Norman Madarasz: Against John Kerry
- Against John Kerry
By Norman Madarasz
Kerry: The "anyone but Bush" candidate
The 2004 US presidential elections are international in every sense
of the word. This does not mean that the concept of nation-state is
over, much less that the international stage has become democratic.
The United States is still somewhat of a democracy, though its edges
have frayed substantially. As for countries refusing democracy, far
too many of them still tend to do so under the most brutal
infringements and abuses of its citizens' basic freedoms and civil
Unlike countries such as North Korea or Myanmar, however, the United
States de facto runs a large part of the world, either directly or
indirectly. Needless to say, this has many repercussions on what the
citizens of the world expect from an American leader. That is also
why, when elections are merely limited to its national borders, it
only covers part of the political equation that adequately describes
As "Commander-in-chief," the American president exercises power over
a considerable part of the world.1 But the world has no voting rights
over the American president who will be leading it. That's why the
United States is both democracy and dictatorship, since its political
system is international in scope.
Internationally, the Bush administration's foreign policy is the most
unpopular of any American administration in recent memory. It was not
very surprising, then, to see a recent poll showing the international
mood to be overwhelmingly aligned against the prospect of George W.
Bush's re-election, at 76 percent of those polled by the German
As it has developed, the United States' self-proclaimed "war on
terror" has struck out in a fury of revenge at the families and kin
of those surmised to have dared attack America. That the US command
is unsure who it is killing is borne witness to by its usage of the
term "illegal combatant." What is otherwise certain is that the
deaths caused by this "war" have mounted into the tens of thousands.
Naturally enough, those who see innocent civilians paying for the war
on terror with their lives favor Democratic Party candidate Senator
John Kerry as the next president. At home and abroad, their banner is
now familiar: "Anyone but Bush."
It is true that for many American voters, political activists, and
citizens, Kerry's persona exudes a breath of sanity over the future
of international affairs. He fought hard in "Nam," got injured and
won medals. Then he turned against the generals and war masters by
denouncing the entire endeavor on humanist and moral grounds. More
than ever before in recent memory, however, what the persona utters
and what it represents on a television screen e automatic nature of
political opposition in the United States seem moot at best.
This has less to do with the uncertainties, ambiguities, and
confusion of Kerry's campaign that so many astute Republican pundits
have festively observed than it does with the fact that one of
Kerry's functions, as it were, is to calm the anti-Bush resistance in
the United States itself. That job was reflected in his choice of an
east- coast, white boy campaign set up, with John Edwards named as
his vice-presidential running mate.
Kerry's VP choice has all but extinguished the flame of resistance
simmering in the "other America," with all of its cultural,
religious, linguistic, and economic diversity. This is why any
prescription to vote in favor of Kerry, if only to block Bush,
amounts to an ill-conceived gesture in which something akin to hope
in the goodness of the afterlife ends up replacing political wisdom.
Bush's foreign policy is the most unpopular in recent memory
Let me explain. "Anyone but Bush" is an election fraud based on the
misguided belief that voting actually matters in the United States.
Convincing oneself of the legitimacy of voting for Kerry, even
as "reluctantly" as did Naomi Klein in a recent advocacy piece
published by The Guardian, is an act of political nihilism, a dead-
Klein opines that under the Democrats, Americans will be led to think
about "politics, economy and History" again. She seems to have
forgotten that the whole battle being waged by both the Republicans
and Democrats aims at hammering the legal and moral facts surrounding
the Bush administration's actions into a perpetual present, as if
nothing the "enemy" does had a legitimate cause. Both the Republicans
and Democrats picture the invasion of Iraq in the instrumental terms
of managing a rowdy company, and breaking up its employees' trade
A recent article in the New York Times claims that, in a bid to
rekindle his flaccid presidential campaign, Kerry's Senate colleagues
are pressing him to take up broader issues.4 The Senate, however, has
long been a thorn in the side of US democracy.5 As proof of its great
concern for the fate of Americans, the Senate Armed Services
Committee voted to repeal a prohibition on "mini-nuclear bomb"
research in May 2003. Only two Senators, Kennedy and Feinstein,
sought to block this motion, realizing it would be a spark to
building bombs whose purpose would not be deterrence, but actual use.
They lost their battle.6
As a Senator, John Kerry never distinguished himself by opposing what
has been an essentially war-mongering Senate, whether controlled by
Democrats or Republicans. This is why the problem with the US
government is as much the Senate as the Presidency.
There is nothing "vague" about the candidate's positions. It's just a
matter of opening one's eyesand preventing them from being shut. In
the best of worlds, Kerry would have proven his worth by engaging
Bush only in indirect battle over Iraq. Instead, he suggested
escalating the war on terror until some supposed victory is achieved.
Kerry should have strived to rally a majority of the roughly 55% of
Americans who have effectively dropped out of the "world's greatest
democracy" by simply not voting. Recall that recent presidents have
been elected with "landslide" victories that barely accounted for a
third of the American voting population. There exists a wealth of
voters just dying for a proposal, had Kerry known how to speak the
language of those heterogeneous masses.
That is no easy task, especially when the language to be spoken
involves terms that have now been deemed unsavory for the American
media to voice. These terms involve higher taxation of corporations
and the rich, not just in exchange for quality universal health and
education services, but for something much more astonishing: food and
housing for America's growing numbers of underprivileged and
America's poor have no active voice by which to bolster their vote.
In addition to losing political and purchasing power, most Americans
have also lost the right to a representation-form that deals with the
most basic necessity of their lives: their jobs. Today, trade union
representation in the United States is not merely a dirty word; In
many industry sectors it has all but become illegal. Why would the
disenfranchised then want to participate in a process that strips
them of their most basic rights?
Outside of political action, there has been a long process of
translating social ills into religious solutions. At times, they have
culminated in salvationist visions of UFOs. Meanwhile, real
grassroots from-the-people-by-the-people political solutions and
reforms have been swiftly side-lined by the ruling establishment
as "contrary" or "foreign" to the American way.
The Dems Blew It
In the run-up to the Democratic Party primaries, the media had ample
time to rally progressive voters. Instead of tapping into this wealth
of opposition votes, internal doings twisted Howard Dean's ascension
into humiliation after he skyrocketed to prominence on an anti-war
ticket. Since then, Dean has proved to be the imposter he always was.
More seriously, his disgrace has left the anti-war ticket with a
severe blow to its credibility, which has allowed Kerry to ape Bush's
war-mongering in speech after speech.
The US president exercises power over a major part of the world
In the campaign Kerry has since led, blind faith is expected from a
population reared on a local media that feeds them obscure
explanations and guts history of critical consequences. Love of
country should never be an excuse for blind rage and revenge.
Understanding economic disparity as the single driving force behind
the United States' military might has fared even worse.
The bitter irony for Kerry supporters is this: After decades of
chastising the shift in television news to a parade of talking heads
and pundits, that is, to empty-headed fashion model look-and-sound
alikes, opponents to Bush are now consolidating the idea that all of
our politicians and pundits are and always have been those vacuous
head-body assemblages. Their primary task? To keep the President on
the tube day after day, night after night.8 There is a word
associated with this thought: personality cult.
Narcissism is the dominant mood in the developed nations. Not self-
love, as it is simplistically understood, but the love of a group-
self in the midst of desperation. Until recently, only America's
sternest critics have seen non-democratic societies as more desirable
to live in. These political analysts bore out the deep,
irreconcilable contradictions between the kind of life the American
system provides for most of its citizens, and the hell it has often
imposed on those unfortunate enough to live in nations falling within
America's zone of economic and geostrategic interests.
The hell of US invasions and occupation is an ever unfolding list. At
times, it has taken root in Iran, at others in Guatemala, the
Dominican Republic, Korea, Vietnam of course, Haiti, El Salvador,
Nicaragua, East Timor, Cuba, Chile - and Afghanistan. Ronald Reagan's
death was marked in the rightwing neo-liberal press as the passing of
the man who "beat communism." But it was Jimmy Cartera Democratwho
sparked the final battle, providing the USSR with its own Vietnam in
Afghanistan. And it was Bill Clinton who led the incessant bombing
and UN embargo of Iraq that bled it for eight years. Under his
presidency the US decided to assume the right to wage preventive war,
all without Bush's hoopla.9 The Democratic Party is no ally of
Being against Kerry is not tantamount to opting for Bush. I would be
the last to suggest one actually vote for Bushalthough we might all
have some stakes in letting him win.
Consider some of the hypocrisy around so-called
Democratic "opposition" in the United States. You've heard the noise
being made about the heroism of those who fought in Vietnam. There's
still the old bitterness around, of course, for those who fought and
then went on to publicly denounce the United States' criminal
invasion of that country. But what of the many, many others who took
risks to their lives and careers by rejecting the war, and refusing
to go? In the American way, they demonstrated against Washington and
organized. They interpreted Vietnam as being a political desire for
world dominion. But these heroes have not been given space to voice
their position. These heroes are still considered traitors for
putting their finger on what both Kerry and Bush stand for: a
political formula in which economic disparity is equated with
political liberty. America's future lies in the hands of the anti-
Vietnam war heroesthose who refused to go.
The upshot is that it is impossible to trust either of the two
parties to stand for the kind of "freedom" that is harmonious with
economic equality and a long term plan for international diplomacy,
one that will set up a legal framework enforcing a moratorium on
American military interventions. Where real change at home can take
place is in a solid restructuring of the House of Representatives,
and especially of the presidency and Senate. These days, the latter
two are merely the windows through which America's wealthiest are
able to rule, irrespective of the party.
Conservative America accuses the free spirits who set out on
professional careers that have nothing to do with becoming the
technicians of the petroleum-pollution-war society. When these free
spirits refuse to surrender real liberty and submit to the State's
will, the State refuses to help them, leaving them with no health and
retirement plan, and no means to pay for a quality education for
Bill Clinton had eight years to change the plight of those who
refused the conservative agenda, and he did nothing. His successor,
John Kerry, is even less inclined to. We should bear that in mind
instead of the delusion that a "boring guy" like Kerry will guide us
to smoother ground, let alone suggesting that it is "thanks [to
Clinton that] the `progressist' movements from the West began to pay
attention to systems again."10
Surely foreigners would object: America's streets are superbly paved,
their hospitals are the best in the world, their cities glimmer as
though the Conquistadores' vision of El Dorado was a premonition of a
future four hundred years after their invasion of the Gulf of Mexico,
in the future states of Texas, Florida and Georgia. But the tourists
do not know Pine Ridge, the Reservation of the Lakota Oglala Sioux.
They remain oblivious of Oakland and the tattered remains of the
Black Panther Party, while the South Bronx and South Central remain
off limits due to high crime rates, attributed to "Blacks." The
justice that rules in such economic disparity is uniformly built upon
violence and subjection. The difference between rich and poor is the
gleam and power of one's weapons.
As for the tiring question of Ralph Nader stealing votes from Kerry,
it's simply that Kerry has not catered to Nader's voters. Judging by
his campaign, it often seems as though Kerry's task has been to avoid
them outright. What's most likely is that many Americans will simply
skip the elections instead of voting for an impostor. This is the
presidential election's greatest failure.
So for those who can actually vote in this dictatorial world system,
some meager advice: Don't vote for Kerry; just don't vote.
Norman Madarasz, Ph.D., is a Canadian philosopher residing in Rio de
Janeiro, Brazil. He teaches and writes on international relations,
political economy and philosophy. He is also a regular contributor to
Counterpunch. You can reach him at nmphdiol2@...
1- As of February 2004, the US had military bases in 153 countries,
involving some 350,000 personnel, with 250,000 deployed in combat,
peacekeeping and counterterrorism operations. Its naval armada
patrols all of the world's oceans. James Sterngold, "After 9/11, U.S.
policy built on world bases," The San Francisco Chronicle, March 21,
2- "La Fracture s'aggrave entre les opinions européenne et
américaine," Le Monde, September 9, 2004.
3- Naomi Klein, "Elections in the U.S.A.: Anyone but Bush," The
Guardian, August 7, 2004.
4- Suzanne Goldenberg, "Bush's Foes want to back Kerry but he's just
too vague," New York Times, September 20, 2004.
5- Richard N. Rosenfeld, "What Democracy? The Case for abolishing the
United States Senate," in Harper's Magazine, May 2004, pp. 35-44.
6- "The Senate defeated the Feinstein-Kennedy initiative by a vote of
fifty-five to forty [on June 15, 2004]. How many readers recall
editorials condemning the Senate's action or news stories about the
vote?" Arthur Schlesinger Jr., "The Making of a Mess," New York
Review of Books, September 23, 2004.
7- Recent estimates put the number of "working poor Americans" at
roughly 60 percent of the population, if one uses a benchmark of $15
minimum hourly wage for a full time job as the income allowing a
family to survive without going into debt. Barbara Ehrenreich,
Entrevistada no Milênio (GloboNews), Brazilian Television, September
20, 2004. Cf. Barbara Ehrenreich, Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting
by in America, Henry Holt, 2001.
8- J.F. Kennedy is reported to have said, "I want the world to wonder
not what Mr. Khrushchev is doing. I want them to wonder what the
United States is doing." Cited by Eric Hobsbawn, The Age of Extremes,
Vintage Books, 1996, p. 237.
9- Shoji Nuhuru, "Struggle against US Military Bases," Dateline
Tokyo, no. 73, July 1999, p.2. (Cited by Istvan Meszaros, The 21st
Century: Socialism or Barbarity, Monthly Review Press, 1999.)
10- Naomi Klein, "Elections in the U.S.A.: Anyone but Bush," The
Guardian, August 7, 2004.
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