A Review of Joshua Frank's Left Out
by Adam Engel
the good news: Joshua Frank is a first-rate journalist who's written
a superbly researched, incisive book about who and what the Democrats
really are. Now the bad news: Joshua Frank is a first-rate journalist
who's written a superbly researched, incisive book about who and
what the Democrats really are.
your outlook, you may not care that there are still real journalists
out there, like Frank, who are willing to search for and describe
the truth. You may be one of those "fundamentalist" types who still
believe what Mommy and Daddy and whatever relevant Authorities told
you when you were one to ten years old the years of impression,
the mind-minting years, the years of language-acquisition and consequently,
myth acquisition: that the Democrats are the "party of opposition,"
the defenders of "the little guy" and all that's worth fighting
Smith goes to Washington, etc.
It's been five
years since the appearance of Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St.
Al Gore User's Manual, which gave us a detailed account
of the real Al Gore, who was no more an "environmentalist" than
Lee Iaccoca, no more a "typical American" than his rival, George
W. Bush. One wonders whether, if more people had known the truth
about what the Democratic party was and is, Ralph Nader would have
received more votes than "Bronx Cheers," or if people would still
have blamed the man whose life was spent working for the public
good for lost votes for/against two men whose lives had hitherto
been spent living off the fruits of public misery. Perhaps the User's
Manual came out too soon; people were still high on the deeply
inhaled myth of Clintonian prosperity, though by the 2000 election
the bubble had burst; lives and markets had begun to crash.
Out deals with the myth that "America would be 'A.O.K'
again under a Democratic president." Just as it had allegedly been
flying high with Clinton and his co-pilot (Hillary? Gore? Blair?).
The first part
of the book, filling half of its densely sourced and researched,
yet blazingly readable 211 pages, deals with the phenomenon of the
alleged "progressive outsider" Howard Dean, Vermont Governor, M.D.,
and putative challenger to the neo-liberal, Clinton-influenced,
Democratic Leadership Council's (DLC) lock on the Democratic party.
analysis of Howard Dean is "about" Howard Dean in the way Robert
Penn Warren's novel, All
the Kings Men was "about" an earlier populist challenger
to the Democratic liberal elites, Louisiana Governor Huey Long.
Long's popularity and the cult of personality that surrounded him
led many to wonder aloud (a cunningly oblique method of character
assassination) if "fascism could come to America." Well, we know
the answer to that though a close reading of Bertram Gross's
Friendly Fascism published in 1980, might be in order
and so does Frank.
Part One of
Left Out is not about Dean as an individual phenomenon, which
could be sloughed off, like Long was by the Depression-era Democrats,
as a "fluke," but about the system that allows such individuals
to rise to power, only to be put back in "their place" by the real
rulers of the Democratic Party come election time. Frank's systemic
analysis avoids the excuses we hear about "bad apples" (which allowed
the ultimate insider/party hack, Richard Nixon, to be cut loose
from the Party that nurtured him and that he served so well from
the McCarthy era on, as an "aberration.")
W. Bush and Company might be roaring along at 120 mph in a gas guzzling
SUV while Gore and later Kerry pretended to obey the speed limit
though eagerly put the pedal to the metal when the arbitrary
speed limit jumped from 55 to 65 in various states in a slightly
more ecological European or Japanese sedan, but both are burning
environmentally hazardous fossil fuels in their journey down what
Sioux Medicine Man/American Social critic, Lame Deer, called "that
great American superhighway toward oblivion."
clear in the beginning that the "Dean Phenomenon" had less to do
with Dean himself than the arduous efforts of self-proclaimed "Deaniacs"
who used the Internet to spread the message of "change." The Deaniacs
were composed of diehard Democrats who couldn't bring themselves
to vote for the same old mush offered by the party leadership but
at the same time wouldn't admit "The Party" is over and let go (perhaps
to create a new, grassroots organization that really would speak
to "the people"), as well as Internet savvy college students and
twenty-somethings looking for change and believing they found it
in Dean. But, as Dean discovered during the Iowa primaries, the
Internet is still an untested, unpredictable medium. Websites and
mass emailing campaigns can create a buzz among activists and journalists,
but the net is still not as omnipresent as television in voters'
living rooms. A well-organized petition or signature campaign entailing
legwork, phone-calls, canvassers and people talking to people the
"old fashioned way" might have reached Iowa Democrats before the
But by then
it was too late, and seeing their chance, the DNC, DLC and other
party elites pounced. They savaged Dean the way they had savaged
Nader four years earlier, but unlike Nader, Dean was a Democrat,
trying to work within the system, and he was certainly no progressive.
What at first frightened, then, once they realized it could be contained,
infuriated the DNC/DLC masters was the way in which Dean "earned"
rivals in the campaign to unseat Bush, Dean claimed to actually
be in tune with his community of faithful supporters, who by June
of 2003 had raised over $10.5 million for his campaign. Bringing
in over $15 million in small online donations which typically
averaged a meager $25 a pop Dean broke the record for money
raised by a single Democrat in one period by the presidential race's
third quarter (Left Out, pg. 34).
"It was the
making of a new wave of democratic participation call it
'credit card activism' where tech-savvy liberals latched
onto Howard Dean's unorthodox campaign while he challenged the Iraq
war and took on the Democratic Establishment (Democratic National
Committee, DNC, and the Democratic Leadership Council, DLC) by raising
bundles of cash outside the Democratic normal corporate circles.
"When the online
activist organization MoveOn.org held their mock primary in late
June 2003, the Dean campaign received an added boost, receiving
funding from their own broad membership base. Echoing the beliefs
of these liberals, Dean felt that the DC insiders were taking their
party 'too far to the right.' And they were none too happy," wrote
Frank (LO, pg. 34).
But was Dean
really going against the grain, or was he merely using an image
the Democratic elite themselves created for him as the "progressive
outsider" to define himself as something he was definitely not?
of how Howard Dean went from a supposed attacker, battering down
the stodgy gates of the Democratic institution, to an insider hell-bent
on weakening the party, further explicates that he and his party
in fact helped reelect George W. Bush. What follows should serve
as a dramatic warning of what the liberal end of the Democratic
Party actually looks like, and why such a slight alternative to
the Republican Agenda will not win important elections," wrote Frank
(LO, pg. 35).
How did Dean
and his party help Bush? By driving down the same "super-highway
to oblivion," only slower, a bit more cautiously; hence, "like"
Bush, but not Bush. What "follows?" A detailed, description of what
Dean and his party are really about, and it's not pretty.
puts the real Dean, not the media inflation/creation, under the
journalists' microscope and finds...a Republican in "Democrat Drag."
governor of Vermont, Dean did to that state what Bush/Clinton/Bush
did to the Nation as a whole (and Clinton and Bush Jr. did to Arkansas
and Texas respectively).
the budget" on the backs of the poor, the handicapped and the elderly,
cutting social services while allowing corporate interests to develop
on protected wilderness, pollute the environment and pay less than
their fair share of taxes.
Bush for meeting privately with energy hucksters such as Ken Lay
and closing the records of Cheney's "energy task force," yet he
himself plotted Vermont's energy policy behind closed doors with
the Vermont Energy Group.
policy was straight out of the pro-business-citizens-be-damned handbook.
He turned a blind eye to corporate polluters and Big Agriculture's
dangerous use of pesticides, despite frequent complaints by Vermont's
citizens (LO, pp. 8486).
farm policies forced native Vermonter John Tremblay to move his
family to New Hampshire. During his move Tremblay contended in the
Vermonters for a Clean Environment report that Dean 'is a businessman
with big money. He is not a farmer. He doesn't care about the people
or the environment. He doesn't care that the air stinks or that
there are flies everywhere. He doesn't care that his trucks ruin
roads and make it unsafe for your children to ride their bikes.
He doesn't care that he destroys your way of life, and unfortunately
the state of Vermont doesn't care either.'" (LO, pg. 86)
have been talking about Texas under Beef and Oil friendly Bush or
Arkansas under Tyson Chicken Clinton. Or about the United States
of America under both.
hypocritical of all was Dean's position on the Death Penalty and
Medical Marijuana. A former doctor who allegedly took the Hippocratic
oath to "do no harm," Dean seemed as enamored of capital punishment
as his alleged "rival" Bush, who excised over 130 human beings from
the planet during his tenure as Governor of Texas.
reviewer has never read the famous Hippocratic hypocritic?
"oath;" perhaps it's merely the expletive spit out by recent
med-school graduates when they receive their bill.]
with life without parole is that people get out for reasons that
have nothing to do with justice. We had a case where a guy who was
a rapist, a serial sex offender, was convicted, then let out on
what I think an believe was a technicality, a new trial was ordered
and the victim wouldn't come back and go through a second trial,"
Dean told Meet the Press in June of 2003.
guilty man die than a thousand innocents go free on "technicalities"
such as the Bill of Rights, Dean seemed to be saying.
on drug policy, as governor and presidential candidate, mirrors
the draconian policies favored by both the Republican and Democratic
parties and enforced by both Presidents Clinton and Bush II in which
hospice-like organizations that administer marijuana to cancer,
aids and glaucoma patients are raided by the DEA. There are thousands
of drugs with harmful side effects and addictive properties manufactured
by big pharmaceutical companies and sold legally by prescription.
Because of the government's bizarre phobia of marijuana, the drug
hasn't been studied fully for its various healing properties, yet
it is known to ease the nausea and sickness caused by legal drugs
used in chemotherapy and other legal procedures. Why would a doctor
prevent terminally ill patients from obtaining relief from pain
by any means necessary?
as far as this reviewer knows, examples of people getting "doped
up" on pot and robbing a convenience store at gunpoint or beating
up family members are relatively rare.]
that the Dean Phenomenon wasn't all that phenomenal. Howard Dean
was no more "progressive" than the "main stream" candidates of the
DNC/DLC party elite. He was attacked viciously and vigorously by
his "fellow Democrats," especially around the time of the Iowa Primaries,
merely because he'd threatened the "business-as-usual" method of
cadging corporate donations. By the time of the New Hampshire Primaries,
he ran a distant third behind Party favorites Kerry and Edwards.
But then, he faired better than the truly progressive Dennis Kucinich
and Al Sharpton, who were barely acknowledged at all.
As Part One
of Left Out demonstrates, even a conservative challenger
will incur the wrath of the Party Masters if he threatens their
hegemony in any way. Hence, Dean, who hasn't a progressive bone
in his body, was labeled a "liberal kook" and "too far to the left"
to run a "real" candidacy, whereas the Party's Chosen ones, Kerry
and Edwards, who followed the same political philosophy as Dean,
but who got their money "the old fashioned way," won the approval
of the Party and the Media, "We the people," as usual, were conveniently
ignored. We'll vote Democrat anyway, won't we? Unless we're willing
to "throw our votes away" on a third party, which in the DNC's view
is equivalent to voting Republican, we have no choice. Hence, the
true platform of the Democratic Party in 2004 was the same as it
was in 2000: Anybody But Bush (ABB).
filmmaker Michael Moore stumped briefly for "war hero" (in Clinton's
murderous, illegal Bosnia campaign) General Wesley Clarke, the candidates
of the DNC/DLC's choice were never in question, once Dean's brief
flame flickered: Kerry and Edwards.
What did Kerry,
the man who would unseat the tyrant George Bush, who was repeatedly
compared to Hitler (and rightfully so, though people in glass houses...)
throughout the campaign, represent? What changes would he bring
to America? As it turned out, the only change Kerry offered was
orthographic: instead of "President Bush" the newspapers would have
to print "President Kerry."
The war in
Iraq, an outrageous, racist, oil-inspired, cruel, murderous adventure
supported from the get-go by both Republicans and Democrats by large
majorities in the House and Senate, would not be stopped. Rather,
Kerry would do a "better job" than Bush in ravaging Iraq.
The War on
Terror? The War on Drugs? Campaign Finance reform? The Environment?
An Israel-slanted mid-east policy? The unspoken but obvious "war"
on minorities as exemplified by the "Prison Industrial System" (PIS)
and capital punishment?
On nearly every
issue, Kerry was more or less in agreement with Bush in that the
"issue" whatever it was, had to be dealt with firmly, with grave
war metaphors and tough talk. The only difference was the way in
which these numerous "wars" would be fought Kerry's strategy
for winning wars against diseases, ideologies, methodologies, nouns,
adjectives, adverbial clauses, was somehow better, less costly and
smarter than Bush's.
this is nothing new. "McCarthyism" played itself out during a Democrat's
tenure, as did the first years of heavy fighting/bombing of the
Viet Nam war. But even Lyndon Johnson had the liberal fig leaf of
the "Great Society" to balance his war mongering. The real leap
of bad-faith for the Democrats, the poisoning of the well which
will never yield potable water again but must be abandoned for a
fresher source, began with the first term of Bill Clinton.
reform" forced single mothers to work minimum wage jobs without
the option of child-care or other crucial services. Clinton's NAFTA
agreement sent millions of American jobs across the border and overseas.
Clinton began the first major assault against the Bill of Rights,
which would culminate in the USA PATRIOT ACT under Bush, when he
signed the "Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act" in 1996.
In addition to bombing Iraq several times, bombing the Sudan, and
launching the planet's first "Humanitarian War" in Bosnia, the Clinton
Administration was responsible for well over half a million Iraqi
deaths, according to former Secretary of State Madeline "It Was
Worth It" Albright, due to lack of medicine and other necessities
blocked by sanctions. More money was spent on PIS and more Americans
went to prison (especially Americans of Color) under Clinton than
under Reagan or Bush I.
The list of
Clinton's offenses against the people and environment of the U.S.
and the world is long and painful to read, but Frank explores this
list of swindles and privations worthy of the most right-wing of
Republicans, worthy of and indeed expanded upon by George W. Bush.
The Democratic Party is not the party of "the people," it's just
not the party in control, or at least, not the party with a president
in office. It lost the past two presidential elections, and many
House and Senate seats, by following the pro-war, pro-corporate,
anti-environment, destructive lead of the Republicans while trying
to maintain the charade that it's the "party of the people."
nothing that hadn't already been supplied in abundance by
"It can be
safely said that the economic pendulum would not have swung in the
opposite direction had Kerry won the election. The number of people
living in poverty would surely have increased. Jobs would still
continue to be exported. Livelihoods would have continued to go
down the drain. And health care for all would certainly not have
been attainable, much less wished for by the Democrats," wrote Frank
(LO, pp. 162163).
policy, from favoring Israel over the Palestinians to continuing
the colonization of Iraq to entering new conflicts under the guise
of "The War on Terror" would have remained Bush's in substance,
had Kerry won, differentiated only in whatever ways Kerry's "style"
of management differed from Bush's.
of civil liberties and the Bill of Rights, expanded by Bush but
begun during the Reagan era and managed by Bush I and Clinton (particularly
the Clinton of Waco; the beating of WTO protesters in Seattle; the
V-chip and other obtrusive technologies, and the Anti-Terrorism
and Effective Death Penalty act) would doubtless have continued.
harassment of black and Latino youth under the guise of "anti-gang"
activity, and no-knock SWAT raids on the homes of non-whites increased
dramatically under Bill Clinton" as did the number of Americans
in jail and Police on the streets, wrote Frank (pp. 169170).
and accelerated these policies crusin' down that superhighway
and Kerry promised to at least maintain them same
highway, different vehicle, perhaps slower in deference to state
speed limits and "rule of law."
all the civil liberties tribulations of this country to one date,
September 11, 2001, and one administration, George W. Bush's, the
liberal establishment has avoided any painstaking analysis of our
systemic civil liberties problems that would indeed point back in
its own members' direction. Like so many other issues, the Democrats
had been doing Bush's work for him all along," wrote Frank (pg.
are few if any substantial differences between Democrats and Republicans,
that settling for the "lesser evil" is like settling for the "less
broken" of broken bottles, is the ultimate thesis of Left Out.
With both parties offering variations of the themes of war, corporatism,
intrusive state control and environmental meltdown as "real world
choices," we must imagine a better world and make it so, or resign
ourselves to the Oblivion at the end of the great superhighway.
in 2004 boiled down to Kerry's war or Bush's; Kerry's environmental
sell-out or Bush's; Kerry's bond market economy or Bush's; Kerry's
Patriot Act or Bush's. How dare they have mocked Greens and Naderites
for not being "realistic?" What does "realistic" mean, supporting
the murder of thousands of Afghans and Iraqis under false pretenses
and paranoid lies?
last stop Oblivion, or Renewal?
As Frank demonstrates
through a relentless barrage of source material, sober analysis,
and the kind of clear, concise prose that can only be achieved through
integrity and honesty, the last time the Democrats were the party
of the people, if it ever was, the Andrews Sisters were at the top
of the pops and there were two Major League Baseballs: one for white
people and one for "colored." It was considered unrealistic,
loony, Utopian, and downright un-American that the best players
of these separate, unequal (in terms of wealth, not talent) leagues
would ever compete on the same field of play.
To quote the
late baseball commentator, Mel Allen, who covered the game both
before and after the "Utopian fantasy" of integration: "How about
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