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The Next Time is the Last Time
March 2, 2004
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 palms.

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 to hear.

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 Fuck Up.

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 wan abstraction.

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 and destroy.

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.

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