18 October 2003
Dear Colleagues and Friends,
The Grenoble Center for the Advanced Study of American Institutions and Social Movements has received much mail concerning the up-coming national elections in November 2004.
In the minds of some, the Schwarzenegger coup in California last
week, was brought to you from the same Company that engineered the fall
of Mossadegh in Teheran in 1953, the collapse of Arbenz in Guatemala in
1954, etc., etc.
. . . The politics of destabilization long ago replaced positive democratic politics in Third World countries. Are we, in the immortal words of Malcolm X, at last witnessing "the chickens come home to roost?"
The history of Recall legislation in America, along with the
Initiative and the Referendum reforms dates
back to the beginning to the 20th century, when Progressive-Era "reform
politicians" like President Theodore Roosevelt (1901-09) and California
Governor Hiram Johnson (1911-17) introduced into American political culture
a political counter attack against the growing socialist movement. Like
Otto von Bismarck in Germany in the 1880s, according to historian Gabriel
Kolko in his book, The Triumph of Conservatism, Theodore
Roosevelt and the other "Progressives" who followed him had one thing in
mind : namely, to destroy the democratic socialist movements in their nation,
and they both succeeded by using strategic
reforms which served to undermine social class consciousness and subvert the socialist agenda for democratic controls over the production and distribution of goods and services.
Nineteenth-century American socialists, such as Eugene Debs and Daniel
DeLeon had long ago called for public ownership of the banks, the railroads,
steel production, the insurance companies, etc., etc. . . , and the
American socialist movement was growing until the "Progressives" began
to pass legislation for phony government regulations of privately owned
industries --with "child labor laws" which did not protect most working
children, with anti-trust" laws which did not affect most monopolies, with
women's sufferage guarantees which did not affect the condition of most women. In short, the Progressive Reforms served as a political ploy to help secure the private profit motive from the threat of industrial democracy in America.
This week, on the subject of elections and political parites, we have
heard from the famous Texas Populist and humorist, Jim Hightower, whom
we have invited to come to Grenoble next spring, and whose recent books
will soon be translated into French, with the support of our Grenoble Research
Center. (Please see item A. below, which is an excerpt from Hightower's
book, If the Gods Intended Us To Vote, They Would Have Given Us Candidates, in which he recounts an historical moment in 19th-century America when the instincts of Democrats were perhaps more democratic.)
Our second item (B.), forwarded to us by our research associate Professor Ed Herman in Pennsylvania, is a recent article on General Wesley Clark's declared candidacy for President of the United States, on the Democratic Ticket. Clark has gained the support of the Clinton family and Michael Moore, among others.
Third (item C.), is a brief statement from our research associate Professor James Stevenson on the historic significance of Clark's candidacy.
And finally (item D.), offers readers another historical prespective
on U.S. presidential elections. This excerpt from Lenni Brenner's
book, The Lesser Evil: the Democratic Party (1988), reflects the the fierce
mood of irony that dominates contemporary America at national election
time, when around 50% of the eligible voters routinely do not vote.
As usual we invite readers to respond to these essays, and if you wish
to be removed from this list, please indicate this desire by return mail.
Francis McCollum Feeley
Professor of American Studies/
Director of Research
A. from Jim Hightower :
excerpt from If The Gods Had Meant Us To Vote, They Would Have Given Us
Alferd Packer had a bad winter back in 1873-74, but not as bad as the
other men who had joined him on a gold-digging expedition. Leaving their
homes in Hinsdale County, Colorado, the prospectors set out to seek their
fortunes in the Uncompahgre Mountains but got trapped by a blizzard and
were forced to endure two months of bitter winter without adequate
supplies. Finally, Packer made his way out, arriving at an army post to
tell of cold so terrible and hunger so prolonged that only he had survived.
The army officer in charge, however, noted that Packer semed uncommonly
healthy for a starving man. Even well fed. Alferd quickly found himself
arrested on suspicion of murder and --gulp!-- cannibalism. He never
confessed, but back in Hinsdale County, Judge M.B. Gerry found him guilty
and, when sentencing him, added a political dimension to Packer's repugnant
deed: "There was only sevin Dimmycrats in Hinsdale and you, you voracious,
man-eatin' sonuvabitch, you et five of 'em. I sentence you to hang until
you are dead, dead, dead!"
Absurdist "free-trade" policies have become the Alferd Packer of the
Dimmycrats 126 years later. In an act of stunning betrayal, national
Democratic leaders have embraced the cannibals, advancing a policy of
unbridled corporate globalism that is devouring the majority constituencies
of the party, including working families, family farmers, and
environmentalists. As a result, the exspansion and protection of profits
for glabal executives and speculators have been given primacy above
everyone else and every other value and goal in the world --including the
shared value of democracy itself.
B. from Ed Herman
Subject: Wesley Clark, Democrat or Republican?
by Doug Ireland, LA Weekly
Date: Sun, 28 Sep 2003 11:04:37 -0400
Here is the man to make the “lesser evil” and “anybody but Bush” case
SEPT. 26 - OCT. 2, 2003 The Chameleon Candidate
Wesley Clark, Democrat or Republican?
by Doug Ireland
The putative new Great White (Male) Hope of the Democratic Party, General
Wesley Clark, came of age politically when he was seduced by Richard Nixon,
for whom he cast his first presidential vote. He later voted for Ronald
Reagan (twice), and for Bush père. As recently as two years ago, Clark was
appearing at Republican fund-raisers. In Arkansas, at the Pulaski County
Republican Committee dinner on May 12, 2001, Clark said “that American
involvement abroad helps prevent war and spreads the ideals of the United
Just two weeks later, U.S. News and World Report said, “Insiders say
who is a consultant for Stephens Group in Little Rock, is preparing a
political run as a Republican. Less clear: what office he’d campaign for.
At a recent Republican fund-raiser, he heralded Ronald Reagan’s Cold War
actions and George Bush’s foreign policy. He also talked glowingly of
current President Bush’s national security team. Absent from the praise
list — his former boss, ex–Commander in Chief Bill Clinton.”
It’s only been a month since Clark declared that he was a Democrat,
although he went out of his way to tell CNN when he did that both parties
have good ideas. However, he’s never explained those appetizing GOP ideas.
Nor has he ever said in public what made him become a Democrat after a
lifelong history of Republican affinities, which makes his conversion sound
more like opportunism than principle.
This week’s Newsweek, however, has the explanation: Clark was pissed
the Bush team rejected his overtures in the wake of 9/11. At a conference
last January in Switzerland, the magazine reported, Clark told two
prominent GOPers that “I would have been a Republican if Karl Rove had
returned my phone calls.” One of the two who heard Clark say this,
University of Denver president Marc Holtzman, said Clark “went into detail
about his grievances. Clark wasn’t joking. We were really shocked.”
Opportunism, in fact, seems to be Clark’s middle name. As one retired
four-star general recently told the Washington Post, “There are an awful
lot of people who believe Wes will tell anybody what they want to hear and
tell somebody the exact opposite five minutes later.” That diagnosis was
reinforced just last week when Clark, on Thursday, told reporters that “I
would probably have voted for” the blank-check Congressional resolution
giving Bush unlimited power to invade Iraq, according to The New York
Times. Now, Clark’s supposed opposition to the war was the motoring force
behind the Draft Clark for President movement. This was no gaffe — Clark
repeated his statement twice.
But just 24 hours later, Clark did a complete flip-flop. As the Associated
Press reported Clark’s corrective, the general declared, “Let’s make one
thing real clear, I would never have voted for this war, never. I’ve gotten
a very consistent record on this. There was no imminent threat. This was
not a case of pre-emptive war.”
Sorry, General, but your record on the war has been anything but
consistent. Last October, the Associated Press reported you’d said you’d
vote for the Bush war resolution. Next, in a Time magazine essay on
November 12, 2002, entitled “Let’s Wait To Attack,” you criticized the Bush
war strategy merely for not allowing enough troops to do the job and having
a flawed battle plan. But after the fall of Baghdad, you wrote in the
London Times on April 10 effusively praising “a lean plan,” adding that “if
the alternative to attacking in March with the equivalent of four divisions
was to wait until late April to attack with five, they [the Bush
administration] certainly made the right call.”
Clark, in his most recent incarnation last week, now says there was no
“imminent threat” from Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction. But, back on
January 18, Clark told CNN’s Miles O’Brien that Saddam “does have weapons
of mass destruction.” O’Brien: “And you could say that categorically?”
The Iraq war is hardly the only issue on which Clark has flip-flopped.
asked June 16 by Tim Russert on Meet the Press whether the “Don’t Ask,
Don’t Tell” policy excluding gays from the military should be changed,
Clark responded, “Absolutely,” adding, “I don’t think it works.
Essentially, we’ve got a lot of gay people in the armed forces, we always
have, always will. And I think that — we should welcome people who want to
serve.” But as Clark inched closer to deciding to run for president, he
started trimming his position. On CNN’s Crossfire a month later, when Paul
Begala asked him, “Should gays be able to serve openly in the military?”
Clark responded, “I think the military and the chain of command have to
decide that.” That comment not only reneges on Clark’s previous position —
if left to its own devices, the military brass will never end exclusion of
gays — but it’s also ignorant: Only Congress, which passed the failed
policy into law, has the power to change it. Is this fudging the straight
talk Clark promised?
We’d love to dissect Clark’s domestic policy positions. Except he doesn’t
have any. At his oh-so-brief announcement of candidacy, he rhetorically
asked a lot of domestic questions — but provided zero answers. However, one
can deduce that Clark will emerge as a standard-issue, center-right New
Democrat. How? From Clark’s finger-in-the-wind zigzagging on the war, from
his previous lifetime identification with the GOP, and from the fact that
in his campaign he’s surrounded himself with a gaggle of prominent
Clintonista triangulators — like the much-subpoenaed Bruce Lindsey, a star
of the 1996 campaign finance influence-peddling horrors; Rahm Emanuel, the
political commissar who strong-armed NAFTA through the Congress; Mickey
Kantor, the lawyer-lobbyist-fixer who was Clinton’s campaign manager and
corporate-coddling Secretary of Commerce; and Mark Fabiani, who came to
fame as principal spokesman for the Bubba White House’s cover-ups of its
hydra-headed scandals. All these worthies, for whom no other campaign
lusted, are simply keeping their hands in the political pot while waiting
for Hillary — not in ’04, as some media gossiping heads keep insisting, but
And in the unlikely event that Clark the Chameleon ever does become
Democrats’ nominee, he’s left such a paper trail that the Bushies would cut
up this ex-Republican and eat him for lunch.
from James Stevenson :
17 October 2003
Clark, compared to what we have now, may not be a bad choice. And,
surprising as it may seem, I think a few generals and admirals are smart
and pretty decent men. Clark, at least, doesn't seem friendly toward the
neocons and their horrendous doctrines. As far as I'm concerned at this
point, whoever has a chance at getting Bush and that crew of strategists
out is going to get my vote. Remember that the German Stalinists once had a
slogan referring to Hitler as "after him us." And there was no "us" "after
him" for many millions of people, including the KPD. These times are too
perilous and the people in charge are too reckless, ignorant and arrogant
to be real choosy in the next presidential election.
from Lenni Brenner, The Lesser Evil: The Democratic Party
Why title a book on the Democratic Party The Lesser Evil? Because in 36
years of deep involvement with progressive causes, I have yet to meet one
educated Democrat who believed in the party. Invariably I am solicited to
vote for it as the lesser evil.
To be sure, the party does not officially describe itself as such. No
does. And Thomas 'Tip' O'Neill, the ex-Speaker of the House, once said that
in any other country the Democrats would be five parties. So, perhaps in
some conservative milieus, there are those who believe in America's oldest
party. But not among liberals or peace activists. And not among academics
and other intellectuals. Not in my experience.
Let's give the cynics their due. They're at least half right. A preliminary
peek at the record shows the party to be steeped in evil. I was born during
the Roosevelt administration. He put all the Japanese-Americans on the West
Coast in concentration camps. Today no one defends that. Harry Truman
dropped the atom bomb twice on civilians. Later he slaughtered tens of
thousands in defense of the Korean despot Syngman Rhee. Jack Kennedy
invaded Cuba. Lyndon Johnson covered himself with the blood of the Vietnam
War. Jimmy Carter backed the sleazy Marcos, armed the Saudis, the world's
last absolute monarchy, conspired with the Shah's torture regime, and
continued to recognize the genocidal Pol Pot of Cambodia, even in exile and
"OK," it will be said, "but liberals weren't for these crimes. Often
weren't 'for' these Democrats. They were voting against their Republican
opponents. And weren't they indeed lesser evils to the likes of Goldwater
or Nixon or Reagan? So there, brother Brenner. A little charity toward thy
neighbor. Realistically, in this world an honest to God lesser evil is
about close to a saint as politics produces.
But should Japanese-Americans have voted for their jai because the
Republicans were to the right of Roosevelt? And the Democrats always the
lesser evil? It was the Dixiecrats, the GOP, who dominated the South,
almost without exception, for the entire post-reconstruction Jim Crow
epoch. Should Blacks have voted for them? Or their northern colleagues, who
tolerate the racists within the party? And today? Isn't it the liberals w
howl loudest for increased aid to Israel, despite the fact that finally
admitted that it arms South Africa and intends to continue to do so?
Certainly there are times, as in Poland in 1944, when ever Josef Stalin
his paranoia is Mr. Nice Guy next to an Adolf Hitler. People thinking
otherwise were rightly executed. I desperate choices in a world war don't
excuse decades of voting for corrupt and murderous politicians in a
civilian society. A genuine liberal would have abandoned the rats aboard
the Go Ship Democrat for anything resembling another party, even if held
its convention on a raft in an ocean storm.
Congenital lesser evilism in a democracy is simply "crackpot realism."
mocks Jefferson and Madison, the party's revolutionary founders, whose
genuine democratic republicanism provid the minimum program underlying two
subsequent centuries world wide progressive politics. The gap between the
liberal private and political morality-or lack thereof-is obvious. If they
saw some slob kill his wife-or some wife kill her slob-thc would yell for
the judge to put him or her in the penitentary. But the liberals saw the
Democrats murder a million Indochinese "slopes," their wives and
children-and still howled for voters put Humphrey into the White House.
They backed McGovern, double-gaited "anti-war" candidate, who voted for
military appropriations so that he wouldn't look unpatriotic. In the end
Nixon got out, not because of anything McGovern said or did, but because
2,000 officers in Vietnam were "fragged," i.e blown up by their men, and
hundreds of thousands of civilians marched again and again until Nixon had
no choice but to get out. More recently, liberals voted for Mondale and
Ferraro, wasting millions on them, money that could have gone toward
building principled issue movements. Did they seriously think Mondale was
going to win? So much for either the morality or efficacy of dead-end
An old Jewish proverb makes us wary of predictions: "After the destruction
of the second temple, prophesy was left to fools." But we can say Dopey the
Democrat stands a chance to beat the Republican after Irangate and the
October 1987 Wall Street "meltdown." He will try to convince us he is a
friend of the working stiff by talking about Roosevelt and Kennedy and "the
dreams they left in our hearts." This is with knowledge of his heroes'
aforementioned felonies. Those familiar with party history have learned
that the only thing its candidates learn is the fine art of pandering to
the prejudices and ignorance of the average voter.
Many readers will admit that the Democratic Party is a crooked crap
But they think it is the only game in town. They say the worst Democrat
would be better than any Republican. But is that sufficient to mandate a
Democratic vote? The party's Congressional leaders deliberately evade
fights with Ronald Reagan, whenever possible. They want to win back those
who left them to vote for Reagan. They see that Reagan is losing
popularity. But Rambo isn't. They want to appear as Reaganism with a human
Woolsellers know woolbuyers. They know their strategy won't lose them
liberal votes. They understand liberals will vote for them no mailer how
far to the right they go, so long as they stay one step to the left of
Reagan. Voting for them is nothing better than hay running after the horse.
It justifies the pros in their contempt for liberalism.
For all of Thomas Jefferson writing that men "were endowed by their
with certain inalienable rights," at least James Madison among the party's
founders understood that purely secular property relations are what
politics are basically about. Madison explained this in the celebrated No.
10 of the Federalist
"The diversity in the faculties of men, from which the rights of property
originate, is not less an insuperable obstacle to a unifor'flit)! of
interests. The protection of these faculties is the first object of
government. From the protecfion of different and unequal faculties of
acquiring property, the possession of different degrees and kinds of
property immediately results . . . the most common and durable source of
factions has been the various and unequal distribution of property. Those
who hold and those who are without property have ever formed distinct
interests in society."
In the Journal of the Federal Convention, he surnmarized a speech of
gloomily anticipating our present America. "In future times, a great
majority of the people will not only be without landed, but any sort of
property." In their 1986 Economic Justice for All, the country's Catholic
bishops emphasized that
"Our economy is marked by a very uneven distribution of wealth and income
. . it is estimated that 28% of the total net wealth is held by the richest
two percent of the families in the United States. The top 10% holds 57% of
the net wealth. If homes and other real estate are excluded, the
concentration of ownership of "financial wealth" is even more glaring. In
1983, 54% of the total net financial assets were held by two percent of all
families, those whose annual income is over $125,000. Eighty-six percent of
these assets were held by the top 10% of all families . . more than 33
million Americans are poor; by any reasonable standard another 20 to 30
million are needy. Poverty is increasing in the United States . . . about
two-thirds of the poor are white."
Some workers rise out of their class. But the vast majority will not.
Madison presumed those without property would
"either combine, under the influence of their common situation-in which
case the rights of property and the public liberty will not be secure in
their hands-or, what is more probable, they will become the tools of
opulence and ambition; in which case, there will be equal danger on another
However, as Jefferson said, "all experience hath shown that mankind
more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right
themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed." They rise
up, if at all, only in response to profound changes in conditions. Another
1929, once dismissed by conventional pundits as Marxist wishful thinking,
is now discussed by mainstream economists as a distinct possibility after
the 508 point drop in the Dow Jones industrial average. Surely another such
catastrophe would put paid to capitalism. But, whatever the future brings,
for us now, the Bishops' numbers are absolutely irreconcilable with the
doctrine of human equality. We can no more tolerate them and be politically
health than an individual could ignore a stick in his eye and remain
We must look at the 1988 election with this overarching truth ever in
Assume the Democrats win, and win again in 1992. We can expect some of
their traditional social programs to be restored after being gutted by
Reagan. But the Democrats are talking constantly about the deficit and we
can not expect another Rooseveltean era of social reform. No one pretends
the percentages of the national wealth held by workers or capitalists would
As 1988 is an election year I will deal with the campaign. It is one
oddest in our history. It evokes dismay among the journalists who must
cover it. The February 1, 1988 Newsweek declared, in an article blazing
with outrage, that "In 1988, we seem to be picking our candidates by
banishing them to a fun-house version of America and seeing who can make
the trek back to reality." But commonly our media cannot theoretically
analyze what it sees before its eyes. The typical reporter usually does not
progress beyond the profession's traditional cynicism. However, cynicism is
itself a symptom of crisis. By definition it is never a challenge to the
social reality it condemns. The political hacks will stagger on,
increasingly scorned by the knowing, until they are confronted by those
resolute enough to go beyond alienation to scientific principles and action.
For that to happen, people must be able to put the wretched campaign
perspective. They must see it as the logical end product of the party's
evolution. It has a traditional image of itself, a pantheon of heroes. In
many areas it still holds Jefferson-Jackson Day dinners. Then, at least for
party ideologues, it seems to have fallen into an historical black hole,
only to emerge a century later as "the party of Roosevelt and Kennedy and
compassion." In fact, the speech-writers' descriptions of their idols have
no more reality than an image in a fun-house mirror.
This being so, I start at the beginning, with Jefferson, demythologizing
the heroes and laying out the factual history of the two-century-old party.
Then I describe the constant aspects of the present party, its
Congressional contingent, its finances, its local presences, its popular
base. Only after I examine the matrix of history and structure-for want of
a better word to describe so amorphous an entity-do I take up the present
campaign. This is the only way to go past the journalists' cynicism to
This book is Written in a revolutionary spirit. I do not care if paltry
reforms are dangled before us to lure us into voting for them -the
Democrats. If we are to be hung, let it be for a ram instead of a lamb.
This shall be a truthful account of a party of lies and corruption and
injustice. Since its Republican and left-wing Opponents are necessarily in
the story, they are also critically described.
A word on style. Most political books are boring. Like the telephone
pages. Every word in the directory is true. But it's nobody's favorite
reading on the way to work. Now if I must bad-mouth the political system
here in the U.S. of A., there is one thing, at least, that is our glory.
Our slang, our irreverence, our humor, have made the spoken American
language into the most vibrant in the world. Early on I realized more
people watch old Groucho Marx movies than read Karl Marx's books. Since I
want folks to read mine, every so often I write like us A-murican guys and
gals talk. And I toss in some comedy. Which ain't hard when writing about
our politicians. Contemplate, if you will, Jimmy Cater President of these
United States, bowing his born-again nuclear physicist head in prayer,
along side the Rev. Jim Bakker. Now you know that the first requirement for
the job of God is a terrific sense of humor, to put up with the bulishit
that comes along with the position.
So, hopefully you know here I'm at-and what the book is about. There's
nothing more for me to say except that you will learn from it, even if you
hate it. And-heaven forefend!-you just might like it.
This book is dedicated to my companion, Barri Boone, whose revolutionary
zeal and gentleness are the delights of my life.
Francis McCollum Feeley
Professor of American Studies
Director of Research at CEIMSA
Center for the Advanced Study of American
Institutions and Social Movements
University of Grenoble-3