I am constantly asked, nowadays, what should we do about the election? More often, I am told to work for Cobb, work for Nader, or work for Kerry. When I reply, I am often berated as an ultra left loon or a sniveling democrat, as the case may be.
At ZNet I also see a stupendous volume of written election commentary. I see so much that even if most of it wasnâ€™t highly fractious and redundant, I would wonder if all the time going to eyeballing, debating, celebrating, investigating, and otherwise hyperventilating the election wasnâ€™t reducing attention going to other pursuits.
In reply to queries, my own views are:
(1) For Bush to lose will be a whole lot better than for Bush to win. Holding oneâ€™s nose and voting for Kerry in contested states is a good thing to do, though I can certainly understand third party votes, even in contested states.
(2) It makes sense to run radical campaigns to build movement infrastructure, raise consciousness, and push mainstream candidates left. To these ends, I prefer Cobb to Nader because Cobb is about movement building and Nader has demonstrated since 2000 that he is a poor movement builder. Still, I can understand someone feeling differently.
(3) With hundreds of millions of dollars going to the campaign, and with every notable commentator left of Attila the Hun (stay tuned for imminent outpourings from Hollywood and Rock and Roll) helping Kerry, the idea that endorsements from serious leftists are going to somehow make a meaningful difference on Kerryâ€™s behalf, seems preposterous to me. In fact, the benefits to Kerry of aggressive left support seem so minuscule (if they are even positive) as to make it politically inefficient for people well left of Kerry to move their attention away from long term priority activities toward his campaign.
(4) Indeed, it may even be electoral suicidal to put aside long term work since the deciding factor in the election will likely be elitesâ€™ perceptions of the probability that Bush can function without disastrous movement and international response and derivative destabilization. Leftists setting aside our antiwar and other activities will diminish rather than increase elite fears. Instead of boosting Kerry we need to provide visible signs that militant opposition is growing.
(5) In any event, a self-proclaimed leftist relating to the campaign in a way that implies that Kerry or Clinton or Gore were or are good guys, and that considers any of these Democrats honest much less exemplary, and that fails to reiterate the ills of the Democratic Party, of our system of government, and of capitalism, is something I cannot understand.
But beyond my take, what do most leftist agree about and whatâ€™s left after that, that many leftists are intently debating?
There is a presidential election coming. We all agree on that.
One or the other of the two mainstream parties will produce the next president. We all agree on that too.
Both Bush and Kerry represent corporate and other elite interests and agree on preserving inequity and corporate domination. Neither candidate is a friend to working people, women, minorities, or to anyone poor or weak. To extol either candidate as virtuous, wise, moral, or exemplary, much less as a tribune of justice and peace, denies the logic and morality of being progressive much less of being anti-capitalist. We can agree on that too, canâ€™t we?
Still, presidents affect the composition of diverse bureaucracies, courts, policies, and programs, and perhaps even affect the balance of power between societyâ€™s contending constituencies and classes. I think progressives agree about this too.
Regarding this election, it is at least plausible that who wins will matter more than usual â€“ perhaps even monumentally — both in the policies that ensue and in the psychological and cultural messages heard by elites and electorates around the country and around the world. Where the Bush camp and the Kerry camp differ is over how best to maintain or expand societyâ€™s defining gender, cultural, political, and economic hierarchies. We leftists may reasonably disagree about the scale of the difference between class enemy Bush and class enemy Kerry, but we would be delusional to claim there is no difference.
Kerry is a vile warrior happy to defend corporate interests. Bush believes military might produces diplomatic right, offense is everything, and all obstacles and negotiation must be damned. Kerry will weakly defend past progressive domestic social gains and under sufficient pressure may plausibly expand some. In a second term Bush will wage unrelenting war on virtually every progressive domestic social advance of the past hundred years, even as he also elevates right-wing fervor and fear with unknown repercussions.
Thus, another fact of this seasonâ€™s electoral calculations is that whether Bush or Kerry wins will greatly affect various peopleâ€™s immediate well being as well as broader domestic and international prospects.
It seems we still have found only generally agreed insightsâ€¦but there is more ground to cover.
How electoral campaigns are conducted can also have many and varied effects, even beyond who wins. Regarding the two dominant parties, mainstream campaigns of course overwhelmingly disenfranchise and depoliticize people. This is why the media obliterated Howard Dean despite that Dean is no less an ally of elite interests than Kerry is. I donâ€™t know why Deanâ€™s campaign morphed to the point of threatening to politicize young people and perhaps even poor people, but it did, and since that is the penultimate violation of elite interests in American politics, Deanâ€™s campaign had to be derailed, and it was.
Evidencing the same underlying dynamics, Kerry will try to win the election not by contesting the allegiances of the 50% of the population that typically doesnâ€™t vote, but instead by fighting to win a majority of the 10% or so of swing voters in each state. In fact, if we count only swing states, this election will probably address primarily 4% of the voters and only 2% of the population.
More, Bush and Kerryâ€™s battle for swing voters is actually not even a battle over the informed decisions of those individuals. It is a battle for support from donors and media moguls who provide the means to manipulate swing voters.
Kerry will campaign vigorously for the tiny swing group but will largely ignore the massive non voter pool from which he could plausibly garner landslide support. This is because Kerry just doesnâ€™t want support from those sectors. He wonâ€™t risk arousing them because to do so would threaten his larger agendas. Anyone who doesnâ€™t understand how structurally complicit in injustice the Democratic Party is has only to fully comprehend this single fact to have the truth clearly register.
Back to the issues at hand, beyond the manipulative system-preserving machinations of the major parties, third party campaigns can raise activist consciousness and increase activist commitment and organization. I suspect this claim too is generally agreed among progressive commentators or, at any rate, it ought to be.
So the article after article, interview after interview, and letter after letter about the election that are being written by leftists and published in left venues aimed at other leftists seem to me to be either confused or to be about the only things left to disagree over:
(a) The relative value of leftists apportioning time and energy to third parties to win organizational and consciousness gains, versus apportioning time and energy to beating class enemy Bush in order to win the lesser evil benefits of electing class enemy Kerry, or
(b) The efficacy of electoral focus of any kind compared to getting on with other uses of our time â€“ for example continuing our on-going anti war work, anti-corporate globalization work, feminist work, labor work, anti-racist work, etc.
Now here is the thing. Whatever each person believes about these matters, at this point there is undoubtedly more benefit in his or her doing what he or she finds most warranted rather than wasting time berating other leftists for having a different viewpoint.
By now the berating of other leftists is useless. Pretty much everyone on the left knows where they stand. Few if any leftists are likely to significantly change their approach. The only relevant new information that may surface between now and November will be indications of likely election voting, not positions of candidates or evidence of efficacy of campaigning. So letâ€™s just give up the left on left electioneering, is my advice. By doing so, we can collectively save a lot of time and avoid a lot of needless arguing.
Next we have the endless stream of commentary by leftists telling non-leftists to vote or to work for Kerry. Even for those who think piling up votes for Kerry is of world historic importance, can this allocation of astute and capable leftistsâ€™ time make sense? Do we really think that the non-left world is going to hear from us something that they will feel has more credibility, more persistence, and more passion than what they are going to hear, endlessly, from liberals? Do we really think that our (hopefully equivocal) noises about voting for Kerry are going to swing anyone who wonâ€™t be swung first by much more aggressive electioneering done by people they know and respect much more?
I donâ€™t believe it. And I certainly shudder every time our redundant efforts to beat Bush take the form of saying anything remotely nice about Kerry, who deserves nothing other than our steadfast opposition – hopefully when he is President, to be sure. And I shudder as well when our redundant efforts to beat Bush, or to urge others to do so, seem to be crowding out attention to the war, globalization, movement building per se, and so on.
In short, I guess what I am saying is that whatever your electoral inclinations, at this point repetitive, redundant entreaties about Kerry and Bush from leftists to other leftists, and even about Nader and Cobb from leftists to other leftists, and probably also entreaties from leftists to more mainstream citizens about Kerry/Bush, are most likely not the most efficient way to productively manifest our insights and utilize our energies.
So we are down to one debatable disagreement, it seems. In contested states should leftists spend any time trying to increase the vote for Cobb or Nader instead of being quiet or aiding Kerry? This is contentious. Logically, writing and speaking about it could affect peopleâ€™s choices. But I bet those who are for aiding Cobb or Nader are not going to convince those who are against doing so that they should start doing it. And I bet those who are against aiding Cobb or Nader are not going to convince those who are for doing so that they should stop doing it. So what is the point of reams of back and forth debate that can sour otherwise positive relations, I wonder?
At this point, the arguments have been made. So why donâ€™t we just do our things, hopefully including non electoral things, leaving one another alone, and letting the results of our separate efforts impact subsequent choices? I bet all sides will be better off for it.