One of the most illuminating and melancholic comments we’ve read in the NYT about our system was buried in this story about the potential Bush strategy in a camaign against Kerry. That strategy is utterly predictable (begin on a rabid note, accelerate from there): what attracted us was this ominous quote from the Kerry side:
“Another Kerry adviser was more blunt. "This is not the Dukakis campaign," the adviser said. "We're not going to take it. And if they're going to come at us with stuff, whatever that stuff may be, if it goes to a place where the '88 campaign did, then everything is on the table. Everything."
Everything that is wrong with the Democrats is in that quotation. “Everything,” presumably, won’t be on the table if the Republicans play nice. Which leads to the question: why? The Democratic party is heading for extinction when, demagraphically, it should be heading for hegemony. That's because it still thinks of itself as the establishment. Establishments have to keep “everything” from being purveyed to the mob, which won’t understand it, or the necessity for it: the million little deals that keep the class composition of this country a predetermined harmony, a chorus of money wending its way upward. So you have the DC. Covenant – we won’t speak of Bush’s military record; we won’t oppose Bush’s rush to war, or question the evidence for it; we won’t attack the obvious whitewashes in the press of everything from the joke of a budget to the joke of our alliance with Pakistan, the one country that not only bristles with the infamous Weapons of Mass Destruction but has made selling them part of its economy; we won’t question what happened that made 9/11 happen, etc., etc. This isn’t because the Democrats fear the Republicans – the Republicans will attack the Dems with vim and vigor regardless of how meak and mild they are. It is because the instinctive, protective gesture of the Dem establishment, which is white, male, and millionairish, is to keep the status quo alive – to preserve those conditions in which the white, male, and millionairish can continue to be comfortable.
This is why we are afraid of Dean getting out of the race. Dean being in the race did send some 50,000 volts through the somnolence of the Senatorial candidates. Kerry is looking better against Bush every day. But that aide’s comment bodes ill for this campaign. If Kerry thinks that he can keep anything off of the proverbial table, he will inevitably lose. Dukakis, contrary to media popular legend, didn’t lose because he was a cold fish, or a small chump of change in a tank, but because he swept aside the chief issue of the day, the nationwide looting of the S&Ls. Why? Because he was for the changes that made that looting possible. He and his opponent tacitly talked agreed to talk about anything except the main thing that was happening in America -- the creaking and squeaking in the financial system, due to the gross mal-distribution of money from the financial sector to the LBOs and third world dictators and real estate in New Jersey that was all falling down. Where there's a crisis, there are profiteers -- but if Dukakis had brought that up, it would threaten Democrats as well as Republicans. To look into that would be to look into systematic corruption, and beyond that to the real changes that were taking place in our country, the changes that were systematically sucking money out of the inner city (where it was replaced with the money that came from the market in drugs) and from the working class. Remember, of the Senators who were tarred with leaning on regulators to give obvious fraudulent S & Ls a clean bill of health, most of them were Dems.
That Kerry’s aide could ‘threaten” to put everything on the table is an insult to every citizen and a light cast on the dark, petrified ruin of our system. We shouldn’t have a party system that props up a corrupt compact of little deals about what is and what is not “proper” to put on the table. At least the Republicans, in their relentless attacks, are willing to put everything on the table – everything, that is, that they hate about the Dems. This is what they should be doing.
Let’s hope that Kerry’s campaign seriously considers how arrogant, ignorant and symptomatic it is to menace us with doing what they should be doing in the first place. The Democrats disenfranchise their best hope -- the people who don't vote -- when they compromise in order to retain their little domains of political power The everything that isn't on the table makes the non-voting majority suspect, rightly, that elections are a charade. If Kerry is going to run a campaign against Bush while simultaneously protecting the embedded privileges that Bush and his party represents, he'll lose.
Go after Bush's military record, go after his stewardship pre 9/11, fight him on the shores and fight him on the mountains. Elections aren't about the pols running in them -- they are about us, the poor voters. Everything is on the table for us, every day.
So fire that goon-ish aide, and run like a man, not a patrician mouse.