RALPH NADER's decision to run as an independent candidate in the US election is causing consternation to many opponents of George Bush. Surely, they say, the most important thing is to get Bush out.
Such reasoning led Michael Moore, who backed Nader in 2000, to back the former NATO commander in the war on Kosovo, Wesley Clarke, in the Democratic primaries. It has led Noam Chomsky to say that there is very little difference between the Democrats and Bush, but that difference is vital and so it is necessary to 'Vote Democrat, holding our noses'.
A third, left wing, candidate like Nader might just tip the balance and let Bush stay in, some say. They claim this happened in the 2000 election. In fact the Democrat candidate Gore beat Bush by half a million votes. He was given the presidency by the Supreme Court on the basis of a disputed vote in Florida. And it was the Democrats who stopped fighting for a rerun election so as to restore voting rights to thousands of people, mainly Afro-Americans, who had been dropped from the register.
But these are not the key issues. Everyone who says vote Democrat at any price accepts that somehow Democratic presidents have a better record than Republican presidents. It's true that the rhetoric of present-day Republicans is well to the right of many, though not all, Democrats.
But the record of Democrats in office is not better. The Democrat president Truman dropped the bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and led the US into the Cold War and the Korean War. The Democrat president Kennedy tried to invade Cuba, invaded the Dominican Republic and started the Vietnam War.
The Democrat Johnson raised the level of bombing of Vietnam to higher than that of the Second World War. The Democrat president Carter supplied arms to the warlords in Afghanistan and began the massive US arms programme that continued under the Republican Reagan. Finally, lest we forget, Bill Clinton invaded Somalia and bombed an aspirin factory in Sudan. He also launched the horrific Operation Rolling Thunder bombing raids against Iraq and spearheaded the war against Serbia.
Clinton's government also pushed through innumerable IMF programmes against Third World countries. His domestic policies were no better. The already massive levels of inequality continued through his two terms in office. The continuity between Democrats and Republicans is no accident. Both parties are paid for and run by sections of US big business.
There is not even the pretence still in Blair's Labour Party, of trade unions exercising voting rights within it. As one of America's socialist magazines, Against the Current, puts it, 'The Democratic Party is what it is: a party ultimately responsible to and funded by big corporate capital, continually forced to betray and demoralise the very working class, African American and other core voters on whom it depends to win power.'
Nothing shows this more than the politics of the current front-runner for the presidency, John Kerry. As Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St Clair point out in Counterpunch magazine, 'Kerry voted for the Patriot Act and he voted for the attack on Iraq. He was up there with Bush, Rumsfeld and Blair as a huckster for all the lies.' He has a matchless record for shifting his opinions according to the way the wind is blowing.
In the 1980s, when first running for office, he opposed weapons systems such as the B2 stealth bomber, the Apache helicopter and the Patriot missile.
Now he calls that position 'ill-advised' and 'stupid'. He harshly criticised Reagan's order to invade the tiny island of Grenada in 1983. Today he says, 'I basically was supportive.'
The campaign by his rival for the Democrat nomination, Howard Dean, showed the great groundswell of opposition to the war. Kerry decided to jump on the bandwagon and win votes by shifting his own position.
On past form, once elected, Kerry can be expected to change his stance again if it suits US big business interests. If someone like Kerry wins the presidency, it will merely be a rerun of what has happened in the Democratic Party in the past.
The barbarity of a Republican administration leads activists from mass campaigning to throw themselves into trying to change the Democratic Party. But then they discover their candidate cannot win. They are told to be practical and opt for someone further to the 'centre'. In the end they get someone who continues the same barbarity but with slightly different language.
In the case of Kerry, or his last real rival Edwards, that would amount to continuing the arms drive and the push for US world domination. When Nader stood for president in 2000 he only got around three million votes. But he raised the question as to whether the left in the US was forever going to be tied to a political system in which rival ruling class parties alternate in power.
It is too early to say whether his campaign this time will have the same effect. Some people on the US left criticise him for running as an individual, not as part of a wider movement.
But at some point the left has to make a stand against Tweedledum and Tweedledee politics. If not him, who? And if not now, when?