* This article was written on the morning of Tuesday, November 7, 2006
If you must vote Democratic, I recommend doing so without illusion. Drop any hope that it will make much if any positive progressive difference in the nation. The national media hyperbole about the policy significance of this mid-term polling is over the top.
I can’t promise you that the pace of the killing chain is going to slow down one bit if the Democrats get past the gerrymandering, the electoral fraud, the Republican GOTV (“Get Out the Vote”) effort, and the Republicans’ superior election financing to get a majority of the strawboss jobs in the SlaughterHouse of Representatives. Hell, the killing chain might just speed up.
I recommend dong more than holding your nose when you vote. That won’t do the job: the stink is too powerful. Try wearing a gas mask. Or put a handkerchief around your nose and mouth, as if you were pulling dead bodies out of the rubble of a Lebanese apartment building bombed by the Democratic Party-supported state of Israel.
From my perspective, the people who are running in, and starring for, the Democratic Party -- the slightly less noxious wing of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Party -- should be led before a crowd of taunting sans culottes (the radical Parisians artisans who pushed the French revolution leftward in the early 1790s) on the path to the guillotines. Okay, that’s a little "extreme." I take it back. They should be ritually humiliated in the public square. They are loathsome collaborators and craven agents of the corporate empire.
As Joshua Frank noted in a recent Dissident Voice essay, “the Democrats have assisted the Republicans at virtually every turn over the past six years. From the bloody invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, to the passing of CAFTA, to the confirmations of Sam Alito and John Roberts, to the support of the PATRIOT Act, to the dismantling of Habeus Corpus [in last October’s proto-fascistic Military Commissions Act, P.S.], to the championing of Bush’s ravaging forest plan, to backing Israel’s brutal assault on Lebanon -- the Democratic Party has long played the role of enabler. And now they want your vote.” Frank might have mentioned Democratic enablement of the business-friendly “tort reform,” the corporate-backed Bankruptcy Act, and, of course, the hyper-plutocratic tax cuts.
No, not all Democrats: there is a cadre of progressive peace and justice sorts (with names like Kucinich, Conyers, and Sanders) inside Congress. But the party’s dominant forces have worked assiduously to steer the party away from an “unrealistic” “liberal” direction and towards the odious, “pragmatic” corporate-neoliberal and militaristic Emmanual-Obamist center. The party’s ruling centrist power elite has made sure that its own handpicked “realists” and not dangerous “peacenicks” (and democracynicks justicenicks) are the ones that will ride the wave of mass electoral protest into Congress.
What is the Emmanuel-Pelosi-Reid-Obama platform for 2006? That they are not the Republicans: “vote for us, we do not happen to have been the business party in power when this Iraq mess went down and when Katrina took place.” That Bush is “incompetent.” As Alexander Cokburn observed earlier this week, “the Democrats don’t have a position on the war beyond the defacto one of trying to make sure no peacenick candidates slip past the guard post supervised by Rahm Emmanuel, chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
Reading between the lines, the Democrats in charge are telling us that that they won’t advocate quickly (“precipitously” -- ceasing and desisting from the execution of Bush’s illegal, mass-murderous occupation of Iraq -- this despite the apparently irrelevant fact that the majority of Americans (not just Democrats) want U.S. military forces out of Mesopotamia in what Cockburn calls “the immediate or relatively near future.”
The leading Democrats are also making it clear that they won’t move to impeach the monumentally criminal and hopelessly dangerous, “incompetent” (yes) and (yet supremely) arrogant president, who deserves so much more than mere impeachment. The craven super-centrist rockstar and fashion model Obama is now saying that Democrats may be “punished in ‘08” if they “don’t show a willingness to work with the president” (Jeff Zeleny, “Democrats Fight to Say, ‘You’re Welcome,'” New York Times, 5 November 2006, sec.4, p. 4).
How bad are the Democrats today? Here are three excellent, on-point paragraphs from the pages of Cockburn’s column:
Mostly the voters seem to have felt that both parties are pretty awful, but as the outfit that's been running the country without opposition for six years the Republicans deserve to get a kick in the pants. The fact that this protest is purely formal is attested by the adamant refusal of the Democrats to offer anything by way of a substantive alternative, beyond saying Bush is an incompetent fellow. Indeed, the substantive effect of Campaign 2006 has been to state in terms plain enough for a simpleton to understand, that resistance is futile, since both Republicans and Democrats agree that the Bill of Rights is a dead letter and that wars must go on, and jobs will disappear, despite overwhelming popular disagreement with such policies.
Pick a topic -- the war, the economy, a two-million-plus prison population, the environment, the condition of organized labor, the Constitution -- and can you recall any Democrat this fall having said anything suggesting that in the event Democrats recapture either the House or the Senate or both anything of consequence might occur?
The week before Polling Day the New York Times had a story about the business lobby's plans to sweep away all irksome laws and regulations passed in the wake of the Enron and WorldCom scandals. Did anyone cry, ‘that's just the kind of corporate villainy we need the Democrats to guard us from!’ Of course not. It would be as unrealistic as to hope that a Congress controlled in both chambers by Democrats would simply vote to deny Bush the money for the war in Iraq. (Cockburn, “The Message of Campaign 2006”)
Cockburn is right to note that a Democratic-controlled Congress might well sign up with the dangerously deranged presidential hopeful John McCain’s plan to increase the U.S. military presence in Iraq.
So why bother to climb all those steps up to the killing floors and walk into that venerable “coffin of class consciousness” known as the American ballot box and then actually vote “for” the Democrats? Maybe you’d like to register a protest vote against the truly dangerous and nasty Republican bastards in power and you know the nation’s winner-take-all “first past the post” electoral system means that no serious left avenues exist to register that protest.
Maybe you’re willing to entertain the possibility that ending one-party rule across all three branches of the federal government might limit the damage that the messianic terrorist and hyper-plutocrat Bush can inflict in the next two years. According to Paul Krugman yesterday, “no matter how hard the Bush administration may try to ignore the constitutional division of power, Mr. Bush’s ability to make deadly mistakes has rested in part on G.O.P. control of Congress” (Krugman, “Limiting the Damage,” New York Times, 6 November 2006, A23)
Maybe you’d like to help rob the corporate-center Democrats of their illusory identity as a “left” alternative. That illusion is more easily sustained when the party is out of power and more easily exposed, perhaps, when it is in power.
Maybe you’d like to set the Democrats up for relentless pressure and shaming from below, with you and others among the outraged populace daring them to act for withdrawal from Iraq, for the diversion of resources from militarism to social health, and for the necessary impeachment and removal from office of war criminal Bush. Maybe you’d like to have something to feel moderately good about -- like you actually won something for a change -- tonight when we'll probably see that the Democrats have picked up a majority in at least the House.
I understand all that. I really do. And I don’t blame leftists for the limited choices they face in a purposefully narrow electoral system they never made.
But I wouldn’t get too teary-eyed if it turns out that the Republicans are able to keep their congressional majority.
Maybe the punch-drunk American people are like the boozehound who gets turned away from Alcoholics’ Anonymous because he hasn’t bottomed out enough to be ready for a full-blown recovery. Maybe electing centrist Democrats -- rewarding a non-opposition party for having no real progressive positions and simply waiting in the wings for the Republicans to shoot themselves in their feet -- only helps the bewildered populace continue to deny that the risk has been taken out of American “representative” democracy by a deeply entrenched and hostile corporate and imperial takeover. Maybe the people of “world’s greatest democracy” need to confront their irrelevance of their scattered symbolic votes and their (actually quite progressive) policy preferences in a more graphic and serious fashion than ever before. Maybe they need a wake up call to help them understand that it’s going to take a truly massive and sustained popular rebellion -- a damn near revolution -- to bring justice and democracy to this dangerously unequal, imperial, and plutocratic mass incarceration state. Maybe they need something shocking to help them grasp the sad futility of quadrennial and biennial voting rituals conducted under what Marx rightly identified as the de facto "dictatorship of the bourgeoisie." Maybe you’ve got to suffer to become a sans culotte.
I’m walking down to the killing floor right now. I say do what you’ve got to do, but do it without illusion.
Paul Street is the author of many books and articles, including Empire and Inequality: America and the World Since 9/11 (Paradigm Publishers: 2004). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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