The desire to have a Democratic Party candidate who makes noises like Nader is a death wish. A candidate who sounds like Nader will get votes like Nader. If a young, attractive, dynamic, glamorous Ralph Nader with a huge TV Q and the presence of Oprah Winfrey came along and was the Democratic Party nominee, he or she might get the same share of the vote as McGovern or Goldwater or Dukakis.
The job of a politician is to get elected.
A politician who does not get elected is a loser. Perhaps a glorious loser, but a loser none the less. He is an out of worker demagogue in search of a way to make a living. He is an almost was, a wannabee, a has been.
Except, occasionally, when, like Bill Clinton, he determines not to lose again and looks, with a clear eye, at why he lost and even goes so far as to hire the guy who beat him – Dick Morris – as his own consultant and remodels himself to be electable. Or, like George Bush, after he was beat by Kent Hance, not a real attractive candidate, and then determined never to be out Texaned again.
In order to get elected, it is necessary to take the center. Note that George W. Bush did not get elected by declaring he would gut environmental regulations, turn medicare into a milk cow for the pharmaceutical corporations, pack the courts with judges even scarier than Scalia, attempt to conquer the world in a neo-Christian crusade and station our legions in the outposts of oil. He got elected by promising to be the education president, to refrain from nation building, by calling himself compassionate and conservative. In short, by promising to be a sort of Clinton without an active penis.
But when Bush came into office he moved, in his actions, to the right. That was ground that had been prepared by others. There was an ideology, there was money, there were lobbyists, there was a vocabulary to describe what he was doing in positive terms, there spokesman and media-manipulators in place to cheer him on and disparage his opposition, and there were cadres, who believed, even more fervently than their leader, ready to take up the jobs from the cabinet down to the mid-levels.
That’s our job.
It is our job to create ideas. To market those ideas. To sell those ideas. Continually rethinking and rephrashing and repackaging them and then pushing them in a million small ways, in books, op-eds, letters to the editors, complaints to the radio and television producers until we “manufacture consent.”
Chomsky is probably correct, that in a democracy, consent is manufactured. But we have to stop considering that to be a complaint. Take it as a simple fact. If consent needs to be manufactured, let’s manufacture it. Don’t lets complain about it and let Exxon-Mobile and Pfizer and RNC and Rush Limbaugh go ahead and keep manufacturing it without us.
What we can do for a candidate is create a vocabulary and a set of ideas and make them acceptable to the mainstream. That’s what the conservatives did. And they spent years wandering in the wilderness before they were successful. They worked hard in the face of rejection and ridicule and they did not give up and they changed and they grew. They found, raised and spent money. Now they are reaping the rewards of that effort and dedication.
Liberals and the left did not. Our ideas may be valid, but they sound old and tired. The right has effectively ridiculed and demonized our vocabulary and our catch phrases. Sometimes correctly. Sometimes incorrectly. But it really doesn’t matter if they’re wrong and we’re right. What matters is that we don’t have attractive fresh, new packages that make political consumers jump up and down and say, “Yes, Liberal-size me!”
John Kerry’s job is not to lead us into the promised land, or even point us to the promised land. It is only to check the madness of King George and the neo-cons. He can appoint judges who believe in choice and believe that the environmental and social rights of the community have validity. He can propose sound fiscal policies and restore civil rights. He can let environmentalists and independent scientists into the room when energy policies are being planned.
John Kerry’s job is to win. It is demanding and grueling and often perverse.
It is not his job to lead. That’s our job.
Larry Beinhart is a writer who lives in Woodstock, NY. He is best known for American Hero which became Wag the Dog. He has a new book coming out with Nation Books in August.