If you still think that the only viable means to challenge the current policies of the Bush administration is to vote Democrats into office, please read this book. Joshua Frank has written an important work, one that should force those who consider themselves liberals or progressives to confront the real path that the Democratic party has taken. With substantial documentation, Frank uses the 2004 election cycle as a window to look at how the Democratic Party has basically taken the same political stance on most major issues since the Clinton era began.
Whether it is the USA Patriot Act, trade policy, welfare reform, prison building, corporate plunder of the environmental, tele-com policy, or foreign policy the Democrats under Clinton have either paved for current Bush administration policies or embraced them. The record is pretty stark: Clinton passed the Crime Bill and post Oklahoma City bombing legislation that was just a precursor to the Patriot Act; the Welfare Reform Act helped the current climate of wage cuts and further criminalization of the poor; NAFTA was not challenged by most of the Democrats, nor the other IMF, World Bank, WTO policies of the late 90’s nor those of the Bush administration; the Kyoto Protocol, old growth logging, plunder of wetlands – all began at their current pace under Clinton; the largest increase in US prison population under Clinton; and the current war on terrorism is not much different than the US bombing of Yugoslavia, Sudan, or Iraq under Clinton. All of these policy similarities are woven throughout the book, but Frank begins by looking at the most recent Democratic Party savior Howard Dean.
The first half of he book is devoted to the rise and fall of Dean and what was really happening within the Democratic Party to deal with this supposed “progressive.” Frank looks at the record of Howard Dean, both as Governor of Vermont and as Presidential candidate in a way that no journalist really did in the last race for the White House. The author demonstrates that Dean was more right of center on most issues, whether it was environmental policy or corporate benefits, Dean presided over the structural adjustment of Vermont. Cut taxes for the rich and social services for the poor. Sound familiar? So if this was the case why did the Democratic Party feel threatened by Dean? What Frank shows readers is that the Party was not afraid of Dean, but the Dean supporters who believed that the Party needed to get back to policies that represented working people, women’s rights and an anti-war perspective. The decline of Dean in the Presidential race transitioned into a let’s get all these voters in line by having their candidate of choice embrace the party platform. Frank suggests what started out in 2003 as Anybody But Bush, really came down to No One But Kerry. The Deaniacs, the Kucinich supporters, Al Sharpton’s backers and anyone who even thought about voting for Nader were quickly told to get in line or you were a traitor. Not only were people told this, but the Democrats spent more money to keep Nader off the ballot in several states than they did one paying people to organize for Kerry.
Frank basically demonstrates that the strategy of out righting the Republicans doesn’t work and hasn’t work for years. The Democrats lost control of the House and Senate under Clinton and have continued a slow decline in elections ever since. While Frank does not spend anytime talking about the need for movement building as the more important direction for those of us in this country, he provides more than adequate support for the reasons why we shouldn’t make electoral politics the focus of our efforts.
Joshua Frank, Left Out!: How Liberals Helped Reelect George W. Bush, (Common Courage Press, 2005).