You Can’t Beat Bush With Bush Lite: The Real Reason Kerry Lost

Progressives and activists in the US have been in a complete daze since the election on Tuesday. George W. Bush is sitting on some of the worst attacks on civil liberties in years, attacks on gay rights and women’s rights, a quagmire of an occupation in Iraq, and a whole host of other policies that would make any reasonable person’s head spin in disbelief. Yet, despite his right-wing assault on just about anybody who’s not a rich white American-born heterosexual male and a popularity rate floating around or just below 50%, he managed to win the election. And no Election 2000 debacle this time around; he won both the electoral and the popular vote.

How did this happen? How did an administration with such a transparently catastrophic record on just about every issue manage to pull this off? Several popular explanations have emerged from the left – Americans are too right-wing, Bush really did steal votes, Kerry didn’t run a conservative enough campaign, and a few have even gone so far as to blame Ralph Nader yet again.

The problem with all of these explanations is that it takes the blame off of the real reason Kerry lost the election, and that is Kerry himself and the general modus operandi of the Democratic Party. The election was handed to Kerry on a silver platter; all he had to do was mobilize the huge discontent with the way things are going. He chose instead to run a right-wing campaign with criticisms of Bush limited to the handling of his various failed policies, not the policies themselves.

During the summer of 2004, upwards of 50% of the population felt that the war in Iraq was a mistake and that we should bring the troops home. Around the time of the presidential debates, that number had dropped to somewhere around 30%. This is not because Americans became more conservative over the course of a summer, but it was the direct influence of the Kerry campaign. Kerry’s tactic was not to criticize Bush, but rather to debate Bush on his own terms. Kerry’s criticism of Bush’s war has been “Wrong war, wrong time,” and that “it has taken away resources from the real war on terror.” He debated Bush on Bush’s terms, and pulled America rightward with him. If Kerry had taken up the antiwar argument that this was a war for US hegemony in the Middle East which sought to control the oil market and extract profits for US corporations like Bechtel and Halliburton, he would have killed Bush in the polls. If he had criticized the so-called “War on Terror” as nothing more than a proxy for the defunct Cold War and a veil for kicking our status as the World Superpower into overdrive, there would have been no “swing states.”

We have witnessed in the past three years just how effectively the Democrats were able to suck up huge movements with radical demands. Many people reading this will remember the enormous antiwar demonstrations with “No blood for oil!” and “We won’t kill for Texaco!” as popular chants. The nation-wide demonstrations the day after the war began in March 2003 serve as further reminders as to how disgusted the country and the world were with the pre-emptive invasion. As the election approached, however, these arguments started to get pushed off the table more and more as the battle cry “Anybody But Bush” became almost deafening. Now the antiwar movement has to come to grips with the fact that it endorsed a candidate who not only voted for thewar, but argued for its continuation and expansion into Iran and possibly Syria.

The women’s rights movement used to have a demand, “Abortion is healthcare, and healthcare is a right!” This year it endorsed and poured millions into a candidate who was part of the Clinton era slashes in abortion access under the slogan “Abortion should be rare but legal.” As a result, abortions are only accessible in 10% of counties in the US. While Kerry didn’t want to outlaw abortion like Bush, he just wanted to make sure you had little hope in ever getting one. The AFL-CIO poured millions into a pro-NAFTA, anti-living wage, anti-universal healthcare, pro-corporate tax cut candidate. The gay marriage movement got funneled into supporting a candidate who doesn’t want aconstitutional amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman, but does support state-to-state bans on same-sex marriage as he said at numerous campaign stops. The list goes on.

The real lesson of the 2004 election is that you can’t beat Bush with Bush Lite. The logic of voting for the “lesser evil” is the real problem, not that Americans are “too conservative” or that Kerry “wasn’t conservative enough.” Nobody can point their finger at Nader this time around; in no state did Nader receive enough votes to sway the election one way or the other. No, this time Kerry and the Democratic Party have no one to blame but themselves. The real way to fight Bush is not to vote for a pale imitation of Bush, but to vote for a candidate who opposes not just Bush but the entire Bush agenda.

The International Socialist Organization will be having a discussion on these and other reasons the Democrats didn’t manage to beat Bush. Featuring Ashley Smith, the Vermont State Coordinator for Nader/Camejo Campaign 2004, it will be free and open to the public. Wednesday, November 10th, Lafayette 100, University of Vermont, 7:30 pm. Call 802-864-9678 for more information.