In a scene replicated all over the country, a small, dispirited crowd protested on Boston Common following Obama’s West Point declaration of more war on the unfortunate people of Afghanistan and Pakistan. Obama intends to out-Bush Bush on Af-Pak, which has finally thrown some cold water on his supporters.
The large printed placards ordered up for the demo called for an end to the war on Af-Pak, but only three scraggily handmade signs mentioned Obama. The speeches ordained by the organizers also made scant mention of Obama, with two exceptions, one from Vets Against the War and another from Military Families Speak Out. When one guy took advantage of an open mike, not readily yielded to him, to criticize both Obama and the antiwar leadership of United for Peace and Justice, "Progressive" Democrats of America, and their bedfellows, there was a quiet over the crowd. It was the only speech without at least token applause. One could only wonder where this "movement" was headed next.
A clue came if one listened to the buzz on the sidelines. It was all about another election, the Democratic Party primary today to fill the Senate seat of the late Ted Kennedy. Each of the candidates has taken up an antiwar mantra as the polls have shown that the people of Massachusetts want no more of this game of empire in Central Asia. Michael Capuano, congressional representative from the Cambridge/Somerville/Boston area, had the early lead in establishing his antiwar bona fides, since he did vote against the Iraq war in his early days in Congress. But is he really a dove? Are Democrats with antiwar constituencies like Capuano’s in Cambridge genuinely against war and empire? The answer is no, and every now and then a vote comes along that shows how it all works.
One such crucial vote came in the winter of 2007, shortly after the Democrats took control of the House in the 2006 elections on a tidal wave of antiwar sentiment. Bush was at that time requesting another supplement for the wars on Central Asia, and the Democrats had inserted a dreaded "timeline" into the appropriation bill. This led the Republicans to vote against the bill, and if they were joined by enough Democrats, then funding of the wars would end at that moment: a golden opportunity if ever there was one. Faced with this potential debacle, Nancy Pelosi scrambled to get all the Democrats to vote for the bill to fund the war. Every vote was needed. What did Capuano do? What did other "antiwar" Democrats of the Massachusetts delegation do? The entire delegation voted for the bill, as Pelosi instructed, including Michael Capuano, James McGovern, Barney Frank – every member of the the most "liberal" delegation in Congress. There were only nine Democrats who stood up to Pelosi that day, including Dennis Kucinich, Maxine Waters, Lynne Woolsey, and Barbara Lee. If the bill had had only one more opponent, the funding would have been cut off, so close was the vote. But that lone vote did not materialize from Massachusetts. So the funding bill passed, and the war was alive and well.
That is the way the game is played. So long as the war machine does not need the votes of congressmen with strong antiwar constituencies, these representatives are free to cast a vote to mollify their voters. But when the chips are down and every vote is needed, the charade is called to a halt and these counterfeit progressives cast their votes as instructed by Pelosi or whatever gauleiter happens to be in charge at the moment. Thus the empire rules by demanding loyalty to one of the two War Parties over the will of antiwar constituents. Of course, this emerges even more clearly in presidential elections, when each and every Democrat, even the nine mavericks of winter 2007 – Kucinich, Woolsey, Waters, et al. – line up to dutifully support pro-war candidates such as Kerry or Obama.
As the late Eugene McCarthy pointed out in 1968 in the snows of New Hampshire, drawing on the words of Daniel Webster, wars of empire continue because the people’s "representatives" put loyalty to party over loyalty to the people and to principle. Thus the Vietnam War ground on, and thus does the U.S. empire’s deadly game in Central Asia continue.