Target the Dems! A Radical Appeal to the U.S. Left

It feels like 2004 all over again. The Democrats are putting forward moderate candidates, and the US Left already plans to vote for him or her. It seems the “Anybody But Bush” sentiment will carry forth, garnering support among progressives and even radicals for whichever pro-establishment candidate the Democrats decide to field. Whether they fall for the rhetoric promising “hope” and “change” or not, leftists will consider the showdown to be yet another Lesser-evil-vs.-evil cataclysm, set aside all reservations, and vote or even campaign for the Democratic candidate.

And despite the dismal results of precisely that approach in 2004, we’re unlikely to see leftists placing any conditions on the Democratic candidate or party for that support. That will allow the Dems to take the Left for granted and look to the “center” for “swing voters.” In doing so, the Democratic candidate will modify her or his platform as the general election approaches, dropping positions that are moderately progressive for stances that are just plain moderate. I suspect this will not be helped by the fact that the Dems’ candidate will either be the first woman or the first black man to top a major party ticket.

If the Democrats manage to take the White House even without appealing to or inspiring true progressives or radicals, but merely counting on that constituency’s unwavering hatred for Republicans, they will be that much less beholden to the progressive social movements they ignored while campaigning. Having placed no demands on the candidates, the most leftists will be able to hope for is that the next president will be somehow better than George W. Bush – not a tall order, and one the Democrats are glad to fill.

But since neither of the Democratic nominees who are still in the running is particularly progressive (don’t bother mentioning that hack Gravel – he’s a nobody and his tax platform renders him irrelevant as well as putrid), why not make some demands on the Democrats now, with an attendant threat to boycott the elections if a more-progressive platform is not adopted. Sure, maybe the Dems will simply ignore the small portion of their base that is truly on the Left, but maybe making such demands will increase that portion and raise important issues in the meantime?

Casual observation of the buildup to the party conventions coming this summer to Denver (DNC) and Minneapolis-St. Paul (RNC) suggests that more radical activists intend to protest the latter convention than the former. This seems downright backwards. First, what kind of a statement is it that you’re left of the Republican Party. Big fucking deal. Shouldn’t we be drawing attention to the massive portion of the political spectrum that lies squarely to the left of the Democratic Party? In 2004, the chasm between the Boston (DNC) and New York City (RNC) protests was humiliating. Seemingly half the US Left showed up to protest Bush, while relatively few made a stink about Kerry’s intent to continue a huge number of Bush’s policies. The Republicans are beyond impact from the Left – nothing we do or say can convince them to modify their positions to accommodate ours. That’s not necessarily true of the Democrats.

And what kind of message do the Dems receive if even the sector of society that is to their left is caught up in protesting the Far Right? What does it say about radical dissent in America if it can be coopted by the “Anything But the Republicans” mentality that is surely to dominate liberal discourse in 2008. That attitude need not dominate the Radical Left as it did in 2004. There are other options.

Sure, we all hope the Democrat wins in November, if we have to have one of the two goons that we’ll get to decide between. That’s a no-brainer. But we don’t have to vote for her or him, and we can certainly still place demands on the Democrats, rather than cave in to the threat of a re-elected Bush like we did four years ago.

First we should start with questions, to clarify where the candidates stand on issues that aren’t in the public arena as of yet. Here are a few things I want to know, which no one with access can be bothered to ask:

  • Which of the executive powers claimed by Bush in the last seven years will you officially and explicitly relinquish upon taking office? Which executive orders and signing statements will you reverse? Which secret executive orders will you expose, if it turns out they exist (e.g., torture directives and other Terror War policies)? Which do you intend to retain as the spoils of presidential entitlement?
  • Why is a single-payer healthcare system off the table? Are you willing to place price caps on pharmaceuticals and other medical costs, cutting the profit margin for the benefit of the public?
  • What kind of fairness principles will be included in trade treaties you will seek? Are you willing to admit that the “free-trade” agenda of the last Clinton administration was a massive disaster? Should we even take you that seriously? Are you willing to put progressive economists in charge of the IMF and World Bank, even if that means further weakening their demands on “developing” debtor nations that favor US elites or enforce “free-market” economic policies on underprivileged societies? Are you willing to transfer debt to regional creditors that are better able to handle “development” in places like South America and Southeast Asia?
  • What kind of reparations do you propose we provide to the people of Iraq, now that our immoral and illegal invasion has turned their country into a massive, perpetual disaster area? Once you’ve gotten around to removing US bases and troops (which we know you don’t actually intend to do), how will we manage to make amends and compensate Iraqis for what our policies and actions have done to them?
  • Do you support the push for privatization of Iraqi oil by US government and corporate agents? Would you be willing to allow the puppet Iraqi government to strike deals that retain a degree of sovereignty over their oil holdings similar to that held by other oil-rich nations like Saudi Arabia and Venezuela, if they so chose?
  • Are you willing to accept the global (non-US) consensus on Israel/Palestine and insist that Israel adhere to UN resolutions calling for an end to the occupation and settlement of the West Bank? Will you withhold funding from Israel if it fails to adhere to UN resolutions?
  • Will you divert significant funds from the military budget to a public/private-sector initiative to develop green technologies and sustainable infrastructure? Are you willing to raise taxes on gasoline and other fossil fuels while subsidizing alternatives such as wind and solar power, public transportation and consumer-efficiency programs?

None of these questions, of course, is particularly radical. They all tacitly accept the legitimacy of republican democracy and executive powers (which I don’t even accept, but the questions are meant to be illustrative). Most liberals and progressives should be wondering them as well, and many probably are. But they expose, on just a handful of issues, how close the Dems and Republicans actually are on some very core issues facing our nation.

Since the media seems unwilling to ask, progressive and radical would-be supporters of the would-be Democratic candidates should start asking, forcefully and loudly, starting now. We need to hound the Democrats to expose them as a party of the privileged, demonstrating clearly that there is room to the left of Obama and Clinton. Leave the Republicans to the Democrats, the hapless liberal bloggers and the naïve campus wankers, all resting in or waiting for their secure establishment slots – the Dems should be our targets, and we should be making hard demands of them.

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