Spectator democracy

Thursday, June 3rd, 2004

The election ceased to be just a vaguely troubling reality TV show for me one day last week, when a Kerry fund-raiser hung up on me. Suddenly, ouch. I was left with a dead receiver and a feeling of disconnect I could no longer ignore.

Is the war really off the table in this year’s presidential race? Is the nation’s central agony and 50-50 schism a non-issue between the major contenders? Has that venerable verbal team of “participatory” and “democracy” been unyoked, and if so, what are we left with?

Spectator democracy?

But they still want your 50 bucks.

All I’d done was push the guy on Iraq. Believe me, I wanted to make a contribution; I just needed to hear a single word of acknowledgment that the senator was against the occupation. One word, and I’d gratefully have bled green for the “Let’s Go For It” campaign. This poor guy. He couldn’t lie, so he squirmed as politely as he could, but when I wouldn’t shut up about it he finally, desperately, wished me a nice day and improvised an exit strategy.

This encounter was so troubling, I decided to call Kerry’s central campaign headquarters in Washington, D.C., which only confirmed the worst. The antiwar voice, the soul of John Kerry’s support and a prime source of his funding (both moveon.org and the Howard Dean organization have been making all-out e-mail appeals on Kerry’s behalf) is totally shut out of this campaign.

The position articulated for me by Kerry media spokesman Bill Burton was Wolfowitz Lite. It wasn’t just that the candidate’s single departure from administration strategy was to put Iraqis under a NATO/U.N. boot heel rather than a strictly American one; it’s that the vision he expounded was unmitigated by the least doubt that bombing is to democracy what April
showers are to May flowers.

My first question to Burton was provoked by this line from Kerry’s most detailed position statement on the war (posted at www.johnkerry.com): “The hard truth is that we know that more lives will be lost until the mission is truly accomplished.”

Exactly what, I asked Burton, is our mission in Iraq? Astonishingly, he refused to evince the least skepticism that ongoing U.S. presence in Iraq — despite Abu Ghraib, 11,000 civilian dead, a wrecked infrastructure, widespread depleted-uranium contamination and a united Shiite-Sunni opposition — is anything but beneficial.

For John Kerry, presumptive Democratic nominee for president of the United States, our mission, according to his spokesman, is precisely the same as Bush’s backup cover story No. 3: “To create a stable democracy in Iraq.” There’s no quagmire, no covert agenda to control oil reserves and gain a strategic foothold, only Noble Purpose and Kerry’s promise to be as
profligate a spender of the lives of America’s youth as Bush.

And then our interview got worse. Kerry, disastrously, is choosing to run as Dukakis-in-a-tank.

How do you deal with terrorists? You crush ’em, said Burton, continually shutting down the conversation when I brought up the wimp concept of “root causes.” There lay only danger and weakness, apparently. The least suggestion that injustice may be a cause of global insecurity “is giving terrorists a cover.” End of conversation.

And the insurgency that’s now devouring American and Iraqi lives at such a heartbreaking rate? It’s the work of extremists, utterly without legitimacy (or “root causes”). No one’s fighting back because of dead or disappeared loved ones, middle-of-the-night raids and humiliating checkpoints.

“The U.S. is there to help build a democracy and a peaceful future for Iraq,” Burton said. “The folks who are fighting against the U.S. do not have the same goals.”

Click, rewind.

This was one of the most frustrating conversations I’ve ever had in my life — and I was calling as a friend! I want Kerry to win. He’s solid on every other issue, sometimes downright visionary, e.g.: “Make the U.S. energy independent of Middle East oil in 10 years — and create 500,000 jobs by investing in energy renewable sources, such as ethanol, solar and wind.”

We’ve got five months, folks. As crying as the need is to register voters and speak out against the madness of George Bush, we also need to rescue the Kerry campaign from itself. I urge everyone who opposes this war not to simply hope for the best, but let the candidate know, vehemently, how you feel. Call his campaign office: (202) 712-3000.

By God, we can fight for democracy on our own soil.