With the launching of the new fiercely partisan and influential liberal radio network nationwide, Air America, John Kerry seems poised to whisk the presidential nomination for the Democratic Party and could even win simply because he is not Bush.
According to an unnamed former Bush official, â€œKerry might wage a more effective war on terror than Bush because he was likely to take a more complex approach, looking at broader threats while coupling military force with "soft power" such as alliance building and a battle for hearts and mindsâ€ (Reuters, 05/03/04 â€œBush or Kerry, ‘War on Terror’ Unlikely to Changeâ€).
What is the massive anti-war movement in the United States to do when the difference between the two major candidates extends to the use of â€œsoft powerâ€?
While there are certainly some differences between the two candidates and Kerry is likely a shade better than Bush, should we settle for his Bush-like stand on the war? The common Democratic refrain goes like this: â€œI trust John Kerry to do whatâ€™s right for America. After all, his record in Vietnam and the amazing antiwar speech he gave after returning from Vietnam spoke to all the things that need to be done to bring this country back on track. And anyway, Iâ€™ll vote for Anybody But Bushâ€.
But why should we trust our leaders? What role does trust play in a democracy? I trust my family and my friends and even they screw up sometimes and break my trust.
Perhaps we ought to judge Kerry by his more recent speeches rather than what he said 30 years ago when he was an anti-war activist, war veteran, and someone less invested in the current establishment. Kerry whole-heartedly embraces Bushâ€™s â€œwar on terrorâ€ as a legitimate concept. We laugh at the simplistic rhetoric of Bushâ€™s â€œgood vs. evilâ€. But John Kerry calls it â€œa clash of civilization against chaosâ€. Bushâ€™s rhetoric may be more religious and emotional, but Kerryâ€™s is just as judgmental and generalized.
Certainly the â€œwar on terrorâ€ is not all we should judge candidates by. George Bushâ€™s domestic economic policies have ravaged the poor and middle class. But lest you thought that Kerryâ€™s economics would be kinder and gentler than Bushâ€™s, Warren Buffet, Kerryâ€™s economic advisor downplays any difference between the two saying the election will simply be a â€œreferendum on George Bushâ€. He even said, â€œThe Kerry campaign is quite unimportant compared to how people feel about Bush when they go into the voting boothâ€. Consider the presidential poll results which consistently hover around 43-46% for either candidate. Any lead falls within the statistical noise.
If John Kerry wants our votes, John Kerry ought to earn them. By this I mean it is up to us in the anti-war, or pro-justice movements to demonstrate that we werenâ€™t kidding when we marched in the millions against the war in Iraq. It is up to us to send a warning sign to John Kerry or whoever turns up as the alternative to Bush that he has to work to earn our votes. Simply being ABB (Anybody But Bush) does not qualify him.
When ten million people marched against Bushâ€™s war in Iraq last year, he glibly dismissed us as a â€œfocus groupâ€ simply because he could: Bush does not need us to get re-elected â€“ he already has support of about 40% of the voters. But why should the other 40% hand over our votes to Mr. â€œBush-liteâ€ Kerry without a fight?
Imagine a march of over a million voters all across the United States, not against the idiot Bush who has not earned the right to be a public servant anyway, but against John Kerry. Imagine hundreds of thousands of voters demanding that Kerry adopt an anti-war and anti-occupation position publicly and fast if he wants any assurance of beating Bush at the polls. Imagine these voters insisting Kerry adopt a progressive agenda on Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine, the USA PATRIOT Act, welfare reform, and other life-and-death issues.
This will accomplish two things: it will remind public officials everywhere that voters will not succumb to a â€œlesser of two evilsâ€ approach which often means that candidates need only be a shade better than their incumbent opposition. And, it will remind public officials that once in power, that same constituency will not hesitate to take to the streets again to hold them accountable to their promises.
One only has to look at the recent election in Spain to see this in action. When the Spanish incumbent prime minister, Jose Maria Asnar stood for re-election after defying his peopleâ€™s wishes, he was promptly ousted and replaced with the socialist Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero whose campaign platform was based on a pullout of troops from Iraq.
Whatâ€™s more, once elected, even more Spaniards than expected turned out for the anti-occupation demonstrations of March 20th, reminding Zapatero that his election was not based on an act of faith â€“ he would be held to his promises. As a result, Spain has taught us a lesson in democracy: the electorate determines the actions of its elected representative. The electorateâ€™s relationship to the elected after all, is supposed to be a master-servant relationship. Hence the term â€œpublic servantâ€.
We have to hold Kerry accountable before he gets elected while he is still in the position of having to court voters. Rather than â€œbacking Kerryâ€, we need to stand in front of him, to remind him whoâ€™s boss: the people of the United States of America, not a Democratic presidential candidate who thinks he can mimic an idiot (Bush) and laugh his way into the White House.
Sonali Kolhatkar is the host and co-producer of Uprising, on KPFK 90.7 fm, Pacifica Radio (www.uprisingradio.org ). She is also the co-Director of the Afghan Womenâ€™s Mission, a US-based non-profit working in solidarity with Afghan women (www.afghanwomensmission.org ).