-- Gore Vidal
My first day back to the NYC commute after spending a week in Santa Cruz serving as MC for One Dance: The People's Summit was something out of a hackneyed Hollywood script. As I tried to enter the N Train, hordes of passengers were de-boarding. Being five stops away from Manhattan, I knew those folks were not really getting off the train. That's when the savvy commuter glances into the train for a look and immediately notices a homeless man sleeping in the corner. I didn't even have to enter the car to fill in the blanks. The homeless man must have been, uh, malodorous. I dashed to the next car (with everyone else) and crammed myself in...surrounded by New Yorkers puffed up to double their normal size in winter gear. Standing close enough to my fellow plebeians to smell the bad breath, the toxic perfumes, and the embedded stench of cigarettes, I tried to think about California and One Dance (http://www.onedancesummit.org).
Organizers Sylvie and Richard Oxman had the foresight to lodge almost all the participants at the same B&B. So, sharing space with Cynthia McKinney, Michael Parenti, William Blum, Stan Goff, Greg Elich, and John Trumpbour was a unique experience...especially with drop-in breakfast guests like Stephen Zunes and Yves Engler (and, of course, my wife Michele).
But while the conversation was lively and unpredictable at the breakfast table, there was a sense of familiarity to the debate at the event itself. Important messages were imparted, new connections were made, laughs were shared, and commitments renewed...but one issue loomed large: the upcoming election. Specifically, I'm talking about the schism on the Left caused by four years of President (sic) Bush. In the face of non-stop assaults on peace, justice, and common sense, even hardened radicals are suddenly touting mainstream Democratic candidates and ruthlessly attacking anyone who has stuck to the belief that both parties merely offer different versions of the same poison.
Thanks to the antics of people like Rumsfeld and Ashcroft, war criminal Wesley Clark has even convinced Michael Moore of his "anti-war" status. Dubya and his cartoonish band of reactionaries have accomplished something Al Gore couldn't manage: They've made the Democratic Party appear distinct...even (shudder) progressive.
From my perspective, the key word in that last sentence is "appear." While the parties are not monolithic (spending time with Cynthia McKinney will convince anyone of that), at the highest level (i.e. presidential candidates, powerful Senate and House members), perception surmounts reality. Bush may talk the talk on national security while Ted Kennedy regurgitates his pro-social services spiel but neither really gives a shit about the soldiers dying Iraq or a disabled (dis-labeled?) child in an inner city school. They're selling an image, a package...and we're the all-too-willing consumers.
At One Dance, an audience member took all of us to task for even thinking about voting Green (or not at all). He claimed to "know" that a President Gore would've acted in an entirely different manner than Bush in a post-9/11 world. While no one can say for certain what Gore might have done, I did offer a brief perspective on the Clinton-Gore years...a perspective that stood in stark contrast to my accuser's vision of Gore as president.
However, I could have gone back further...much further: all the back to the Democrat's superhero: Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Here's a brief, brief look at the un-Republican years since WWII.
I could go on for pages but, for now, remember that FDR's America fought the good war against racism with a segregated army. It fought that war to end atrocities by participating in the shooting of surrendering soldiers, the starvation of POWs, the deliberate bombing of civilians, wiping out hospitals, strafing lifeboats, and in the Pacific boiling flesh off enemy skulls to make table ornaments for sweethearts. And Roosevelt, the leader of this anti-racist, anti-atrocity force, signed Executive Order 9066, interning over 100,000 Japanese-Americans without due process...thus, in the name of taking on the architects of German prison camps became the architect of American prison camps.
Again, I wish I had more space but let's face it, Truman did what Stalin, Reagan, Nixon, and Mao never dared to do: He dropped a nuclear bomb on civilians. "We have used [the bomb] against those who have abandoned all pretense of obeying international laws of warfare," Truman later explained, thus justifying his decision to nuke a people that he termed "savages, ruthless, merciless, and fanatic." He summed up: "It is an atomic bomb. It is the greatest thing in history."
The Cuba Project (a.k.a. "Operation Mongoose") was initiated under Camelot (the Kennedy administration) in January 1962 with the stated US objective of helping the "Cubans overthrow the Communist regime from within Cuba and institute a new government with which the United States can live in peace." Noam Chomsky describes Operation Mongoose: "What has happened is a level of international terrorism that as far as I know has no counterpart, apart from direct aggression. It's included attacking civilian installations, bombing hotels, sinking fishing vessels, destroying petrochemical installations, poisoning crops and livestock, on quite a significant scale, assassination attempts, actual murders, bombing airplanes, bombing of Cuban missions abroad, etc. It's a massive terrorist attack."
When George Papandreou was elected Prime Minister of Greece in 1964, his somewhat liberal reputation did not sit well in Washington. Things went from bad to worse when Greece further annoyed its superpower benefactor by squabbling with Turkey over Cyprus, and then objecting to U.S. plans to partition the island. Lyndon Johnson summoned the Greek ambassador for a brief lesson on non-Republican policy: "Fuck your parliament and your constitution. America is an elephant, Cyprus is a flea. If these two fleas continue itching the elephant, they may just get whacked by the elephant's trunk, whacked good...We pay a lot of good American dollars to the Greeks, Mr. Ambassador. If your Prime Minister gives me a talk about democracy, parliament, and constitutions, he, his parliament, and his constitution may not last very long."
Jimmy Carter was a president who claimed that human rights was "the soul of our foreign policy" despite making an agreement with Baby Doc Duvalier to not accept the asylum claims of Haitian refugees. His duplicity, however, was not limited to our hemisphere; Carter also earned his Nobel Prize in Southeast Asia. In Cambodia, Jimmy Carter and his national security aide Zbigniew Brzezinski made an "untiring effort to find peaceful solutions" by initiating a joint U.S.-Thai operation in 1979 known as Task Force 80 which, for ten years, propped up the notorious Khmer Rouge under the all-purpose banner of anti-Communism. "Small wonder present U.S.-originating stories about the Khmer Rouge end abruptly in 1979," says journalist Alexander Cockburn. Interestingly, just two years earlier, Carter displayed his "respect for human rights" when he explained how the US owed no debt to Vietnam. He justified this belief because the "destruction was mutual." Moving further southward "to advance democracy and human rights," we have East Timor. This former Portuguese colony was the target of a relentless and murderous assault by Indonesia since December 7, 1975...an assault made possible through the sale of U.S. arms to its loyal client-state, the silent complicity of the American press, and then-Ambassador Daniel Patrick Moynihan's skill at keeping the United Nations uninvolved. Upon relieving Gerald Ford (but strategically retaining the skills of fellow Nobel peacenik Henry Kissinger), Carter authorized increased military aid to Indonesia in 1977 as the death toll approached 100,000. In short order, over one-third of the East Timorese population (more than 200,000 humans) lost their lives due to war-related starvation, disease, massacres, or atrocities. Closer to home, Carter also made his mark in Central America. As journalist William Blum details, in 1978, the future Nobel Peace Prize winner attempted to create a "moderate" alternative to the Sandinistas through covert CIA support for "the press and labor unions in Nicaragua." After the Sandinistas took power, Blum explains, "Carter authorized the CIA to provide financial and other support to opponents." Also in that region, one of Carter's final acts as president was to order $10 million in military aid and advisors to El Salvador perhaps "to promote economic and social development." A final glimpse of "international co-operation based on international law" during the Carter Administration brings us to Afghanistan, site of a Soviet invasion in December 1979. It was here that Carter and Brzezinski aligned themselves with staunch anti-Communists in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan to exploit Islam as a method to arouse the Afghani populace to action. With the CIA coordinating the effort, some $40 billion in US taxpayer dollars were used to recruit "freedom fighters" like Osama bin Laden. The rest, as they say, is history.
During 1993 and 1994, when Clinton had the "advantage" of a Democratically-controlled Congress, Emperor Bill abandoned his pledge to consider offering asylum to Haitian refugees, he reneged on his promise to "take a firm stand" against the armed forces' ban on gays and lesbians, and he backed away from his most high-profile campaign issue: health care. While "enjoying" a Democratic House and Senate, Clinton signed NAFTA and GATT, increased the Pentagon budget by $25 billion, fired Jocelyn Elders, dumped Lani Guinier, bombed Iraq and the Balkans, renewed the murderous sanctions on Iraq, and passed a crime bill that gave us more cops, more prisons, and 58 more offenses punishable by death. After presiding over the much-hyped Republican "revolution" in 1994, Slick Willie continued to march in lockstep with his corporate owners. The next two years of foreign policy provided us with more bombs and more sanctions over Iraq; covert support for war criminals in Haiti; a tightening of sanctions against Cuba, Iran, and Libya; and the overt support of a corrupt Boris Yelstin. Domestically, Clinton continued his assault on the working class by delivering a telecommunications bill further narrowing the already laughable parameters of public debate. As a final slap in the face of the "liberal" wing of his party, Clinton signed the welfare repeal bill. Also during the Clinton/Gore years, the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act was signed into law (April 24, 1996). This USA PATRIOT Act prequel contained provisions that Clinton himself admitted "makes a number of ill-advised changes in our immigration laws, having nothing to do with fighting terrorism." This unconstitutional salvo did little to address so-called terrorism but plenty to limit the civil liberties of anyone-immigrant or resident-who disagrees with U.S. policies, foreign or domestic.
What about the environment...allegedly Gore's domain? In 1996, David Brower, former president of the Sierra Club, penned a Los Angeles Times op-ed entitled, "Why I Won't Vote for Clinton." In this piece, Brower offered a litany of Clinton-sponsored moves, which utterly smashed the public image of Bill or Al Gore as "pro-environment." Some of these crimes include the passage of the salvage logging rider, the signing of the Panama Declaration, the continuation of the use of methyl bromide, the weakening of the
Endangered Species Act, the lowering of grazing fees on land, subsidizing Florida's sugar industry, weakening the Safe Drinking Water Act, reversing the ban on the production and importation of PCBs, and allowing the export of Alaskan oil. These, and other proud Clinton/Gore accomplishments, have led Brower to declare that the dynamic Democratic duo had "done more harm to the environment in three years than Presidents Bush and Reagan did in 12 years."
As I said, all this doesn't automatically predict future behavior...but I wonder how many Dean/Kerry/Clark supporters have even acknowledged the record of the Democratic Party at the executive level. None other than George Carlin said: "History is not happenstance; it is conspiratorial, carefully planned, and executed by people in power." Therefore, the recent history of Democratic presidents must be made known by other means...now. Don't trust me on it; do your own research.
Don't trust me when I point out the similarities between the parties, ask a fellow American who just so happens to be homeless or gay or sick without health insurance, or someone imprisoned in a nursing home against their will.
Let's hear you clarify the subtle nuances of our fabled two-party system to one of the growing number of US prisoners, or the former prisoners still not allowed to vote.
Or try asking, say, a Kurd or a Guatemalan, Tibetan, Mexican, Angolan, or Colombian if they value your strategy to choose Dean over Green.
Explain to a child laborer in Pakistan or a freedom fighter in Chechyna or a starving family in Kabul that Wesley Clark is politically discrete from President-Select Bush.
From East Timor to the West Bank, from South Central to Northern Ireland, ask the rest of the world about America's vaunted two-party democracy.
Once more of us appreciate how little separates the two parties, we need action...direct, collective, immediate action. Why is it that a mere passing mention of cuts to social services in France and Italy instantly results in a million people in the street? When will Americans feel the same sense of urgency and duty? What can we do, what will we do once that sense of urgency and duty is felt?
Postscript: As a longtime writer for Street News, I'd like to add a comment about that homeless man on the N Train. While I didn't wish to share space with him that particular morning, I must admit his presence made me smile. While in Santa Cruz, I was honored to attend a press conference and rally in support of that city's homeless population. It seems the "progressive capital of California" has imposed a sleeping ban on its streets (http://www.huffsantacruz.org for more).
Indeed, perception has become reality...
Mickey Z. is author of the upcoming Gigantic Mistake: Articles and Essays for Your Intellectual Self-Defense (Prime Books), and The Murdering of My Years: Artists and Activists Making Ends Meet (www.murderingofmyyears.com). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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