A few weeks back, the opening shots of Obama’s presidential campaign slammed through the thorax and right frontal lobe of Osama bin Laden, an electoral milestone astutely noted at the time by Alexander Cockburn. The second volley was discharged with the media equivalent of a silencer, as Obama signed into law an extension of the PATRIOT Act in France with a remote pen at one minute to midnight on the Friday before the long Memorial Day weekend. Thus Obama muted yet another betrayal of the voters to whom he had pledged the early demise of the heinous PATRIOT Act.
Obama promised change, but he gave us more of the same. He intimated an era of peace, but he gave us war. He promised to respect the right of Congress to declare war, but he dropped bombs on Libya in a brazen assault on the Constitution, not even bothering to lie to Congress as did Bush. Obama promised “transparency,” but Sen. Ron Wyden tells us the president has put in place a secret interpretation that expands the reach of the PATRIOT Act. Let us not forget that Obama was, is and will be the candidate of the “left” wing of the Democratic establishment, the candidate of Progressive Democrats of America (PDA) and of The Nation magazine. But this “antiwar” candidate of the establishment turned out to be just another agent of Empire. Glenn Ford of Black Agenda Report has said that Obama has out-Bushed Bush, that Obama’s not a “lesser evil” but a “more effective evil,” since he has pursued the same policies while disarming opposition to them.
It is no wonder that all but the most die-hard devotees of Obama, a vastly shrunken contingent, have at long last found the Messiah wanting. But should they have expected anything else? In the superb book Washington Rules, Andrew Bacevich makes his most important point in a single word: continuity. It is a theme that Noam Chomsky and many historians have long stressed about U.S. foreign policy, but it seems to perpetually elude the antiwar movement. Here is how Bacevich puts it:
The standard story line, promulgated by journalists and indulged by scholars, depicts [U.S.] history as a succession of presidential administrations. The occupant of the White House defines the age. The inauguration of a new chief executive wipes the slate clean. Each new president starts anew and puts his personal stamp on all that follows. …
The fact of the matter is that no president starts with a clean slate. … Constraints, some foreign, others domestic, limit his freedom of action. Pretending to the role of the Decider, a president all too often becomes little more than the medium through which power is exercised.
One might add that the constraints are imposed well before the election. The establishment media will make mince meat of anyone who does not toe the line. The backing of the wealthy and powerful will be absent, and the campaign contributions will be minuscule.
Bacevich cites Dwight Eisenhower’s
famous Farewell Address on the military-industrial-congressional complex
as a “rare exception”:
Eisenhower honestly and courageously (if belatedly) let his fellow citizens in on the secret that in Washington, appearances were profoundly deceptive. … What Americans mistook for politics—the putative rivalry that pitted Democrats against Republicans, the wrangling between Congress and the White House—actually amounted to little more than theater, he implied.
Now, a very long one-and-a-half years out, we are assaulted daily with the kabuki politics of the 2012 election and all the attendant hoopla—Palin on a Harley, Romney reinventing himself daily, and the Dems ever vigilant to choke off antiwar challenges to Obama. NPR relentlessly bores us, locked in our cars, with the most trivial aspects of the rotten spectacle.
So what is a serious antiwarrior to do? The only antidote to the empire in which we are trapped is a movement independent of the imperial elite of Wall Street and Washington. As Eisenhower said, “only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry” can keep those who would wage war in check.
The answer, then, is simple. It is easy to spot worthy campaigns: The anointed pundits are sure to ridicule them, dismissing them as “marginal,” a “wasted vote.” There should be two criteria for an antiwarrior’s support once such a campaign is thus identified. First, the candidate must put principle above party and run on a strictly anti-interventionist platform. No humanitarian imperialism, if you please. Second, the candidate must seek to build a base with its own structure and personnel, designed to live on after election day. This makes the campaign part of a movement. And without such an independent base, as George McGovern discovered decades ago, a major-party candidacy is doomed. The elite “leaders” of the War Parties abandon genuine antiwar candidates.
Ralph Nader in his 2000 campaign met these standards, running as the candidate of the Association of State Green Parties, later to turn into the Green Party of the U.S., only to self-destruct with a bit of help from Democratic operatives. Ron Paul’s 2008 campaign met the same standards, giving birth to the antiwar wing of the Tea Party and such organizations as the state Liberty Preservation Associations. These were worthwhile electoral efforts; anything less is a waste of time.