Next Time is the Last Time
By Raul Groom
"I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought.
I only know this - World War IV will be fought with sticks
and stones." - Albert Einstein
And so, on a dreary day in February, the day after getting
trounced in yet another Midwestern primary, Howard Dean exited
the race for the Democratic nomination just as he had entered
it - red-faced, truculent, and poured into a cheap suit. In
defeat, he was every bit the Dr. Dean his supporters have
come to know and love, and all of us had a hard time believing
that he was really gone.
But gone he is, fellow Deaniacs. Now, the task that falls
to us is the most difficult in American political life, and
the most vital - we must set aside our grief at the vanquishing
of our standard-bearer and rise up in support of the very
machine that conspired to destroy him. It is a dirty, black,
soul-rending responsibility, a duty whose fulfillment leaves
an acrid taste in the mouth and a sickly gray film on the
To rise and depart from amid the ashes of the Dean encampment
and fall in line behind John Kerry or John Edwards is to abandon
the dream of a new Democratic Party for the new millennium,
and to extinguish the hope that there might be a truly independent
movement rising up to give voice to the millions of Americans
who take to heart Einstein's counsel that the great problems
of our time cannot be solved with the same kind of thinking
that created them.
If we are to avoid disillusionment and despair, we must
be honest here and now about what we are sacrificing by supporting
the Democrats in their current incarnation. What kind of opposition
party would sit idly by as a radical right-wing government
grabbed the reins of history and galloped off into the crevasse
of nuclear proliferation, fiscal recklessness, and aggressive
war? What kind of leadership would grant an unelected, fraudulent
and clearly unfit President the power to invade any country
in the world and continue to turn a blind eye to the utter
failure of the idiotic "Bush Doctrine" even as the coffins
of dead American boys touch down at our Air Force bases day
after day after day? What is "liberalism" if its most powerful
paragons cannot even muster the courage to mention the undisputed
reality of thousands upon thousands of dead Iraqi and Afghan
civilians, cut down in invasions that promised to deliver
them from evil but brought only more pain, destruction and
hopelessness to their already afflicted lands?
The answer to these questions sickens us; it moves us almost
to the point of despair. The answer is - our Democratic Party.
It is at once bloated and anemic, both unthinkably monstrous
and hopelessly trivial. It is, for the progressive wing of
the party at least, a source of shame and a touchstone for
our isolation and mounting horror at the suicidal direction
of Western society.
Howard Dean was not important because of what he was - indeed,
there was nothing particularly "liberal" or "progressive"
about him at all. Howard Dean was not going to save the world
from the accelerating destruction of its agrarian communities
or the resultant depletion of the earth's natural ability
to sustain life. In his own way, Dean was as much a part of
those problems as the most pro-corporate big-business Daschlecrat.
Had the good doctor actually become President, those of his
supporters who had failed through willful ignorance to understand
this central reality of Dean's character would have been in
for a very rude awakening.
No, Howard Dean was important not because of what he was,
but because he stood for a nascent but tantalizingly real
transformation in the heart of the Democratic Party. Each
time Dean took to the podium, you could feel that even as
American public policy and public opinion lurched inexorably
toward Know-Nothing boobery, there was emerging a new, broad-based
and altogether realistic alternative - a vision of the future
that had not been vetted by PR professionals, shaped by focus
groups, or approved by network executives in $200 ties. Dean,
for all his failings, showed a willingness and an ability
not simply to feel which way the wind was blowing, but to
chart a course and truly lead.
It is darkly ironic and that what emerged in Iowa as Dean's
key weakness - an inability to "seem Presidential" - overshadowed
Dean's clear superiority in this most important Presidential
quality. I see nothing in Kerry or Edwards to indicate that
either man is capable of finding his own way, of leaving behind
the "opinion leaders" and image consultants that have become
such an indispensable part of a politician's entourage and
telling the nation the unpopular truths that it needs so desperately
So why (my Green-leaning readers are no doubt ready to ask)
given all of this, should we even consider supporting such
a watered-down, lifeless version of the party of Thomas Jefferson?
Why should I use my vote to return the White House to the
party of Terry McAuliffe?
Here is where I am advised by my own image consultant to
give an answer involving lots of fancy phrases and qualifiers,
mentioning "the necessity of compromise" and the realities
of the modern geopolitical situation. But I'm not some Kerry
supporter sitting outside of Starbucks in a pinstriped suit.
I'm one of you. So instead, I'm going to give it to you straight
- pay attention, because it might just be the last time anyone
does that in this election cycle. I certainly don't plan to
make a habit of it.
Progressives should - no, must - support the Democratic
Party in 2004 because to do otherwise would be to Seriously
This November, we will have the opportunity to cast a vote
in a Presidential election. We will vote for our House Representative
and most of us will be electing a U.S. Senator as well. When
we walk into the voting booth, we will be undertaking a grave
and momentous civic responsibility, taking the one action
that is the foundation of our representative democracy - the
Act of Voting.
Take another look at that last sentence there. See what
I called it? An action. Voting is an act. This is the crucial
point that will be missed by all the puling, useless and altogether
wrongheaded people who will try in utter futility to explain
after the 2004 election why they helped George W. Bush get
elected to a second term* and complete the right-wing takeover
of our once-vaunted pluralistic society.
The act of voting is a serious and personal matter, and
no one can tell you how to use your most fundamental Democratic
possession. You are free to vote for whomever you wish, and
not a thing I or any other pundit says or does can ever diminish
that central reality.
But it is also our responsibility to understand that the
moral weight of a decision is not determined by the illusory
concept of "moral authority" so popular among the enablers
of great power. Nor is the path to righteousness paved with
sanctimonious paeans to conscience or integrity or any other
No, the crucial test for any action which we might hope
to call "moral" is the question that is so seldom asked -
what is the likely outcome of this action, in the near term
and in the long run as well?
Imagine for a moment if, instead of running useless editorials
about yearnings for Democracy and the danger of chemical weapons
in the hands of a madman, the Washington Post had bothered
to examine the likely result of invading a sovereign nation
and installing a puppet government, on the basis of perhaps
the flimsiest causus belli in a century or more? Would the
Post have still concluded, as she unequivocally did, that
the decision to make war was a slam dunk? Was it so difficult
to see, with the specter of Vietnam still lurking in the rearview
mirror, that the invasion of Iraq might cause more problems
than it could ever hope to solve?
The Post's answer, if she would deign to respond to such
a lowly subject as Raul Groom, might look much like the rebuttal
that might be offered to the current editorial by someone
who, despite the clear and present danger presented by the
Bush administration, plans to vote for someone other than
the Democratic nominee in this year's Presidential election.
The counter-argument is encapsulated perfectly two paragraphs
back; it seems I have hung myself with my own rope.
The Nader defectors and the social libertarians who vote
third party in the 2004 election will invoke the "long view."
The idea (and it is a perfectly reasonable one) is that one
administration melts into the next, and then into the next,
and before we know it we've wasted another generation electing
neoliberal wolves in progressives' clothing, corporate toadies
who, while better than Republicans, corralled us all nonetheless
into a pen of ecological disaster and economic collapse.
It is a difficult challenge to meet. Today I take it on,
once and for all. I look no further than the ancient economic
axiom - in the long run, we are all dead. But this time the
venerable postulate does not function as a selfish, materialist
incantation in favor of maximization of wealth at all costs.
I hope, by now, you know me better than that. My meaning is
this - if George W. Bush is elected in the short run, there
may be no long run at all.
There are many, many people - some polls imply they are
still in the majority - who think that what I've just written
is insane. But if you've read this far, you are probably in
the segment of the population that knows what I'm talking
about. I'll repeat a few terms for you, just to be clear.
Nuclear proliferation. Aggressive war.
Before George W. Bush took office, there was one key problem
that faced humankind - the destruction of the ecosystem that
made our lives and all other life possible. The near-term
effects of this catastrophe are clear and unmistakable, no
matter how many corporate "experts" are trotted out to declare
that the Emperor has clothes after all. But now, we have a
new problem. The danger that our grandchildren may be wiped
out by global warming due to our addiction to fossil fuels
has been superseded by a new threat - an addiction to aggressive
war in the nuclear age, codified in the foreign policy of
the most powerful country in the world.
When the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, no one knew
quite what to think of it, except of course the people it
incinerated, and their opinion was unfortunately unavailable.
Thinking quickly, we dropped another one on Nagasaki, and
the moral of World War II sang out, cold and hard as a carbon
steel rapier - The Next Time Is the Last Time.
Say it with me, or try to deny it - The Next Time Is the
Last Time. The Next Time is the Last Time.
The Next Time is the Last Time.
We have in our hands at this moment in history a choice
that is singular in its clarity and precision. To misunderstand
the situation is to fail in the most fundamental sense that
a human can fail. We must make the right choice, or the entire
human experiment has been a complete and utter failure.
Tomorrow we can examine the underpinnings of a global economic
system that rewards greed and corruption while punishing prudence,
sincerity and real knowledge. Tomorrow we can work to free
our minds from the oppression wrought by a life of privilege,
to loose our souls from the chains that bind the exploiters
at least as tightly as we tie the souls of those we dominate
Tonight there is a more pressing need. Tonight there is
a dagger pointed at the heart of the Earth, and we must rise
up as one people to subdue our common attacker. Tonight there
is one cause to unite us.
Tonight we have to save the world, and while the task may
not be pretty, while it may require us to crawl through a
foul-smelling and evil river, there are some jobs that simply
have to be done.
Vote Democratic in 2004.