22 December 2011

After the election debacle, which way for the Left?

[This is the 8th in a series of articles titled 'Love notes to democracy' written around the time of the US Presidential Election 2004, when I was a member of a team of international election monitors, working in the state of Florida]

In Sri Lanka, in the aftermath of the general election in 1989, a columnist wrote an article titled “After the election debacle, which way for the Left?”  The “Left” referred to what is now known as the “Old Left”, those political parties which spearheaded the struggle for independence in the 1930s.  They were roughly two factions, the Trotskyites and the Communists, and had come together, along with some centre-left groups, to form the United Socialist Alliance, and were routed at the hustings.  Another columnist, supportive of the more radical (and to this mind the most progressive and “truly left”) People’s Liberation Front (better known by its Sinhala acronym, JVP), responded with an article titled, “Which way for the Left? Right!”

I remembered this as I was roaming around Miami Dade, Florida, on November 2.  I remembered this line, because there were three possible outcomes, two of which would be cause for concern, given a refreshing desire by ordinary people in the USA to ensure their voice is heard through the vote. 

Outcome 1:  the difference in the number of votes polled by George W Bush and John Kerry is so small that every vote would be fought over, every allegation of fraud looked into and all the niggling issues that are part and parcel of a patently flawed system would be discussed and debated.

Outcome 2:  John Kerry wins easily. 

Outcome 3: George W Bush wins easily.

I believe, in the interest of the future of democracy in the USA, Outcome 1 would have been the most desirable because it forbids the issues from being pooh-poohed, swept under the carpet and generally forgotten until 2008.  Outcome 2 might have persuaded the more alert and democracy-desiring sections of the population to celebrate the fact that Bush was voted out of office, while forgetting that the fundamental issues pertaining to exercising the franchise, being able to vote and having one’s vote counted, has not been resolved. 

We got Outcome 3.  I was troubled by the possibility of two by-products emerging.  One, the Democratic Party believing that in order to win in 2008, it has to re-clothe itself in the political colors of the Republican Party.  Secondly, the marginalized sections that had been mobilized in unprecedented numbers, would retreat into a state of unbelief, resolving not to vote because in the end their vote did not count. 

It is too early to say if either of these will happen, but I believe it is worthwhile pointing out the problems of these possibilities.  The signs are there, however, and in fact they were out there even before November 2.  The Jewish Vote.

The Kerry Campaign and indeed the Democratic Party have essentially abandoned the struggle for a more representative and fraud-free democratic system.  That task has been left to the likes of Ralph Nader, Cobb and organizations such as Moveon and www.blackboxboting.org and others who voted Democratic not so much because they were pro-Kerry, but because they were more anti-Bush.   

Noam Chomsky, referring to US foreign policy on Latin America, and especially El Salvador in the late eighties, once said, “the entire political spectrum in this country agrees on this…..” (I can’t remember what exactly they were agreeing about), and went on to say (complementing his comment by bringing his hands together, within about an inch apart from each other) “although of course the spectrum is this thin”.  There are many people, especially in other parts of the world who would laugh when Republicans refer to Democrats as “left”.  Sure, they are “left” in a relative sense, but the Republicans are so far “right”, that “left of the Republicans” is still way too far to the right! 

My friend Ayca Cubukcu, a graduate student at Columbia University put it best: “The Republican candidate is always going to be to the right of the Democrats, and therefore will always be able to pin the left label on the Democratic candidate.  So what’s the point in trying to be “right”? 

But this is the obsession of the Democratic Party!  Someone said that ideology had become a non-issue in presidential elections.  True. And what of the Left outside of the Democratic Party?  Why is it so reluctant to admit that even if allowing for fraud, millions of Americans in the United States have embraced Bushism, that we-are-number-one-and-we-don’t-care-for-world-opinion kind of arrogance is a significant trait in the cultural ethos of this country? 

No, the Left, like the Democratic Party prefer to live in the rarified territories of nostalgia.  Their politics is colored by and indeed motivated by a longing for a land that does not exist and probably never did.  If there is a Religious Right, it follows that there is a non-Religious Right as well.  The Left, however, has failed to obtain the other “Other” of the Religious Right, for if there is a Religious Right, logically there should also be a Religious Left, but no, the Left does not want to touch religion with a ten-foot pole!  They could for example, at least in line with the fundamental political sense of subverting the enemy, reference Jesus Christ himself to counter the bigotry that is mouthed in his name. 

Someone said, “It is important for the Left that Bush is defeated, because Bush makes the Left look ridiculous; once he is defeated they can take on Kerry.”  Makes sense, but I believe the people of the United States can do better.  And I believe that the Left can reason better.  Sure, Bush makes them look ridiculous, but not as silly as they make themselves look! 

They could find out why millions don’t vote and maybe they will realize that these people simply cannot identify with the likes of John Kerry.  Or Hillary Clinton for that matter.  Even if the Democratic Party reduces politics to capturing the White House, it makes no sense to act as though these people do not exist. 

After the election debacle, which way for the Left?  Right?  Not right, I believe is the answer!

How long will the vast numbers who have by not voting expressed a massive vote of no-confidence in the system remain silent?  What if, they decide to take matters into their hands and into their communities?  What if they design a politics outside of the mainstream and it grows big enough to so narrow the defined “mainstream” and make it obsolete?  What if Howard Dean, who is probably the only candidate deserving the left label, and who was unceremoniously dumped by the party hierarchy, decides not to take up the post of President of the Democratic Party?  What if the Left dares to ponder the fact that the most left candidate in the senate races, Barack Obama won some 70% of the votes in Illinois?  What if Barrak Obama himself contests as an independent?  What if the so-called Blue States initiate procedures to secede from the Union?  What if someone launches a let’s-not-vote campaign and agitates for a none-of-the-above option to be included in the next ballot, so that the United States and the world can measure the true political pulse of the country?  

Let the Left, self-defined and Republican-defined, sleep on these questions.  Let the Left awake.  Or decide never to wake up again.  In either event, the people of the United States of America would have gained, I believe.