August 20, 2004

A Lost Cause?

By Stephen Gowans

George Carlin once remarked that there a lot of dumb people in the world, and then there are people who don't, at first, seem dumb, but once you get to know them, turn out to be fucking stupid, full of shit, or fucking nuts.  This, I can attest, is a truer statement than anything you can read in this, the run up to the US presidential election, by Tariq Ali, David Barsamian or Michael Moore.

Dan Quayle, said Carlin, was all three: fucking stupid, full of shit, and fucking nuts. Which is what I've come to think of the socialists for Kerry, Marxists for Kerry, Communists for Kerry, progressives for Kerry, antiwar activists for Kerry and Michael Moore ditto-heads for Kerry, who've piled onto the Kerry for President bandwagon. To steal one of Carlin's other lines and adapt it to the moment, their reasoning for backing Kerry stinks so badly it could knock a buzzard off a shit-wagon. Indeed, the weakness of their arguments is surpassed only by their doggedness in crafting even more risibly weak ones whenever the last has been demolished.

Part of me says there's nothing to be gained by harping on upon the sheer idiocy of antiwar activists backing a candidate any genuine Left analysis would show to be, as strongly as Bush, an instrument of war on Iraq (and beyond) -- an analysis, by the way, that Kerry's advisors corroborated when they said their guy would in all probability have ordered the invasion of Iraq, even knowing what he knows today about weapons of mass destruction.

What's truly astonishing about all this is that the two major candidates can now openly declare they would have invaded Iraq without even the pretext of banned weapons to provide a moral cover for raw imperialism, and any expression of outrage, much less of a desire to build an action plan to do something about it, has been sublimated harmlessly into getting out the vote for a candidate who would have done the same as the candidate who's to be punished for doing what the favored candidate would have done anyway. It's like setting Charles Manson free to capture Jeffrey Dahmer.

Equally amazing, is that Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11, which smiles on the faux war on terrorism, thinks the US bombing of Afghanistan was all right, and is aimed at anti-Bush opponents of the Iraq war, is still vigorously defended in soft Left circles, though the purpose of the film is to bolster support for a presidential candidate who voted for war on Iraq and says he would in all probability have ordered US troops to march on Baghdad had he been president. Astonishingly, one supporter called the Moore film a work of art (which makes one wonder whether he's spent too much sitting before his computer in a dark basement banging out posts to Internet discussion groups, slowly transforming into a mushroom – or at least someone with the artistic sensibilities of one.) Someone else, his feet firmly planted on the ground, called the film what it is: a pro-imperialist screed whose sole purpose is to get out the vote for Kerry. For that, he earned the soft Left's undying scorn.

If that's not reason enough to wonder whether the fucking stupid, full of shit, and fucking nuts Quayle has plenty of company in the MoveOn organization, the US Communist Party, left discussion groups, and Michael Moore fan clubs, along comes the Democratic Socialists of America to publicly endorse Kerry, after Kerry says he would have invaded Iraq had he been ensconced in the White House.

It's enough to send one scurrying to the archives to dust off Phil Ochs' "Love Me, Love Me, Love Me, I'm A Liberal." Ochs once remarked in connection with his song that of all the various shades of political opinion in the United States, the shadiest of all is the liberal, to which he may have added the Democratic Socialist, 10 degrees to the left of center when it doesn't matter, and 10 degrees to the right when it does.

Which calls to mind Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn and Robert Jensen, luminaries of the soft Left, who are voting for Nader, not Kerry, because by an accident of geography, neither lives in a state where the vote is going to be close. Kerry's going to take Massachusetts, where the first two live, and Bush is sure to take Texas, where Jensen lives, so all three can tilt 10 degrees to the left, without upsetting the Kerry apple cart. Meanwhile, they're making damn sure it's understood that anyone who lives in a swing state should give Nader (or any other alternative) a wide berth and hold their nose by voting for Kerry.

Lurching ataxically from this miasma of self-righteous hypocrisy are the people who play word games to deceive, claiming they're not backing Kerry -- they're just voting for him! That's like saying you're not dealing drugs, you're just manufacturing them in your basement and distributing them to dealers. Look, unless you're General Motors, Raytheon or pull in a cool million every year in salary, bonuses and stock options -- and can therefore afford to pitchfork money into the Kerry campaign – what really matters to Kerry is your vote. No amount of dissembling, self-delusion and rationalizing will make marking an X for Kerry not equal to backing him, or not equal, by extension, to backing the continued occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq, looming confrontations with North Korea ("we will seek dismantlement, not a freeze"), Iran ("we are going to do more than simply allow Iran to continue down the path it's on"), plundering the oil producing regions of the world ("the degree to which were are dependent on foreign oil is a vulnerability we need to try to alter") and God knows what else, in the service of aggrandizing corporate America, its beneficiaries and representatives. That hardly seems to be the kind of thing anyone who considers himself politically Left should be backing.

The other part of me says go ahead and vent. There's no need to be diplomatic, for diplomacy wasted on a lost cause is, itself, a lost cause. And as to the charge that I'm simply undermining the desirable goal of Left unity, it might be asked in what service this unity is to be put: lining up behind a party and candidate that are as irrevocably instruments of aggression and exploitation as the other major party and candidate – in other words, Left unity in support of Right politics? That's like saying Christians must put their differences aside to line up behind a policy of atheism.

It should be clear to anyone who wants to spend a few moments reflecting on the undignified, and I should quickly add, ongoing surrender of the soft Left to capitalism at home and abroad, that US Marxists and Democratic Socialists and Communists and progressives and anyone willing to suffer through the sermons of Michael Albert (the Pope of the Church of Noam Chomskyism, as one wag dubbed him) decided long ago that whoever the Democrats picked as their presidential candidate -- even if it was the ghost of Benito Mussolini -- would get their support come November. And ever since they've been rationalizing a decision whose roots are sunk deep in emotion and has nothing whatever to do with reason.

It dawned on me one day that no matter how much like Bush Kerry is, there will always be some difference between the two, which, no matter how infinitesimal and insignificant, will be used to justify a vote for Kerry. If their foreign policies are alike, Kerry supporters will seize on some difference in social policy. If their social policies are the same, Supreme Court appointments will be cited as an important distinguishing feature. If Kerry says he'd make the same Supreme Court appointments as Bush, something else will be found. Which isn't to say there are no differences between the two; only that some difference will be used to justify the decision Kerry-supporters made long ago to back the Democrats come hell or high water. All they're doing now is trying to convince themselves they're not fucking stupid, full of shit, and fucking nuts for doing so. Hence, the lame rationalizations, including Noam Chomsky's small policy differences can equal big real-world differences paralogism (the small difference between Bush and Kerry can translate into important implications), so approvingly cited by those who'll vote for a candidate who would have invaded Iraq to punish the incumbent who did. An example of how small policy differences can equal big real-world differences is presumably given in this: Bush would continue the occupation of Iraq by a coalition of the willing under US leadership, and Kerry would continue the occupation of Iraq under US leadership with NATO along for the ride, if he can convince the alliance to go along.

It also dawned on me that soft Left backers of Kerry are using a cascading system of justification that resembles the very same one used by Bush and Tony Blair to justify the takeover of Iraq. Here's how it works: You make a policy choice (invade Iraq or vote for the Democrats) and then come up with a reason for doing so that has the advantage of plausibility (Saddam won't give up his banned weapons or Kerry wouldn't have sent troops to Mesopotamia). When critics shoot it down, or circumstances prove you wrong, you invent a new one. When that reason is shown to be full of holes, you come up with another, and so on. Eventually, you'll run out of reasons, whereupon you can simply declare with great conviction, "Knowing what I know today, I'd still do what I did." The events of the recent past say most people will regard this as perfectly acceptable, indeed admirable. Accordingly, if soft Left Kerry-supporters could be convinced that Kerry and Bush are equally instruments of the same socioeconomic system to the same degree (which they are) they would still say, "Well, all the same, I'm voting for Kerry because I think he's the lesser evil," which could mean that all in all they're pretty comfortable with the way things are, but for a few tweaks they'd make here and there.

It's clear soft Left support for Kerry is solid and impervious to reason. Trying to soften it is like trying to persuade your teen-age daughter not to go out with the three-timing, porno magazine photographer she's enrapt with. The heart trumps the mind. The difference however is that your teen-age daughter will eventually learn. Soft Left supporters of the Democrats never do. This should be kept in mind by people who say: "There's no point arguing with them. They've made up their minds, and all you'll accomplish by belaboring the point is to alienate them. They'll learn."  All of this is true enough, except the last point. They won't learn, and the evidence is they've never learned. An intelligent 12 year-old not weighed down by infatuation with the myth that the Democrats are the lesser evil, or more preposterously, a potentially progressive party, could figure out that the Democrats have always, as much as the Republicans, been as irrevocably committed to exploitation and aggression at home and abroad, and, on occasion, more so. For example, Kerry is opposed to Bush's plan to drawn down troops in south Korea, because…well, the time is drawing near, he says, when we might have to give the north Koreans a good shit kicking, for (gasp!) arming themselves to deter Uncle Sam from giving them a good shit kicking. And it doesn't take a genius to see that the Democratic presidential candidate of 2004 is as inextricably a part of corporate America and its interests, and as unabashedly committed to its aggrandizement at the expense of Iraq, Iran, Syria, Sudan, north Korea, Cuba, emerging great power rivals, and the people of the United States, as George W. Bush and his cabinet are. Which means what soft Left supporters of the Democrats really are is infatuated, which is to say, blind and silly, or if you prefer, fucking stupid, full of shit, and fucking nuts.

Are they a lost cause? At this point, the answer's pretty clear.

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Stephen Gowans