2004: Politics as Usual or Political Realignment?

By Morrison, Roy | Tikkun, January/February 2004 | Go to article overview

2004: Politics as Usual or Political Realignment?


Morrison, Roy, Tikkun


In 2003, upstart presidential candidate Howard Dean has gone from unknown to Time and Newsweek cover boy, to solid New Hampshire primary front runner. Democratic fundraising champ, Dean is willing to eschew public financing and use the Internet to go toe-to-toe with W in money raising combat. In New Hampshire, Dean seems to almost have replaced the late lamented Old Man of the Mountain as a local fixture, while clearly supplanting John Kerry as the man to beat.

And Dean's not just a one-state johnny. His supporters Meet-Up not only in New England, but across the United States, and in the expatriate community. The email, the small donations, and the endorsements-most recently from key AFL-CIO unions, AFSME, and SEIU-roll in.

Politically, Howard Dean is the real thing. But beyond a deepening desire to elect a Democrat to save the world from the tender mercies of a reactionary Bush administration, should we care?

Passion for Howard Dean, I believe, is more than just an expression of anyone-but-Bush sentiment, or a Clintonite restoration. It is rooted in something deeper that is beginning to find its voice and will transform American politics. It's about much more than CNN headlines. It's about the economy. It's about the environment. It's about the Empire of Oil. And it's about the future of America.

Dean's instincts have launched him to political prominence. By inclination, not polls, he decided to oppose the war for oil in Iraq, to excoriate the Republican energy bill as crony capitalism and call instead for a new energy economy, to support global warming controls and the Clean Air Act, and to oppose Bush's pollution-friendly schemes.

The Dean candidacy is very much an expression of the forces at work shaping our times, of which Dean has been the fortunate beneficiary. When viewed through an activist lens, Dean sometimes operates too close to the conventional political and corporate mainstream. Nevertheless, his campaign represents an emerging and necessary new center for American politics. Dean's anger at Bush and his administration is far more than political posturing. It's a sign of the times.

Business as usual, as manifested in the global conduct of the Empire of Oil and sponsored by Bush's Republican party, is unsustainable. Business as usual means a future of resource wars and ecological and economic collapse. The alternative is the pursuit of sustainable prosperity-making economic growth consonant with ecological improvement, not ecological destruction; linking prosperity, by necessity, to peace, not war, and with justice, not exploitation. This is the future of the global network economy, of the Information Age, of democracy, and of the rise of continental-scale democratic unions of nations, and not the assertion of imperial states.

Dramatic and constructive change is essential. The Dean campaign represents first, and sometimes halting, steps upon this path to redefine the mainstream of twenty-first century American politics. This is not a Naderite Green insurgency, or an exercise in fighting the good fight. The world's future is at stake and there's big money and major interests starting to take sides.

If we look behind the horse race aspects of the 2004 Presidential campaign, Howard Dean may represent the start of the kind of epochal political realignment that sweeps across the American political landscape only occasionally. Andrew Jackson, Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt, and John Kennedy were not just good politicians; they all came to represent and personify epochal forces for change and the resolution of fundamental tensions in American life and politics.

Jackson beat back the centralizing bankers. T. Roosevelt busted the trusts. FDR's New Deal embraced social democracy and saved capitalism. Kennedy launched liberalism's last crusade. And Lincoln, most relevant to the current situation, stood up to the slave Cotton Kingdom. …

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