Joshua Frank is the author of Left
Out! How Liberals Helped Elect George W. Bush. The book is an analysis
of the 2004 presidential campaign. Frank's writings appear regularly on the
Internet, and he is a contributor to Dime's
Worth of Difference: Beyond the Lesser of Two Evils. In this interview,
we examine what the antiwar movement can learn from the 2004 presidential election
and how the movement should be approaching the 2006 election.
Kevin Zeese: First, tell me about your new book Left Out! What
did you learn about the 2004 campaign while writing it?
Joshua Frank: I learned a lot from the 2004 elections, and this book
is my attempt to put it all together and make sense of what went down. In Left
Out! I shovel through the muck of our current political arrangement, where
progressives and those on the Left are continually told that we have real options
within the so-called two-party system. Many told us during the 2004 elections
that George W. Bush was so darn bad that we had to, just had to, vote
for John Kerry. There was no other choice. The polluted climate, as you well
know, was "Anybody but Bush." Or better put, "Nobody but Kerry."
Hatred of Bush drove the support for Kerry. We had buses to Ohio, we had DVD
parties, and all were targeting Bush rather than trumpeting Kerry. That should
have been sign number one that the Democrats were on the wrong path. The candidacies
of Ralph Nader and even that of the Green Party's David Cobb were seen as far
too dangerous to support in the states that could have actually put pressure
on Kerry (i.e., swing states) to take on issues we believed in. The strategy,
endorsed by so many respected activists and intellectuals on the left, including
Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn, Medea Benjamin, Norman Solomon, to name just a few
– was all about expediting the process of removing Bush from office. Not issues.
Their strategy was a miserable failure, however. The Democratic alternatives
were grossly inadequate. The Left asked absolutely nothing of Kerry, and guess
what? They got absolutely nothing in return. That's what you get when you give
someone's candidacy unconditional support, despite the fact that the Democrats
mirrored Bush on so many crucial issues – from the economy to civil liberties
to trade to foreign policy to the environment. It was textbook lesser-evilism
and it was a loser. The left had succumbed to the plague of ABB. Their unconditional
support made Kerry worse and undermined everything the Left supposedly stood
for. And this is where I think we must be crystal clear as to what the costs
of expedient choices are, even if the benefits seem predominant. As I argue
in Left Out!, backing the lesser evil, like the majority of liberals
and lefties did in 2004, keeps the whole political pendulum in the U.S. swinging
to the right. It derails social movements, helps elect the opposition, and undermines
democracy. This backwards logic allows the Democrats and Republicans to control
the discourse of American politics and silences any voices that may be calling
for genuine change.
Despite all this, there are still many that are not convinced that the Democrats
are virtually identical to their Republican counterparts. So to argue this point,
I focus a bit on one Democrat whom many argue represents the liberal end of
the respectable mainstream Democratic Party – and that's DNC chairman Howard
Dean. At this time, Dean, along with Barack Obama, is thought to be a beacon
of hope within the Democratic establishment. He wants to transform the party.
He wants to empower the grass roots. But there's a catch, and that's that Howard
Dean really doesn't disagree with his party's own platform, which is virtually
the same as the Republicans'. So his quest for change is not grounded in any
ideological divergence. No, Dean's "new" path is a strategic one.
He simply wants to corral all the progressives into the Democratic fold. He
certainly doesn't want them to leave the party and go join up with some progressive
third party. And that is really what Dean's job is now: keep the party activists
in line while he cashes their checks. Take their money and don't let them stray.
Because when and if they ever do, real change could be possible. And Lord knows
that nobody in power out in Washington wants that to happen. They like business
just the way it is.
Zeese: What happened to the antiwar issue in 2004? We had developed
a large base of activists, massive demonstrations, the war was going downhill
– indeed, all of our worst predictions were coming true during the presidential
campaign – yet the antiwar issue was not on the agenda during the presidential
race. What happened?
Frank: What happened was the antiwar movement supported a pro-war candidate,
which not surprisingly, was an utter disaster. How can a movement back a candidate
that supports everything it opposes? There is no question that during the campaign
John Kerry was a relentless warmonger, as William Safire put it. Kerry was the
newest neocon who even out-hawked Bush. True enough. Most people that supported
Kerry didn't support his position on the Iraq war, which was shown by a USA
Today poll taken during the Democratic convention in Boston.
If you mentioned this paradox in mixed company during the campaign you were
likely to hear all sorts of tepid excuses. Like, "Oh, Kerry really isn't
for the war, he's just being tactical," or, "Well, at least
he's not a neocon, they are really dangerous ya know!" Or something ridiculous
like that. All these excuses, despite the fact that Kerry during the 1990s supported
the Iraq Liberation Act, which endorsed the military removal of Saddam Hussein.
All this despite the fact that Kerry continues to support some of the most violent
and grisly U.S. military ventures in Colombia and elsewhere. This, despite the
fact that Kerry's key foreign policy advisor Richard Holbrooke played a significant
role in perhaps the largest U.S.-backed genocides of the last century – as Holbrooke
helped supply Suharto's bloody regime in Indonesia with bundles of illegal weapons.
Apparently it didn't matter at all to these supposed antiwar folks that Kerry
stood shoulder to shoulder with President Bush claiming that Iraq had those
pesky weapons of mass destruction hidden under its turbulent soil. None of this
mattered in the least. Talk about the collapse of a movement.
How can you stand for something and yet completely capitulate [on] your ideals?
The answer is simple: you can't. Again, this gets back to the main point: you
cannot support any candidate sans specific demands. You cannot profess
to stand for issues you know to be just and still surrender those stances and
convictions at crunch time. It's like training to run a marathon for a year
or two and then getting inebriated right before the big race. All the training
you did up to that point is now irrelevant. You're bound to fail. And it's safe
to say the antiwar movement was drunk on ABB last year. All the good work they
did up to that point was irrelevant. They should have stuck to their issues
despite the alleged consequences – which turned out to be ill-founded anyway.
Not only did the antiwar movement not elect the man they wanted, John F. Kerry,
they in fact helped reelect the very man they wanted to defeat, George W. Bush
– simply because they didn't ask anything of the candidate they supported.
Zeese: So what should the antiwar movement have done during 2004?
Frank: The antiwar movement should have backed a candidate that embraced
their call to exit Iraq at once. They should have forced Kerry to take this
position or risk losing their support. The best way they could have done that
was to support a candidate that was willing to put pressure on Kerry in the
states that mattered most to the Democrats. They should have supported Ralph
Nader in swing states, plain and simple. They should have told Kerry that he
wouldn't get their votes unless he took on their positions. Of course, some
of us were saying this during the election, but few in the antiwar movement
were listening. They thought that supporting Nader could tilt the election in
favor of Bush. They were wrong. What they didn't realize was that by curbing
their own important antiwar convictions, they were making Kerry unaccountable.
They were making Kerry worse than he already was. By not opposing his Iraq position,
they helped tilt the election to Bush.
Remember how Kerry just couldn't get anything right? He was constantly in flux.
That's why more people were mobilized against Bush than for Kerry.
If we learned anything from 2004, we should realize that hatred of an incumbent
is not enough to elect a challenger. Had the antiwar movement mobilized behind
an antiwar candidate, despite who he or she was, and despite the alleged consequences
– Kerry would have felt tremendous pressure to differentiate himself from the
Bush agenda, and particularly Bush's position on Iraq. But Kerry couldn't do
it. Nobody was pressuring him. So he wavered, collapsed, and lost a monumental
election. In the end it wasn't just the election that was lost, the soul of
the antiwar movement was lost too.
Zeese: What do you think the antiwar movement should do in 2006 during
the congressional elections?
Frank: Well, the antiwar movement should do what they didn't do in the
2004 elections: hold candidates' feet to the fire. The body count in Bush's
illegitimate war on terror seems to be almost exponential at this point. Every
month there are more deaths than the last. Each day the resistance fighters
in Iraq seem to be gaining more and more control. There is no end to the occupation
in sight. If candidates do not embrace the exiting of U.S. led occupation forces
at once, they must be opposed with the full force of the antiwar movement (or
what's left of it).
In certain cases, this may mean running third party antiwar candidates against
pro-war Democrats like Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California. It's time for the antiwar
movement to step up and oppose candidates who support Bush's war agenda. And
if the Democratic candidates continue to support Bush's ghastly foreign policies,
they must be defeated until they learn. We need to monkey-wrench this issue.
The antiwar movement must learn from the 2004 elections where so many activists
and scholars caved in and supported Kerry, simply because they saw Bush as such
an extreme threat to world peace. The threat isn't Bush's alone; both parties
have a long, bloody history of employing military aggression. We aren't going
to get what we want if we keep supporting candidates whose positions we oppose.
We are only going to get what we want when we start voting for what we want.