Was a Vote for Bush a Vote for War?
by Joe Auciello
Leading up to the 2004 presidential election, some prominent figures on the left, including Tariq Ali, author of the book Bush in Babylon and an editor of the magazine New Left Review, urged the defeat of George Bush. Ali’s voice was a surprising addition to the Anybody But Bush crowd. As a revolutionary socialist, Ali would have been expected to call for a political break from the Republicans and Democrats and in favor of an independent, working-class perspective.
But Ali and other left-wing opponents
of President Bush’s election campaign argued that a vote for Bush would be seen
throughout the world, especially by Arab nations, as a vote for the U.S.-led
In an October radio interview, Ali explained, “This is what I constantly say when I’m in this country to people on the left: Look, you have a responsibility to the rest of the world as well. This is no time to fool around. Do not mimic the imperial rulers of your country and think exclusively about yourselves and your own interests, whatever these may be. Just look at the situation globally and ask yourselves this: How would a defeat for George W. Bush be seen in the rest of the world? I am 100% confident…this defeat would be seen as a victory…To say that Bush shouldn’t be defeated is to underestimate the loss of Iraqi lives and the loss of American lives in this conflict…You have to vote against Bush, which means behaving politically and maturely and voting for Kerry.” (The entire interview is available on-line in audio here.)
It is hard to imagine a younger
Tariq Ali, leader of the Vietnam Solidarity Campaign in Britain, urging a vote
for Democratic presidential candidates Hubert Humphrey in 1968 or for George
McGovern in 1972 on the grounds that a Democratic electoral victory would have
been seen by Vietnam and the rest of the world as a victory for the Vietnamese
revolution. Instead, Ali called for “Struggle against imperialism abroad, struggle
against capitalism at home” (“The Extra-Parliamentary Opposition,” in Tariq
Ali, ed., The New Revolutionaries,
William Morrow & Co., Inc.:
Another prominent Anybody But Bush supporter, feminist columnist Katha Pollitt, agreed
with Tariq Ali’s opinion that a vote for Bush meant a vote for war. In an
article entitled “Mourn,” she lamented Kerry’s defeat and suggested, “Maybe
this time the voters chose what they actually want: Nationalism, pre-emptive
war…” (The Nation,
In this view, the 2004 election was
an implicit, if not overt, referendum on the
First, it is necessary to state the
obvious. In this election, voters were given no real choice. Both George Bush
and his Democratic opponent, John Kerry, supported the war. Only minor,
marginal candidates called for
So, with no real choice, voters merely expressed a preference. They pulled the lever for the genial, friendly-appearing Republican with the folksy drawl rather than the stiff Boston Brahman Democrat with the elite accent. The election was never about policy or program because there were no fundamental differences. It was no mandate.
According to an Associated Press
poll of voters, only 8% of Bush supporters said the
The election of George W. Bush also
represented the triumph of bipartisan propaganda. It meant the renewed success
of the old lie, the one that millions wish to believe—that
Katha Pollitt, in her Nation column, suggested that lack of
popular protest against the Abu Ghraib prison tortures indicated support for
Bush and the
But the question must be asked: Did Americans vote for more war? Did Americans demand that more 500-pound bombs rain down on Iraqi neighborhoods? Were the Republicans able to organize mass demonstrations to demand more C-130 gunships, more troop increases, and longer troop rotations? Are Americans lying down in traffic and sitting-in for the renewal of the draft?
No, not at all.
Parades do not celebrate
Public opinion does favor better
protection and safety for
The “Support our troops” sentiment
is not a hardened “Support our war” sentiment. Town councils vote to pay the
salary differentials to wives whose husbands are stationed in
The 2004 presidential election shows that the ideology of the American people is still the ideology of its ruling class. But American security will not be gained by taking away Iraqi self-determination. American workers have no objective interest in fighting Iraqi workers. The tears of Iraqi mothers will not bring smiles to American mothers. Safety and security requires that the war must end so that American soldiers, mostly young men and women, can return home.
The election was no mandate for war.
The sea of red states that covered
The political climate is not
hostile to the left. Popular protest is still necessary and possible. The
election of George Bush shows that socialists and the antiwar movement bear a
huge responsibility to organize, expose the falsehoods, and tell the American
people the truth about the war in
In 1972, every state but one voted for Republican president Richard Nixon. A few months later, on Inauguration Day, one hundred thousand people turned out in protest. The peace movement now must do no less. The peace vigils and demonstrations must continue. A large antiwar minority can win over the American people and become a significant majority. Political consciousness will grow; the radicalization will deepen. Eventually, perhaps not too far off, some of the Republican voters of today (and some Democrat voters too) will become the revolutionary activists of tomorrow.