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Anything but dancing

Getting it wrong in Boston



The direction in which President George Bush has led the nation—and the manner in which he has done it—has undeniably created a huge “anybody but Bush” vote. As an early and frequent critic, I should be dancing in the street over John Kerry’s nomination at the recent Democratic National Convention, which some pundits have called one of the most successful Demo conventions in years. But somehow, the domination of the war theme and the near total exclusion of important details on how we’re going to get out of the fiscal and foreign policy mess created by Bush has left me anything but dancing.

Don’t get me wrong: There were some truly stirring speeches by some tremendously motivating speakers at the convention. The fiery speech by Rev. Al Sharpton honed in on the vast panoply of very real problems facing America. From hunger at the kitchen table to low-quality education to a continuing lack of equality due to sex, race, location, or social standing, the lack of attention and funding currently being dedicated to solving these problems is certainly a blight on the big happy face George Bush wants to float across our mental screen. No doubt, some of the speakers at the Demo convention hit the nail right on the head. Unfortunately, the tightly controlled parameters of what was “acceptable” to those who scripted this national political theater reined in those who may have strayed from the convention’s narrow goal of targeting so-called “swing voters.” These voters, we are told, would have bolted had the Demos offered the realistic alternatives it will take to get us out of the mud hole in which Bush has stranded the nation.

Instead, we got to relive the Vietnam War era over and over and over. Like a hypnotic tick-tock, every speech by every major speaker had a war-based theme that somehow reduced everything to Kerry’s brief command of a swift-boat on the Mekong River.

Yet, while those images and the words from Kerry’s graying “band of brothers” undeniably struck hard and deep in those of us who lived through those hard times and lost friends and relatives to a senseless war in a far-off country, still and all, the Vietnam era is long gone, simply another part of this country’s war-torn history. While we may grieve for those long-ago losses and wrongs, the concept of war itself, where humans engage in the senseless slaughter of our fellow human beings, belongs in the past, not the future, of America. But that’s not the way it was when the Demos met in Boston.

Instead of talking about the future of our country in terms of global peace and the widespread prosperity it can offer humanity, we got war, “commanders-in-chief,” “reporting for duty,” and a host of other military terms that make America seem more like a banana republic led by a strong-arm general. Even the convention’s overall promise to “make America stronger” was little more than a kowtow to Bush’s ill-conceived global War on Terror and its illegitimate child, the Iraq War.

Perhaps those who do the polling, strategize the elections, and control the agenda for the convention are right. Perhaps to get the swing voters, the Democrats have to be just as war-crazy as the Republicans. Perhaps the fear with which the Bush administration has inculcated our society is now so widespread that only someone who panders to that fear has a chance of going to the White House. But for those of us who see a fast-approaching future when aging Baby Boomers hit the wall and begin to require massive amounts of social services far into their dotage, the concept of continuous war holds little promise. This country is already spending more than a billion dollars a day on the military budget—and that doesn’t count the “emergency” appropriations that Congress seems all too eager to approve for the Afghanistan and Iraq quagmires.

For those of us who see a present where tens of millions of Americans go without the basic necessities of shelter, food, and health care every day, Kerry’s pledge to up the standing army by 40,000 troops seems a diversion of scarce funds we simply cannot afford. Nor, considering that America is the sole remaining superpower in the world, does it seem like something we should need.

Given the record deficit with which George Bush has strapped not only the taxpayers of today, but taxpayers far into the future, where will the money come from to fulfill Kerry’s military build-up?

If he becomes president, Kerry says the money will come from canceling Bush’s tax breaks for the super-rich. But getting rid of those tax breaks will not be so easy—especially not when you have Demos like Montana’s Max Baucus who, as the chair of the powerful Finance Committee in a Democrat-controlled Senate, crossed party lines to embrace the trillion-dollar Bush tax cut. It was only through Baucus’ commitment to the mega-wealthy and their corporate lobbyists that he proudly led the fight to pass the budget-busting tax breaks which otherwise would have died. Certainly it was not because he was doing great favors for his Montana constituents, who have nearly the lowest per capita incomes in the nation.

Nor did the manner in which the Democrats treated America’s treasured rights of assembly, free speech, and civil protest give us anything to dance about. These are the long-standing rights that made possible the bloody revolution and gave us our much-flaunted freedom from the English monarchy. Yet, those who sought to exercise these basic rights at the Demo convention were relegated to a fenced, razor-wire-topped enclosure—the so-called “protest pen”—and kept safely out of view, herded away and denied the “freedom” the wars are supposed to be protecting.

If this is the future the Demos are promising us—and their actions speak louder than words—it’s little wonder we aren’t dancing in the streets.

When not lobbying the Montana Legislature, George Ochenski is rattling the cage of the political establishment as a political analyst for the Independent. Contact Ochenski at

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