NEW YORK--It's no secret that Democrats aren't fired up about John Kerry. Too much of what the Republicans say about him rings true. Reacting to polls, he voted for a war he knew was wrong. When public opinion shifted, he wallowed in hypocrisy by voting against paying for it. Even his service in Vietnam, a supposed watershed on his resume, reeks of opportunism. He signed up before Tet shattered delusions of winnability, made his name as a peace activist when counterculture values reigned and, after the Rambo movies rehabilitated the war, waved medals earned fighting for what he had formerly called an immoral cause.
For the eighth consecutive presidential election the Democratic Party has picked a standard-bearer whose stands on the issues are hardly distinguishable from those of his opponent. As Michael Janofsky writes in The New York Times, both Bush and Kerry intend to dump more young lives into the sacrificial fires of Mesopotamia: "Bush promises to keep troops in the country as long as necessary and Mr. Kerry favors expanding the coalition so American troops can leave." (France and other U.S. allies say they won't send soldiers to Iraq even if Kerry wins.) "Bush favors renewing the Patriot Act ... Kerry favors renewing most of it." They barely differ on the cost of health insurance, which in New York now runs $10,000 a year for a couple with one child: "Both ... favor private companies playing a major role in healthcare delivery."
Remember the primaries? GOP spinners said they'd rather run against Kerry than Dean. Dems got suckered; Dean's consistent antiwar stance would have fared better against Bush than Kerry's waffling. He certainly would have had greater credibility on the healthcare mess. The DNC should remember this lesson in the future.
Faced with a similar lack of choice in 1996 and 2000, I voted for Ralph Nader. While I don't begrudge Nader the right to run this time, I will be casting an enthusiastic vote for a man I'm not particularly enthusiastic about: John Kerry. This year's election isn't about policy or personality. It's about process.
Four years ago, we sat on our hands as a now infamous cabal of rightist extremists--Dick Cheney, James Baker III, Tom DeLay and others--hijacked the electoral process. We watched in stunned amazement as Bush declared himself president weeks before the U.S. Supreme Court issued their ruling stopping the vote count in a case over which they had no jurisdiction. Every act undertaken by the Bush interregnum, from preemptive war to race-based arrests to routine regulations, originated in an arrogance typical of rulers whose power derives more from bullying than ballots. And all of them were inherently illegal due to their perpetrators' illegitimacy.
Kerry is Anybody But Bush, and that is enough. For patriots who love small-d democracy, party affiliation has nothing to do with it. Had Al Gore become president using the same methods as Bush, I would vote for his Republican opponent.
Why not Nader? A democratic restoration requires defeating Bush; a protest vote doesn't help accomplish that. What about the progressive issues he espouses? First things first.
Ahmed Shah Massoud, the legendary Northern Alliance military commander who was assassinated two days before 9/11, helped unite Afghanistan's fractious tribes against the 1980s Soviet occupation. Upon gathering warlords from disparate ethnic groups, the story goes, Massoud toasted them with a glass of tea. "First, we kill the Russians," he was quoted. "Then we kill each other." Unless we get rid of Bush, there's a substantial chance that we'll be at war with Iran by the end of next year, running up more ridiculous tax cuts and bringing back the draft. (Bush denies the draft rumors, but he's a serial liar. And he's already way short of soldiers.) Kerry may not make things better--he'll probably face a Republican Congress, after all--but he won't make things much worse. If Kerry disappoints liberal Democrats, they can oust him in the 2008 primaries.
By definition, Bush can't win reelection on November 2. He's running for an office he doesn't legitimately hold, coasting on the trappings of a fraudulent incumbency. Bush is the former governor of Texas squatting at the White House. Americans should follow the lead of groups like BeyondVoting.org, which are calling for a national Day of Outrage on November 3, with "widespread noncooperation if Bush is elected, if the elections are canceled or if there is overt election fraud again." Call in sick, hit the streets and refuse to disperse. Bush should go home--not us.
Citizenship isn't a spectator sport. Get off the couch and protest. This could be your last chance to take back America.
Ted Rall is the author of two new books, Wake Up, You're Liberal!: How We Can Take America Back From the Right and Generalissimo El Busho: Essays and Cartoons on the Bush Years. Ordering information is available at amazon.com.