Democracy Is a Beautiful Thing
By William Blum
Democracy is a beautiful thing, except that part about letting just any old jerk vote.
“The people can have anything they want.
The trouble is, they do not want anything.
At least they vote that way on election day.”
Eugene Debs, American socialist leader, early 20th century
03/02/08 “ICH” — — Why was the primary vote for former presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich so small when anti-Iraq war sentiment in the United States is supposedly so high, and Kucinich was easily the leading anti-war candidate in the Democratic race, indeed the only genuine one after former Senator Mike Gravel withdrew? Even allowing for his being cut out of several debates, Kucinich’s showing was remarkably poor. In Michigan, on January 15, it was only Kucinich and Clinton running. Clinton got 56% of the vote, the “uncommitted” vote (for candidates who had withdrawn but whose names were still on the ballot) was 39%, and Kucinich received but 4%. And Clinton, remember, has been the leading pro-war hawk of all the Democratic candidates.
I think much of the answer lies in the fact that the majority of the American people — like the majority of people all over the world — aren’t very sophisticated politically, and many of them aren’t against the war for very cerebral reasons. Their opposition perhaps stems mainly from the large number of American soldiers who’ve lost their lives, or because the United States is not “winning”, or because America’s reputation in the world is being soiled, or because a majority of other Americans express their opposition to the war, or because of George W.’s multiple character defects, or because of a number of other reasons you couldn’t even guess at. Not much especially perceptive or learned in this collection.
I think there are all kinds of intelligence in this world: musical, scientific, mathematical, artistic, academic, literary, mechanical, and so on. Then there’s political intelligence, which I would define as the ability to see through the bullshit which the leaders and politicians of every society, past, present and future, feed their citizens from birth on to win elections and assure continuance of the prevailing ideology.
This is why it’s so important for all of us to continue “preaching to the choir” and “preaching to the converted”. That’s what speakers and writers and other activists are often scoffed at for doing — saying the same old thing to the same old people, just spinning their wheels. But long experience as speaker, writer and activist in the area of foreign policy tells me it just ain’t so. From the questions and comments I regularly get from my audiences, via email and in person, and from other people’s audiences as well, I can plainly see that there are numerous significant information gaps and misconceptions in the choir’s thinking, often leaving them unable to see through the newest government lie or propaganda trick; they’re unknowing or forgetful of what happened in the past that illuminates the present; knowing the facts but unable to apply them at the appropriate moment; vulnerable to being led astray by the next person who offers a specious argument that opposes what they currently believe, or think they believe. The choir needs to be frequently reminded and enlightened.
As cynical as others may think they are, the choir is frequently not cynical enough about the power elite’s motivations. They underestimate the government’s capacity for deceit, clinging to the belief that their government somehow means well; they’re moreover insufficiently skilled at reading between the media’s lines. And this all applies to how they view political candidates as well. Try asking “anti-war” supporters of Hillary Clinton if they know what a hawk she is, that — as but one example — she’s promised that American forces will not leave Iraq while she’s president. (And Obama loves the empire as much as Clinton.) When Ronald Reagan was president, on several occasions polls revealed that many, if not most, people who supported him were actually opposed to many of his specific policies.
In sum, even when the hearts of the chorus may be in the right place, their heads still need working on, on a recurring basis. And in any event, very few people are actually born into the choir; they achieve choir membership only after being preached to, multiple times.
When I speak in public, and when I can mention it in an interview, I raise the question of the motivations of the administration. As long as people believe that our so-called leaders are well-intentioned, the leaders can, and do, get away with murder. Literally.
“How to get people to vote against their interests and to really think against their interests is very clever. It’s the cleverest ruling class that I have ever come across in history. It’s been 200 years at it. It’s superb.” Gore Vidal
Another interesting view of the American electoral system comes from Cuban leader Raúl Castro. He recently noted that the United States pits two identical parties against one another, and joked that a choice between a Republican and Democrat is like choosing between himself and his brother Fidel.
“We could say in Cuba we have two parties: one led by Fidel and one led by Raúl, what would be the difference?” he asked. “That’s the same thing that happens in the United States … both are the same. Fidel is a little taller than me, he has a beard and I don’t.”
Speaking of political intelligence … take a little stroll with Alice through the American wonderland … just for laughs
“This war [in Iraq] is the most important liberal, revolutionary U.S. democracy-building project since the Marshall Plan. … it is one of the noblest things this country has ever attempted abroad.” — Thomas Friedman, much-acclaimed New York Times foreign-affairs analyst, November 2003
“President Bush has placed human rights at the center of his foreign policy agenda in unprecedented ways.” — Michael Gerson, columnist for the Washington Post, 2007
The war in Iraq “is one of the noblest endeavors the United States, or any great power, has ever undertaken.” — David Brooks, New York Times columnist and National Public Radio (NPR) commentator (2007)
If this is what leading American public intellectuals believe and impart to their audiences, is it any wonder that the media can short circuit people’s critical faculties altogether? It should as well be noted that these three journalists are all with “liberal” media.
And when Hillary Clinton says in the January 31 debate with Barack Obama: “We bombed them [Iraq] for days in 1998 because Saddam Hussein threw out inspectors,” and the fact is that the UN withdrew its weapons inspectors because the Clinton administration had made it clear that it was about to start bombing Iraq …
Obama didn’t correct her. Neither did any of the eminent journalists on the panel, though this particular piece of disinformation has been repeated again and again in the media, and has been corrected again and again by those on the left. Comrades, we have our work cut out for us. The chorus needs us. America needs us. Keep preaching.
Teaching political intelligence
If you’re a high school or college teacher, you might want to look at http://www.teachpeace.com/highschoolkit.htm for teaching aids to impart a progressive outlook on US foreign policy and related issues to your students.
1 Associated Press, CNN.com, December 25, 2007
 New York Times, November 30, 2003
 Washington Post, September 7, 2007
 Mary Eberstadt, ed., “Why I turned Right: Leading Baby Boom Conservatives Chronicle Their Political Journeys” (2007), p.73
William Blum is the author of: Killing Hope: US Military and CIA Interventions Since World War 2, Rogue State: A Guide to the World’s Only Superpower, West-Bloc Dissident: A Cold War Memoir, Freeing the World to Death: Essays on the American Empire. Portions of the books can be read, and signed copies purchased, at www.killinghope.org.