Kerry campaign has decidely corporate sheen

August 19, 2004|By Tarek Milleron

AMONG THE SIGNS waved by Democrats at their convention, the biggest was invisible: Anybody But Bush. This sentiment was so powerful that the delegates -- despite being overwhelmingly opposed to the Iraq war -- cheered the stridently martial theme.

Ordinarily, liberals might have demurred at such militarism. Not to worry; for some time now, President Bush has been delivering liberals up like electoral chattel to whomever the Democrats might nominate.

Still, there are principled voters out there who care deeply about ending the occupation of Iraq, repealing the Patriot Act and curbing corporate power, among other issues. These voters wait for a meaningful sign from Sen. John Kerry. But Mr. Kerry and his party are instead trying to herd these voters, like the others, into voting against President Bush.

They've rushed the Kucinich people. Many a supporter of Dennis Kucinich had waded valiantly through primary swamps with hopes of landing a hand-fashioned plank. Instead, they were offered to be hoisted onto a shiny plastic platform that has shed even a mention of global warming. Yet Mr. Kucinich beamed on stage as though he were in a movie with Ben Affleck. He has urged his and Ralph Nader's voters to support Mr. Kerry.

The Democratic posse moves on now, trying to thwart Mr. Nader's voters, as if this will leave no choice except Mr. Kerry (there's always staying home).

First, their corporate law firms work to knock Mr. Nader off the ballot. Second, the Democratic smear operation gears up, claiming that organized Bush Republicans are using the Nader campaign. Democrats and their front groups plan to spend millions against Mr. Nader.

If Republicans matched half of their money, Mr. Nader would be on the ballot in 50 states. Yet the Democrats' operation is working, says its front man, corporate lobbyist Toby Moffett.

What if Mr. Kerry appealed to idealistic voters, partly by taking issues away from Mr. Nader, as Mr. Kerry himself said early on? Isn't this the way to regain the crucial margin? Mr. Kerry could make bold statements about cracking down on corporate crime, war profiteering and safeguarding civil liberties, for example.

With such words, however, Mr. Kerry would offend the corporate contributors who have long sponsored his political career. He would find a chilly reception back in Washington political circles. Hence, the choice to try to herd voters rather than inspire them.

The linchpin in the corporate strategy that Mr. Kerry's advisers have chosen is the controlling elite: lobbyists who gush hospitality at both conventions, newspaper editorial boards, TV producers, pundits and so on. By avoiding even weak Al Gore populism, Mr. Kerry convincingly demonstrates that Corporate America would more easily achieve its goals under President Kerry than under President Bush.

Mr. Bush is becoming a liability, even from the corporate viewpoint -- air polluters and crooked energy traders aside. It is time for him to go.

By watching the Kerry campaign, corporate leaders know that their patronage has ensured he would never keep them up at night. Mr. Kerry would never pound the bully pulpit to rally Americans around single-payer national health care or for a major crackdown on the corporate crime that bleeds pensioners, or to publicly shame polluters. He would support trade agreements crafted by corporate lobbyists, keep corporate tax rates low and leave defense pork alone. He may raise a few hackles, but he'd roll over when it counts.

Now Mr. Kerry is no pushover. He wouldn't allow us to lose face in Iraq. He'd prosecute egregious corporate crimes with the meager resources available. He thinks drug companies overcharge. In time, he means to improve fuel efficiency. He'd support restoring protection to roadless areas, and rip the Bush energy policy. He'd worry about global warming alongside enlightened oil company executives and improve our image in the world. In short, Mr. Kerry would take the easy edge of Not Bush; forget bold steps.

There's no denying it: Anybody But Bush could win Mr. Kerry the presidency, albeit one without a mandate (and a long political vacation for liberals would begin).

But if Mr. Kerry loses, it won't be because he lacked support in boardrooms or yoga studios. It will be because he abandoned those voters who could not forget the dead in Iraq, the damage of corporate trade policy or snooping in their public libraries in order to vote for him.

Tarek Milleron, Ralph Nader's nephew, is completing a doctorate in ecology at Utah State University.

Columnist Ellen Goodman is on vacation.

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