Column No. 21 By Steven Jonas - July 15, 2004
Note to the reader (repeated): As we now approach the run-up to the Democratic National Convention and the Convention itself, I am devoting a series of columns to what are primarily campaign matters, rather than the more historical and theoretical issues I usually deal with. It happens that I am going to be away during most of this period. Thus, not only these columns but also the first two for August will have been prepared in advance. It is possible that some of what I will have to say here will be overtaken by events. But hopefully, whether or not that happens, you will find these thoughts to be of use as our attention turns to the principal challenge facing the pro-democracy forces, not in Iraq, but here at home: how to defeat George Bush and assure the election of John Kerry.
I should note that some of these thoughts have appeared in one form or another in past columns. If that be the case, obviously I like them a lot. So please bear with me.
Constitutional Democracy at Risk
At some point, I think that Sen. Kerry is going to have to confront the danger to the continuation of Constitutional Democracy in the United States as we know it – a danger presented by the Georgites. It’s a tough subject to simplify, but for one, Al Gore is doing that. The problem is real, reflected both in Georgite actions and the positions taken by the Georgites’ many open supporters in the media. The Georgites are brazenly arrogating more and more power to the Executive Branch, on their own authority. Right-wing media types like Ann Coulter labels all liberals as traitors. The penalty for treason happens to be death. Back in May, the Limbaugh clone Sean Hannity said that Spain had "one terrorist event" and then "capitulated," and those U.S. liberals would do the same thing if such an event were to happen here. If there were an attack and the liberals were to capitulate, Hannity said, the elections would need to be suspended: "In fact, the elections need to be suspended before it happens because this is too serious to play around with." If you recall, Bush’s favorite General, Tommy Franks, also talked about the possibility of suspending the Constitution. I am not making this up.
Now here is what Al Gore, not previously known as a politician for whom the preservation of US Constitutional Democracy was at the top of the list of issues, had to say on the subject in a speech at the Georgetown University Law Center on June 24, 2004 (in part) – Tom Paine
“I am convinced that our founders would counsel us today that the greatest challenge facing our republic is not terrorism but how we react to terrorism, and not war, but how we manage our fears and achieve security without losing our freedom. I am also convinced that they would warn us that democracy itself is in grave danger if we allow any president to use his role as commander in chief to rupture the careful balance between the executive, the legislative and the judicial branches of government. . . .
“If the congress becomes an enfeebled enabler to the executive, and the courts become known for political calculations in their decisions, then the country suffers. The kinds of unnatural, undemocratic activities in which this administration has engaged, in order to aggrandize power, have included censorship of scientific reports, manipulation of budgetary statistics, silencing dissent, and ignoring intelligence. Although there have been other efforts by other presidents to encroach on the legitimate prerogatives of congress and courts, there has never been this kind of systematic abuse of the truth and institutionalization of dishonesty as a routine part of the policy process.
“Two hundred and twenty years ago, John Adams wrote, in describing one of America’s most basic founding principles, ‘The executive shall never exercise the legislative and judicial powers, or either of them…to the end it may be a government of laws and not of men.’ ”
On this, I need not comment further.
“What’s Wrong with Kerry?” “Is anything wrong with Kerry?”
Many liberals and leftists both have been saying for quite some time “Where’s Kerry?” The fact is that he has been going around the country being the John Kerry the voters in the Democratic primaries voted for: reasonably liberal in the current political context; having a thoroughly “electable” persona; a decent although not overwhelming speaker unless he gets really wound up; very experienced in national government, in fact a truly “Presidential” candidate in terms of his knowledge of the Federal government and how it works and doesn’t work from the inside, one better than either party has offered in many a moon; at least a seemingly moral and principled man, who, by the way, happens to know the English language; and, having the “gravitas” factor, one about whom David Letterman said (AOL Broadcast, June 30, 2004): “I caught John Kerry in a lie. He actually said ‘I can be as footloose and fancy free as the next guy as go out as have a good time.’ “
I believe that going into the Convention the Senator has run a very smart campaign. He has been solid and policy-oriented, while gradually ratcheting up the pressure and the rhetoric on Bush. He has clear plans for instituting a completely different approach to government and governing, suited to the needs of the American people as a whole, not just the ideologues and the major campaign contributors of the Georgites. What seems very clear is that the last thing he has wanted to do is peak too early. Standing aside and letting Bush, “F word” Cheney, et al., machine-gun themselves in their feet, has a lot to say for the way he is doing things. Right now (that is, at the end of June), in my view, he is doin’ what he should be doin’.
Controlling the Agenda
Continuing on the Agenda theme, as is the case with virtually every one of them (see my book, The New Americanism, chap. 16, esp. pp. 287-289), this election will go to the candidate who controls the agenda. If the agenda is Kerry and what he did and did not do in Vietnam and whether he threw his medals or someone else's or ribbons over the White House fence, and how he voted one way on a bill and then another after it was amended, Bush wins. If the agenda is George W.M.D. (War/ More Deficits) Bush and what he has done with the presidency and the nation, Kerry wins. As Lee Atwater preached, always attack; never defend, just as the Georgites are doing now. If anybody needs defending, it's Bush, but you will hardly ever hear any of that from the Georgite camp, unless and until they are really cornered.
The Georgites realize this very well. Notice that there are very few elements of defense of the Bush record (indefensible of course) in their current campaign-initiating broadsides. That says a whole lot. They know very well that if they can manage to make Kerry the agenda, they win. (To date, they have tried very hard to do this, but have failed miserably as their Administration teeter/totters from one policy failure to the next.) There is only one man who can beat George Bush in this election, and it's not John Kerry; it's George Bush. The whole Georgite campaign strategy is designed around that knowledge. In the campaign against the last Bush, the motto was "It's the economy, stupid." Therefore, this time around it must be, "It's Bush, stupid!" For if it isn't, that's really stupid.
There is no 'Middle Ground’
A further comment on this theme: one of the liberals' main faults has been that they think continually there is some "middle ground" that can be reached if only reasonable people would get together. That position was well expressed by the DLCers Joe Lieberman and Joe Biden, who actually came to Bush’s defense over the charges by former Bush advisor Richard Clarke that the Georgites totally ignored the very clear warnings on the dangers presented by al-Qaeda.
Sorry, but there is no "middle ground" as to whether the rich should pay less and less their deserved share of taxes, or whether we should have gone to war on Iraq unilaterally with lies as the rationale, or whether the health care delivery system should first and foremost be a profit center for the pharmaceutical and insurance industries, or whether Social Security, as we have known it since the New Deal, should survive or become a profit center for the securities industry, or whether energy policy should be designed first and foremost for immediate profit of the oil companies, or whether global warming is real, and so on and so forth. These are all questions that have two distinct sides, and all the talk from people like the DLCers – who "deplore the present situation" and ask people to “reason together” and find that "middle ground" – will not change that reality.
Some bemoan the polarization of the American body politic. Did polarization take place these past two and a half decades under Democratic governance, or with the Republicans mainly in control? Who did the majority of the polarizing? Hasn't it been by the phony 'Compassionate Conservatives;" The Clinton haters; Gingrich with “the Democrats are responsible for the country’s moral decline” (that is before he was forced out of office for immorality; the DeLay and the totally “us/them” way he runs the House; the Sanctimonious Senator, Hatch; F-Word Duke Cheney; the “anyone who challenges the President after 9/11 is a traitor” Ashcroft; those who orally flayed as unpatriotic Sen. Max Cleland because he thought that the Stars and Bars should come out of the Georgia state flag?
Some consider that Michael Moore with F/911 further "polarizes the political cesspool, and this polarization is making America increasingly difficult to govern." Well, those who believe in Constitutional government are not going to defeat those who don't by being "nice," because you can bet your bottom dollar that the Far Right isn't 'nice' and isn't interested in being so. Just see Dick Cheney's performance on the floor of the Senate. Polarization is here, and democrats (small “d”) of both parties should accept that, and get on with protecting our democracy.
On John McCain
Sen. Kerry was obviously not of the above mind when he tried to persuade Sen. John McCain to be his running mate. What a disaster that would have been. The move would have attracted few more Republicans than are already AnyBodyButBush-ers and it would have turned off both the liberal and left wings of the Democratic Party, which would have had to do the “hold-your-nose-and-pull-the-lever” thing. More critically, it would have driven off from Kerry numerous potential Nader voters. McCain sounds nice from time-to-time, but is actually a reactionary on many issues that are at the core of the Democratic agenda, from choice to the environment (except for, very recently, global warming) to national domestic spending. There are only a few "moderate" Republicans left, and McCain ain't, nor had he ever been, one of them.
Some anti-Georgites are projecting the dropping of Cheney by Bush and the substitution of McCain. Doubtful. Don't think that Cheney and the interests he works for would let go that easily. Since Cheney wouldn’t be there, and no true Georgite would ever trust McCain since he is a reactionary but not one of theirs, who would run Bush for them? So why is McCain suddenly appearing at Bush’s side? Here are few possible reasons: McCain is showing his true Right-wing colors; the Georgites have got something on him; he is being threatened with a well-funded primary next time around for his own senate seat.