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The Capitulation of the Left is Almost Unprecedented

With leadership of barely conceivable arrogance and incompetence (Bremer alone is a case study in the decline in quality of such American leaders in the past 50 years) the US has managed the amazing feat of uniting Iraqis in detestation of their presence, and of leaving itself with zero palatable options. Amid this bloody disaster, with popular distaste for the occupation of Iraq swelling up in the polls Kerry, with McCain at his elbow, has been goading Bush into sending more troops. As a prospective supervisor of empire, Kerry sends forth the word that the Democrats are the Second Party of War.
Weekend Edition
April 16 / 18, 2004

The Capitulation of the Left is Almost Unprecedented

Bush, Kerry and Empire

By ALEXANDER COCKBURN

As one who regards Gerry Ford as our greatest president (least time served, least damage done, husband of Betty, plus Stevens as his contribution to the Supreme Court) I'd always imagined the man from Grand Rapids would never be surpassed in sheer slowness of thought. When a reporter asked Ford a question it was like watching that great sequence in Rossellini's film about Louis XIV, when a shouted command is relayed at a stately pace through a dozen intermediaries from the kitchen to the royal ear. In Ford's case, to watch a message negotiate the neural path from ear to cortex was to see a hippo wade through glue.

But I think Bush has Ford beat. Had he ever made a mistake, the reporter asked at that White House press conference last Tuesday. The president's face remained composed, masking the turmoil and terror raging within, as his cerebellum went into gridlock. It should have been easy for him. Broad avenues of homely humility beckoned him on. "John, no man can stand before his Creator as I do each day and say he is without error... " Reagan would have hit the ball out of the park. But the President froze. He said he'd have to think it over.

Indeed, accounts of Bush's comportment by former associates such as Paul O'Neill suggest a Ford-like core to the man, of tranquil inertness, penetrated in Ford's case by the evil counsels of Kissinger, and in Bush's by the advisories of all his malign viziers. Why bother impeaching Bush, as Nader is now wasting our time urging? Leave Bush alone. Impeach Scalia and indict Cheney, two realistic and useful political objectives.

Behind the liberal hysteria over Bush, as a demon of monstrous, Hitlerian proportions, I get the sense of a certain embarrassment, that the man is bringing the imperial office into embarrassment and disrepute. Hence all the plaintive invocations of the distress of "America's allies", hopefully to be cured by a competent rationalizer of the empire's affairs, like John Kerry. But should not all opponents of the American Empire's global reach rejoice that but would not the world be a safer and conceivably a better place if the allies saw separate paths as the sounder option? Gabriel Kolko, that great historian of American empire, has been arguing powerfully (most recently in our CounterPunch newsletter) to this effect and I agree with him.

With leadership of barely conceivable arrogance and incompetence (Bremer alone is a case study in the decline in quality of such American leaders in the past 50 years) the US has managed the amazing feat of uniting Iraqis in detestation of their presence, and of leaving itself with zero palatable options. Amid this bloody disaster, with popular distaste for the occupation of Iraq swelling up in the polls Kerry, with McCain at his elbow, has been goading Bush into sending more troops. As a prospective supervisor of empire, Kerry sends forth the word that the Democrats are the Second Party of War.

Given Nader's aversion to a strident stance on a straight anti-war platform, it looks as though the only decent option is Harry Browne of the Libertarians. Kucinich? As he himself recently put it, he's a "tugboat" hauling castaways back into Democratic port in time for the fall regatta. I heard him on NPR the other day, first saying that he was staying in the race to show There Is Another Democratic Path, then refusing the interviewer's invitation to criticize Kerry.

With hardly a backward glance --or forward look --the bulk of the surviving American left has blithely joined the Democratic Party center, without the will to inflict debate, the influence to inform policy or the leverage to share power. The capitulation of the left --a necessarily catch-all word --is almost without precedent. By accepting the premises and practices of party unity the left has negated the reasons for its own existence.

Let me produce a rabbit from its hat. I wrote that preceding paragraph, the one beginning "with barely a backward glance", 20 years ago with Andrew Kopkind in a piece we did for The Nation in the summer 1984 about Mondale's candicacy, where we noted the Democratic Party's commitment to "the essential elements of Reaganism: continued military expansion... further degradation of the welfare system, denials of black demands for equity; and unqualified submission to the imperatives of the corporate system."

Any words you think should be changed?

And talking of the imperatives of the corporate system, Kerry announced on April 7 that his primary economic policy initiative would be deficit reduction. Welcome back, Robert Rubin, the man who ran Clinton's economic policy on behalf of Wall Street. Kerry's economic advisers, Altman and Sperling, acknowledge they consult with Rubin all the time. If you still foolishly believe that the economy in Clinton-time was properly guided for the long-term benefit of the many, as opposed to short-term bonanzas for the wealthy few, I strongly urge you to read Robert Pollin's Contours of Descent, which I hailed here last November. In line with that analysis, and after some useful exchanges with Pollin, let me note major problems with the Kerry program.

Deficit reduction will do nothing to directly promote the growth of jobs, the lack of which is now the fundamental problem in the economy. As Pollin remarks, "It is also a political disaster for the Democrats to again latch onto deficit reduction rather than jobs as their major economic theme. The false premise of Rubinomics is that deficit reduction itself promotes economic growth, and thereby jobs, by lowering long-term interest rates. This is what Rubin and company think happened in the 1990s. But they are wrong. What actually happened in the 1990s is that we had an unprecedented stock market bubble. Because of the bubble, rich people and corporations engaged in a huge wave of borrowing and spending that drove the economy upward, only to crash back down when the bubble collapsed."

Even if Rubin were right about deficit reduction stimulating growth of GDP, what is clear in the current "recovery" is that GDP growth alone does not promote job growth. That is exactly what we mean by the "jobless recovery". The Democrats should instead be talking about a major jobs program, through refinancing state and local government spending in education, health, and social welfare. Aside from the social benefits from these programs, they also provide the biggest expansion of jobs for a given dollar amount of spending. A million dollars spent on education, Pollin calculates, would produce roughly twice the number of jobs as the same amount spent on the military.

But Kerry's other shoe, war on the deficit as well as war in Iraq, has a more sinister import. Deficits aren't intrinsically bad, and the current one is scarcely unparalleled in recent US economic history. But Bush's deficits, amassed in the cause of tax breaks for the very rich and war abroad, provide the premise of a fiscal crisis to starve social spending. It's the Greenspan Two Step: endorse the tax cuts, then say, as the Fed chairman did in February, that the consequent deficits require an onslaught on social security. Remember, Bill Clinton was all set to start privatizing social security, until the allurements of the diviner Monica postponed the onslaught.

There are progressive ways to close the deficit. For example, Pollin reckons that if we imposed a very small tax on all financial transactions-i.e. all stock, bond, and derivative trades, starting with a 0.5 percent tax on stocks and scaling the other appropriately - we could raise roughly $100 billion right there, or roughly 20 percent of next year's projected deficit, even if we also assume financial market trading fell by an implausibly large 50 percent as a result of the tax.

A tax on financial transactions? Now you're talking, but not about anything you might expect from the Democratic Party or John Kerry.

homepage: homepage: http://www.counterpunch.org/cockburn04162004.html
address: address: CounterPunch

Great article 17.Apr.2004 01:23

George Bender

He really knows how to cut to the bone. So are we going to be allowed to discuss this, or will it be immediately banished to the Selection 2004 ghetto?

The only job program of Kerry's I've heard about is to give more tax credits to corporations to encourage them to create jobs. Yeah, that'll happen. No point in creating jobs when the demand isn't there because workers aren't being paid enough. Also, increasing "productivity" -- automation -- and outsourcing make it unnecessary to create more jobs even if production does go up.

Meanwhile the scared left lemmings are headed for the Democratic cliff, crying, "ABB, ABB!"


I disagree 17.Apr.2004 02:33

Dio

With Cockburn's evident knowledge and rhetorical skills, he could teach us something, instead of useless cheap-shots on mechanical ducks.

'Dio' 17.Apr.2004 08:36

-

what on earth are you talking about?

politicians are required to offer PROOF (and have provided none amongst them e.g. WMDs, 'democracy', jobs etc.) to back their actions and statements.

Bait & switch, smooth as silk? 17.Apr.2004 09:30

Sheep

Well, it would be lovely to think of Bush as a harmless, brainless piece of gum stuck on America's shoe, but I'm not buying that. I doubt anything could happen to Scalia or Cheney as long as Bush is on the throne and they could command the goodoleboy network to issue some distraction or other, and surely Scalia's done something or other that might resemble a favor to call in.

I don't think Kucinich, admittedly or in practice, has rounding up sheep from the Democratic flock as his primary goal, and I wouldn't so easily switch parties from Green to support him the Democratic primaries if there weren't a bit of poignancy to the idea that the more one marginalizes their party affiliation out of digust, the less political potency they can expect.
I can flee the Dems for the Greens, I can flee the Greens for the Socialists, and just keep fleeing and watching what a smaller and less potent group I belong to, but why should have I have keep fleeing? I know some very environmentally-minded people who have dug in their heels and remain Republican, just so the Republican party is not completely bereft of such persons.

Given what Kucinich's stated goal really is, to inject progressive thought into the convention, why should I be suprised if he's not going to jump directly on Kerry's back until that point? In the meantime, even Bush can spot the differences between their respective platforms. If Dennis can't criticize Kerry just by being himself, he certainly can, and does, make Kerry look bad just by being himself. Likewise, the more Kerry aligns himself with Bush's position, the more criticisms of Bush apply to him.

If I thought anyone might be rounding up "lost sheep", though, maybe its Kerry- at this point you can vote "war president" without voting R, whether you'll really get one out of the Dems is anyone's guess. The only thing for certain is that you will get one from the Republicans. The Dems may not be quick to effectively censure the Republicans while the latter are on top, but certainly the Republicans are not going to effectively censure themselves. As for Kerry's platform, as I'm getting fond of saying, since when have I been worried that a presidential candidate was actually going to keep his promises?

That being said, we may also end up with the Democrats performing many selections the Republican's greatest hits, as even historically noted above.
And criticism? Do you think even criticism is enough? I've seen plenty of criticism of Bush; I'm not sure it's working. I would have preferred to see impeachment / indictment of a sizable handful of people rather than leaving censure to the election process personally, and I'm not at all sure even that would have been enough. As loud as the clamor to stop Bush is, it is not loud enough, and as a result Kerry probably exemplifies many criticisms not directly levelled, if he worries that there are not enough people behind him willing to be forceful enough in their support of them.

Maybe all of this is just going around in circles, and it is not going to replace a batch of good ideas. Maybe it's easy to understand if ideas are more Cockburn's forte, than, for example, actually understanding what Kucinich is trying to say. Then again, if good ideas is Cockburn's language, I have no idea why he can't hear where Kucinich is coming from. That seems to be Kucinich's goal now is sending ideas where those who have them cannot go, and letting those ideas speak for themselves. If they fail to, the problems may be deeper than the strange habit that many Democrats have of acting suspiciously like Republicans. On the other hand again, the more we fail to make the subtle distinctions between the two parties, the less we may encourage Democratic leadership to be different. If Kerry wants to divert votes, let him go see how Republican he has to act to pull some Republican voters, because he's not going to sway us Greens who know better. Kerry can declare the environment his #1 priority and we're not even going to clap because we're too damned smart and we KNOW there's no such difference between R & D, and Kerry can stand before the silence thinking we drive SUVs. And what does that get us, besides the ability to make undiluted critisms, and the numbers that say leadership only has to laugh up their sleeves at those criticisms?

We think that the Democrats knuckle under, and I suspect it's out of insecurity; we see Kerry as willing to appeal to the misguided support of Bush as much as truly challenge it, and then we seem to think that this is all because there is no difference between the two parties. We seem to think the Democrats are imitators, but without being able to clearly identify the Republicans as instigators- yet there it is so phrased from 1984,
"Reaganism". WOULD Kerry be trying to climb onto that particular platform, if Bush hadn't built it, and heavily fortified it?

All of the above all my humble and utterly ignorant opinion, naturally. Maybe Cockburn should just stick to good ideas, and let me be confused about the intricacies of the personalities all by myself, thanks.

The cumulative effect of the article, then? As it stands, I have become a D, and I might easily only stand being a D long enough to vote Kucinich in the primaries. If I keep reading articles like that, I may dig in my heels and stay a D, and flock you if you don't like it, because it wasn't Kucinich who lured me clear into the sheep pen. I wonder if that was what Cockburn intended?

If you want a harmless President 17.Apr.2004 13:25

Mulberry Sellers

How about William Henry Harrison?

He stood out in the freezing rain giving a long-winded inaugural speech, got sick immediately afterwards, and died in office thirty days later.

Now, mind you, his previous career was hardly benign, but as President he probably did less bad shit than anyone else.

I highly recommend his example to ambitious politicians everywhere as worthy of emulation.

- 17.Apr.2004 14:36

Dio

I am talking about what 'Sheep' is trying to figure out.

I am talking about maybe Cockburn showing us how the notion that "politicians are required to offer PROOF" keeps you forever two steps too late. One step checking out the politicians' lies. Another step oblivious to the simple fact that those lies have purposes.

Cockburn has been around the block.. Many times. He knows he is keeping you those two steps behind. It must be comfortable, using his insider information and some trivial logic to take pot-shots at obvious lies.

The first time the kid remarked on the emperor's tiny dick was potentially liberating. A thousand times later the kid provides only more evidence that many of us are too ill-bred to appreciate the elegance of his wardrobe. And proof, albeit flimsy, but graspable, that there is nothing needed beyond a snicker, and turning now to hockey.

Maybe it is not just Cockburn who is more comfortable ignoring the shadows dancing behind the wizard's curtain.

PS 17.Apr.2004 14:38

Dio

I'll bet Cockburn gets an extra pat on the head for telling us we are utter failures.

PPS 17.Apr.2004 14:45

Dio

Politicians, like any servants are required to perform the wills of their masters. That is both a legal and a moral responsibility.

Now, *if* we were their masters, then we could consider requiring them to offer PROOF.

Otherwise, we are of no more importance than cackling chickens, milling around the chopping block.

Now you're talking 17.Apr.2004 14:50

politics as possible

George Bender is following Ralph Nader in vigorously bringing discussion of specific issues into the pecking away at Kerry. That is the intelligent way to proceed. It takes some patience and some willingness to expend mental energy --- but it is the only thing that will pan out over a period of time (say a year or more).

As for Cockburn, what is the point of over-and-over stating that the Democrats are a populist party without principles of any kind? That is, without principles except, hopefully, a loyalty to the old "liberal" paradigm. The problem is that from where we are headed now under Bush, a return to the old "liberal" paradigm would be a great improvement. The solution lies in the hard work and perseverance required to bring real change into the American electoral (currently two-party) system. But we need Kerry as opposed to Bush in order to do that. No, Kerry will not do it for us --- but Kerry (and the Democrats) can be useful in creating an opening for this to occur. It all depends on our willingness to exert the energy and commitment that are needed to accomplish change. Giving up and letting the neocons move forward with their program for a fascist one-party government won't help us in any way. That way is total capitulation.

Cockburn is ridiculous in talking about the capitulation of the "Left" to the Democrats as something unprecedented in our history. The American people being trapped by the two-party system and finding themselves without a viable choice is hardly unprecedented. The "Left" has never capitulated willingly and isn't doing so now. What has happened, time and time again, is that the American people have been willing to let any Left alternative (or even any moderate alternative) wither and die in the "winner-take-all" American political reality. No one wants to get into this ugly aspect of our history --- namely that the American people are as likely to sell out as any politician --- because the people (like the kings of old) are above criticism. The absolutism of the people is then translated every four years or so into the absolutism of a new "god-king-president" --- but we have arrived at a point in history where we must change the rules or die as a culture and as a people and as a nation.

So, let's discuss the issues and criticize both Kerry AND Bush. At the same time, let's realize that a stable and persevering party to the left of the Democrats is a MUST in order for us to survive. That requires working within the system to change it. What is important is educating the public, educating ourselves, taking democracy seriously enough to believe that THE PEOPLE can not only criticize but CAN DEMAND AND MAKE CHANGES in the system as it is and has been.

Oh, Mulberry 17.Apr.2004 14:52

Dio

That is no way to treat a servant.

'Dio' - 17.Apr.2004 19:54

-

in my opinion,

the point is that the Democrats (what ever role they play in the One-Party Corporate State) have effectively removed the "anti-war" platform.

now it's a question of 'how' we keep driving down Oil Empire Road.

not a question of WHETHER or not we drive down that road.

it's about FRAMING American political issues in an ever-more strictured, straight-jacketed, pro-corporate parameter.

this is the important legacy of 9-11, Patriot Act, Homeland Security, Afghanistan, and Iraq.

you are either with us (Democrat AND Republican) or against us (Nader / Green / Socialist / "terrorist" / freak / anarchist / mutant / whatever).

p.s. there's nothing wrong with bringing up Kucinich or Nader (though IMO Cockburn himself - and most on his web site - probably favor the latter), but everyone knows that within the BIGcash-controlled corporate media gridlock, neither of them has a chance of reaching enough voters with the necessary issue platform to make a real numerical challenge to Kerry or Bush.

- 17.Apr.2004 21:46

Dio

I think, end the end we will agree.

I have no opinion about Dems, Reps, Greens, Naders, .. none that matters here.

My point was the Cockburn tells us about, for example, the lies hidden in fiscal policy; but doesn't tell us why the lies exist. He will be telling us next year about the lies (essentially the same ones) hidden in next years' fiscal policy. And the year after. And the year after...

It is like PLO and Hamas debating what colour to paint the apartheid-wall.

Which particular lies are fashionable this year is a distraction, a red-herring. The real issues are : why are the lies there; why do they work; where is the money going; what can we do about it.

Cockburn knows as well as anyone.. better than most, I should think.. that to report the same damn lies year in and year out merely habituates, creates a climate of inevitability and hopelessness. Serves the purpose of those for whom the liars lie.

Cockburn knows as well as anyone the hypocrisy inherent in deriding "the left", as he calls them, for removing their support from Nader/whoever to Kerry.

ok Dio, 18.Apr.2004 02:12

-

I think we do mostly agree,

but I do not agree with your - and others' - assertions that Cockburn is being "cynical" or "inevitable".

we didn't need Cockburn to tell us or characterize that. the blatant evidence is all around us, ever more so in the time line - and in our daily lives and experiences - since November 2000.

he has given some real examples in the article above about how US fiscal policy and social services could be handled.

and the Democratic party has no real alternative to what the Republicans are already doing in spades, economically or otherwise.

what is the real legacy of Clinton / Gore, at this juncture in history?

just a blip in the 24th year of the Reagan Revolution.

(Jim Hightower - a pithier wit even than Cockburn - recently quoted Karl Rove as saying that GWB was "Reagan: Phase III".)

Rove is far too modest 18.Apr.2004 20:14

Dio

Eisenhauer warned us.

Jimmy Carter gave us definitive proof :
there is a US government;
then there is a circus broadcast from the White House,
to distract us from the former.


In my opinion, too radical for most,
Eisenhauer was about 200 years too late.

Although, one could argue that, technically,
with much arm-waving and dusting off of dictionaries,
the real government relied on influence,
to control the public government,
until perhaps the Kennedy presidency.

It is possible, one could argue,
Kennedy attempted to use television,
to wreste control of the goverment,
from whoever.
This would be an internal squabble
among the governing classes,
not a democratic, or Democratic, revolution.


The previous paragraph is pure speculation.
If it makes sense to you,
you should seek an emergency appointment
at your local Office of Fatherland Security,
and ask to have your meds increased.