If Kerry’s the Frontrunner, Where’s He Running To?

by Joe Auciello

What candidates can Americans choose in the 2004 presidential election? What policies can they endorse or reject?

Here’s one record: Strangle, starve, then bomb Iraq. Send troops to combat in far-off countries. Increase military spending. Slash social spending. Tilt taxes to favor the wealthy. Put 30 million of the poor to work in dead-end jobs which will always leave them poor. Send living-wage jobs abroad. Let companies, not workers, choose between union wages in the U.S. or sweatshop wages overseas. Deny health care to 44 million. Place token minorities on the cabinet; preside over the resegregation of public schools and the rollback of affirmative action.

Aren’t these all good reasons to vote against Republican President George Bush? No, not at all. These policies are, as many will recognize, the legacy of Democratic President Bill Clinton.

This year’s elections are shaping up to offer more of the same.

Americans can vote for a candidate who was the son of privilege, a Yale graduate, a Skull and Crossbones member, who chose an easy and comfortable career in government. This, of course, is Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush.

Or, Americans can vote for a candidate who was the son of privilege, a Yale graduate, a Skull and Bones member, who chose an easy and comfortable career in government. That is Democratic frontrunner, John Forbes Kerry.

Between this and that, there is not much difference and not much choice.

Kerry the Establishment Candidate

John F. Kerry is the candidate of the Democratic Party establishment, the favorite of the party bosses and the corporate interests they faithfully represent. That section of the American ruling class which is now having second thoughts about the costs of the Iraq occupation is looking favorably at Kerry.

To hear the candidate’s speeches—with the attacks on corporate fat cats and splendid promises for the average American—it would be forgivable to think that Kerry was a political outsider, a courageous, radical reformer. Common sense, plus some knowledge of Senator Kerry’s past, tells a different story.

Kerry’s record is a string of inconsistencies, contradictions, and reversals. His only concern is getting elected; his only principle is popularity. He will jump to the winning side of any issue.

Kerry speaks in favor of civil liberties and vows to “end the era of John Ashcroft.” But Kerry doesn’t mention his vote in favor of the Patriot Act that Ashcroft enforces.

Kerry has tried to blame George Bush for the loss of manufacturing jobs, but Kerry has not mentioned his vote for the North American Free Trade Agreement, which has sent thousands of factory jobs out of the country. Now Kerry only promises, if he becomes president, to “review” trade agreements.

The candidate who postures as a populist and a “man of the people” is actually, according to Forbes magazine, the wealthiest member of Congress.

Kerry points out he has refused PAC contributions, but he has created the Citizen Soldier Fund, which enables him to accept even greater amounts of individual donations than a PAC allows.

In his New Hampshire victory speech, Kerry declared, “I have a message for the influence peddlers, for the polluters, the HMOs, the big drug companies that get in the way, the big oil, and the special interests who now call the White House their home: We’re coming. You’re going.”

But according to the Center for Responsive Politics, last year Kerry accepted more money from lobbyists than any other senator. He also received more than half a million dollars from the health care industry. Financial firms have given three million dollars to Kerry, who just happens to serve on the Senate Finance Committee.

Along the campaign trail, some feisty rhetoric and bold promises are acceptable, even encouraged, as long as the candidate is securely shackled by the golden chains of corporate contributions. These are the ties that truly bind. Kerry’s entire campaign is a pledge of loyalty to party bosses, union bureaucrats, and corporate executives.

No matter what candidate Kerry might say to get elected, obedience to big business interests will determine the actual policies of a President Kerry.

Kerry and Iraq

The U.S. war against Iraq is a defining issue, one that reveals the truth about a candidate. Next to jobs and the economy, it’s the issue many Americans care most about. Senator Kerry tries to play both sides at once. He voted for the congressional resolution to authorize war and voted in favor of the millions to fund it. Later, Kerry opposed sending the $87 billion needed to continue the war, but he also opposes the withdrawal of American troops from Iraq.

Does this more recent vote indicate a change of mind and direction?

Not at all. In South Carolina, Kerry proudly stated, “I have voted for the largest defense budgets in the history of our country. I have voted for almost all weapons systems that we have today with few exceptions.”

Kerry tries to position himself as neither the peace candidate nor the war candidate, but as the “responsible” candidate. Rather than stand up for a principle or cause, which will inevitably displease some voters, Kerry tries to duck and hide, in an effort to please all voters. The trick is to try and cover the real disagreements and contradictions with a slather of words.

Unlike George Bush, who played dress-up on an aircraft carrier, Kerry is an authentic Navy veteran. So Kerry argues that his experience of war in Vietnam will prevent the reckless deployment of military force, but, so he claims, that experience will also provide him with the courage and wisdom to use that force when “appropriate and necessary.” Thus, Kerry tries to land squarely on both sides of a defining and controversial issue.

This stance, and Kerry’s current image overall, is a carefully calculated product intended to appeal to the widest market. When Kerry speaks about the Iraq war, he says yes and no at the same time. Shallowness and duplicity is no accident. It lets the peace movement think Kerry is, if not one of their own, at least an ally. And it reassures the more conservative voter that Kerry, the war hero, is a red-white-and-blue patriot who won’t let America get pushed around by any foreigners, be they French or Arab.

In other words, the Dixie Chicks won't be invited to sing at a Kerry rally.

Same Old Same Old

The Kerry candidacy is only the newest version of an old trick: the false choice of the lesser evil. It’s the dead-end idea that says, “Pull the lever for a bad candidate because the other one seems worse.” It’s elections as the two-party shell game, where every choice comes up empty. It’s the cynical charade of American democracy in action. Worse still, in defense of this rigged game, young American men and women are sent overseas to fight, kill, and die.

A new generation of young militants has proclaimed, “Another world is possible!” Those activists who march and demonstrate, plus the thousands more who support them, will naturally want to find an electoral expression for their protests. But a John Kerry will do nothing to bring a better world to birth.

The painful truth is that movements for social change have no candidates in mainstream U.S. politics to champion their causes in the electoral arena. Choosing some lesser evil will never advance the goals of peace, social justice, and radical change. A new world cannot be raised on the rotten timbers of the old.

Instead of supporting candidates today who will betray tomorrow, it’s better to build an antiwar movement independent of the politicians, support the March 20 actions against the occupation of Iraq, join the April 25 march in Washington, D.C., for abortion rights, and, no matter who takes office next year, keep protest movements alive, strong, and independent.