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The Progressive Paradox
Defining Viability

by Kim Petersen
June 5, 2004

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So anathema is Republican President George Bush to many Americans that an Anybody-But-Bush (ABB) movement arose to replace him. The ABB movement has coalesced behind the candidate it identifies as the only “viable” option to Bush. To the extent that removing Bush is the one-and-only priority the ABB strategy is rational. If there are other priorities of importance then the logic behind the ABB movement is questionable.


The ABB movement includes Democrats, disillusioned Republicans, and progressives. The ABB support for the “viable” candidature of Democratic frontrunner John Kerry presents a conundrum for progressives. Kerry is not a progressive and eschews any such or similar labeling.


In fact, Kerry’s platform is so pathetic that he is commonly referred to by a lesser variant of his opponent’s name: Bush-lite. How galling it must be to be referred to as a lighter version of a much scorned war president. Bush’s Machiavellian political strategist Karl Rove has set out his tactics. Bush taunts Kerry as not being tough enough. A deserter derides the toughness of a decorated veteran. It seems ludicrous. But by continuing to define himself according to the standards dictated by Bush, Kerry finds himself ensnared in the Bush-Rove web.


Kerry has rather unseemly tried to portray himself as Bush-extra. Kerry would out-Bush Bush on the occupation of Iraq and his unwavering support for Israel -- atrocities against Iraqis and Palestinians be damned. This hardly seems like a strategy that would endear itself to the progressives in the ABB crowd.


It would seem more reasonable, at this juncture, for progressives in the Democratic camp to tout Dennis Kucinich who remains in the party’s leadership race. Kucinich is running an openly progressive, anti-war platform. So why aren’t the progressives pressuring Kerry? Or, are the progressives so few in the Democratic camp?


Perhaps many have jumped ship already and headed over to the Independent presidential bid of Ralph Nader.


This has raised the ire of many Democrats who expect progressive support; never mind that progressive policies are unsupported in the power corridors of the Democratic Party. But so deep is the ABB desire that some self-professed progressives line up behind Kerry. These progressives likewise are ensnared in a web of self-deception.


A Wayback Analogy


Imagine Nader taking a trip with Sherman and Professor Peabody in the Wayback Machine. They enter into a fictional electoral race between Adolf Hitler, who has plunged his country into war with European neighbors, and Benito Mussolini. Nader decides that he will be the third option. Let’s ignore the fact that the three contenders are different nationalities (remember Hitler is Austrian and not German). Mussolini is disparaged as Hitler-lite but he is seen as more viable than Ralph Nader. Many people are loath to see a continuance of war under Hitler and there is a strong Anybody-But-Hitler undercurrent. Mussolini mouths pretty much the same platform as Hitler but there may be small differences; that could mean big outcomes for hopeful progressives.


Mussolini was of similar fascist cloth to Hitler. It seems absurd to choose between two such figures when a third alternative is available. Bush and Kerry are likewise cut from the same privileged corporate-imperial cloth. Why should one anticipate favorable big outcomes from Kerry? He is claiming that he will outdo Bush militarily.


The Notion of Electoral Viability


Who determines viability anyway? In a properly functioning democracy clearly the electorate determines this. After the vote is counted, viability is determined -- usually. Viability, however, only really matters insofar as winning. In 2000, the Democratic presidential candidate Al Gore’s vote-winning success was not parlayed into victory but rather Supreme defeat. The voters did not solely determine viability. The 2000 election was a freak -- an abuse of democracy -- where viability norms were thrown out the window and Gore’s voter victory was for naught.


Whose ends do pre-election determinations of viability serve? Corporate media pronouncements on a candidate’s viability tend to reinforce the status quo of the political duopoly.


Nader’s in-vain run for the presidency in 2000 is often blamed for the selection of Bush. Such assertions are not scientifically valid. An election is not a controlled experiment and therefore no definitive causation can be attributed to the electoral results. Nader is responsible for running and that is basically all. Nader is not responsible for how the electorate voted; he is not responsible for Bush’s policies; he is not responsible for Gore’s rejection of a more progressive platform. When not coerced, people are responsible for their own actions.


When Democrats had their turn at the helm under President Bill Clinton the small differences separating them from the Republicans turned out to have small outcomes. More Iraqis died during the Clinton years than have so far under either of the Bush administrations.


A number of progressives refuse to buy into the lesser-evil paradox confronting progressives. Polling numbers are indicating that Nader has significant support. ABB supporters are aghast and fearful that Kerry’s victory is imperiled by Naderite support. Kerry’s team has, in a Rovian move, resorted to running anti-Nader TV and internet ads. Such a campaign seems destined to failure in attracting back support from Nader and may trigger a backlash.


Those advocating that Nader drop out of the race are arguing an anti-democratic position. Attributing Gore’s loss to Nader’s presence in the 2000 presidential race is also futile. While there were Republican voices bemoaning the Ross Perot candidacy in previous years, it was nothing quite like the Democrats full frontal on Nader.


Gore, to his detriment, turned away from the progressives and instead hooked up with a hawkish vice presidential running-mate. If Gore had brought Nader into the Democratic fold then maybe there would have been some big outcome. The outcome instead turned out to be the selection of Bush.


It appears as if Kerry has not learned any lessons from this. Right-wing Republican military names like Vietnam vet John McCain and retired Marine Gen. Anthony Zinni have been bandied about as potential running-mates for Kerry. Kerry would be alienating progressives again. Arguing against Nader being in the race effectively means removing the only voice for progressive values and peaceful resolutions to the zones of American occupation. Why should progressives agree to the removal of the progressive option from the table?


To close the door to a progressive candidature is to leave the field open to manipulation by the corporate duopoly. The Democrats' message to progressives is coming in loud and clear for sensible minds: We want your votes but we don’t want your ideals.


Kim Petersen is a writer living in Nova Scotia, Canada. He can be reached at:


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