Labor Advocate Online

The Most Dangerous Government Ever?
by Bill Onasch

"The Bush government is arguably the most dangerous in the history of our country. Let’s change it."

So says Bob Muehlenkamp, a high level staffer in a major international union, and co-convener of US Labor Against War (USLAW). He’s a man I have come to respect for his courage and organizational ability. More recently he has assumed the post of coordinating labor work for Howard Dean’s campaign for the Democrat nomination for President.

I’m not sure if it is useful to try to establish a single most dangerous U.S. government of all time. Undoubtedly, the current administration would win the contest for most arrogant and mean spirited hands down. They certainly would be in the running for most incompetent. Of course they are dangerous and I will shed no tears when they are gone. But the junior Bush has some tough competition for most dangerous.

After all, Bush has not used nuclear weapons on human beings, as Truman did. He has not brought us to the very brink of nuclear annihilation, as Kennedy did. Iraq has not yet reached the protracted, massive scale of U.S. intervention in Southeast Asia, as Johnson initiated and Nixon/Ford concluded. He hasn’t had near the impact on eliminating good paying union jobs as Carter did through launching deregulation, or as Clinton did with NAFTA.

We shouldn’t exaggerate the character of this administration. It is not fascist. It even remains to be seen whether their policies and style will win continued support among the main stream of the ruling class or whether they will be dismissed as one term wonders. Certainly the Democrat "opposition" never challenges the fundamental principles guiding the current administration.

There are some who try to fan the fear and disgust of Bush that pervades trade unionists and issue movement activists. That is so they can argue that Bush is so horrible, so dangerous, we must set aside our other differences and unite to turn him out of office. He must be stopped–anybody but Bush! they cry.

I recently received another e-mail appeal:

"Bush Can Be Stopped: A Letter to the Left
"A group of 43 prominent left and movement activists and progressive individuals today issued an appeal to others on the left to join in the effort to defeat the Bush administration's bid to continue in
power in next year's Presidential election.

"For the sake of peace, democracy, social justice and racial equality, George W. Bush must be defeated in 2004," reads the open letter to the left. "We believe that he can be defeated and that the left, facing this unprecedented challenge, has a significant, even crucial role in achieving this objective."

It had an impressive list of signatures including one of the greatest thinkers and writers of our time, Noam Chomsky--who usually identifies himself as an anarchist; Sixties icons Angela Davis and Carl Davidson; venerable actors/writers Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee; David Bacon, labor journalist; Leslie Cagan, co-chair, Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism; Donna DeWitt, President, South Carolina State AFL-CIO, and a national leader of the Labor Party; Ray Markey, President, New York Public Library Guild, Local 1930, who for years argued against any support to Democrats or Republicans; and many other respected activists, artists and intellectuals.

If we must, as they urge in the name of all that is sacred to targeted "leftists," stop Bush then that means no fooling around with another campaign like Ralph Nader’s in 2000; no frivolous self-indulgence by voting for any of the left alternative candidates just because you might believe in what they stand for. No, when you pledge to ensure "anybody but Bush" anybody means whoever the Democrats ultimately decide to put forward.

Now the pro-Democrat "leftists" have different heroes they are pushing at the present. Muehlenkamp likes Dean. Michael Moore has a crush on General Clark. The Greens love Kucinich. Most of the mainstream union officials lean toward Gephardt though some are attracted to Kerry. Let’s see how these candidates stack up in one core area mentioned in the letter to the left–peace.

Peace
Peace is a rather emotive word that is embraced by most politicians. In the case of the Iraq war, and subsequent occupation, the mass opposition movement has been made up of two divergent camps.

There are those of us who oppose the war/occupation because we believe it is morally and legally wrong and counter to the interests of the working class majority in both the U.S. and Iraq.

But there are others who really don’t oppose the objectives of the Bush occupation but rather think it was a serious mistake to act unilaterally. They would have supported the war had it been under a UN flag and continue to call for turning over the occupation to the UN.

It is not unprincipled for the two camps to collaborate on narrowly defined actions against the Bush war drive. But each side must understand and accept that they are not going to "capture" the other. Any attempt to impose one set of these views on the other would be a deal breaker.

It would also be a kiss of death for any major antiwar organization—such as United for Peace and Justice, ANSWER, or USLAW—to back any presidential candidate. The movement is politically diverse with many Libertarians, Greens, socialists, anarchists, and even some Republicans, among the activist ranks.

But it is certainly appropriate for candidates to appeal to these individual activists for support. So how do these other candidates differ from the evil Bush on the question not of peace but of war?

Dean
Dean, after seeing the strength of the antiwar movement, has put a lot of effort in to styling himself as the peace candidate. Let’s look at some of his statements.

Sept. 29, 2002
On CBS "Face the Nation": After saying that the administration "had not yet made" its case that Saddam was an immediate threat, and that if we attack Iraq, "it's got to be gone about in a very different way," Dean also states: "It's very simple. Here's what we ought to have done. We should have gone to the UN Security Council. We should have asked for a resolution to allow the inspectors back in with no pre-conditions. And then we should have given them a deadline, saying, 'If you don't do this, say, within 60 days, we will reserve our right as Americans to defend ourselves and we will go into Iraq.'"

February 19, 2003
Salon's Jake Tapper summarizes Dean's oft-repeated position on attacking Iraq: "Saddam must be disarmed, but with a multilateral force under the auspices of the United Nations. If the U.N. in the end chooses not to enforce its own resolutions, then the U.S. should give Saddam 30 to 60 days to disarm, and if he doesn't, unilateral action is a regrettable, but unavoidable, choice."

August 12, 2003
"I think it was a mistake to go into Iraq in the long run. Now that we're there, we're stuck there, and the administration has no plan for how to deal with it, and we cannot leave because losing the peace is not an option. We cannot leave Iraq"

We Cannot Leave Iraq is pretty hard to reconcile with Bring the GIs Home Now.

Clark
General Wesley Clark, former NATO commander, and leader of the brutal war claiming so many working class civilian lives in Yugoslavia, is an even more unlikely peace candidate. Indeed, he seems a bit bewildered about the new role himself. After announcing one day that he would have "probably" voted for the war if he had been in congress he hastily announced the following day that he would have "definitely" voted against.

Clark has a 100 Year Vision of what he would like to see for America. From a man who has spent most of his adult life in the Army, his vision is curiously silent on the military or issues of war and peace. This brass hat follows a tradition going back to at least Corporal Bonaparte—trying to appear to be above class conflicts and petty political bickering.

In April, after the fall of Baghdad, Clark wrote in a British newspaper "Liberation is at hand. Liberation-- the powerful balm that justifies painful sacrifice, erases lingering doubt and reinforces bold actions." Not much different than we were hearing from Bush, Blair, and the talking heads of Fox News.

The very next day he wrote "The campaign in Iraq illustrates the continuing progress of military technology and tactics, but if there is a single overriding lesson it must be this: American military power, especially when buttressed by Britain's, is virtually unchallengeable today. Take us on? Don't try! And that's not hubris, it's just plain fact." That is an eloquent summary of one of the central objectives of the Bush Doctrine–"don’t mess with us, resistance is futile."

Since his retirement from the Army, Clark has been a very active "consultant" and lobbyist in Washington, particularly associated with the Stephens Group, a venture capital outfit. He was also elected to the Board of Directors of the National Endowment for Democracy. Bill Berkowitz gives this description of the NED:

"The NED functions as a full-service infrastructure building clearinghouse. It provides money, technical support, supplies, training programs, media know-how, public relations assistance and state-of-the-art equipment to select political groups, civic organizations, labor unions, dissident movements, student groups, book publishers, newspapers, and other media. It's aim is to destabilize progressive movements, particularly those with a socialist or democratic socialist bent....throughout the 1980s the NED helped turn Central America into low-intensity killing-fields."

Among Clark’s fellow NEC directors: Frank Carlucci, chairman of the Carlyle Group and former Secretary of Defense and National Security Advisor in the Reagan Administration; Julia Finley, a Republican Party activist working on NATO expansion issues; Francis Fukuyama, political scientist and author of, most notably, "The End of History"; Richard C. Holbrooke, former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations.

Yeah Michael, Clark sure sounds like a great alternative for leftists.

Kerry
Kerry is another UN man. Here’s his introduction to his plan to get out of Iraq:

"We need a United Nations resolution for a multinational force under U.S. command. Part of that is to turn the political, humanitarian and government component of this over to the United Nations. That is the fastest way to get additional countries invested. It is the best way to reduce the cost to the American people."

Gephardt
When I went to Gephardt’s campaign web site I clicked on a link to "Issues and New Ideas." There were 28 topics listed—none dealing with Iraq. I then did a site search and came up with several press releases criticizing Bush Iraq policy. The oldest of these was from August, 2003—five months after the invasion. The gist of the criticism was that Bush should have involved the UN.

Lieberman
Although he hasn’t attracted much support from labor or leftists Lieberman can’t be ruled out as that "anybody" nominated by the Democrats. Lieberman doesn’t mince as many words as his opponents.

"In 1991, Joe Lieberman was the lead Democratic co-sponsor of the resolution authorizing President George H. W. Bush to use force to turn back Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait....Joe Lieberman has been the Senate's leading voice for removing Saddam from power....In 1998, he and Senator John McCain cosponsored the Iraqi Liberation Act, which -- when signed by President Clinton -- made a change of regime in Baghdad official United States policy and provided assistance to forces within Iraq seeking to depose Saddam's brutal dictatorship....In 2002, Lieberman worked with the Democratic leadership to pass the bipartisan resolution giving the President the authority to use military force, if and when diplomacy failed, to disarm Saddam."

Nor does there seem to be much difference between Lieberman and Bush on Israel/Palestine. "Joe Lieberman believes that Yasser Arafat is no longer a credible partner for peace. He has called for Arafat's removal and his replacement with leadership willing to stop terrorism, to recognize the right of a Jewish state of Israel to exist in security, and to build a democratic Palestinian state."

Kucinich
Admittedly there is one candidate that does have views that clearly separate him from both Bush and his fellow Democrats–Dennis Kucinich. He calls for bringing the troops home from Iraq and rejecting the occupation budget. He favors "a universal, single-payer system of national health insurance." He opposes Social Security privatization and calls for restoring 65 as the normal retirement age. He would withdraw from NAFTA and the WTO. He even advocates repeal of some of the worst sections of the Taft-Hartley Act.

So why not get behind Kucinich? There are some good reasons why not.

Once you get into the contest for Democrat nomination you really are committed to supporting the ultimate winner. Those Greens who think they can infiltrate the Democrats to work for Kucinich until he loses at the convention—and he will lose—and then noisily exit and support a Green candidate, will find they have little credibility in any future politics. Neither deceitful disloyalty nor dilettantish behavior are good recommendations on a political resumè.

Kucinich is a maverick with admirable personal traits. He says what he thinks, and does what he thinks is right, even though this has cost him dearly at times in the past.

But Kucinich does not have an independent mass base of support. Nor is he trying to build one. He hopes to influence the Democrats and to come up with a legislative agenda that can fix our problems. Once the Democrat convention makes their decision that will be the end of the Kucinich "movement," at least until the next election cycle. Little will have been accomplished for "peace, democracy, social justice or racial equality."

We Can Ill Afford Democrat Diversions
In the meantime all time, effort, and money devoted to promoting any of these Democrats is a distraction and diversion from building genuine mass movements.

Regardless of who wins we will need a strong antiwar movement.

Regardless of who wins we will need a movement to defend and expand civil rights.

Regardless of who wins we need a movement to combat sex discrimination.

Regardless of who wins we need a movement to protect our environment against global capitalism.

Health care, Social Security, immigrant rights, trade issues—and many more will require independent movements no matter who sits in the White House. Our unions will continue to be hammered regardless of who spends weekends at Camp David.

The "left" should understand better than most how vital it is to the working class to keep these movements thriving, how irresponsible it would be to neglect them.

Of course many of them will answer "Issues generating mass movements are almost all political in character. We need a political movement in addition to the various single issue movements."

This is largely true. Traditional collective bargaining, mass demonstrations, etc., generally achieve only temporary, partial victories. We have to be able to politically confront the bosses’ grip on government policies.

But to succeed in addressing our fundamental issues our political movement must be independent of the bosses’ political establishment. We need a party based on the strength of our mass organizations—our unions—and the mass issue movements. We need a movement that rejects the cynical, impossible claim of "representing all of the people"and instead clearly champions the interests of the working class majority.

A Politics of Despair
Unfortunately, many "leftists" long ago abandoned any confidence in the ability of the American working class to organize ourselves independently to take political power away from the bosses. They remain constantly focused on influencing the behavior of ruling class politicians. They live in a world of half loaves and flies caught with honey.

Many of these folks are competent leaders otherwise. I respect many of them, some I even count as personal friends. But I can’t join them in walking the neighborhoods hustling votes for whatever Democrat hero is our only hope for stopping Bush.

What To Do In This Election Cycle?
I plan to continue to work to build political support in my community to save the endangered Kansas City transit system. I intend to be active in USLAW. And, above all, I’m going to be devoting a lot of my limited time, energy and money to building the Labor Party, to work for a real future alternative. That’s what I would recommend to all—build the mass movements and the Labor Party.

Like Gene Debs I think "it’s better to vote for what you want and not get it than to vote for what you don’t want and get it." If there’s a socialist candidate on the ballot they will get my protest vote. Otherwise I will join the majority of my class in sitting the election out.

I’m not that worried about the outcome because I think, when you come right down to it, the most dangerous government is always the current one.

October 4, 2003

Bill Onasch is webmaster of kclabor.org, a member of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1287, and active in USLAW and the Labor Party.