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Debate is raging about the future direction of the Democratic Party. What is our message? What is our strategy? Who are our leaders?
If we are to win elections and govern, these important questions need to be resolved. But it is one thing to plot an electoral strategy, and another to understand and convey the realities of the world we live in. These are separate, if connected, tasks.
In the December 12 New Republic, Editor Peter Beinart made a splash when he wrote that Kerry’s “fundamental problem was the party’s liberal base.” He went on to say:
The challenge for the Democrats today is … to transform the party at its grassroots so that a different kind of presidential candidate can emerge. That means abandoning the unity-at-all costs ethos that governed American liberalism in 2004. And it requires a sustained battle to wrest the Democratic Party from the heirs of Henry [“soft” on communism] Wallace. In the party today, two such heirs loom largest: Michael Moore and MoveOn.
While Beinart’s analysis is a touch farcical, he does delineate the central issue facing Democrats. Should the party follow the tried-and-failed path of the post-World War II crusade against communism and wage a global war against al Qaeda, or should it advocate for a more principled U.S. engagement with the world that addresses the root causes of Islamic fundamentalism.
The first path is the one the United States currently blazes. Uncritical support for the right-wing Likud government’s repression of Palestinians puts the United States, in the eyes of the world, on the side of the oppressor. The misguided war in Iraq, buttressed by official disinformation, foments Islamic extremism and expands the ranks of al Qaeda. At the same time, it gives the United States de facto control of one of the world’s largest oil reserves.
Parallels between the war in Iraq and U.S. Cold War adventures abound. The 1953 overthrow of the democratically elected Mohammad Mossadegh in Iran secured U.S. and British oil interests, and laid the ground for the eventual rise of fundamentalist clerics. The 1954 CIA coup against Guatemala’s democratically elected President Jacobo Arbenz protected the holdings of the United Fruit Company (now Chiquita). The Vietnam War disaster lasted as long as it did because the Johnson and Nixon administrations systematically lied to the American people and persecuted anti-war dissidents. In the name of anti-communism, covert U.S. military operations in Central America in the ’80s attacked popular movements for the benefit of right-wing oligarchies, while at home military psy-ops specialists launched a propaganda campaign to defend that covert war.
Soviet expansionism was a real threat in its time. And al Qaeda today presents “a clear and present danger.” What is questionable — and worthy of debate — is how best to respond to such threats, and how to prevent them from being transformed into vehicles for the neoconservatives’ global schemes.
At the same time, progressives should link the discussion of how to counter both imperial militarism and the corporate domination of the global economy via the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and ever-expanding trade agreements. Indeed, military empire and corporate power are bound together like feral Siamese twins.
The right has heralded Beinart’s arguments. In a recent column George Will wrote:
But how do you begin reforming a base polluted by the Michael Moore-MoveOn.org faction? … Beinart is bravely trying to do for liberalism what another magazine editor — the National Review’s William Buckley — did for conservatism by excommunicating the Birchers from the conservative movement.
In essence, under the guise of being tough on terror, Beinart and Will are allies. The right would like nothing more than for “responsible” Democrats to purge Moore and MoveOn from its grassroots base. With that “faction” of the Democratic Party nullified, the United States’ military and corporate empire can reign supreme.
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Joel Bleifuss, a former director of the Peace Studies Program at the University of Missouri-Columbia, is the editor & publisher of In These Times, where he has worked since October 1986.