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GLW: Can John Kerry defeat George W Bush?

United States: Can John Kerry defeat George W Bush?

By Doug Lorimer & Alison Dellit
From The Green Left Weekly

With his mother at his side, and a picture of his identical twin brother, who was killed in Iraq, held above him, Ivan Medina, a US Army soldier, said: ``We must bring our troops home now. Not tomorrow. Not in six years. Now! We cannot allow another death in Iraq. If [President] George Bush believes in his war, then he can send his nephew and his daughters out there.''

Medina was one of a number of US military personnel who addressed thousands of anti-war protesters who had gathered in New York's Union Square on September 2, on the last day of the Republican Party's national convention. On August 29, the day before the convention began, at least 400,000 people marched in New York to demand an end to the Iraq war and an end to the Bush regime.

But even if Bush is defeated in November by Democratic Party candidate John Kerry, that will not bring the troops home. And, while Kerry’s inability to oppose the war is costing him crucial support, much of the liberal left in the US is refusing to support an alternative.

Another speaker at the protest, Michael Hoffman, a founder of Iraq Veterans Against the War, referred to Kerry’s pledge to keep the troops in Iraq, saying: “We have to keep the struggle up every single day — until we bring them all home, until the veterans who served there receive the benefits they are due and until Iraq is rebuilt and the people of Iraq are given what is owed to them.”

Kerry’s decision on the war is a self-defeating one. While 16 months ago, when Bush triumphantly announced the end of “major combat operations in Iraq” (with just 139 US soldiers dead), 72% of US voters supported the government’s handling of Iraq, the September 12 New York Times reported that the “identical question asked the past week [with 1000 US troops dead] found that 45% approve while 48% disapprove”.

A poll conducted on September 6-8 by ABC News and the Washington Post, 54% of respondents believe the US military has gotten “bogged down” in Iraq.

Yet, on August 9, Kerry said he would have voted to authorise the invasion even if he knew that Saddam Hussein did not have weapons of mass destruction. He has committed to keeping the troops in Iraq, even escalating the commitment, in order to ensure that a stable government loyal to Washington emerges.

Writing in the September 13 International Herald Tribune, John Vinocur, the IHT's former executive editor, observed that, “in terms of US realpolitik, Iraq has become a basically consensual issue. There is no get-out-now or get-out-soon candidate available to Republican or Democratic voters; both parties acknowledge the necessity of long-haul US engagement in Iraq; their minimal and shared aim is to re-establish some kind of palpable stability there...

“This is not to say that the whose-fault game is over or could be. But if Iraq/national security is the essential election issue, then at the heart of things the two candidates track each other, mission accomplished speeches on aircraft carriers or pledges to cozen Europe into joining the Yanks in combat canceling one another out as dopey rhetoric.”

Kerry’s military affairs adviser Ashton Carter made this abundantly clear when he told the August 23 San Francisco Chronicle, “There is no peace candidate in this race”, adding: “No candidate who is a peace candidate ought to win.”

In fact there is a peace candidate in the US presidential elections. Well-known anti-corporate activist Ralph Nader is running as an independent on a ticket with high profile California Greens Party member Peter Camejo. Nader, who is registering around 5% in the opinion polls, calls for the withdrawal of all US troops from Iraq within six months.

The tragedy is that so much of the liberal US left has been conned into falling behind the vote-Kerry bandwagon, rather than actually supporting the progressive candidate.

This contrasts with the 2000 presidential election, in which then-Greens candidate Nader attracted support from a section of the established liberal media and groups. Nader’s impressive showing in that election — he won 3% of the national vote although he was on the ballot in just 43 states — indicated a real break for a third party alternative.

Under the US non-preferential political system, however, those who vote for Nader are denied the opportunity to choose between Kerry and Bush. This exacerbates the Democrats hatred of independent challengers such as Nader, and makes it easier for the party, once again, to convince left liberals to delay building a political alternative in order to fend the Republicans off from the White House.

This is despite the fact that nearly 40% of Americans favour beginning the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq or that 38% of eligible US voters consider themselves “independents”, compared to 34% who consider themselves Democrats and 28% who consider themselves Republicans.

Nevertheless, in early February, the left-liberal Nation magazine printed an “open letter” warning Nader that “the very progressives distressed by the prospect of your candidacy would contribute eagerly” to “recriminations about being a spoiler or, worse, an egotist” if he ran. For weeks after, the overwhelmingly pro-war corporate media quoted from the Nation's open letter as “proof” that Nader was out of touch with his “supporters”.

On September 9, a statement signed by 70 of Nader’s prominent 2000 supporters called on voters to support Kerry in swinging states, “even while we strongly disagree with Kerry's policies on Iraq and other issues”. The signatories included Noam Chomsky, Barbara Ehrenrich, Phil Donahue, Bonnie Raitt, Tim Robbins, Susan Sarandon and Howard Zinn.

Other examples include Black Commentator, which ran a September 9 editorial concluding that Blacks should vote for Kerry as a “small step back from the apocalypse”, and Z-Net founder Michael Albert, who wrote on his web site: “Holding one's nose and voting for Kerry in contested states is a good thing to do.” The Common Dreams website has also taken a position in favour of Kerry.

Perhaps worst of all was the decision of the Greens National Convention not to endorse the Nader/Camejo ticket, despite it including the two highest-scoring Greens candidates ever, in favour of a candidate who pledged not to run in swinging seats. This decision cost Nader ballot representation in more than 20 states, something he has partially made up only with signature drives and accepting the nomination of the far-right Reform Party in some states.

Many newly pro-Democrat commentators are desperately arguing for the party to swing towards a left position. In July, the United for Peace and Justice Coalition took out a full-page ad calling on Kerry to “show the courage you did in 1971 [Kerry’s activism against the Vietnam War]”. The Nation put out an August special edition featuring its most prominent writers calling on Kerry to come to the left.

Kerry does understand that he needs to appear more left on the war — he should, given that by September he was trailing Bush by 11% points in the polls. Writing in the September 14 Orlando Sentinel, columnist Peter Brown noted, “But now that he is trailing Bush in the polls, and Democrats are in panic mode, Kerry has staked out another new and contradictory position ... I would not have done just one thing differently than the president on Iraq; I would have done everything differently than the president on Iraq.”

But he will not change his fundamental position: because it reflects the consensus of the US ruling class that the war should continue.

Two of the media that have not fallen behind the ABB line are US Socialist Worker and Counterpunch, who have been providing a voice for the pro-Nader left, while able to criticise some of Nader’s more right-wing policies. In an August 28 Counterpunch Article, Paul D’Amato, the editor of International Socialist Review, explained: “Every new generation of radicals is forced to relearn the lessons of previous generations about the character of the Democrats in particular, and the stifling two-party system in general ... The politics of successive administrations — whether Democratic or Republican — have had as their main aim the rebuilding of US power internationally, economically, militarily, and politically. If Kerry is elected, he has made clear that this will be the policy of his administration.”

Despite the campaign against him, Nader’s support remains strong. Nader told the September 12 Minneapolis Star-Tribune he already has made it onto the ballot in 35 states and said he hopes to reach 40, just short of the 43 he attained in the 2000 presidential election.

“The Democrats are a decadent party that's just saturated with corporate money and a corporate mind-set”, Nader told the paper. He blasted the Democrats for their efforts to keep him off the ballot in several states, saying “their hordes of lawyers are constantly in court with their obstructive efforts”.

In an August open letter to the progressive media that had deserted Nader for Kerry, Nader staffer Mike Byrne further explained: “Eventually we must stand up for social, economic, and democratic improvements that will make our nation and our world a better place for all people — not just for the ruling elite. Your anybody-but-Bush position prevents such initiatives from occurring — and totally eliminates the possibility that this election will provide a referendum on the war.”

In an August 23 interview with the Independent, Nader pointed out that the polls were simply confirming what many knew: that if Kerry loses this election, it will be his party’s fault, not Nader’s. “Why is Kerry identical to Bush on Iraq?”, he asked. “I'd rather vote for something I want and not get it than vote for something I don't want, and get it.”

From Green Left Weekly, September 22, 2004.
Visit the Green Left Weekly home page -

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