By Kevin Zeese
The seeds of the independent electoral movement are beginning to sprout and the Iraq occupation is likely to be its fertilizer.
In 2004 there was only one significant challenger to the corporate political duopoly both of whom put forward candidates that campaigned in favor of continuing the Iraq occupation. This year there will be three legitimate campaigns challenging the duopoly. And, since none of the Democratic or Republican Party candidates is calling for a real end to the occupation, Iraq may provide the energy for these efforts.
Ralph Nader is fond of saying that every oak tree begins with a seed and a sprout. Since 2000 he had to whether a barrage of attacks from the Democratic Party, their allied 527 organizations, non-profits allied with the Democratic Party and the concentrated corporate media especially the liberal elites who ally with the Democrats. But, he is still standing and still fighting to open up the political process in the United States. Nader ran an anti-war campaign in 2004 before there was majority support for ending the war and he has worked every day since then to end the war. In 2008 the Nader-Gonzalez Campaign looks stronger than 2004.
The combination of the path he has cut, the candidates of the two parties and the mood of the electorate has pulled former Democrats and Republicans into the independent electoral movement.
The first to take the leap was former Representative Cynthia McKinney. McKinney served 12 years in the U.S. House of Representatives where she urged an end to the Iraq occupation, advocated for the impeachment of President Bush and Vice President Cheney, sought release of 9/11 Commission’s underlying data, advocated on behalf of Katrina victims and sought to cut the bloated military budget. Twice she was defeated in the primary by a Democratic Party leadership approved candidate who worked with Republican cross-over voters for her defeat. She registered Green in September and became a candidate in a “Power to the People” campaign in October. She is the putative nominee of the Green Party and will be on the ballot in almost all states.
Second to make the transition was former Alaska Senator Mike Gravel. Gravel ran in the Democratic Primary for president where he was very critical of the leading candidates for their militaristic foreign policies and their weak Iraq withdrawal plans. Gravel says he ran until the defense contractor, General Electric, which owns NBC allied with the Democratic Party leadership to keep him out of the debates. He has been an aggressive anti-war advocate since the Vietnam era where he gained recognition for ending the Vietnam draft with a filibuster and also read the Pentagon Papers into the Congressional Record when the courts threatened the N.Y. Times with prosecution if they published the documents. Gravel became a Libertarian in March and immediately filed to run for president.
The most recent candidate is Bob Barr. Barr, also a former congressman from Georgia, served in the House for eight years. He abandoned the Republican Party in 2004 and supported the Libertarian candidate for president. Last week he announced he was putting in place an exploratory committee as a step to running for the Libertarian nomination. Barr gained national recognition during the impeachment of President Clinton. Since leaving office he has been very critical of increased wiretapping, the Patriot Act, the drug war and the war in Iraq. He favors a non-interventionist foreign policy and has described the destruction and occupation of Iraq as “the height of arrogance.” He urges a new political realignment of right and left to end the war in Iraq and protect the Bill of Rights. Barr is the natural heir to the Ron Paul libertarian movement within the Republican Party.
This election cycle has shown excitement about two candidates so far – Ron Paul and Barak Obama. Both generated that support by saying they were against the war and seeking paradigm shifting change from the corrupt ways of Washington, DC. They were promising not to be “more of the same.”
Unfortunately, Senator Obama has reversed course and can no longer be described as a peace candidate. He recently said he will leave the private mercenaries in Iraq which at a minimum are 140,000 troops and may be twice that number. His campaign has said that Obama will leave up to 80,000 troops in Iraq. And, Obama has said he will withdraw combat troops to a surrounding country like Kuwait so they could serve as a strike force in Iraq. Obama continues to promise to end the “war” but the details do not describe an end to the war. Further, he has kept a military attack against Iran on the table and plans to expand the already too large and too expensive military by 92,000 troops. He describes his foreign policy as a return to the policy of George H.W. Bush, Ronald Reagan and JFK – all of whom aggressively used U.S. military force.
Obama may think he has the Democratic nomination wrapped up and is positioning himself for the General Election, but now with three serious independent political challenges who all oppose the war his Republican-lite positions risk losing many peace voters and the election.
The desire for more choices in elections has been growing in recent years. The president has very low approval ratings as does the Congress – the latter for their failure to fulfill their 2006 mandate to end the war. One-third the electorate now considers themselves independent, not Democratic or Republican. More and more Americans are feeling like Jesse Ventura who recently wrote:
“This excerpt from Don’t Start the Revolution Without Me! reveals some of my feelings about the Bush administration, but readers should not think that my criticisms of today’s political world are aimed only at their spectacular failures. Democrats are no better than the Republicans. And corporate America, the religious right, and the media have all contributed to the quagmires we find ourselves in overseas and at home. That’s why we need a political revolution, to take power from the political parties and their big money supporters and return power to the people.”
The corruption of the Congress, and the two parties, became even more evident when the Center for the Study of Responsive Politics released a report showing that Members of Congress have made $196 million in their military-investments since the war in Iraq began. That’s right – we have war profiteers voting on whether to end the war – a decision that would be against their own personal financial interests. And, according to the Center the Democrats had more invested in Iraq contractors than the Republicans with the number one war-investor being their 2004 presidential candidate, Sen. John Kerry.
Of course, the odds are against all of these independent electoral candidates. The two parties and the concentrated media have constructed an election system that creates immense hurdles. The phony National Commission on Presidential Debates was designed in large part to keep third party and independents out of the debates after the League of Women Voters let Ross Perot participate. And, the media sings the two parties song – don’t waste your vote on someone who can’t win. Right – I oppose the Iraq war and militarism so I should waste my vote on someone who will not end the Iraq occupation and will keep expanding the military.
In fact, throughout history candidates who did not win have had a tremendous impact on changing the paradigm in the United States. Almost every major shift has been spurred by third party candidates who did not win, e.g. ending slavery, women voting, ending child labor, health care for the poor and elderly, retirement funds for all. So, it is not a wasted vote to vote for what you want. In fact as Eugene Debs said – “voting for what you want and not getting it is better than voting for what you don’t want and getting it.”
The Democrats in particular who are counting on the anti-war vote in 2008 better re-think their center-right strategy on Iraq. Peace voters will have three campaigns pulling them away from the two parties. If the Democrats run away from peace voters they risk losing the election. Nader-Gonzalez, Barr-Gravel and Cynthia McKinney have tripled the pull for the peace vote.
-Kevin Zeese is Executive Director of Voters for Peace, www.VotersForPeace.US. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com