A sense of depression and hopelessness crept over me as I watched the CNN replay of Republican and Democratic debates at Saint Anselm’s College in Manchester, New Hampshire. I felt numb with despair at the conclusion, when I turned off my television. I made myself a cup of mint tea to settle my stomach, pet my three cats, and played some jazz to detoxify my mind. This is electoral politics in America in 2008!
The Republicans performed as expected – with the notable exception of Ron Paul, who said that Bush’s policies of invasion and occupation were in “violation of international law.” The rest of the Republican candidates (Mike Huckabee, Mitt Romney, John McCain, Fred Thompson, and Rudolp Guliani) defended Bush’s policy of pre-emptive war against potential threats while spouting worn out militaristic slogans about the “war on terror.”
All six Republican candidates opposed any attempt by the government to intervene and address fundamental problems facing the US: structural poverty and unemployment, the crisis in health care, the pressing crisis of climate change, or excess corporate profits. All of them supported repressive solutions to immigration. Thompson and Romney supported the notion of expelling (one might call it an American form of “ethnic cleansing”) 12 million “illegal aliens’ from the country. McCain and Guliani said this was too draconian, but embraced the notion that immigrants should be legally punished. Paul and Huckabee supported the “fortress America” concept of a militarized border fence from San Diego to Texas.
When the ABC anchorman Charles Gibson introduced the four Democratic candidates Clinton, Obama, Edwards, and Richardson, I admit I was guilty of having a little more hope. But this hope rapidly faded after the first question was asked.
The ABC anchorman opened the Democratic debate with a “what if” question framed within the Bush administration’s militaristic assumptions supporting the “global war on terror.” He asked each of the Presidential candidates if they would authorize a unilateral pre-emptive military strike into Pakistan without the cooperation of the government if they had received credible intelligence on the location of Osama bin Laden.
Obama answered first that he would launch such a military strike as a response to the crime of 9-11, a reiteration of a position he articulated last summer. Clinton replied without hesitation in the affirmative, as did Edwards. Richardson’s response was also in the affirmative, although somewhat more nuanced in as much as he said he would use US leverage to get the Pakistani dictator Musharraf to resign and try diplomacy first.
This notion of pre-emptive war is now official American policy. David Suskind, in his book, THE ONE PERCENT SOLUTION, has described how America’s version of Darth Vader, Dick Cheney, justified the policy as the right of the United States to launch a pre-emptive war against Pakistan. According to Cheney, “if there’s a “one percent chance” that Pakistani scientists are helping Al Qaeda build or develop a nuclear weapon, we have to treat it as a certainty.”
This kind of specious reasoning contributed to the devastating invasions of both Afghanistan and Iraq, where the US is now mired down in two bloody and protracted counterinsurgency wars, and is also a part and parcel of the reasoning behind the Democrats response on a unilateral military attack on Pakistan. Suskind (p.62) summarized the ONE PERCENT DOCTRINE with the following words:
“As to “evidence,” the bar was set so low that the word itself almost didn’t apply” If there was a one percent chance of terrorists getting a weapon a mass destruction – and there has been a small probability of such an occurrence for some time -the United States must now act as if it were a certainty. This was a mandate of extraordinary breath.”
The Democratic responses disturbed me. I was surprised that none of them raised the question of the reliability of the intelligence, since it was the alleged “reliable intelligence” on Iraq that was used to justify the invasion of that country. None of the Democrats supported Ron Paul’s earlier declaration that the invasion of Iraq violated international law. Obama timidly called it a “mistake.” It is now five years later, and still no Iraqi WMDs have been discovered.
Anchorman Gibson next asked the Democrats if they still wanted to withdraw American troops given the military “success of the surge.” All the candidates praised and genuflected humbly before the Pentagonians paying homage to the military and praising them for their devastation of Iraq, reminding me of the Democratic party’s pathetic attack on MOVE ON .ORG for mocking General Petreaus’s selling of the occupation. Richardson, running in back of the pack, did say he would remove all troops within a year of getting elected President. Clinton said she would remove them as quickly and responsibly as we can, which leaves all the time in the world. It was clear to me by the end of the debate that of all the candidates only Ron Paul of the Republicans understood the real nature of the war. Unfortunately he has reactionary positions on almost everything else.
All the Democrats said they were for “change.” Edwards promised to take on the corporations, while Richardson asked rhetorically what had happened to the democratic party that “used to be the party of economic growth and jobs.” Admittedly, they Democrats were somewhat better on social issues such as the environment and the economy. But it cannot be counted on to provide genuine progressive social change -only a sustained widespread progressive social movement will bring that about.
The nice thing about a one-percent doctrine is that you can be 99% wrong, and still believe you are right and do anything with impunity. I left the debate feeling that perhaps Jean Paul Sartre, the now dead French existentialist, was right when he wrote: “elections are a trap for fools.”
Nevertheless, I may still vote in 2008, albeit with a downtrodden heart. With my favorite candidate, Dennis Kucinich, already bowing out and offering his votes to Obama in Iowa, I am now considering shifting my support to John Edwards because of his stance on class issues, but with no illusions regarding his stands on war and peace. But this all depends on what happens between now and next November, and what positions Edwards takes. If he fails to satisfy, I am still tempted to vote for a Peace and Freedom or Green candidate. Yet, it is still possible that I may get so disgusted with the failed American political system that I won’t vote at all because “it only encourages them.”