Slogging onward towards Babylon on a diet of fast food politics, I cannot bring myself to wear a Kerry button or put his bumper sticker on my car. I cannot support him, but I would, if I have to, vote for him.
My law office is on the corner of Woolsey and Martin Luther King, just south of the Ashby BART station. I’ve been here since 1984. Nothing much has changed in those years. The drug deals, the discarded wine bottles, the special enforcement unit rounding up black men at night, the unemployment, the wrenching poverty, the transfer of property from black owners to white—through Reagan, Bush the First, Clinton, and Bush the Second, things have only gotten worse. Throughout all these years the two great parties have served the interests of their corporate masters, the rich have gotten richer, the poor poorer and down in my neighborhood, and in neighborhoods all over the world that I care about—Palestine for one—it has not made, in the words of Alexander Cockburn and the Counterpunch crowd, “a dime’s worth of difference” who’s in power.
Towering corporate giants dominate the landscape of our lives. At their feet we slither, and occasionally at election time permit ourselves to imagine, like the emperor in the fable, that we are clothed in the garments of citizenship, while in fact we are naked and shivering in their shadow.
And yet, and yet: It makes a difference which strategy the powers that be, our corporate rulers, adopt in furthering their interests. There’s a difference, to put it in the starkest terms, between fascism and corporate liberalism. And I would rather struggle in the landscape of corporate liberalism than the proto-fascistic, or neo-fascistic or post-modern fascistic moonscape of the Bush administration.
Perhaps fascism has always lurked beneath the liberal surface of United States politics. But under Bush the Second it has emerged, resplendent and unrepentant. The brazenness of this regime is what distinguishes it from all previous atrocious administrations that have ministered to the whims of their corporate masters. Bush and his crew have discarded all pretense of adherence to universal principles that apply equally to all countries and peoples. The rule of law is for the weak. Girlie-men. Impotent moralizers. The Republicans have mobilized in support of policies dictated by their corporate clients—a fundamentalist nativist, culturally reactionary constituency which hates the modern world for its impieties and promiscuities. They have conjured up a perpetual enemy against whom we must wage war without end at home and abroad. They have legitimized torture. They have fertilized the political landscape with fear and terror, rendering thought all but impossible. They are suspicious of thought which puts fear in perspective, creates distance, and, as reason, strives towards the universal. Thought is their enemy.
Four more years of Bush scares the bejesus out of me, and there isn’t a lot of bejesus in me to begin with. Therefore, without illusion, I will vote for Kerry, if I have to. A general does not choose a battlefield for the beauty of the landscape but for the advantage it affords the troops who will trample the flowers. We choose to vote for one party’s candidate not because of the beauty of his politics, not to pledge allegiance to him, but because we prefer the terrain of battle his administration may provide.
I would vote for Kerry even though he might very well make a better custodian of the interests of our corporate masters than Bush. The Bush gang has entangled us in a costly war, which has no legitimacy and from which we cannot extricate ourselves. They have busted the budget, and shredded alliances with longstanding allies. They have provoked an unprecedented world-wide revolt against United States hegemony. They have destabilized the world and conjured up threats to the empire that the more moderate corporate liberalism of the democrats might have avoided. Corporate liberalism, will, if necessary, throw a few scraps to those excluded from the banquet of greed. It will, if necessary, devote a pittance of this country’s enormous wealth to mollifying those who sweat for a living and those who chill on the stoops of the unemployed and increasingly unemployable. It is willing to make gestures of inclusion, incorporating and co-opting potentially progressive forces.
We need to be concerned, not only with how quickly the system collapses, but also with how it collapses, and how much havoc it reeks in the process. We have responsibility for collateral damage just as armies, lobbing missiles into crowded slums, can not shrug off responsibility for the piles of dismembered corpses, the bloody pulp of the innocent they leave behind. I worry that this fascistic regime, sensing the collapse of its dream of empire, facing a withdrawal of support from capitalist classes world wide and economic deterioration at home, watching its fantasy of cheap oil turning into a nightmare of sabotaged pipe lines might respond like a crazed cornered animal, one that could in fact rend the planet apart with its claws.
I do not believe that the worse it gets the better it is for us who oppose the system. I distrust our ability to foresee the future. Too often we have predicted prematurely the collapse of capitalism, and it might well be that this blatantly fascistic administration, could lock up possibilities of change for years to come, and we would all be Palestinians, endlessly dreaming of the homes we left behind
So I will vote for Kerry if I have to. But do I have to? Here’s where it gets tricky. If I were in a swing state there’d be no question. I’d vote for the guy with the horse face. But the polls tell me California is not in play. That means I can keep my hands clean, avoid voting for a person whose policy on Palestine is obscene, and rely on other people with fewer scruples than I have to do the dirty work of voting for Kerry. That doesn’t strike me as a particularly principled position. Is there a principled position on how a progressive person should cast a vote for president in California vote? One school of thought counsels us to consider the counterfactual “if.” in determining the morality of an action. We should ask: “If everyone acted as I did, then what kind of a world would we have?” I don’t subscribe to that school. If everyone farted at the same time we would have a very smelly world. So what? If everyone voted for Ralph Nader, or David Cobb, or Leonard Peltier there’d be a revolution. That’s not going to happen. The value of our actions can not be divorced from their consequences. Does the size of the vote for Kerry in California matter as long as he wins? I’m not sure it does. Is there a practical value in casting a protest vote for a sure looser? Is it the seed out of which a movement can grow? I doubt it. Does it send a message? Not very far. In these circumstances, and because I am unwilling to rely on other people doing for me what I am unwilling to do for myself, I will—nose firmly held—vote for Kerry.
And if he’s elected, I will breathe just a tiny bit easier for a day, and then begin painting picket signs denouncing his policies.
La Lucha continua!
The struggle continues.