Democrats and Democracy
Caging Free Speech

by Michael I. Niman ArtVoice 8/5/04

Democracy took a big hit at the end of July. The event that brought America’s freefalling democratic traditions down another notch, ironically, was called the Democratic Convention. Demonstrators who went to Boston to protest against everything ranging from John Kerry’s pro-war voting record to both sides of the abortion issue, confronted a protest cage reminiscent of George W. Bush’s Guantanamo gulag.

The “Free Speech Zone,” dubbed “The Cage” by protestors, was an enclosed pen surrounded by chain linked fence mounted on concrete highway barriers, draped with black netting, and topped with coiled razor wire. Above the site were a series of catwalks patrolled by riot police, and a battery of surveillance cameras, dutifully recording any instance of free speech. Facing such intimidation and disrespect, most would-be protestors would rather just stay home. But you can’t have democracy without dissent.

Shame on the Democrats and shame on the city of Boston for allowing this obscene assault on free speech, democracy and American values. Let’s get one thing straight. And lets get it straight before this month’s Republican Convention in New York City. AMERICA IS A FREE SPEECH ZONE. All of America. Get it? What part of the First Amendment can’t these fascist nimrods understand?

The convention itself was rather frustrating to listen to. Al Gore gave a forceful speech – the kind of oration that could have won him a few more states in the 2000 election and put him into the White House. But of course in 2000 he choose to play the Republican Lite game, leaving nearly half of the electorate frustrated, disenfranchised and feeling as if there was no choice. And when all counts were in, the disenfranchised ruled the day, with Nobody taking a commanding lead over both Gore and Bush in the 2000 race.

Jimmy Carter’s speech was another masterful piece of oration. Listening to it you’d hardly know that his administration initially armed and trained the Afghani Mujahadeen forbearers of the Taliban. Again, while Carter has proven himself as one of this nation’s best ex-presidents, regularly trumpeting issues of peace and social justice, why couldn’t he show some spunk when he was in the White House?

Then there was Bill Clinton’s speech focusing on the injustice of the Bush revenue redistribution policies, a.k.a. the “tax cuts.” This new improved born-again Clinton was suddenly a champion of the working man. But wasn’t this the same Bill Clinton that saddled us with NAFTA and the FTAA? Had he suddenly discovered social class and decided to speak out on behalf the very people who his policies fucked over?

Listening to them at their convention you’d actually think there were two distinct political parties with diametrically opposed visions for the country. This is the odd thing about Democrats. The closer they get to the White House, the more they start sounding like Republicans. Put them in the White House and they essentially become Republicans.

Hence it should come as no surprise that the most uninspiring speech at the Democratic Convention came from the Bar Mitzvah boy himself – John Kerry. Following the Democrat’s tired worn out old script, Kerry is going after the “swing voters” – the brain dead 4% of the electorate who vote by muscle memory, but just can’t quite make up their minds as to which of those two pesky fellas they’re gonna pull the lever for.

Following this dung-heaped trail in the muck prints of the obscure and forgotten likes of Walter Mondale and Michael Dukakis means the damnation of the Democratic Party. A better plan would entail reaching out to the disenfranchised majority of the American population who haven’t been inspired by a major-party presidential candidate for at least a generation. With real inflation adjusted income in a freefall, with American workers now working longer hours than their counterparts in any other industrialized country, with 44 million American workers toiling without healthcare, with over 3.5 million Americans experiencing homelessness every year, the issue for the Democrats is class.

Yet, the people most hurt by the Republican’s economic plunder (I can hardly call such pillage a “policy”) are often the same people most likely to vote for George Bush, swayed by the ersatz populism of the Republican party. Even though they’ve lost their good union manufacturing jobs and now toil away in anti-union Wal Marts, they still go out and vote for the party that engineered their demise. When the Connecticut born and bred Bush drawls on in his fake Texas accent about elitist Northeastern liberals, he strikes a resounding cord with a country that can otherwise see no major policy differences between the two parties. With Democrats trying to be Republicans, people will vote for the real thing. The only way to differentiate themselves from Republicans is to speak to the real issues that impact working people.

John Kerry failed to make this distinction. I spoke to a member of an informal group of ardent Kerry supporters who gathered to listen to his convention address. They all began the night firmly in the Kerry camp. By the end of his speech they were uninspired and dejected. George W. Bush poses too great of a threat to both American democracy, and to global peace and prosperity for Kerry to screw up like this.

And the Democrats as a party fumbled the ball when they allowed Boston police to pen protestors in cages during their convention. Expect to see an even worse assault on democracy at the Republican Convention later this month in New York City, where the G.O.P. lacks even a pretense to support the rights of Protestors to dissent. I’ll be writing more about the Republican Convention next week.


ęCopyright 2004

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