Regime Change Movement Picks Up Steam
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Editor, The Konformist
Regime Change Movement Picks Up Steam
By Don Hazen, AlterNet
January 27, 2004
Last summer, I sat in a hotel room at the Campaign for America's
Future gathering in Washington D.C and listened to four presidential
candidates - John Edwards, John Kerry, Howard Dean and Dennis
Kucinich - speak in rapid order. At that point, I didn't "have" a
candidate, although I knew and admired Kucinich. But the issue
already on my mind was electability; who among these candidates could
go all the way come next November?
I remember thinking as I listened to Kerry's speech, "OK, this guy is
presidential, he's electable. I can live with John Kerry."
The other candidates gave more rousing speeches and had more natural
speaking talent, especially Kucinich, who brought the crowd to its
feet a dozen times. John Edwards displayed the folksy charm developed
in his successful career as a trial lawyer. But I came back to Kerry,
who seemed to have the most gravitas - and perhaps electability.
Much has happened since that June day more than seven months ago. One
of the most dynamic insurgent campaigns in recent presidential
history, by former Vermont Governor Howard Dean, crashed and burned
in the corn fields of Iowa and in the bitter cold last night in New
Hampshire. But some things haven't changed; I still don't have a
candidate, and I'm thinking about John Kerry. I don't have a
candidate because I don't want a "candidate"; I want to see a new
president elected, and he can be Anyone But Bush.
For the first time in recent memory, many progressives - self-styled
members of the "regime change movement" - are aligned with a broad
cross-section of the Democratic Party electorate. We can call this
alliance the ABBA party - Anybody But Bush Again. Analysis of voting
in Iowa and New Hampshire underscores that electability reigns
supreme as the chief overriding issue for many Democratic and
independent voters, as it is for me.
The reasons seem clear. George W. Bush and his radical right-wing
agenda have traumatized many Americans. The Republican juggernaut
threatens to undo much of what Americans have come to count on from
their government. The result is a new strain of pragmatism and an
unusual moment in American politics. Voters are seeking not the most
passionate or progressive, or moderate or anti-war candidate, but
rather the one who is most electable, who can stand up to the
bullying, the war-mongering, the tax cuts for the wealthy, and the
scare tactics that dominate the Bush administration.
As Pradipto Bagchi, 30, a financial analyst from Manchester, NH told
the New York Times: "It hurts to vote this way, but I think George
Bush has been a disaster, and if my cat had the best change of
beating Bush, I'd vote for my cat."
Even the polls show that only 44 percent of the public want to see
Bush reelected (even though large majorities expect him to be). It
feels a lot like Iran in America, where the forces of reason are
fighting the religious fundamentalists, and the deck, at first
glance, appears stacked - in this case because of corporate media's
collusion on behalf of the incumbent, which carries with it the
expectation of defeat.
This feeling of disempowerment was part of the Dean downfall.
Corporate media's coverage of Dean's campaign was clearly unbalanced.
The AP reported on Jan. 16 that Dean received significantly more
criticism on network newscasts than the other Democratic candidates
according to a study by the Center for Media and Public Affairs. The
study also found that 51 percent of the coverage of Dean was
negative, compared to 78 percent of the rest of the Democratic field
receiving positive coverage.
The Youth Vote
There is a long history of insurgent presidential candidacies that
temporarily caught the wave and then bit the dust long before the
nominee was chosen. Gary Hart, Jerry Brown - particularly Eugene
McCarthy's peace quest in 1968 in New Hampshire that sent Lyndon
Johnson to the sidelines - are examples. Insurgencies can make a huge
impact, as Dean's may yet. But they can also leave a lot people
As Dean's chances for the nomination have shrunk, many are concerned
about the huge expectations on the part of tens of thousands of young
people who joined his campaign and decided that politics is cool.
These are the troops counted on to help expand the electorate among
younger voters. Even though they vote at a considerably smaller rate
than adults, "the under-25 voter will constitute between 7 and 8% of
the total vote in 2004," according to pollster Anna Greenberg.
Hopefully the Deaniacs' insurgent effort will take a lot of credit
for energizing the collective political psyche. Dean's in-your-face
campaign motivated the other candidates, made them better and more
assertive. After Iowa, Michael Moore wrote to Dean campaigners, "I am
convinced that the electorate in that state was invigorated by the
Dean campaign - whose entire message was that you can make a
difference. Just the fact that you have people thinking this way is a
gift you have given to America, a nation where the majority, in the
past, have given up and refused to vote. I believe that you and
Howard Dean will be credited with waking up a near-dead voting
public. Thank you!"
Yet in Iowa, a majority of young voters ended up supporting Kerry and
Edwards. Once again, electability trumped popularity. That's why the
talented and passionate Dennis Kucinich, despite lots of admiration,
doesn't get any votes. It's why Gephardt is on the sidelines, and
will likely eventually be joined by Dean and Clark. For Dean, the
collective attack by the body establishment - media, pundits,
corporate politicians and his opponents - took its toll before the
first vote was cast.
Anything can still happen as the primaries go south and west and
spread across the land. But one has the sense that Iowa and New
Hampshire expressed some collective wisdom.
Good For Change?
How is all this good for regime change? First, it suggests the
maturity of voters who recognize that getting Bush out of office is
paramount. Second, polls in Iowa and New Hampshire indicate that
health care and the economy are more important in the national
consciousness than the war, terrorism and national security - areas
where Bush still polls relatively well.
Even Iowa anti-war voters supported Kerry more than Dean, even though
Kerry voted to authorize the war on Iraq. How could this be? Well,
the war is turning out not to be the fundamental litmus test in the
primaries, and it won't be in November. More importantly, John Kerry
is seen as a critic of Bush's war, and he voted against the
authorization of $87 billion for Iraq. For more moderate voters, the
undecideds who are now deeply suspicious of Bush, the Kerry path is
more like theirs, and in Kerry they sense someone who has stood for
As Harold Myerson wrote in the LA Weekly, Kerry was a war hero AND an
anti-war hero. "Kerry ... repeatedly put himself in harm's way,
saving his comrades' lives and returning home to become the
charismatic leader of Vietnam Veterans Against the War. Wearing his
fatigues, he went before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee,
concluding his testimony with a mighty question: 'How do you ask a
man to be the last man to die for a mistake?'"
An article I wrote last fall, A 12-Step Program For Regime Change,
attracted large traffic to AlterNet, and was reprinted in the Utne
Reader. A number of readers wrote to say they were encouraged by the
clarity of the concerns and optimism expressed.
One of the key premises of the article was the need to have an
independent force capable of registering, educating and mobilizing
voters no matter who the nominee; a process that is clearly underway.
Today, at the beginning of primary season, many of the concerns
in "12 Steps" are being addressed. Leaders are being strategic;
battleground states are the targets, while increasing numbers of
people are feeling their strength and dedicating themselves to the
tasks ahead. Substantial early resources are being invested in voter
mobilization, particularly by strategic progressive donors like
George Soros, Peter Lewis, Rob McKay and Rob Glaser, among others.
There has been very little squabbling among progressives, while the
independent media, particularly on the Internet, is providing an
enormous amount of material that should sink the ship of Bush, if
communicated far and wide. And people are even trying to understand
how to frame a positive vision and message and not fall into the easy
trap of always attacking the conservative message.
Insiders report that the efforts of organizations, especially
MoveOn.org, to raise fundamental questions about Bush's character are
having an effect. MoveOn's television ads, tested in battleground
states and produced with funds raised from their tens of thousands of
donors, are having a powerful impact on voters, according to those
with access to the follow-up polling results.
In the meantime, according to Washington columnist Mike Lux, Bush's
State of the Union address demonstrated that the president and his
team are not feeling as confident about the upcoming election as they
"It was both the most defensive SOTU I have ever seen, and the most
nakedly partisan ... choosing the harshly partisan rhetoric you
generally see on the campaign trail in October. Bush threw red meat
to his supporters by vehemently defending tax cuts and the Iraq War.
He threw symbolic bones to his religious right supporters on such
earth-shattering topics as promoting abstinence and opposing steroid
use by professional athletes. Bush's strategy remains consistent:
First, scare the hell out of people; second, show his compassionate
conservative side with (mostly unfunded) rhetoric on education, jobs
and health care; finally, stoke up his right-wing base with culture
war attacks on gays, peaceniks, trial lawyers and liberals."
Increasingly, it seems, this strategy will not work. Bush's base is
too small and the anti-Bush base too energized. The ABBA party has a
challenging battle ahead, but there is a growing confidence that the
Ayatollahs of fundamentalist America can be pushed aside for a more
just and inclusive society.
The views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author
and in no way reflect the opinions of AlterNet or the Independent
Media Institute, which take no positions in elections.