Why is Bush's Loss Not Kerry's Gain?
by Sharon Smith
May 13, 2004
First Published in Socialist Worker

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Support for the U.S. occupation of Iraq is in free fall, with an April 28 New York Times/CBS News poll showing that 46 percent of Americans want U.S. troops withdrawn, while 48 percent say the entire war was a mistake--the same percentage who said the Vietnam War was wrong in 1968.

And this poll was taken before the torture photos hit the front page, and leering U.S. soldiers sexually violating Iraqi detainees became a hideous metaphor for the occupation itself. It was also before a sneering Donald Rumsfeld, taking the stand at May 7 congressional hearings, heaped scorn on those who had "leaked" the "secret" documents and photographs to the press in the first place.

The Bush administration made matters worse by requesting an additional $25 billion from Congress for the occupation--even as Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) was preparing articles of impeachment against Rumsfeld over his handling of the prison torture scandal.

So far, however, George Bush’s loss has not been John Kerry’s gain. Opinion polls show the two neck-in-neck in a two-way race--and still neck-in-neck with Ralph Nader in the running.

To be sure, Nader’s 3 to 7 percentage points draw away more potential Democratic than Republican voters, a source of steady invective from the "Anybody But Bush" left. The hostile headline "Ralph Nader, Suicide Bomber" in last week’s Village Voice is just the latest attack emanating from Kerry’s left-wing posse.

But instead of castigating Nader as a "spoiler," the left should lay the blame for Kerry’s poor showing where it belongs--with Kerry himself. "If you had come down from Mars and were told about all of Bush’s problems, you would pronounce him DOA, ASAP," said Democratic Party strategist Jim Duffy. "But the other guy isn’t catching fire."

Kerry isn’t catching fire because he shares the Bush administration’s fundamental agenda--a point he stressed while sucking up to the Democratic Leadership Council last weekend. "I’m more conservative than they are," said Kerry, referring to the Bush administration on a recent campaign stop--emphasizing that he is not a wealth "redistribution" Democrat.

"It’s outrageous that the so-called opposition party has provided so little opposition," United for Peace and Justice leader Leslie Cagan told the British Guardian newspaper recently. "We’re concerned that despite slight emphases, the Kerry agenda is basically the same as Bush: a foreign policy based on what’s best for big American corporations," the antiwar activist continued.

Kerry voted for the bombing of Afghanistan and the invasion of Iraq, and now criticizes the Bush administration for failing to provide enough U.S. troops to fulfill the U.S.’s "solemn obligation to complete the mission." Pulling troops out of Iraq would mean "leav[ing] behind a failed state and a new haven for terrorists," said Kerry, borrowing a phrase from a typical Bush stump speech.

The broad left’s preferred "alternative" to Bush could not even muster an antiwar sound bite after the stomach-churning torture photos emerged. Popular sentiment is now turning against the war, yet Kerry’s left-wing apologists are sabotaging the possibility for building an antiwar alternative in this election year.

Nader, so disparaged by the "Anybody But Bush" left, is the only presidential candidate to have spoken at a March 20 antiwar protest marking the first anniversary of the invasion of Iraq. And Nader is the only candidate who has called for Bush to be impeached for "deceiving the American people" about the war and occupation.

"When you plunge our country into war on a platform of fabrications and deceptions, and you bring back thousands of American soldiers who are sick, injured or dead, and that war is unconstitutionally authorized to begin with, Mr. Bush’s behavior qualifies for the high crimes and misdemeanor impeachment clause of the Constitution," Nader said recently in Chicago.

Instead of focusing its efforts on winning the tiny percentage of Nader supporters back to Kerry’s camp, the left should address the half of the adult population who will stay home on Election Day--and vote for "none of the above," because the two candidates are so much alike.

Sharon Smith is a columnist for Socialist Worker and author of Women’s Liberation and Socialism, a new collection of essays that will be published by Haymarket Books. This article first appeared on the SW website: www.socialistworker.org.

Other Articles by Sharon Smith

* Abortion is Every Woman’s Right
* Do the Iraqis Want the US to Stay?