[Marxism] On Doug Henwood's Kerry endorsement
lnp3 at panix.com
Mon May 10 17:31:18 MDT 2004
Although Kerry endorsements from the radical movement have slowed down
to a trickle, you can still find them. Right on the heels of Jeff
Cohen's Commondreams piece, we now have Doug Henwood's article titled
"Ralph 'n' stuff" in the latest newsletter Left Business Observer. In
line with Cohen's offering, it consists mostly of attacks on Nader
rather than a defense of Kerry, whom Henwood describes as a candidate
requiring "a giant clothespin to enter a polling booth" on behalf of.
The criticisms fall into two categories. First, Nader is described as a
kind of freebooter who uses the Green Party to advance his own personal
ambitions every four years, but who is not committed to building
permanent institutions based on popular power. Second, he attacks
Nader's record both as a candidate and in his capacity as a "public
citizen". Despite an obvious bias, Henwood's criticisms will have some
impact on a left in the USA that regards George W. Bush as evil
incarnate. Of course, whatever the failings Ralph Nader real or
perceived, it beggars description to justify voting for the most
reactionary Democratic Party candidate in over a century.
According to Henwood, Nader has a "deep conservative streak". Proof of
this is the fact that he wrote an article attacking federally funded
public housing in a libertarian journal called "The Freeman" in 1962.
This supposedly was one of his first published articles. In fact Nader
had an article that appeared in the 1959 American Socialist, co-edited
by Bert Cochran and Harry Braverman. It was an attack on the failings of
American democracy in the electoral arena and called for legislative
changes that would make it easier for 3rd parties to gain recognition. I
invite the reader to figure out which article is more representative of
Ralph Nader. (I might track down the article on public housing in order
to see what Nader actually said, although I myself had said some pretty
silly things 42 years ago.)
Henwood groups Nader with the Christian right and Bill Bennett because
he supposedly "seems to lack a libido" and holds in contempt those who
like theirs and consider them politically important. If Kerry is
preferable to Nader on this score, evidently Henwood does not consider
the rights of gay people "politically important". On his website, Nader
states "that the only way to ensure full equal rights is to recognize
same-sex marriage." By contrast, Kerry supports amending the
Massachusetts Constitution to ban gay marriage. Go figure.
Another proof of Nader's conservative streak is that he favors
litigation against corporations rather than government regulation.
Apparently, according to Henwood, if you are not into government
regulation, you betray an "individualist" approach rather than
"collective political action". Somehow, this kind of litmus test seems
rather one-sidedly applied. If government regulation is a good thing,
then how can one vote for Kerry who has bragged openly about being a
deficit hawk. If there has been one thing in the past 20 years that has
gutted the power of government agencies to regulate polluters and other
corporate malefactors, it has been votes to cut the budgets of OSHA,
etc. Kerry has voted for every one of these bills, including the 1993
Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act, the largest ever enacted.
All in all, it is a rather odd yardstick that Henwood applies to the 3
candidates. By any objective measure, Nader is to the left of Kerry. But
the problem it seems is that he might draw votes from Kerry and help
Bush get elected. Although it might seem rather simple-minded to point
this out, the main obstacle to Kerry getting elected is not Nader but
Kerry himself. Looking back at the 2000 election, if Gore had won in his
home state (Tennessee) and in Clinton's (Arkansas), he would have become
president. When a candidate cannot line up votes in a state that he has
represented in the Senate for more than a decade, you can't blame this
on Ralph Nader.
Henwood is not happy with the relationship between Nader and the Greens,
who are supposedly getting short shrift from Nader. My reading is
somewhat different. If Nader has held the Greens at arm's length, it is
because some of their leaders have failed to embrace the Nader candidacy
early on. By insisting on a June convention and backing a "safe state"
strategy, the Green Party has effectively reduced the power of the party
to mount a serious challenge to Bush and his Democratic opponent.
Although I wouldn't want to impute a motive, it seems that this might
reflect withering under pressure from the middle-class left that Henwood
himself speaks for. In other words, if Henwood wants to assign a blame
for a certain disengagement between Nader and the Greens, he should look
in the mirror.
Henwood holds up the Swedish Social Democracy as an example for the
faltering Green Party. Instead of just running for office, the Swedes
built cooperatives, social clubs, etc. This is about as superficial
reading of the success of the Swedish social democracy as you are going
to find. In fact, the main factor leading to their electoral victory was
a general strike led by miners in 1931 that was commemorated in the
great film "Adalen '31". Sooner or later, a social and economic crisis
in the USA will propel the growth of independent class action here, both
within and outside the electoral arena. I strongly suspect that the same
people huckstering for Kerry today will find excuses in the future to
stick with the lesser evil.
The reason for this is simple. Since the early 1970s American capitalism
has been following a downward spiral due to irresolvable contradictions
in the world economy. The reemergence of Japanese and German capitalism
on a world scale has generated a need for the USA to become "leaner and
meaner". With the introduction of China into the picture, the looming
energy crisis and other deep-seated structural problems, it is
*necessary* for the US ruling class to choose candidates that will
attack the class interests of working people and to embark on
imperialist adventures overseas to secure cheap commodities and
lucrative markets. From now until the final showdown with this ruling
class, you can be guaranteed that the Republican Party candidate for
president will be somebody like George W. Bush or worse and not somebody
like Nelson Rockefeller or some other centrist. By the same token, the
Democrats will offer up some deficit hawk who is for a more "effective"
US presence overseas. If the radical movement can't find a way to break
out of this impasse, it will go the way of another movement that faced a
similar situation--namely the German left of the Weimar Republic.
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