Today’s DN! (34m04s into the show) features an interview with Howard Zinn, famed historian, civil rights activist, author of the excellent “A People’s History of the United States” and the companion book “Voices of a People’s History of the United States”, also worth reading (and probably more accessible to a casual read). I was given copies of both of them by two thoughtful relatives (thanks N&L), so I know first-hand that they are worth reading.
Late in the interview, you can hear Zinn say (54m03s):
AMY GOODMAN: Were your surprised by the election of President Bush, November 2004?
HOWARD ZINN: A little. A little. That is, I thought that maybe by then, perhaps there would be enough understanding about the deception, the hypocrisy of the US government, just enough to dethrone Bush, but I say only a little surprised, because on the other hand, I knew that John Kerry was not the candidate to represent the feelings of the American people. By then, by the time of the election, at least half of the American people were already against the war. Now they faced an election where 100% of the candidates were for the war. So, they had nobody to vote for. […]
But Zinn had signed a letter which aimed to discourage people from voting for one such candidate, Ralph Nader, and may have helped to disincentivize people from even discussing his campaign with like-minded people on the Progressive Left.
[…] And so I — with nobody to vote for, with no real alternative, of course, 40% of the voting population did not vote. And people ought to remember this. You know, Bush did not win overwhelmingly. You know, he won by one or two percentage points. And if you consider how many people voted for him against the voting population, you know, he got, you know, maybe 30% of the voting population. But it was a commentary on the pitiful showing of the Democratic Party, its failure to be a true opposition party in this country, and I think maybe a wake-up call to Americans to try to create a new political alternative to a political system that is really a one-party system, and it is quite corrupt.
Who has been saying this for the past three terms, at least? Ralph Nader, former Green party candidate and independent candidate for US President, and virtually every other so-called third party presidential candidate. They’ve been saying it for years, probably decades if one goes back far enough. I’m glad to hear more people recognize the effect of our first-past-the-post election system, debate lockouts, and years of corporate funding of both major parties.
But this would ring more true coming from someone who hadn’t spent the last election pushing people away from one candidate who shares these views.
AMY GOODMAN: Do you see that movement developing now? Outside of the two parties?
HOWARD ZINN: I hope so.
AMY GOODMAN: Or within one of the parties?
HOWARD ZINN: Well, there is some movement within the Democratic Party. And I think it will take work within and work without. That is, it will take people in the Democratic Party to demand a change in the Democratic Party. I notice that the Democratic Party in California has just had a convention in which they voted for the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq. And this is a good sign, and if Democratic Party groups around the country would demand that the National Democratic Party call for an end to this war and an end to the occupation, that would be a sign that the Democratic Party is changing and moving in the right direction. But it will not do that, I think, unless there are groups outside of the Democratic Party that create a movement that puts pressure on the Democratic Party.
Within the Democratic Party, there is no such movement in this direction that I know of. I only know of the “National Security Democrats” who are, among other things, helping to try and eradicate all anti-war sentiment from the Democratic Party so they can more efficiently pursue their corporate masters’ interests.
Outside the Democratic Party, Nader is one candidate who has consistently been applying pressure specifically aimed at the Democratic Party, pointing out their foibles (and they are numerous and important). The Socialists too have been doing this work, and they get far too little recognition even from sympathetic leftists.
I hope that Zinn can remember talk like this come election time when it will count for something most people can appreciate in their own lives. If voting is most Americans’ most overtly political act, it matters who they vote for or if they don’t vote at all. We should care more about the quality of the choices and we should care why so many Americans don’t vote. If people can be motivated to divorce themselves from the political process by not voting, can they be motivated to give their vote to someone who could use it to help justify political moves to the left?
And I hope Amy Goodman can bring some challenging questions to leftists during the time in between elections so that we’re reminded how self-defeatingly inconsistent (or is that “diverse”?) the Progressive Left is. The cycle of settling for the least worst is self-perpetuating; it always produces choices which are so bad that some will get caught in the trap of seeing the worst without noticing how the trend tends toward what most Americans don’t want. If anyone can appreciate the value of recalling history to avoid repeating it, it’s a historian.