[Marxism] Fw: [Stephen Gowans] Kerry vs. Kerry-lite

Raymond Chase r_chase at sympatico.ca
Wed Mar 24 22:21:22 MST 2004

March 23, 2004
Kerry vs. Kerry-lite
By Stephen Gowans


Some advice to politically Left Americans. Most of you will cast a vote for
John Kerry in November. There's not much doubt about it. And the reason
you'll be backing Kerry is (a) you assume nothing could be worse than Bush,
(b) the Democrats must be marginally better, because.well, because they're
Democrats, (c) pressuring elites doesn't seem to be working and you can't
think of anything else to do to stop "Bush's" drive to war, and (d) all
those people who keep warning you about lesser evilism, can't seem to come
up with anything better. So Kerry's your man. Oh sure, some of you admire
Kucinich. Others even think well of Nader. But you know Kerry's going to be
your go-to-guy come November.
Okay, fine. Leave it at that. When the time comes, head down to the polling
station, and cast your vote. But in the meantime, shut up about it, because,
just between you and me, you're starting to look a little silly, twisting
yourself into knots to explain why it is that all the things you used to say
about the Democrats being the same as the Republicans, no longer apply.
Of course, you're not going to give up talking the talk, even if you'll be
miles away walking smack dab in the middle of your comfort zone. There will
be no going cold turkey on all the leftist shibboleths you've been spouting
for decades. Like Noam Chomsky, you'll still point to the Democrats as
nothing more than the second business party [1], kind of like Thing Two to
the Republican's Thing One. And you'll dismiss your go-to-guy as nothing
more than Bush-lite, but hey, a lite beer's still better than the real thing
when you're trying to get rid of those love handles, right?
Except I'm trying to figure out why everyone keeps saying Kerry is Bush-lite
[2], rather than Bush in a different suit, or that Bush is Kerry-lite. Look
at Kerry's record.
For one thing, as much as Bush, Kerry's part of the ruling class - that
privileged, hyper-rich stratum of the population that organizes the domestic
and foreign policy of the United States in its own interests. Not only have
corporations showered more contributions on Kerry than on any other member
of the millionaires' club that doubles as the Senate, he's also the richest
millionaire in the club. He and his wife Teresa Heinz Kerry, boast a net
worth of between $200 and $840 million [3].
But Kerry's wealth and his fitting into corporate circles like a CEO into an
oversize corner office, isn't all that makes him, at best, a dead ringer for
Bush. His policies do, too. Kerry proposes "a bold vision of progressive
internationalism," a "tough-minded strategy of international engagement and
leadership" in the tradition of such renowned peaceniks as Woodrow Wilson
(WWI), Harry Truman (Hiroshima) and John F. Kennedy (Vietnam and the Bay of
Pigs) [4].
Which may be why "Bush's" drive to war, which we're told, must be stopped by
voting for Kerry, seems to be Kerry's drive to war, too [5]. After all, he
voted for the war on Afghanistan, and supports the occupation [6]. He voted
for the war on Iraq, and says "we now have a solemn obligation to complete
the mission" [7]. He promises to add 40,000 troops to the Army and to spend
more on defense than the Republicans, and more on homeland security [8].
Yeah, he sure sounds different from Bush, though not in any better way.
What's more, not only is he prepared to use military force unilaterally,
("People will know I'm tough and I'm prepared to do what is necessary to
defend the United States of America, and that includes the unilateral
deployment of troops if necessary," [9] he's prepared "to target and capture
terrorists even before they act" and says he "will not hesitate to order
direct military action when needed to capture and destroy terrorist groups
and their leaders" [10] -- his own doctrine of preventive war.
Plus he says he will spend more on the National Endowment for Democracy
[11], an organization that does openly what the CIA used to do covertly -- 
meddle in the affairs of countries like Haiti, Venezuela, Serbia and Cuba,
that put the interests of the domestic population ahead of those of
corporate America and investors who can boast net worths of hundreds of
millions of dollars, like, let's see...well, like Kerry.
And in case you thought Kerry draws his advisors from a different stratum of
the population than Bush does, you should know that his national finance
chair, Louis Susman, is vice-chairperson of investment banking for Citigroup
[12], and that his foreign policy adviser, Rand Beers, worked for Bush's
National Security Council until about a year ago [13].
So explain to me how there's anything lite about Kerry?
My favorite Kerry quote is, "I could never agree with those in the antiwar
movement who dismissed our troops [in Vietnam] as war criminals or our
country as the villain in the drama" [14].
As for Iraq, if Kerry has a problem with Bush, it's that he didn't drag
France, Germany and Russia into the war, preferring to strike a grabby, it's
all mine, pose, rather than the "let's divide up the loot" approach the
Democrats favor. Apparently, a gang rape is better than a rape carried out
by a lone assailant, which, I gather, would make a gang rapist a
rapist-lite, and therefore more worthy of our backing than a rapist who goes
it alone.
But, for the record, Washington hasn't gone it alone in Iraq, managing to
cobble together a coalition, though one lacking France, Germany and Russia,
whose backing, in some perverted twist of reasoning, is supposed to have
invested the rape of Iraq with legitimacy. Apparently, if you can lure other
renowned rapists into a gang rape, it gives the whole sordid affair moral
So, you'll have to excuse me, but I don't see any redeeming difference
between Kerry and the current Kerry-lite occupant of the White House, not
even a razor-thin one, at least not one that would lead me to conclude that
Kerry's better, if only marginally. And if there's any logic in the Chomsky
claim -- which he's been making for a while now -- that a minuscule
difference can make a big difference (because the president has so much
power, Kerry being even a little better than Bush can have fairly
substantial implications), I'm afraid it has eluded me, as well. Is it just
me, or is Chomsky staring to sound like those corporate PR flaks, who rather
than not even trying to claim black is white, figure their forensic skills
are so finely honed, that they can pull it off?
And has Michael Parenti, another high-profile American leftist, joined the
club? Of course, he has. He, along with Chomksy and a gaggle of other left
luminaries, wrote a "letter to the left" sometime late last year, that
attributed the drive to war to Bush [15], as if wars of aggression haven't
been a fixture of US foreign policy, and have suddenly sprung to life fully
formed under the Bush administration's careful nurturing. They coyly avoided
saying that the Left should vote Democrat in the next election, but the
message was plain, and odd, coming from a number of people who say they're
radicals, but then, maybe the meaning of radical changes in "times when you
have to pursue coalition politics against the forces like the kind we're
facing in the White House today" [16].
Not so many years ago -- four to be exact -- pursuing coalition politics
wasn't deemed to be so important. Back then Michael Moore was directing a
Rage Against the Machine video that depicted Al Gore as a clone of George
Bush, and he, and a whole bunch of other US Left luminaries, were exhorting
people to vote for the anti-clone, Nader, none more zealously than Moore
himself. But what made impeccable sense back then, now seems to make no
sense at all. Nader's been dumped faster than a date with active genital
herpes, and Moore slunk back to the Democrats soon after the election, his
self-imposed estrangement from his political home passed off as temporary
insanity. Eventually, he decided to back the real Butcher of Belgrade,
Wesley Clark, for a run at the Democratic nomination, touting a war
criminal, on record as supporting the rape of Iraq, as the peace candidate
the anti-war Left could really get behind.
My logic isn't infallible, but it seems to me if we accept Moore's claim
that Al Gore is a clone of George W. Bush, then Gore as president would have
been like Bush as president. In other words, there would have been a war on
Afghanistan, which seems pretty likely given that 99 percent of the
establishment, plus a fair number of liberals, think the whole affair was a
pretty good thing. And we can be sure Gore would have carried out some kind
of hostility against Iraq aimed at regime change, since, after all, this had
been the policy of two administrations, one of which Gore belonged to. All
of which makes one wonder why Moore has decided, along with Chomsky and
Parenti, that coalition politics - - that is a vote for the Democrats -- has
suddenly become vitally important. It's as if they're all kicking themselves
for not voting for Gore when they had the chance -- even if he is a clone of
Bush. Figure that one out. Maybe it's a poor grasp of logic. All of them
talk about the necessity of voting for the candidate most likely to defeat
the dangerous and repellent Bush, assuming quite unjustifiably that his
successor won't be equally or more dangerous and repellent.
Radical, if it means anything, should refer to the root of a problem, and
given that aggressive foreign policies have been pursued by every
administration, and elsewhere in the world, by governments of various
political hues, it seems highly unlikely that the drive to war is an anomaly
of a group of people in power. It seems far more likely to be systemic, and
therefore, the means to stop the drive to war must be systemic, as well. And
yet the word, radical, it would seem, now means acting to replace one group
of people drawn from the ruling class, who seek to shape the international
security order in line with US export and investment interests, with another
group of people drawn from the same ruling class, who aim to exercise US
power boldly in the tradition of Wilson, Truman and Kennedy, to do the same.
Parenti, who talks a militant leftist line, says elections matter, but
boasts that he coined the phrase "two-party monopolies" when he wrote,
"Democracy For the Few," [17] which would kind of suggest Parenti was
thinking that elections don't matter and a vote for the Democrats equals a
vote for the Republicans, or if you extend the logic, that the drive to war
does not belong uniquely to the Republicans but is owned by the monopoly. So
you see elections don't matter, but they do matter. Figure that one out. I
can't decide whether Parenti's starting to remind me of a guy who writes
cryptic fortune cookie fortunes, or a retired Sprite salesman who's been
claiming for the last four decades that Coke and Pepsi are the same, but has
just put in a call to the regional Pepsi sales office demanding a Pepsi
machine be installed outside his local public gym, because all that's there
now is a Coke machine, and he can't stand the taste of Coke.
If the US, in Parenti's words, is a democracy for the few, dominated by the
super rich like Kerry and Kerry-lite, what difference do elections make? At
this point the exponents of the view that elections matter (well, at least
this election matters) step forward and say, "Yes, but the Bush Republicans
are a particularly vicious wing of the ruling class, and while the Democrats
are only marginally better, they are better all the same, and therefore any
project that seeks to put a Democrat in the White House is meliorative."
Let's ignore the reality that this is like saying death by guillotine is
better than death by hanging, because a hanging death can be long, drawn
out, and gruesome, whereas the guillotine is swift and certain and
marginally more humane. By this reasoning we're supposed to support death by
guillotine and believe we've accomplished something if we thereby avoid the
hangman's noose. Either way, you end up with a nasty neck-ache, though on
the bright side, it only lasts for a fraction of a second. But I'm not at
all sure that the premise -- that the Democrats are marginally better -- is
It's a canard, really -- part of the mythology of the Democrats. It may have
been true seventy years ago, but you'd be hard pressed to show how any
Democrat in power has differed from Republicans in power on economic or
foreign policy since, and certainly now. And yet the fairy tale lives on,
invulnerable to the facts. But then it serves a useful intellectual
function - keeping Americans of the political left from wrestling with a
vexing and troubling question: What the hell can we do, if we can't vote
Democrat? Join the Communist Party? No, they're voting Democrat too.
What can be done, is to start to ask why it is that no matter who's in
power, Democrat or Republican, conservative or liberal, and overseas,
conservative or Socialist, foreign and economic policy always seems to head
in the same direction: foreign policy is aggressive, and economic policy
abets profit-making at the expense of wages, working conditions and social
security, as it must. It doesn't seem to be the greed or ignorance or
viciousness of a group of people in power that accounts for this uniformity
of direction, any more than the greed or ignorance or viciousness of CEOs
account for layoffs, which isn't to say that some CEO's aren't greedy or
ignorant or vicious, only that it doesn't matter whether they are.
It's like baseball. It doesn't matter what the players think of the game,
what their aims are, how they feel. All the matters is how many runs are
scored. If they underperform, they're benched, sent down to the minors, or
sent packing [18]. Imagine a CEO who decides to keep workers on, at the
expense of his company's profits. He won't last long, suffering the
corporate equivalent of being pulled from the game, banished to the minors,
or cut loose from the team.
The same applies to leaders of governments in societies integrated into the
global capitalist system, dominated materially and ideologically by the
business community. If they lean to the Left, chances are they rose to power
by progressively bartering away their principles for respectability and
votes [19]. They can be counted on to pursue corporate interests at home and
abroad. If by some unlikely confluence of events, they have risen to power
without first arriving at a modus vivendi with the corporate class, their
tenure is likely to be short-lived, and unquestionably rocky. Which means
they too will end up like the baseball player who fails to add to the tally
of runs -- given a one-way ticket to the bush leagues, or worst.
The news, in recent days, offers three examples of leaders who have been
sent, or may soon be sent, to the showers.
South Korea's President Roh Moo Hyun has been impeached for a minor
transgression, tantamount to being shot, according to Kim Dong Yune, a
Seoul-based political analyst, for a minor theft [20]. Roh's real crime: He
"came to power promising to be South Korea's Robin Hood" and "has embraced a
left-leaning agenda over his year in office, including carving out a path
more independent of Washington, establishing warmer ties with North Korea
and China, and enacting new policies to empower the poor and rein in the
rich." Roh "levied more taxes on the rich while spending billions of dollars
on new government housing for the poor," [21] something that will never
secure him a spot in the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Haiti's Jean-Bertrand Aristide was forced from power by what was almost
certainly a US-engineered coup. He angered the business community by raising
the minimum daily wage beyond $1.30, and failed to privatize state-owned
enterprises, a definite no-no if you expect to keep your place on the team
Venezuela's Hugo Chavez, once ousted in a short-lived US-backed coup, hangs
on to office despite the fierce opposition of Washington and a domestic
business class backed by contributions from the National Endowment for
Democracy. John Kerry questions Chavez's commitment to democracy, noting
that Chavez is a friend of Fidel Castro [22]. By this reasoning, George Bush
must be a military dictator because the US government counts Pakistan's
Pervez Musharraf as an ally.
Chavez has implemented a program of land reform, imposed a ban on oil
privatization, invited Cuban doctors into Venezuela's slums, and is using
the state-owned oil firm, Pdvsa, to pursue a social spending program. That's
why Washington, and Venezuela's wealthy, are trying to cut him loose from
the team.
In a word, the problem -- and you had better send the kids out of the room
before I say this -- is capitalism. Yeah capitalism, the C-word. Not
neo-liberalism, or globalization, or the Washington Consensus, or corporate
rule, or any of the other synonyms dreamed up to protect anyone from really
striking at the heart of the problem.
Radical Left groups say they're opposed to neo-liberalism and against
globalization. So are social democrats and a whole lot of liberals, even if
social democratic and liberal governments have implemented neo-liberal
policies. Like baseball players, it doesn't mater what they think of the
game, only whether they play it. So, are some radical Leftists social
democrats, or nothing but liberals in disguise? Based on Chomsky's and
Parenti's support of Kerry, it's difficult to think they're not.
But if capitalism is the problem, rather than the policy choices of Kerry
versus those of Kerry-lite -- which are indistinguishable in any important
way, anyway -- what can be done? There's nothing that can be done now, but
much that can be done on an ongoing basis, most particularly political
organization under the direction of a party that has the energy, pluck and
resolve to replace the existing system with one that doesn't depend on
foreign expansion to resolve its dilemmas and sets the fulfilment of human
requirements, not capital accumulation, as the primary purpose of economic
In the meantime, it doesn't make a whole lot of sense to back a candidate
who must, and will, carry on in the tradition of the monopoly (to use
Parenti's words), with policies as grim, reactionary and aggressive, or more
so, than those of the current occupant of the White House. At best, voting
for Kerry is a pointless act, and at worst, a backward act, to the extent it
fosters the illusion that change can be achieved by changing the name plate
on the Oval Office desk. Contrary to the reigning mythology, doing something
pointless is not better than doing nothing, where nothing means refusing to
cast a ballot for either Thing One or Thing Two. And calling Emperor
Moore's, Parenti's and Chomsky's strutting about without their clothes on,
what it is, can't hurt either.
1. "Chomsky backs 'Bush-lite' Kerry," The Guardian, March 20, 2004.
2. Ibid.
3. Center for Responsive Politics, cited in "The fallacy of the 'anybody but
Bush' movement," Workers World, March 25,
4. Mark Hand, "It's Time to Get Over It: Kerry Tells Anti-War Movement to
Move On," www.counterpunch.com, February
18, 2004.
5. "Bush can be stopped: A letter to the Left,"
6. John Pilger, "Bush Or Kerry? Look Closely And The Danger Is The Same,"
New Statesman, March 04, 2004; "The fallacy of the 'anybody but Bush'
movement," Workers World, March 25, 2004.
7. From Kerry's Web site, as cited in "The fallacy of the 'anybody but Bush'
movement," Workers World, March 25, 2004.
8. "On foreign policy, Kerry is not far from Bush," The Globe and Mail,
March 3, 2004.
9. "Kerry Condemns Bush for Failing to Back Aristide," The New York Times,
March 7, 2004.
10. Willian Blum, "If Kerry's the answer, what's the question?"
www.counterpunch.com, March 2, 2004.
11. Ibid.
12. "The fallacy of the 'anybody but Bush' movement," Workers World, March
25, 2004.
13. Gabriel Kolko, "The US must be isolated and constrained,"
www.counterpunch.org, March 12-14, 2004.
14. Mark Hand, "It's Time to Get Over It: Kerry Tells Anti-War Movement to
Move On," www.counterpunch.com, February
18, 2004.
15. "Bush can be stopped: A letter to the Left,"
16. Michael Parenti, interviewed by Amy Goodman on Democracy Now!, February
23, 2004, <Http://www.democracynow.org/article.pl?sid=04/02/23/1528222>
17. Ibid.
18. The analogy was originally used by Paul Baran and Paul Sweezy in
"Monopoly Capital: An Essay on the American Economic and Social Order,"
Monthly Review Press, 1966, p. 41.
19. This is paraphrasing Paul Sweezy in The Theory of Capitalist
Development. Monthly Review Press, 1970, p. 352.
20. "Jubilation, Rage in S. Korea Impeachment of President Exposes Deep
Ideological Rift," The Washington Post, March 13, 2004.
21. Ibid.
22. "Senator John Kerry's Statement on Venezuela," The Miami Herald, March
23, 2004. http://www.miami.com/mld/miamiherald/news/nation/8255944.htm
You may re-post this article, providing the text remains unchanged.
E-mail list. Send an e-mail to sr.gowans at sympatico.ca and write "subscribe"
in the subject line.
To unsubscribe. Send an e-mail to sr.gowans at sympatico.ca and write
"unsubscribe" in the subject line.
Stephen Gowans

More information about the Marxism mailing list