I'll Follow Kucinich to Kerry, Sorry Ralph

July 27, 2004
If Kerry is a “flip-flopper” because he won’t end the war (or the “Patriot Act” or NAFTA or private health insurance) even as he speaks against these horrors, what do we have to call Kucinich, who insists on ending these things even as he endorses Kerry? And what can we expect Dennis to say on Wednesday when he delivers a Kerry-approved speech to the Democratic National Convention? Will he speak against the war, as he told “Democracy Now”‘s Amy Goodman he would?

I expect in fact that Dennis will not need to tie himself in knots or reverse any positions. Understanding this helps me to accomplish something I find extremely difficult – sympathizing with John Kerry.

A year ago I would not have lifted a finger to help Kerry’s campaign. I did, however, quit my job to become Kucinich’s press secretary, a position I quit in February. I was attracted to Kucinich’s campaign by a platform that does not at first seem to have much overlap with Kerry’s. Our biggest plank was a plan to end the occupation in 90 days. The two positions that Dennis stressed most frequently after that one were creating single-payer health care and withdrawing from NAFTA and the WTO. Some other key proposals not supported by Kerry were repealing the “Patriot Act”, creating free preschool and college, guaranteeing full Social Security benefits at age 65, substantially reforming our tax laws to lower most Americans’ taxes, developing a WPA-type jobs program, creating a department of peace, and cutting the Pentagon’s budget.

On every one of these points, Kerry has a position distant from Kucinich’s but also – and more importantly at this stage – distant from Bush’s. Kerry favors rebuilding alliances with other countries and abandoning the doctrine of “preemption.” Kerry does not support the use of torture and has not begun hinting at which country he’d like to attack next. Kerry has a plan that at least for the short term would provide many more Americans with health coverage, rather than fewer. Kerry proposes to improve rather than worsen our trade laws, to restrict rather than expand the rights violations permitted under the “Patriot Act,” and to fund public education far more substantially than Bush while opposing vouchers. Kerry wants to give free college in exchange for two years of national service, to protect Social Security from privatization, to repeal Bush’s tax cuts on the super rich, to invest in infrastructure, and to refrain from further increasing the bloated military budget while redirecting portions of it to the needs of soldiers and veterans rather than non-functioning weapons systems.

Then there are the issues on which Kucinich and Kerry come close to agreeing: women’s rights, workers’ rights, environmental protections. In each case, Kerry’s positions are much closer to Kucinich’s than to Bush’s. Kucinich committed to not nominating any Supreme Court justice who would not promise to uphold Roe v. Wade. Kerry is very likely to follow through on that promise without ever stating it. Kucinich would join the Kyoto climate change treaty. Kerry might, which is much more than can be said for Bush. Kerry would devote at least a Carter-sized effort to conversion to renewable energy, and he would – as he accurately puts it – “repeal the Bush environmental onslaught.” Kucinich would expand workers’ rights by repealing the Taft-Hartley Act, but Kerry, in stark contrast to Bush, would work to protect the right to organize and support the use of card-check. Kerry is a cosponsor of the Employee Free Choice Act.

Kerry’s positions are light years ahead of Bush’s on immigrants’ rights, veterans’ rights, and gun control. While he won’t support same-sex marriage, he will support civil unions. And one can picture him eventually coming all the way around on that issue under pressure, as one cannot with Bush. Kerry sees affordable housing as a problem to be addressed. Bush does not. Kerry would reduce the use of the death penalty, not expand it. And on and on. The choice between Bush and Kerry is like night and day.

And I believe that Dennis will be able to say so. I even believe he’ll be able to say so with his usual passion. He is likely, as usual, to generate tremendous applause and to go unmentioned in most of Thursday’s media. It’s the story of his campaign. And that applause will not come because convention delegates are out of touch with the mainstream. Don’t believe the hype! These are Kerry’s delegates. These are typical Democrats who in many cases voted for the candidate they were told had “electability” and “momentum”. Applauding is not yet controlled by those factors to the extent that voting is.

The few media outlets that do cover Kucinich’s speech will likely accuse him of contradicting himself. To some extent he may be doing so. To some extend Kerry has been doing so ever since he discovered that illegal wars and attacks on the Bill of Rights are not popular. But, as Walt Whitman would have pointed out, what counts as a contradiction is not black and white.

Do I contradict myself? Very well, but at least I am lessening the chances of world destruction during the next four years.

How can I justify not supporting Nader? His positions are more to my liking and in my opinion more likely to win wide support. But those positions are only likely to win an election if backed by a major party – which is why I supported Kucinich in the first place. If you backed Kucinich in the primaries and now insist on backing Nader in a state that’s fairly certainly decided, I won’t argue with you too much. But please consider the need to devote our energies to turning out votes in swing states for Kerry in order to be rid of Bush.

I do think of it as voting against Bush rather than for Kerry. The endless convention speeches bragging about Kerry’s exploits in a war that killed countless Vietnamese almost bring me to tears. Kerry’s stubborn refusal to oppose the Iraq war, even at the serious risk of losing the election, strikes me as perverse. And yet, I will dance and sing when Kerry defeats Bush and the Supreme Court steps aside to let the results stick. Think what a Supreme Court we’ll have for the next generation if Kerry loses or has the election stolen.

We’ll have to get through a Kerry-Bush debate or two between now and November — and a few months of media. It won’t be pretty. On the Charlie Rose Show Monday night, the host asked Newsweek’s editor in charge of Democratic convention coverage what five questions he would be trying to answer in Boston. When he’d responded, Rose had the decency to point out that four of the five questions were about Bush.

The media, having already given more than enough fair and balanced coverage to substantial issues, are not just focused on the convention and who may be upstaging whom. They are also busy hyping an internet animation, a remake of “This Land is Your Land” on a site called JibJab. The animation, just like most news talk shows, ridicules politics and seems aimed at lowering voter turnout. The animation repeats various media-generated myths: for example, suggesting that Bush comes from a less affluent background than Kerry. In fact, it’s not clear what this animation does that’s different, except in style, from what Ted Koppel or Bill O’Reilly does. The media are enthralled with this thing.

Here’s what the New York Times says:
“It was not supposed to be that way, but the tone of political discourse on the Web is often intensely partisan. After all, the Internet can be a medium of infinite narrowness, where the like-minded can visit the same Web sites, blogs and mailing lists, confirming their shared beliefs and prejudices. But in a refreshing break with form, one of the big new hits on the Web is a silly, two-minute satire of the current Republican-Democrat bun fight, starring President Bush and Senator John Kerry as animated cutout figures.”

Get it? Partisanship is bad. Disparaging both sides evenly, whether the facts merit it or not, is good. Is it a wonder we “elect” a fascistic freak and half the country still may not vote while others will waste their votes on hopeless candidates? Seriously, how does JibJab’s song differ in approach from that newspaper in Appleton, Wisc., requesting pro-Bush letters from its readers in order to create “balance” with all the anti-Bush mail that keeps pouring in?

Silly me. I should have thought that political engagement by democratic citizens, i.e. partisanship, was exactly what this country was running dangerously low on. I should have thought the high level of energy coming out of the convention, despite the fact that it’s completely scripted, was a hopeful sign for our democracy.

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