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The Pitfalls of the *Anybody But Bush* Strategy

For those who profess to want to build an alternative to the corrupt two-party system, there is never a "good" time to work for that alternative. In the way the U.S. political system works, successfully building a left-wing political alternative always presents the possibility that the Republicans will win instead. So like atheists on their deathbed who call for a priest to perform last rights, many activists are intimidated into swallowing hard and voting for the Democrat.
LEADING RADICAL critics of the bipartisan consensus in U.S. politics are now openly talking about supporting the 2004 Democratic nominee against President Bush. Z Magazine editor Michael Albert and radical writers Noam Chomsky and Norman Solomon all seem to be endorsing an "anybody but Bush" strategy for the left in 2004.

In a recent commentary, Albert doesn't come right out and endorse a Democrat, but he comes pretty close: "One post-election result we want is Bush retired. However bad his replacement may turn out, replacing Bush will improve the subsequent mood of the world and its prospects of survival." Solomon writes that he backed Ralph Nader's presidential runs in 1996 and 2000, but "I won't in 2004. The reasons aren't about the past, but about the future."

Even Chomsky, the self-proclaimed anarchist, isn't ruling out support for the Democratic candidate in 2004. Following a recent speech at a United for Peace and Justice meeting in Massachusetts, Chomsky delivered an attack on both major parties. When an audience member asked if there was any point in replacing Bush with a Democrat, Chomsky replied: "The people running Washington happen to be a particularly dangerous crowd in a narrow spectrum." That's why antiwar activists should try to defeat Bush at the polls, he intimated. "These guys have so much power that small differences can have large consequences. This administration is recycled from the more reactionary elements of the Reagan and first Bush administrations," according to the Financial Times.

Many will argue that the Bush regime is uniquely evil and dangerous, that its defeat demands of us a concession to political reality to support a Democrat on election day. No one here will deny just how corrupt and right wing the Bush administration is. But liberals' warnings of impending fascism in the event of a Republican victory are as old as the New Deal. In 1985, following Ronald Reagan's landslide victory over Walter Mondale, Black progressive Manning Marable wrote:

In the last five years, a new element has been added -- a popular ideology of extreme national chauvinism, described by the media as the "new patriotism." The 1984 Republican National Convention in Dallas was eerily reminiscent of the Nazi Party Convention in Munich in 1935. The Republicans called themselves the "America's Party," implying that Democrats were somehow less than patriotic.

Certainly echoes of 1985 will be heard coming from the Republican camp over the next year. And already the left is responding in kind. Solomon remarks that the Bush administration "has neared some elements of fascism in its day-to-day operations.... We don't want to find out how fascistic" a second Bush term could be. Before we fall for appeals like this, let's catch our breath and remember: The U.S. didn't slide into fascism in the 1980s and it won't over the next year either.

Many genuinely fear what the Bush administration will do if given another four years to wreak havoc on the world. But people like Solomon should know better than to sow fears of impending fascism. The fascism charge serves to make the liberal lesser-evilists' job of selling any old Democrat much easier. The liberals don't have to actually convince people of positive reasons to vote forŠthe Democrat. They just have to convince a plurality of voters that the Democrat won't be as bad as the Republican‹not a difficult task if the Republican can be painted as a pale imitation of Hitler.

Many activists realize all of this and still intend to work for a Democratic victory. "Call me a sellout or whatever. I know a lot of anti-authoritarians will," anarchist antiwar activist Chantel Azadeh told the Nation's Liza Featherstone. "But it's crucial to elect someone who will lessen the madness." Considering which presidential candidate she'll back, she said "I like Howard Dean a lot. I think he would be a great president." This was quite an admission from Azadeh, an antiwar activist from the University of California, Irvine, who often accused socialists in the California antiwar movement of "authoritarian" behavior because they urged that democratic majority-rule voting be used to decide movement questions.

In a widely read article on the CommonDreams Web site, student activist Nico Pitney, who supported the Greens in 2000 and 2002, announces his intention to work for former Vermont Governor Howard Dean's election in 2004. Pitney endorses Dean, knowing full well that Dean stands far the right of him on issues like ending the occupation of Iraq, working for justice for Palestinians, refusing to cut the military budget, supporting the death penalty, etc. But Pitney urges progressives to "incorporate these realities into their electoral strategy, however disappointing they may be." It comes as no surprise that much of Pitney's "Progressive case for Dean" is hedged with phrases explaining Dean's various right-wing positions as "nuanced" or having to be "taken in context." Antiwar activists drawn to Dean should ask themselves why they want to work for the election of a candidate that wants to send more (admittedly foreign) troops to Iraq and who backs Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's war against the Palestinians. Dean says that he was against the Iraq war, yet he is for the occupation. "We cannot allow ourselves," he said recently, "to lose the peace in Iraq." On these positions, Dean doesn't differ much from Bush.

This kind of apologetic stance vis-a-vis Democrats does no good for the cause of building an independent alternative to the twin parties of capital. As the experience of eight years of Clintonism showed, liberals who defended Clinton through one betrayal after another found their constituencies worse off in 2001 than they were in 1993. And because they thought they had a "friend in the White House," they didn't build the kind of grassroots pressure that is their only genuine source of influence. Women's organizations mobilized millions to defend abortion rights during the Bush I regime. But with Clinton in the White House, they failed to mobilize against continuing attacks. Now, with an avowedly antiabortion administration stripping away even more protections for abortion, pro-choice groups find themselves both worse off and more atrophied.

This process -- voting for the Democrat, who then panders to the right while the left sits passively waiting -- is what has moved politics to the right. Then, when a new election rolls around, we are told once again that the right is so bad we must hold our noses and vote for the Democrat, and the whole cycle begins again. If activists make the kinds of concessions that Pitney is willing to make now -- more than a year before the election -- they will be hard-pressed to remember what "progressive agenda" led them to work for a Democrat in the first place.

For those who profess to want to build an alternative to the corrupt two-party system, there is never a "good" time to work for that alternative. In the way the U.S. political system works, successfully building a left-wing political alternative always presents the possibility that the Republicans will win instead. So like atheists on their deathbed who call for a priest to perform last rights, many activists are intimidated into swallowing hard and voting for the Democrat.

As Democratic Socialists of America founder Michael Harrington put it (in rhetoric we're hearing increasingly today), in a debate held on the eve of the 1976 election: "There is a difference tomorrow. We need every vote we can get in this country. Therefore, I say to you, tomorrow vote for Carter, not with illusions that he is going to change American society radically. He will not. But with the clear understanding that he is the superior alternative on issues of life and death for ordinary people, the majority of the people of the United States."

At least in 1976, lesser-evilists like Harrington held out hope that a Democratic victory would provide opportunities for workers and the oppressed to organize for their interests. The reality is that the Carter administration dashed most of the those hopes. Carter began the military buildup and domestic policy cutbacks that later came to be known as "Reaganism." But today's lesser-evilists don't even have Harrington's optimism in the possibility that things could better under a Democratic administration. They simply propose the necessity of electing the Democratic candidate to prevent the country's (and world's) slide further backwards.

Unfortunately this misunderstands the real dynamic of how social change happens in the U.S. The only possibility of a change for the better will come when a militant labor movement and other social movements organize and demand change from whatever regime is in power in Washington. Millions are committed to building such a movement--and committed to electing a Democrat at the same time -- without seeing any contradiction between the two. But there is a contradiction. It is not as apparent now with Democratic hopefuls leaning slightly leftward to boost their core support, but as we move closer to the election, we will be faced with a choice between two parties equally committed to American capitalism and American imperialism. Business Week wrote of Dean, "Those who know him best believe Dean is moving left to boost his chances of winning the nomination." If the ruling class isn't fooled by Dean's opportunism, we shouldn't be either.

These will be real questions in our movement over the next year. They aren't questions that only a few have the "luxury" to discuss. Anyone who wants to rebuild a left in this country will have to confront them. There is no shortcut to building the kind of a movement we need. It will be a long and hard process, but it can't be put off until after the November 2004 election.

The Pitfalls of Electing Bush 12.Oct.2003 14:11

reasoned thinking

1. War with Syria
2. War with Iran
3. War with North Korea
4. The Israeli wall
5. A "Healthy" Economy with fewer and fewer domestinc Jobs
6. National Debt inflating
7. Continued tax cuts for the Wealthy

and on
and on
and on....

The pitfalls of electoralism 12.Oct.2003 14:12


I don't think anyone elected to office within the system can effect true radical change.

Really now, if (against all odds) Kucinich or a Green were to win the presidency, do you think the system would allow him to accomplish even half of what he said he'd do? Remember, right-wing media empires like Fox and Clear Channel will be mobilizing opposition and brainwashing the masses, the lucky winner of the presidency will have got there only by spending millions on advertising (rendering him beholden to the rich and powerful that shoveled money his way), and so on.

As I've said before, the seats of power corrupt whomever happens to sit in them. Voting can at best incrementally reduce the evil. And even then, the reformers are only allowed to do their reforms not because the ruling class has any respect for democracy and the rule of law, but because they fear even more sweeping changes from below.

There is simply no alternative to creating our own revolutionary institutions and encouraging people to "think outside the ballot box".


The Pitfalls of Electing Bush 2 12.Oct.2003 14:38

reasoned thinking

Electing anyone other than BUSH will significantly DECREASE the possibilities of...

1. War with Syria
2. War with Iran
3. War with North Korea
4. The Israeli wall
5. A "Healthy" Economy with fewer and fewer domestic Jobs
6. The National Debt inflating
7. Continued tax cuts for the Wealthy

and on
and on
and on...

And it would surprise me in the least to find that you DESPISE Abraham Lincoln, Franklin D. Roosevelet, and John F. Kennedy precisely because the affected GREAT CHANGE!

dude: wake up and smell the napalm 12.Oct.2003 15:01

Jose Mariategui

It's no secret that there's been a rightward march in US politics over the past two decades
that's been artfully crafted and masterfully executed. Were there people decrying the drift
towards "fascism" in the mid 80s? Sure. Were they a little premature? Perhaps.
But no more so than people in the 1970s who predicted "limits to growth" due to
shortages of essential natural resources, especially oil, that could threaten
the entire world economy and social and political stability everywhere. Today,
thirty years later, their predictions are looking increasingly realistic, and maybe
only a few years off in one direction or the other. That's the nature of change
sometimes when it happens at exponential rates. Ever look at an exponential
growth curve? It starts out deceptively shallow and gentle. After a protracted
period like this, it suddenly bites you in the ass. Arguably, that's exactly
what has happened to us in the political realm. And arguably, the assbiting
happened on December 12, 2000, when the Supreme Court made its selection
of GW, not September 11, 2001, the start date for the eternal "war-without-end"
proclaimed by our Maximal Leader.

It's not often that you get Republican ex-Marines like Scott Ritter concurring with
moderate liberals and leftists in their estimates of the peril we face at the hands
of our rulers ( http://sandiego.indymedia.org/en/2003/10/101318.shtml). There's a
case to be made hear that the threat is very real, and warrants very careful
examination, not a dismissive editorial or two from wannabes like the ISO.

to "reasoned thinking" 13.Oct.2003 08:46


And it would surprise me in the least to find that you DESPISE Abraham Lincoln, Franklin D. Roosevelet, and John F. Kennedy precisely because the affected GREAT CHANGE!

I know that many people hold Lincoln, FDR and (snigger) JFK in high regard, but I was wondering if YOU could explain what's so good about them, especially Kennedy (this ought to be good). Lincoln was responsible for 620,000 deaths during the civil war compared to FDR's 295,000 dead Americans and the 58,000 Americans who died in Vietnam due to JFK. All of these actions served to maintain the dominant order rather than changing it.

OK 13.Oct.2003 09:32


So what's the difference between the platforms of Deanand Clark on endless war? Both are in bed with the global corporatists, both are outfront about promoting that agenda. It seems that Bush has done his job, just as Clinton did his(getting NAFTA passed, most importantly). Bush is being used as a distraction while the agenda speeds ahead. We're all hating Bush and talking off impeaching Bush and making fun of Bush while we're buying corporate stuff and driving around. The corproaations/government don't give a rat's ass if we piss and moan as long as we keep buying the products. The global corporatists, which include world governemtns(think Italy, Russia, UK, Sweden, Japan, etc) and the US Congress all work together, and are being increasingly transparent about that fact. Remember who these people are. Dean is of the Dean Witter family of international financiers, and Clark is of the Arkansas Clinton DNC tribe. Time to think outside the Walmart(closely tied to the Clintons-check it out), and stop buying into the same old game.

response to (un)reasoned thinking and Jose Mariategui 13.Oct.2003 09:37


Let's not forget the wars that Democrats embroiled the US in, shall we? WWI, WWII, Vietnam, Korea, Bosnia - the list goes on, and is longer than the list of wars that the Republicans got the US into. The Bu$hCo. regime is merely open about its intentions, rather than spewing hypocritical rhetoric about "peace" and "the average American." Bush is a pathological personality, definitely, but to pretend that Dean or Kerry is not the same is deluded foolishness.

As for the absurd claim that democrats somehow do not support the Israeli wall, you should be reminded that Dean not only supports Israel's occupation of Palestine, but even supports the heartlessly brutal Sharon regime, and wants to give MORE financial aid to Israel than Bush currently does. Dean also wants MORE troops to occupy Afghanistan than Bush is currently occupying Afghanistan with, and wants MORE troops to occupy Iraq than Bush is currently occupying Iraq with.

And as far as the economy, the Democrats accept contributions from the same contributors/patrons that Republicans do. There was a LOT of deregulation going on in Clinton's regime. Capitalists are capitalists, regardless of the style of popular rhetoric they use to get elected and re-elected in our fraudulent voting system.

And to Jose; while it's true that Bush has stolen an "election" already, who is to say that political change is "exponential"? Your mathematical model is pretty and concise, but doesn't necessarily illustrate what is happening at all. Republicans, moderates and liberals are pissed at Bush because he is so open about government's intentions. Bush and Co are blunt about their thuggish gangsterism, instead of hiding it in secrecy and couching it in comfortable rhetoric. What Bush is doing is no different than what most every politican before him has done; worked diligently to amass greater power and to deny the people any power at all. A case could be made that Bush isn't particularly evil as compared to other public professional grinners, but that people in the US today, in general, have been raised/taught to be less critical and more stupid, shallow, immature and blindly trusting than ever before, by way of a complicit and comfortable corporate media, stupifying education which beats the intelligence out of even the smartest children, and entertainment typically so mindless as to be hypnotising.

Are you a Jewish-Cabal conspiracy theorist? 13.Oct.2003 13:29

reasoned thinking

Please explain what you mean when you speak of a "dominant order"? Please be specific.

brazenness 13.Oct.2003 16:51

Jose Mariategui

Gringo, this "openness" about intentions that you credit the current leadership with is not nothing. These guys are rapidly reducing the number of independent power centers that could put the breaks on their agenda. This is something rather extreme and unique in the history of the American Imperial Presidency. You could call it a culmination of sorts. But it's pretty radical, all the same. The relentless, no-holds-barred attack on any independent voice or even any counterbalancing force within the government itself is extraordinary. This is shown by the willingness of top aides of the president to openly commit felonies to retaliate against internal opponents, such as we saw in the Wilson case. At this point, we can't put any upper bounds on their ambitions. This is a rather different situation than any time in the last fifty years. You'd have to go back to the first Red Scare of the late teens of the last century and AG Mitchell Palmer's goon squads to find anything like it. This is rightly a frightening prospect for many people. People who know history will not be assuaged by the armwaving dismissals being offered by this editorial in the International Socialist Review.

hey, reasoned thinking, are you talking to me? 13.Oct.2003 20:58


Just read dominant order as status quo if you like. Now, explain whats so hot abut Lincoln, FDR and JFK.

The Status Quo? 14.Oct.2003 14:28

reasoned thinking

You believe that elections are a failure, from this country's very first to the latest, because of the Status Quo? It sounds to me that you believe wealthy white men have ruled us with an iron fist from the get-go and intend to keep on doing so -- have I understood you correctly?

As for the three presidents I mentioned previously, they actually felt obliged to add some meaning to the words found in the Constitution, "We the people, in order to form a more perfect union..." -- as in ALL the People.

no reason to get your back up, reasoned thinking 14.Oct.2003 22:25


I wouldn't say that it has always been wealthy white men who have ruled. Typically, the "strong man" ruler is, in fact, a man but not always white. As for your apparent desire to chew the dingleberries out the ass of a 'strong leader', that's your row to hoe.

I don't have much use for politicians. That said, I'll be voting Bush in 2004 because he illustrates the problems with 'Leaders" better than anyone since Stalin, and even dumbshit liberals start thinking that perhaps anarchy is better than this particular government. Now if they could only maintain such critical judgement when a tasty li'l number like Dean or Clark comes along to cast a spell on them we'd live in a much better world.

Just remember this. Your vote for 'anyone but Bush' will be cancelled out by ME. You might as well not even bother.