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International Socialist Review Issue 34, March–April 2004


George W. Bush
The emperor’s threadbare clothes

FOR THE first time since he stole the White House, George W. Bush actually seems to be sweating. His normally arrogant team of political henchmen seems off balance. Even the usually sycophantic press is stirring, with Time devoting a cover story to "Bush’s Credibility Gap," and NBC’s Meet the Press host Tim Russert coming about as close as he ever will to pitching a few hard questions to Bush in a one-on-one interview February 7. Even some from his own party are worried. "The White House’s biggest problem is that there’s been too much hubris," commented a Republican representative in the Time article.

What happened? A turning point came when Bush’s handpicked arms inspector David Kay reported in January that there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. "We were all wrong," he said, undercutting the entire official rationale for the war. The finger-pointing between the administration and the CIA, and Bush’s promise to investigate "intelligence failures"–after the election–didn’t help either. Added to that was the fact that Saddam’s capture hadn’t slowed the resistance to the U.S. occupation, forcing the Bush team to go to the UN to seek help in stabilizing Iraq. But this isn’t the only thing that has undermined Bush’s "credibility." Former Bush administration Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill’s new tell-all book presents hard evidence that Bush planned from his first days in office to invade Iraq and seize its oil assets. Vice President Dick Cheney’s relations with Halliburton, recently exposed for flagrant profiteering from Iraqi reconstruction contracts, has added to the bad news for Bush.

Kay confirmed what many in the antiwar movement said all along–that Saddam’s non-existent weapons of mass destruction (WMD) were simply a Bush ruse to trick the population into a war for oil and empire. The WMD lie may be the one that has hurt Bush the most. But others–like the disclosure that the Medicare "reform" bill passed last fall will cost $120 billion more than advertised, or that the federal budget deficit will exceed half a trillion dollars this year, or that some of Bush’s own economists aren’t optimistic about job growth–also contribute to Bush’s slide.

National opinion polls registered a five- to ten-point drop in Bush’s approval rating in the space of about ten days in January. This took place just as Democrats–appealing to a primary electorate that loathes Bush–were getting free publicity for their criticism of the president. National surveys showed Bush losing to Democratic front-runner, Massachusetts Senator John Kerry in November. Some polls even showed Bush losing to Senator John Edwards, Kerry’s main challenger for the Democratic nomination.

Robert Dallek, Lyndon B. Johnson’s biographer, ought to know something about presidents who lose their standing. "It is the general erosion of the president’s credibility," Dallek says of Bush. "It’s like water dripping on a stone. Whether it’s weapons of mass destruction, budget deficits or the cost of his Medicare program, you have a general decline in the man’s trustworthiness." In LBJ’s case, his Vietnam-inspired loss of support forced him out of the race for reelection in 1968.

In 1968, the majority of the public turned against the war in Vietnam after the Vietnamese liberation forces’ Tet offensive gave the lie to official propaganda that insisted the U.S. was winning the war. LBJ also confronted a revolt at home–militant antiwar and Black Power movements. Bush may not face the acute challenges that Johnson faced, but the ongoing disaster of the occupation in Iraq continues to take its toll.

Still, Bush’s troubles don’t guarantee that a Democrat will beat him. For one thing, the Bush administration has been such a godsend to big business that he will continue to have an edge in money and media, and he hasn’t started to spend his $200 million war chest, fattened with corporate contributions.

But more important is the weakness of "the opposition" that could take advantage of Bush’s crisis. For most of his term in office, Bush has benefited from a near absence of opposition. With the Democrats acting as if they couldn’t challenge the "wartime president," it was no wonder that Bush appeared invincible. Bush’s recent collapse has exposed the genuine vulnerability of someone who, after all, didn’t even win the most votes in the last election.

Many people who opposed Bush’s war on Iraq hope that putting a Democrat in the White House would produce a real change. They should take a closer look at the record of the Democratic Senator John Kerry. Kerry, for instance, voted to authorize the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. He voted for Bush’s disastrous education reform bill passed in 2001. And he voted for the USA PATRIOT Act, which legalizes FBI and CIA spying on dissidents under the guise of "fighting terrorism."

With opposition like this, it’s not surprising that the Bush administration feels confident that it can weather the controversy over Iraq’s weapons–and eventually push ahead with its imperial plans to "remake" the Middle East. And though the multi-millionaire senator is currently Wall Street’s second choice, he’s not likely to stir much fear in those quarters if business decides that Bush can’t win.

Democratic primary voters have anointed Kerry because he has successfully argued that he is the most "electable" of the candidates. But if Kerry follows the logic of electability to its conclusion, he may just find out that given a choice between Bush and Bush-lite, the Democratic Party’s Black and working-class voting base may just stay home on election day.

This election year, real opposition won’t come from inside the Washington establishment, but in the streets–in the form of an antiwar movement that can build protests against the U.S. occupations in Iraq, Palestine and Afghanistan, in protests for abortion rights, gay marriage, and in strikes to defend workers’ rights. After all, movements like these forced LBJ out of the White House.

Birth of a civil rights movement

As the ISR goes to press, a gay civil rights movement is being born, from Boston to San Francisco, and in cities in between–over the right to gay marriage. The movement is in many ways headless–that is, without any clear organizational leadership–but with a growing rank and file of ordinary people, many carrying handmade signs that consciously identify the struggle to win gay marriage with the civil rights movement of the 1960s. "Separate is not equal" is the gay movement’s slogan, from the spontaneous outpouring of protesters outside the Massachusetts State Capitol as it considered a constitutional ban on gay marriage, to the thousands of gay couples lining up at San Francisco’s City Hall for marriage licenses since Valentine’s Day weekend. In addition, protests took place in over twenty-five cities across the country in support of the right to same-sex marriage and in opposition to the right wing’s campaign for a federal ban on gay marriage.

The fight for gay marriage is not limited to gay and lesbian activists, but has won the support of much wider layers of society. The protesters in Massachusetts included both gays and straights, made up of family members and friends, as well as people who simply believe in the right to gay marriage. Derrick Z. Jackson, a nationally syndicated Boston Globe columnist who is African American, argued in a column titled "Black Civil RightsMovement, Gay Rights Linked in History":

Those African-American ministers in Massachusetts who deny any link between the black civil rights movement and the movement toward same-sex marriage are running back into a dank closet of yesteryear. These ministers who want to stuff today’s gay and lesbian couples into separate and unequal compartments of commitment have forgotten how the civil rights movement forced Bayard Rustin, one of the movement’s greatest theorists, to make himself invisible because he was gay.… Rustin was living proof that there was a link between the black civil rights movement and homosexuality. Unfortunately, it was a link that should never be repeated. If today’s ministers stood up with courage to acknowledge their link to the cause of gay civil rights, they will find out that it will do no damage. They might find out that it will give them even more allies in their own fight for equality in America.

The groundswell of support for gay marriage came about despite the passivity and conservatism of the mainstream gay rights organizations, who have been reluctant to "alienate" their Democratic Party allies. Ironically, the movement has been unleashed because of the principled stand taken by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court’s (SJC) historic decision in favor of legalizing gay marriage in its ruling on Goodridge v.The Department of Public Health. Lawmakers attempted to pass a ban on gay marriage with a "compromise" of gay civil unions. But the court responded, "The history of our nation has demonstrated that separate is seldom, if ever, equal…The answer to the question is ‘No.’" The court ordered the state to begin issuing marriage licenses to gay couples by May 17. By rejecting the notion of civil unions, the court raised the confidence of gay activists to fight for the right to marry.

Similarly, in San Francisco, it was the Democratic Mayor Gavin Newsom who defied California state law by announcing City Hall would begin issuing marriage licenses to lesbians and gays. Although several right-wing foundations have gone to court to argue for a stay, the court refused to issue a stay–though that could change at any time. By then, 3,000 same-sex couples will have received their marriage licenses. If the attempt for a stay fails, the city may have until the end of March before it returns to court to argue for the need for same-sex marriage.

While George W. Bush has announced that he is "troubled" by the events in San Francisco and Boston, the Democratic Party establishment is in a state of panic over this advance for gay rights. Openly gay U.S. Representative Barney Frank, a Democrat from Massachusetts, placed an urgent call to Newsom, urging him not to issue marriage licenses because the time is not right (i.e. in an election year). "I was sorry to see the San Francisco thing go forward," Frank said, calling the fight in San Francisco a "diversion." Frank has also been virtually silent about the debate on gay marriage raging in his home state. Sen. John Kerry–the likely Democratic presidential nominee–also hails from Massachusetts, and has expelled much hot air distancing himself from gay rights. Kerry went so far as to say he would consider a ban on gay marriage, as long as it contained a provision allowing same-sex civil unions (the same unsuccessful "compromise" Massachusetts’ Democratic legislators pushed for last week). The last thing Kerry wants, as he re-orients his campaign toward the right, is to be pressured to support gay marriage by a swelling movement.

The right to gay marriage has quickly become a burning national issue–with both the Left and the Right facing off. The right wing has become more confident, but so have the growing numbers struggling to win gay marriage. That provides all those who want to push back the Right and defeat Bush–as opposed to those Democrats who are asking us not to fight in the name, beating Bush at the polls–with a real opportunity to fight. We all should rise to the occasion.

Anniversary of the war

AS THE one-year anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq approaches on March 20, the U.S. continues to face a crisis in its occupation of that country. Contrary to the promises the administration and the military made when the U.S. captured Saddam Hussein last December, the level of Iraqi resistance has not died down. In fact, "January has the highest rate of violence since September 2003. The violence continues despite the expansion of the Iraqi security services and increased arrests by coalition forces in December and January," noted a confidential report by U.S. Agency for International Development.

The U.S. occupiers’ use of Israeli-style tactics–bulldozing houses, surrounding towns with razor wire, shooting people at checkpoints, violent pre-dawn raids on homes–is increasing the level of popular support for the resistance. Lt. Col. Nathan Sussaman, the commander of a battalion that surrounded the town of Abu Hishma with a razor-wire fence, provides us with the kind of perverted logic that is fuelling Iraq rage: "With a heavy dose of fear and violence, and a lot of money for projects," he told the New York Times, "I think we can convince these people that we are here to help them." By most accounts, there is little reconstruction but much "fear and violence."

Meanwhile, the U.S. faces a new challenge in trying to pull off a "transition" to an Iraqi puppet regime on June 30–against the wishes of the majority of the Iraqi people. The occupation’s troubles prompted the U.S. to devise a scheme involving regional caucuses composed of hand-picked delegates to set up a new Iraqi government by June 30. The plan is to create an appearance of Iraqi sovereignty, while the U.S. retains control, backed by "invited" troops. "Iraqis all want sovereignty back as soon as it can be done," American overseer L. Paul Bremer recently told CNN. "We want to be here as invited guests and no longer as an occupying force." Needless to say, it will continue to be an occupation in all but name.

But mass demonstrations in the south calling for direct elections, under the leadership of Ayatollah al-Sistani, the most respected Shiite cleric, forced Bremer to abandon the caucus plan.

To confront the crisis, the Bush administration has taken a number of steps that in the past it seemed unwilling to consider–calling in the UN to help clean up its mess in Iraq, and dangling the carrot of reconstruction contracts to France and Germany in exchange for their forgiving some of Iraq’s foreign debt. These moves are anathema to the neoconservative architects of the Iraq War, but they are tactically unavoidable if Bush is going to be able to stabilize the occupation. "Bush is hoping that the UN can break the impasse," commented Time magazine. A senior U.S. official admitted that the U.S. now "needs the UN," because "no one can afford for Iraq to fail."

According to one New York Times report,

The U.S. has resisted any suggestion that the UN should be a controlling authority over the transfer of power, but it has increasingly come to recognize the support that the UN can offer both in putting democratic systems in place and resisting a headlong rush to direct elections.

Both Iraqi and American officials now appear to think that a significant UN role would not only give the process legitimacy in the eyes of the world, but might also defuse opposition among some Iraqis, including leaders of the majority Shiite sect, who favor direct elections over the current plan.

Dutifully, the UN dispatched a team of "elections experts" to Iraq to determine whether direct elections were "feasible." Obeying the script set for them by Washington, the experts, with UN Secretary General Kofi Annan leading the way, reported in February that it would be impractical to hold direct elections before June 30.

The U.S. now plans to cobble together a new puppet government to "hand power" to on June 30–with a UN stamp of approval. This makes clear what we have argued and now must argue even more forcefully. The UN is not an alternative to occupation, it is a handmaiden of the U.S. occupation. It is necessary to drive this point home in the antiwar movement, where there continues to be confusion about the role of the UN.

Whether the U.S. succeeds in its efforts to repackage the occupation and give it a UN fig leaf is another question. The justifications for the war have been systematically discredited. Iraqis continue to resist U.S. troops–which U.S. generals are planning to keep there for years–as well as the Iraqi forces that are seen as their collaborators. Protests for a democratic vote, but also for jobs, decent health care, and other demands, continue to grow. Meanwhile, more U.S. soldiers will find ways to express their anger and frustration at being forced to participate in a war based on false pretenses.

To mark the first anniversary of the U.S. attack on Iraq, the ISR urges all of its readers to join the March 20 protests against the occupation that will be held in New York and other cities across the country, including, very significantly, in Fayetteville, North Carolina, near Fort Bragg. The March 20 events will be a crucial step in rebuilding a movement to end the occupation of Iraq, bring the troops home now, and support the self-determination of the Iraqi people.

Election 2004

Wall Street likes Kerry

WITH MASSACHUSETTS Senator John Kerry in the lead for Democratic Party presidential nominee in 2004, the election is shaping up more and more to be a race between two candidates with more in common than what sets them apart.

Kerry pulled into the front following the brief rise of "populist" Howard Dean, who, despite his rather conservative record as governor of the liberal state of Vermont, propelled himself forward with a message of taking on George W. Bush, from his war on Iraq to his giveaways to Corporate America. Kerry and his main remaining contender, North Carolina Senator John Edwards, shifted gears from rabid attacks on Dean’s fiery "too liberal" rhetoric and in part embraced his populist message.

"I’ve got news for the HMOs and the big drug companies and the big oil companies and influence peddlers," Kerry declared in a February campaign speech in St. Louis. "We’re coming and you’re going. And don’t let the door hit you on the way out!"

This all sounds very well and good, but Kerry’s actual record of pandering to Corporate America paints quite a different picture.

Over the last fifteen years, Kerry has received more money from lobbyists than any other serving senator. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, during this election cycle, Kerry raked in $531,251 from the health care industry. Kerry was also among the top ten recipients of money from the airline and automotive industries, with donations totaling $87,925. By the way, Kerry is a member of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, which influences laws governing these industries.

Kerry has powerful ties to lobbyists for the telecommunications industry. Michael Whouley, a Kerry political aide, is a lobbyist for telecom giant AT&T. Kerry has also accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars from the Boston lobbying firm Mintz, Levin, Cohn, Ferris, Glovsky–where Kerry’s brother is a lawyer–which represents communications firms and the Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association. Should it be any surprise that Kerry voted in favor of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 that is responsible for massive media consolidation and huge cable television fee increases.

Indeed, Kerry has proven himself to Wall Street to be a more than acceptable alternative to Bush in the White House.

"I’m calling everyone I know and telling them that they have to give," said Stephen Robert of Robert Capital Management Group Inc., a self-identified moderate Republican. Robert was one of about twenty potential fundraisers at a private dinner with Kerry in New York in February. He told the Wall Street Journal, "Every day, moderate Republicans call me and say, ‘I want to get on board.’"

"The anti-business message bothers me and I’m going to talk to him about that," said John Catsimatidis, chief executive of food-and-oil conglomerate Red Apple Group in New York. "But…you’re never going to have the perfect candidate."

So while Kerry proclaimed to union members that "In November, it’s going to be your turn," upon winning the endorsement of the AFL-CIO in mid—February, in reality he has not strayed very far from his patrician roots. Educated at Swiss and New England boarding schools before attending Bush’s alma mater Yale (where he along with Bush was a member of the elite and secret Skull and Bones Society), Kerry eventually landed in public office, where he is currently the wealthiest senator.

Kerry–labeled a "Massachusetts liberal"–has proven that he is willing to be "flexible" on social issues. Supporters of gay and lesbian rights who may feel obliged to endorse Kerry because he voted against Clinton’s anti-gay Defense of Marriage Act in 1996 should take note of his current position on gay rights. "I personally believe the court [ruling in Massachusetts in favor of gay marriage] is not right," Kerry told reporters in February. "I don’t support gay marriage. I never have. That’s my position."

To listen to Kerry’s recent criticism of the civil liberties-shredding USA PATRIOT Act, you’d never know that he actually voted for the legislation in 2001. Kerry also supported Clinton’s welfare "reform," which tossed millions of poor people off the welfare rolls or forced them into low-wage jobs. He can also take credit for helping to push through Clinton’s 1994 crime bill, which expanded the federal death penalty and included money to put 100,000 more cops on the street.

Kerry has also displayed great flexibility in his stance on foreign policy issues. In 1990, Kerry voted against the congressional resolution authorizing military force in Iraq. But after Washington’s quick victory, Kerry did a quick turnaround and became an enthusiastic supporter of the war. Likewise, in October 2002, Kerry voted to give congressional authorization for Bush’s invasion of Iraq, only to criticize the war afterward.

Israel won’t worry about a Kerry administration, either. "As the only true democracy in the Middle East, Israel has both the burden and the glory of a vigorous public square," Kerry wrote in an essay for a pro-Israel student group at Brown University. "We as Americans must be the truest and best kind of ally–forthright enough to say what we think–and steadfast enough to stay the course in hard passages as well as easy days."

No one should expect a Kerry administration to pull out of Iraq or to cut military spending. According to his campaign’s Web site, Kerry will "work to expand participation and share responsibility with other countries in the military operations in Iraq"–and "increase the size of the U.S. Army in order to meet the needs of a new century and the new global war on terror."

Kerry may be seen as a good alternative to the people who run Corporate America, but he’s no kind of alternative for the rest of us.

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