Socialist Worker

Reasons to question Kerry

by Alex Callinicos
Issue No. 1913

ANY LINGERING doubt that John Kerry would, as president of the United States, be anything but a good and loyal servant of US imperialism should have vanished on Thursday last week.

He strode to the podium of the Democratic Party convention in Boston, saluted, and announced, “I’m John Kerry and I’m reporting for duty.”

The dominant theme of Kerry’s speech, and the entire convention, was summed up by Christopher Caldwell of the right wing Republican Weekly Standard: “The agenda is Democratic patriotism, complete with a carefully crafted language that may allow the party to express its opposition to Mr Bush’s conduct of the war in Iraq without being accused either of weakening the country’s defences or betraying its values.”

Not that the Democrats’ opposition to Bush extends as far as proposing to pull out of Iraq. On the contrary, Kerry is on record as wanting to increase the size of the American occupation force.

More generally, as the Financial Times put it last Saturday, “Change of tone rather than substance would mark a Kerry foreign policy.” The paper elaborated, “Behind the make-nice rhetoric, the Kerry campaign appears to have an equally hard-headed attitude [as George W Bush] towards the use of US power.”

The debate on whether “unilateralism” or “multilateralism” is the best approach is in any case a tactical disagreement within the US ruling class about how best US imperialism should pursue its interests. No one in the Democratic leadership is talking about dismantling the empire.

Nevertheless, many of the most respected figures on the US left, headed by Noam Chomsky, are backing Kerry in the election. Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11 is a wonderful film, but he went as far as supporting ex-NATO commander General Wesley Clarke in the Democratic primaries.

It seems hard to back the Democrats on foreign policy grounds. Clarke directed the NATO bombing campaign against Yugoslavia in 1999, initiated by a Democratic president, Bill Clinton.

Like Bush in Iraq, he didn’t bother to get the authority of the United Nations Security Council.

Others prefer the Democrats because their domestic policies are better than the Republicans’. Michael Albert of ZNet writes, “Kerry will weakly defend past progressive domestic social gains and under sufficient pressure may plausibly expand some.

“In a second term Bush will wage unrelenting war on virtually every progressive domestic social advance of the past hundred years.”

How short people’s memories are. The Clinton administration was vigorous in its implementation of the neo-liberal economic agenda. Under Clinton, the World Trade Organisation was set up and the North American Free Trade Agreement was rammed through Congress.

It was Clinton who ravaged the parsimonious US welfare state with the 1996 Welfare “Reform” Act. Clinton was also much more rigorous than his Republican predecessors and successor in cutting public spending in order to reduce the federal budget deficit. Kerry’s economic advisers have promised a return to these austerity policies.

This leads to the strangest argument of all for voting Kerry, offered by Naomi Klein in the Guardian on Friday last week. She concedes that on the issues Kerry is as bad as Bush. But the problem is that we have become obsessed with demonising the Bush gang.

“The main difference will be that as Kerry pursues these brutal policies, he will come off as intelligent, sane, and blissfully dull. That’s why I’ve joined the Anybody But Bush camp—only with a bore such as Kerry at the helm will we be able to put an end to the presidential pathologising and focus on the issues again.”

The trouble is that the idea of “Anybody But Bush” will continue to bind the American left to the second party of US imperialism.

Far better to support Ralph Nader’s candidacy for the presidency as a step to building a left that, finally, is genuinely independent of the Democrats.


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Sat 7 Aug 2004, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1913
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