abandoned for a fresher source, began with the first term of Bill Clinton.
Clinton's "welfare reform" forced single mothers to work minimum wage jobs without the option of child-care or other crucial services. Clinton's NAFTA agreement sent millions of American jobs across the border and overseas. Clinton began the first major assault against the Bill of Rights, which would culminate in the USA PATRIOT ACT under Bush, when he signed the "Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act" in 1996. In addition to bombing Iraq several times, bombing the Sudan, and launching the planet's first "Humanitarian War" in Bosnia, the Clinton Administration was responsible for well over half a million Iraqi deaths, according to former Secretary of State Madeline "It Was Worth It" Albright, due to lack of medicine and other necessities blocked by sanctions. More money was spent on PIS and more Americans went to prison (especially Americans of Color) under Clinton than under Reagan or Bush I.
The list of Clinton's offenses against the people and environment of the U.S. and the world is long and painful to read, but Frank explores this list of swindles and privations worthy of the most right-wing of Republicans, worthy of and indeed expanded upon by George W. Bush. The Democratic Party is not the party of "the people," it's just not the party in control, or at least, not the party with a president in office. It lost the past two presidential elections, and many House and Senate seats, by following the pro-war, pro-corporate, anti-environment, destructive lead of the Republicans while trying to maintain the charade that it's the "party of the people."
Kerry offered nothing that hadn't already been supplied -- in abundance -- by Bush.
"It can be safely said that the economic pendulum would not have swung in the opposite direction had Kerry won the election. The number of people living in poverty would surely have increased. Jobs would still continue to be exported. Livelihoods would have continued to go down the drain. And health care for all would certainly not have been attainable, much less wished for by the Democrats," wrote Frank (LO, pp. 162–163).
U.S. foreign policy, from favoring Israel over the Palestinians to continuing the colonization of Iraq to entering new conflicts under the guise of "The War on Terror" would have remained Bush's in substance, had Kerry won, differentiated only in whatever ways Kerry's "style" of management differed from Bush's.
The assault of civil liberties and the Bill of Rights, expanded by Bush but begun during the Reagan era and managed by Bush I and Clinton (particularly the Clinton of Waco; the beating of WTO protesters in Seattle; the V-chip and other obtrusive technologies, and the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty act) would doubtless have continued.
"Racist profiling, harassment of black and Latino youth under the guise of "anti-gang" activity, and no-knock SWAT raids on the homes of non-whites increased dramatically under Bill Clinton" as did the number of Americans in jail and Police on the streets, wrote Frank (pp. 169–170).
Bush expanded and accelerated these policies -- crusin' down that superhighway -- and Kerry promised to at least maintain them -- same highway, different vehicle, perhaps slower in deference to state speed limits and "rule of law."
"[B]y ascribing all the civil liberties tribulations of this country to one date, September 11, 2001, and one administration, George W. Bush's, the liberal establishment has avoided any painstaking analysis of our systemic civil liberties problems that would indeed point back in its own members' direction. Like so many other issues, the Democrats had been doing Bush's work for him all along," wrote Frank (p173).
That there are few if any substantial differences between Democrats and Republicans, that settling for the "lesser evil" is like settling for the "less broken" of broken bottles, is the ultimate thesis of Left Out. With both parties offering variations of the themes of war, corporatism, intrusive state control and environmental meltdown as "real world choices," we must imagine a better world and make it so, or resign ourselves to the Oblivion at the end of the great superhighway.
The "choices" in 2004 boiled down to Kerry's war or Bush's; Kerry's environmental sell-out or Bush's; Kerry's bond market economy or Bush's; Kerry's Patriot Act or Bush's. How dare they have mocked Greens and Naderites for not being "realistic?" What does "realistic" mean, supporting the murder of thousands of Afghans and Iraqis under false pretenses and paranoid lies?
Highway America: Last stop Oblivion, or Renewal?
As Frank demonstrates through a relentless barrage of source material, sober analysis, and the kind of clear, concise prose that can only be achieved through integrity and honesty, the last time the Democrats were the party of the people, if it ever was, the Andrews Sisters were at the top of the pops and there were two Major League Baseballs: one for white people and one for "colored". It was considered unrealistic, loony, Utopian, and downright un-American that the best players of these separate, unequal (in terms of wealth, not talent) leagues would ever compete on the same field of play.
To quote the late baseball commentator, Mel Allen, who covered the game both before and after the "Utopian fantasy" of integration: "How about that!"
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