You Can't Blame Nader for This
Let's hedge this with all the usual qualifiers. Kerry could pull it out. The spread's within the margin of error. Respondents to polls are lying out of fear of John Ashcroft. Pollsters aren't reaching Kerrycrats with cell phones. But whatever way you cut it, after three debates in which polls assessed him as the victor, most polls say Kerry is lagging. As of now (October 20), the spread mostly ranges from an eight-point Bush lead to a dead heat. Worse, from Kerry's point of view, some post debate numbers show him dropping among low-income workers and urban voters, once the lifeblood of the Democratic Party. Margins in crucial states like Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida are razor-thin.
Why? Has a candidate or a party ever been more pleasantly caressed by the winds of history in an election year than John Kerry and the Democrats? A majority of Americans don't think Bush has done a particularly good job, and they've thought this for months, though more of them like Bush than like Kerry.
On Bush's watch the economy has performed poorly, and people are scared it will soon get worse. Headlines have blared the news: Real wages have fallen across the past year. Many people who lost jobs in the recession aren't getting them back. Under Bush the percentage of people with jobs has fallen by 2 percent, which translates into 4.5 million people. Middle-class income is falling. More are in poverty than ever before. The budget deficit is more than 40 percent of federal revenues, excluding funds ultimately committed to Social Security and Medicare.
Bush and his closest associates have been directly identified in almost all major mass media as perpetrators of one of the most colossal deceits in the history of propaganda, the concoction of Saddam's nonexistent WMDs as the pretext for attacking Iraq last year. Could any candidate have hoped for an October thunderclap as sonorous as that sounded by Charles Duelfer of the government's own Iraq Survey Group, that when the United States launched its attack Iraq did not possess weapons of mass destruction and had long since abandoned programs to produce them?
The war on Iraq itself is unpopular. It has carried other well-publicized scandals in its slipstream: the Plame investigation into the White House's outing of the identity of a CIA officer; the devastation to America's international stature wrought by the tortures ordered and perpetrated by Americans in Abu Ghraib and elsewhere; the Israeli spy scandal. In mid-month yet another October surprise was gifted to Kerry: a mutiny by US troops in Iraq, publicly accusing the Army of ordering them to risk death without adequate equipment.
So history has dealt Kerry all the high cards, save the one that bears his own face (against the scenic background of a billionaire wife and six houses). This card still lies on Bush's side of the table.
Only two men in US history have gone directly from the Senate to the White House, Warren Harding in 1920 and John F. Kennedy in the squeaker of 1960. This year the Democrats put two senators on the ticket, thereby burdening it with the deficits of incumbency endured by Bush. Few weapons in Bush's sparse armory in the debates were as effective as his riposte to Kerry's innumerable, pledge-laden plans for healthcare: "He's been in the United States Senate twenty years. Show me one accomplishment toward Medicare that he accomplished."
The evasions, compromises and contradictions in Kerry's political biography are there in the record to tally, and the Bush campaign has done so, to deadly effect. Kerry is a flip-flopper, and his votes show it. His leaps back and forth over the fence on the issue of the war across the past months have only compounded this career record. With the splendid gift of the fake WMDs placed before him, he has been incapable of unwrapping it. Worse, in early August he proclaimed that most likely he too, even if he had known the WMD threat to be bogus, would have authorized an attack on Iraq.
With the Bush Administration's overall record, particularly on the economic front, as poor as it is, one might have reckoned with near certainty that a hefty exchange of seats in the House, and even a handful in the Senate, would see a turnover of control from Republicans, with consequent splitting of power and a renaissance of vital important checks on the perils of a Bush second term.
But the Democrats have continued the disastrous displacement, familiar in Clinton-time, of resources away from winning back the Congress. To recapture the House the Democrats need to win twelve Republican-held districts. Overall, only sixteen Republican districts are in serious contention. Of these, two are rated as slimly tilting toward the Democrats, fourteen are tossups. In other words, recapture is a long shot. The Democrats have a slightly better chance in the Senate.
We are now witnessing the Democratic Party in very advanced decay. After the Clinton/DLC years, its street cred is conclusively shot. In formal political function the party is nothing much more than an ATM machine, spewing out torrents of cash, supplied by the unions and by corporations seeking favors, to the armies of consultants and operators who have lived off it for decades. Its right wing comprises people who could as easily be in the Republican Party, its center people incapable of standing on any principle. Its left, this season, is made up of the Anybody But Bush crowd, who last spring made the decision to let Kerry be Kerry, without a word of criticism, when he pledged a better war on Iraq and even a march on Tehran.
And if, against most current indications, Kerry wins? He has proffered almost nothing to look forward to, aside from a pledge, which can easily be aborted by a "crisis," to leave Social Security alone. With the Congress against him, he'll be mostly hogtied domestically. On the foreign front he's eagerly hogtied himself. No more compliant serf to the imperatives of Empire and to the government of Israel than Kerry has been visible this season.
A November 3 movement, to pressure Kerry if he wins, rebuild if he loses? Many on the left have argued that. But how will they know which way to march, when they started this year with all the wrong maps?
Alexander Cockburn is co-editor with Jeffrey St. Clair of CounterPunch, where this article first appeared, and co-editor of the new book: Dime's Worth of the Difference: Beyond the Lesser of Two Evils (CounterPunch Press 2004).
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