An authentic radical

Sep 10, 2003 at 12:00 am

There is, by definition, the greater of two evils. The only way to prevent an election victory for Bush in 2004 is to elect a Democratic presidential candidate ... there simply is no other way.

—Al Fishman, longtime radical and peace activist

That, in a nutshell, is where we stand today. Yes, the words at the top of this column sound like the sort of stuff the Democratic National Committee puts in junk mail to try to squeeze a few bucks out of people for its campaign fund.

But that isn’t the case here. Al Fishman is an authentic radical who has voted for many a third-party candidate, beginning with Henry Wallace in ’48. He was a red when he thought that was the best alternative to humanity ending up dead. He has little respect for Democrats who think the solution is to be as much like Republicans as possible.

Faced with another Bill Clinton vs. Bob Dole contest, he’d probably write in Bernie Sanders, Vermont’s socialist congressman, if there weren’t an alternative. Yet he thinks this is a different kind of election, that supporting anyone who can beat George Bush is a moral duty, and last week I saw him explain why to one of the hardest audiences of all. Namely, the monthly local meeting of the Democratic Socialists of America.

Yes, I can feel your sneers. In America today you can say that you are a white supremacist, and people may be horrified, but they will stare with fascinated revulsion, and you can automatically get on some of the lesser TV talk shows. Worse, portions of the chattering intelligentsia have gone on the glowing tube over the last two years to advocate torturing terrorists, invading more small nations, and suspending parts of the Constitution. And the moderators mostly treat such views with respect.

Yet nothing is as sure to evoke contemptuous looks as the mere mention of socialism. The word itself evokes an automatic whiff of prison camps, inefficiency, shortages, Communism. Indeed, we scarcely make any distinction anymore.

Even those few remaining Communist regimes still get a frisson of respect for the way they tightly control their populations, but nobody gives “socialism” the time of day. Talk of “democratic socialism” conjures up images of silly old people designing utopian communities, or at best a vision of snowbound Sweden.

Yet socialism was once a powerful force and idea, even in America. What it originally meant, more or less, was a world where nobody would die for want of the necessities of life, and everybody would have a shot at work, education and a decent life.

Those who believe that today seldom call themselves “socialists” anymore. Those who still do are literally a dying breed.

Appropriately, the Democratic Socialists met at the Royal Oak Senior/Community Center. The atmosphere was a bit surreal. While young, bright-eyed, shorts-wearing parents from the community bustled about the building, registering their kids for hockey, the vast majority of the socialists were seniors.

But they were seniors who still had fire in their hearts. Some had been Communists, long ago, when that was a badge of misguided hope, not dishonor. Many had voted for Norman Thomas and, more recently, Ralph Nader. They were those who didn’t go along to get along. They had been whacked by cops and had balked at a two-party system that left millions of Americans behind. Many have long refused to vote for Democrats who were a few microns less bad than their Republican opponents.

Yet today they were here to listen to a man they deeply respected tell them that this was not a case of the lesser of two evils, but of stopping just plain evil. He did so in eloquent words, first reminding them of what the Bushies are all about, including “the violence-based assertion of world hegemony, the unceasing attacks on living standards and the insistence on riding roughshod over our constitutional guarantees of freedom.

“I don’t remember who said it, but an American of note predicted that fascism would come to the United States wrapped in the American flag. Mussolini defined fascism as the ‘corporate state.’ We’re getting dangerously close to that.”

His audience nodded appreciatively. Some said they were willing to support Dennis Kucinich were he to win the Democratic nomination. Fishman nodded. He, too, prefers Dennis the Menace, but has been around enough to know his chances are next to zero. Reality check time. “I have had to admit to myself that I would even support (Connecticut U.S. Sen. Joe) Lieberman if it would defeat Bush,” he told them.

There were groans. But there was also a sense that this was, as their speaker told them, not a normal election. “I am approaching my 76th birthday ... not one bit less than anyone in this nation, I am tired of being forced to accept the lesser evil — but I will not relieve myself of that pain by helping to inflict much greater pain on untold millions.”

Fishman urged them to get involved, to raise the public’s consciousness, especially to help “in organizing the widest and most honest discussion of the issues that affect the real majority in this country.” If the Democrats win, well, work even harder to “build and maintain a progressive coalition that would defend the election gains.”

This time, he was telling them, vote like their whole world depended on it.

“We can say, ‘there’s nothing very important about the 2004 election — only the peace of the world, human rights of people here and abroad — and our Constitution.’”

Stillborn Patriot?: Ever wonder what happened to Patriot Act II, which was going to extend the government’s wiretap authority, allow it to designate legal organizations subversive, and institute other horrors? Thanks to intensively negative public reaction, the Ashcroft Administration seems to have shelved it. For now.

Jack Lessenberry opines weekly for Metro Times. E-mail [email protected]