Ira Chernus  
PROFESSOR OF RELIGIOUS STUDIES
UNIVERSITY OF COLORADO AT BOULDER

 

WHAT NOW? TAKE THE ONE-QUESTION POLL

So what do we do now? Thatís the question everyone on the left end of the political spectrum is asking. Should we focus on just one issue Ė perhaps the war in Iraq Ė or should we enlist for four years of relentless struggle against the Bush administration on every front? Let me tell you what I think and then ask what you think.

From what Iíve heard, it sounds like most of us want to take the broad-based on-every-front approach. I can understand that. The Bushies want to do so many terrible things. How can we ignore the privatization of social security, education, and nearly everything else? Or more tax give-aways to the rich? Or the Supreme Court and the threat against Roe v. Wade? Or the dismantling of environmental protections? The list is nearly endless.

But our resources are far from endless. In fact, they are pretty limited. If we try to take on all the issues at once, we will fragment our energies. The best we can hope for is to prevent a few of the worst Bush excesses. We may put out huge effort to turn back one conservative Supreme Court nominee, only to get another nearly as bad. We may put out huge effort to prevent half of Social Security from being privatized and half to compromise with a quarter or a third. But the president, with a comfortable majority in Congress, will still be in charge of the political process.

The other alternative is to focus all our energies on one issue. There are two concerns that seem to arouse the most energy on the left: creating a genuinely democratic election system, and stopping the U.S. war in Iraq.

Election reform is a vital long-term goal. But it is not likely to arouse huge national interest. The liberal elite have already signaled, through their media, that they arenít interested. They accept a certain amount of fraud as par for the course. Historically, Democrats have played that game as well as Republicans. Neither party has any great interest in reforming the system. All our shouts of righteous indignation are likely to produce reforms about as effective as the infamous Help America Vote Act.

What about a single-minded focus on stopping the war? Itís the one issue on which the leftís position can have broad public support. 53% of all voters said they think the war was a mistake. 30% agree that U.S. troops should leave Iraq now. The liberal elite is already very critical of Bush policies in Iraq and edging toward a full antiwar stance.

This is about where we were in 1966. Left-wing activists were spearheading a growing peace movement that was rapidly gaining mainstream support, both among the elite and the general public. Within two years, the country was deeply divided about Vietnam. And that division crippled Lyndon Johnsonís presidency.

It was a shame, because LBJís Great Society program would have done some really good things for this country. But, as he himself put it, "that bitch of a war" destroyed the Great Society.

No president can wield political power when crowds of protesters are marching in the streets, newspapers are criticizing him every day, and his judgment is being questioned in barrooms and living rooms across the country. If the public could be seized by anti-Bush sentiment on one issue, it would spill over into every other issue. The administration would have a much harder time foisting any part of its radical agenda upon us. No matter how indignant we on the left may be about all the Bush outrages, there is only one issue that can create a broad anti-Bush feeling, and that is Iraq.

But itís not just about Bush. A second great peace movement would prove that Vietnam was no aberration. It would persuade a lot of people that there is a pattern of imperialist overreach, that U.S. militarism and imperialism are long-term dangers. It would get people thinking (as they did during the Vietnam era) about the links between the war and every other part of U.S. political and economic life. It could call into question the whole project of corporate globalization, the "war on terrorism," the military-industrial complex, the right-wing drift in so many areas. This shift in public opinion could permanently challenge, and perhaps change, our political landscape like nothing else, as Lyndon Johnson learned the hard way. And it could plant the seed of a liberal-left coalition that would otherwise never start to get born. Thatís why Iíll be putting most of my energy into stopping the war in Iraq.

So what do you think? Take the one-question poll. Click on my email link below. If you agree that we should put most of our energy into stopping the war, write YES. If you think the war should be just one of many items on our progressive agenda, write NO. In my next column, Iíll let you know the results.


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