Pardon me while I yawn the presidential horserace usually has that effect on me, and this time around the emanations wafting up from the track are especially soporific. Here we are in the middle of a war that could bankrupt us, both financially and morally, and spell the end of our old Republic, yet there is not a single antiwar candidate or, at least, not a single candidate (with the nearly invisible exception of Dennis Kucinich), who calls for getting us the heck out of Iraq. The official antiwar candidate is, of course, Howard Dean, but his claim to this mantle is limited to opposing the invasion before it began while averring that we can’t just leave, because there’s more folly to commit.
At any rate, Dean, as the “antiwar” candidate, has come in for some hard knocks recently, and it’s worth it to analyze just how and why this is happening, if only because it will lead us to understand why a good many people don’t bother voting, why “democracy” is a sham, and how the War Party has two names: Democrat and Republican.
Here we are at a point where no normal human being is thinking about presidential politics, yet already our all-knowing pundits have declared Dean dead in the water. The Iowa caucuses are no more “democratic” than a similar (albeit more restrictive) process the U.S. is currently trying to impose on Iraq, but their outcome has already catapulted a pompous nonentity to the front ranks of the Democratic pack. A few thousand intrepid souls “caucus” in the snows of Iowa, and the “antiwar” candidate is humbled. Are you beginning to get the picture?
Suddenly, we are told, Kerry is the frontrunner, and Senator John Edwards who, like Kerry, voted to quaff the ale of war, but just doesn’t want to have the pay the bill he’s run up is threatening to overtake him. These trends move at such velocities that the ordinary human being cannot detect them: that’s why we need pundits, pollsters, and spin-doctors to interpret what we aren’t seeing.
Take Dick Morris please! Such a smart boy. Even as Dean continues to take in more money than any of the others, Morris has already consigned last month’s frontrunner to the same dustbin of history into which Gephardt has fallen. The implication being: why doesn’t Dean fall on his sword, like Gephardt a man who has run for President more times than Harold Stassen and Norman Thomas combined (or at least so it seems )
Dean, according to Morris, is history. He died a “death by negatives” supposedly engineered by the Clintons:
“Desperate to keep control of the Democratic Party, the Clintons used their negative researchers and detectives to the ultimate and generated a story-a-day savaging Dean. The Vermont governor, not ready for prime time, cooperated by being thin-skinned, surly and combative. And now he is an artifact of history.”
That the Republicans have acquired an ally in the unlikely form of the Great Pantsdropper is something that ought not to be too surprising. From his perch on the sidelines, Clinton has been rationalizing Bush’s lies more effectively than Karl Rove and his boys. (He played the same role internationally, supporting Blair at a time when the British Prime Minister was under heavy attack from his own party for his role as George Bush’s attack poodle.) In spite of incoherent mumbling about “multilateralism,” the same overarching principle of the U.S. as “the indispensable nation” in Madeleine Albright’s immortal phrase informs the Democratic foreign policy consensus.
Kucinich is the sole exception, but even a campaign supposedly devoted to “principle” is open to temptation, and Kucinich succumbed in Iowa, where his supporters were instructed to vote for John Edwards Edwards! in the second round if Kucinich’s total was under 15 percent. Some “principled” campaign! But what I don’t get is what advantage Kucinich thought he was getting by issuing this ideologically counterintutive instruction. An appointment as Secretary of Peace in an Edwards administration?
Dean is a straw horse being knocked down with much ceremony. If Morris is right about the Clintonian treachery, then surely those “detectives” Bill and Hillary have on Dean’s tail are earning every penny of their pay. Hardly a day goes by without some new outrage being unearthed. Oh, look at him yelling and letting out a war whoop (Nyahhhhhhhh!) in front of his supporters! He’s “angry“! He’s psycho! Would you want his finger on the nuclear trigger? The whole process reminds me of the smear campaign directed at Barry Goldwater in 1964, when “Fact Magazine” ran a piece by a psychiatrist claiming Goldwater was a certified nutball. The chorus is getting louder, and more hostile, as we head into New Hampshire: the Establishment has decided that it’s Howard’s end.
While Dean is not “antiwar” in the sense that he wants us out of Iraq and out of the empire business altogether, unlike “frontrunner” Kerry he did speak out before the President launched his fateful invasion, and has especially focused on the process by which we were lied into war. For this alone, he has been marked for destruction by the War Party, which explains the bipartisan coalition that has developed to crush him.
What frightens our rulers is not Dean, whose foreign policy would be only incrementally different than their own, but the movement that he has generated. His campaign taps into deep and widespread antiwar and anti-neocon popular sentiments. The Bush administration’s legal and political onslaught against the Constitution, their wild spending spree, and most of all their imperious arrogance have deeply alienated voters on the right as well as the left.
But Morris the magician makes these voters disappear:
“Dean had seized an early lead based on his opposition to the war in Iraq. But his campaign died the day we captured Saddam Hussein. This military coup demonstrated anew the reasons for our invasion of Iraq and robbed the Dean campaign of its essential cause, its raison d’etre. The pounding of the Democratic Party establishment did the rest, dropping Dean to a small percentage of the vote he would have otherwise garnered.”
I’m sure the relatives of the 500-plus killed in Iraq are all thrilled by the capture of the Iraqi dictator, although perhaps they find this less consoling than Morris might imagine. It also seems that the families of those deployed in Iraq, the National Guards who signed up for a short stint and find themselves conscripted indefinitely in the service of the Empire, will be less than impressed by the finality of Morris’s judgement. This brings to mind a recent comment by the American commander in northern Iraq that
“U.S. forces have ‘brought to their knees’ the former Saddam Hussein regime holdouts who formed the backbone of the anti-occupation insurgency in areas north and northeast of Baghdad.”
The headline of this Associated Press dispatch proclaims: “Backbone of Anti-Occupation Resistance Broken,” or words to that effect, and you have to read all the way to the final paragraph to learn that, oh wait:
“[Maj. Gen. Raymond] Odierno, whose troops are preparing to depart Iraq in several weeks, said that although the former Baath Party loyalists are no longer a major threat, the nature of the anti-American violence could shift, fueled by what he called a nationalistic motive to get U.S. troops to leave. He defined the nationalistic threat as being posed by ‘those that really just want Iraqis to run their own country,’ and ‘elements that are going to try to use Iraqi nationalism to say we need to get the Americans and the coalition forces out of Iraq, and they will continue to attack us.'”
As a political strategist, Morris may have some insights to offer: as a military strategist, however, he’s a complete washout. This war isn’t going away any time soon, and instead of fading into insignificance as an issue, it will be at the very center of the election season debate unless the War Party arranges it so that both parties nominate loyal supporters of our interventionist foreign policy. In which case there will be no real debate.
The Bush foreign policy of preemptive imperialism goes against the American grain. To attack a country that never attacked us, to impose our system and way of life on a people so manifestly unsuited to it, to preen and prance about the world stage, demanding that the nations of the world admire our greatness to many ordinary Americans, still relatively immune to the imperial baccillus, nothing could be more un-American.
These voters are likely to sit out this election unless a major party nominates someone who wants to take back their country from the neo-royalists and the neocons, the neo-imperialists and the neo-Federalists who want to repeal the American Revolution and proclaim a Texas frat boy the American Napoleon.
The idea that we live in a “democracy” where elections are “free” is an American conceit based on a colossal ignorance of our discriminatory election laws and such arcane subjects as ballot access, as well as a generally unreflective nature. In reality, what we have is a two-party dictatorship, in which two factions of what is essentially the same party the War Party feed at the public trough, roughly dividing the spoils between them. One wing of this Party has a go of it and we get Bosnia, Haiti, Somalia, and Kosovo. Then the other faction has their turn and we get Iraq, with much more to come.
Through their iron control of the electoral process including “front-loading” the primaries, as well as the nearly insurmountable obstacles to third parties and independent candidates the power elite has managed to choke off any electoral expression of popular antiwar sentiment or, indeed, any sentiment that falls outside the margins of the conventional wisdom. In this way, they manage to maintain the tyranny of the pro-war “consensus” as reflected in the foreign policy views of both “major” party candidates, which run the gamut from bellicosely aggressive to aggressively bellicose.
So I will endure this presidential election season just as I am enduring the cold season: with gritted teeth and my fingers crossed that I won’t come down with something awful. Batten down the hatches, and get ready for a long siege. Oh, and wake me when it’s over .
NOTES IN THE MARGIN
So, is there no hope on the electoral horizon? Will the antiwar movement, which represents, roughly, the views of well over a third of the electorate, go unrepresented and voiceless this time around? Not necessarily. For one, there’s always the possibility of a third party race coming from the left, and the most interesting potential movement on this front comes from rumors that Dean just might do it out of pique.
But I doubt it will happen: Dean’s supporters, who don’t support Dean so much as they hate Bush, would desert him in droves, and he wouldn’t even get on the ballot in more than a dozen states. There is, after all, no left-wing party with any national status that has already secured enough ballot positions to make a difference, except for the Green Party. But that is the domain of Ralph Nader and Cynthia MacKinney, and I don’t think the voluble Vermont governor and the Greenies are a match.
What’s often overlooked, however, is that the third party organizations with any national presence are all on the Right: first and foremost, the Libertarian Party, which could conceivably provide a vehicle for a right-wing protest candidate, whose appeal to conservative dissidents is potentially far from negligible. There’s also the Constitution Party, which has something approaching a national organization, not to mention the America First Party the Buchananite wing of the imploded Reform Party and a number of localized rightist parties, such as the American Independent Party in California. What’s significant is that all these parties oppose the radical foreign policy interventionism of the GOP, as well as the oxymoronic policy of “Big Government conservatism“: no matter how right-wing, all abhor the “PATRIOT” Act and this administration’s attack on civil liberties. If they ever got together, or even got their individual acts together, they could take a particularly painful bite out of the already thin margin of a Republican victory, perhaps, in a close contest, costing the GOP the White House.
But this is just a potential, and one, furthermore, that is not likely to be realized anytime soon. Conservatives have, for years, complained about the sell-out of their principles by the GOP, and for just as many years have done exactly nothing about it.
As for the Libertarians who are not conservatives, but share many common principles, and common enemies, with them they are off in their own world, too spaced out on the drugs they want to legalize to realize what’s in their own best interests: thus they targeted and take “credit” for defeating Bob Barr, former Georgia congressman, who has now taken to crusading alongside the ACLU against the U.S. “PATRIOT” Act and other depredations by the federal government, which the LP also claims to oppose.
For helping the War Party to defeat a prominent Republican dissident, the War Party at least owes the LP a thank you card. Mixing the worst aspects of both sectarianism and opportunism in the anti-Barr campaign they managed to combine the two in a single gesture the LP, in its present form, hardly represents a threat to the status quo. Neither do any of the other anti-interventionist parties of the Right, as yet, on account of an inability to unite around a program with broad-based appeal.
The idea of conservative discontent with Bush leading to a third party candidacy is intriguing, especially to Democrats, who would like nothing better than the emergence of a Ralph Nader of the Right. Whether dissidents on the Right can find a reasonably respectable candidate and the courage to break with the GOP remains an interesting, if distant, possibility.