It is likely that in 2008 both major political parties will nominate a candidate for President who voted for invading Iraq and has never renounced that vote, voted for the Patriot Act’s infringements on civil liberties and doesn’t support its retraction, supports the concepts of the “war on terror” and preemptive US unilateralism, supports any and all Israeli attacks on their Arab neighbors, and supports military budgets approaching a trillion a year. Both will be against signing and strengthening the Kyoto Treaty, serious ethics reform, publicly funded elections, gay marriage and universal healthcare – to name only a few of their probable commonalities.
These nominations will take place in a political climate where it is also very likely that the electorate, educated by debacles in Iraq and Washington, will continue what they did in 2006 – moving left, especially the younger voters. Hence, there are going to be a record number of potential voters in 2008 whose political principles and goals directly conflict with the policies of both major parties’ candidates. Their opposition will derive primarily from left and libertarian critiques. This group seeking alternatives will be younger than those who find political satisfaction among Republicrats. They will also reject many cultural conventions of their elders such as bans on gay marriage and marijuana prohibition. The Democrats may nominate a woman and/or an Afro-American and some on the left who will argue that is reason enough to support them. Such reasoning will eventually lead the proponent to be completely taken for granted and their politics ignored by a future Democratic administration still operating entirely within established perimeters. A rerun of “Anybody but Bush’s chosen replacement” will have little resonance among these people. There will be many millions of them.
Presidential elections are the most corrupted level of US politics. On this highest level of power, the influence of corporate money on politics prevails most powerfully. However, it is the only national electoral stage provided, the official attraction to which all attention is directed. No other stage is so conducive to the discussion of basic principles and global issues. No other venue provides such a potential audience. For leftists, it’s like the lottery in that the odds are bad, but worse if you don’t play. But, Dean and MoveOn have demonstrated that the stranglehold of big corporate money may be mitigated by cleaver organization of large constituencies in cyberspace. Since the anti-Iraq War movement was largely organized on line, why not an antiwar presidential campaign against two members of the ruling elite and their narrowly focused pseudo-debates?
In order to have progressive alternative positions as part of the debate at all, the antiwar Left must have its own candidates, even if those candidates, if at all successful, might damage the chances of the Democratic Party nominees for the same offices. Unless the Democratic Party nominates an explicitly and forcefully antiwar candidate, which is unlikely, the potential impact of an antiwar Left candidate on the Democrats would be a very secondary consideration. Most importantly, having a distinct antiwar Left candidate is the only way that growing millions of Americans can have their viewpoints represented and feel that they have any stake in the process or in politics at all. It would be the ultimate objective of such a campaign to raise the Left from its current relative obscurity in this country to being an influential voice in the public dialogue. To do so, the antiwar Left needs an independent presidential campaign with completely distinct politics and articulate and attractive candidates capable of attracting millions of votes.
It will be argued that we must accept the good although it is not perfect and support Democrats. I disagree for many reasons. First, they are not the good. They are the less exploitive, the more flexible representatives of the capitalist class. Additionally, the current political system is seriously corrupted by the legalized bribery of campaign contributions. The Democrats may be less slavish than Republicans in their devotion to the mythology of the market and its principal beneficiaries. And they may have more palatable corrupters paying their bills. But they are very largely corrupted nonetheless. A perfect example is Democratic Senator Diane Feinstein of California whose husband is a war profiteer and who would support any Israeli abuse of Palestinians without batting an eye. No product of a system dominated by corporate money can be expected to take anti-corporate positions.
Crucially, a Left candidate must have policies that are fundamentally and profoundly different from ANY Democrat. Name the Democrat who favors ending the “War on Drugs” now and releasing all marijuana prisoners. Name the Democrat who favors US demilitarization, including the withdrawal from the hundreds of military bases the US maintains around the world and deeply slashing the military budget. What Democrat is willing to do what all European politicians implicitly do, renounce war as a means of conflict resolution between nations? What Democrat supports a single payer, government run universal healthcare system? What Democrat would stand up to Israel (now that Cynthia McKinney is gone)? What Democrat supports comprehensively progressive taxation? What Democrat opposes privatization in principle and supports public investment if not ownership of essential commodities like water, electricity, heating oil and transportation? In short, what Democrat can be relied upon to support libertarian socialism in even in its mildest form? The answer couldn’t be more clear. None. If it is left to Democrats, none of these positions and many others will ever be part of the public dialogue. Attempts to introduce such positions within the Democratic Party will be futile because they contradict the interests of those who control the party with their money, in a system where you need hundreds of millions in financing to be considered serious.
Unless the capitalist hegemony in public discourse is broken, the US will remain the only developed country in the world where there is no organized socialist voice in the public policy forum.
. The role of a Left presidential candidate would be to put forth progressive politics that reflect the views of a major constituency that now lacks representation. Whereas it would be unrealistic to immediately aspire to winning. The initial goals of the campaign must be to articulate these unrepresented positions and to establish an on-going political organization to espouse them in the future. To merely articulate a position in relative isolation without seriously seeking a strong candidate, ballot access and votes will not attract attention. To be taken seriously, the antiwar Left must be prepared to make this alternative a reality with money, organization and a formidable candidate. Like Nader, that candidate should have an existing national profile. Unlike Nader, that candidate should be primarily committed to establishing a permanent organizational voice for the Left.
. The Left crucially needs to define itself outside the boundaries of contemporary American capitalist political conventions. Then it needs the fortitude of its convictions and a long-term perspective to follow through on a difficult and in some ways divisive process.
The 2008 election has the potential to be a propitious moment for the Left in the US. Basically, the contradictions in the objective conditions are manifesting very rapidly on the ground and this process will be reflected in the public consciousness. It is time for the Left to attack the ideological underpinnings that have led to the unfolding debacle in the Middle East.
The primary political variables remain who the D’s nominate and the state of the Iraq war. Many Republicans are desperate not to have Iraq be the issue again in 2008 while Machiavellian Democrats might love that prospect, given how well they did running on it in 2006. But George Bush is a stubborn fool who can be counted on to continue to fuck up. I envision a move to impeach him led by desperate Republicans. Events are taking place at an accelerating pace. If the Democrats go for DLC types (Hillary) and the Republicans nominate someone like McCain who wants to escalate, the Left should offer an alternative. Everything would change if, forced by an ever unfolding crisis, the D’s put up an antiwar ticket, a long shot, or if the Bush regime finds a way out of the Iraq War that preserves some shred of their dignity, a near impossibility. Retreat from Iraq merely requires the US telling its puppets to order it. But that requires them to relinquish what limited control they think they still have and suffer enormous humiliation and retribution. Doing the right thing would require Bush to relinquish any claim to a positive legacy. Not likely. The confluence of these factors indicate that 2008 will be a year ripe with potential for an historic Left campaign to expand its horizons by participation in the US presidential race.