When an election has been very close, many factors can be pointed to as each having been enough to make the difference. One of those in 2016 was very suggestive and very much ignored by, as far as I know, every single major media outlet except this one. I mean the phenomenon of military families voting against Hillary Clinton, believing her more likely than Donald Trump to get their loved ones killed. It seems this factor decided the election.
We’re often told that the U.S. public loves war and militarism. But the U.S. public usually tries, if given any possible means of doing it, to vote for peace. Every successful U.S. presidential candidate since George W. Bush (himself against “nation building”) has sought to be depicted as in favor of peace (although the policy details have not always fully matched the rhetoric). Candidate Richard Nixon had a secret plan for peace that we’re still waiting to see, and his predecessors back to FDR presented themselves as antiwar, including FDR in the election of 1940, similar to Woodrow Wilson in 1916. Lyndon Johnson chose not to run for reelection because of his unpopularity, driven by his warmaking in Vietnam. George H.W. Bush thought a war might get him reelected; it did not. Peace, as a general rule, is popular, and when it becomes an election issue, as in the Congressional elections of 2006 it can lead all the exit polls as the top motivation for voters. It’s a good idea to be on the right side of peace when such moments arise. It’s also a good idea not to stab your voters in the back by escalating the war you were just elected to end, as the Democratic Congress did in 2007.
Presidential candidate Joe Biden (the 2020 version) blatantly lied about his longstanding support for wars, including his leading role in launching the 2003 war on Iraq. He knew that a record of support for that war had helped to do in the presidential election campaigns of John Kerry, Hillary Clinton, and numerous others, including Joe Biden in past years. He knew that a major advantage for Barack Obama had been not having been in Congress in time to vote for that war. Biden had to campaign on ending the war on Afghanistan, and later actually do so. But he campaigned on a number of other things the public very much wanted, although Biden apparently had no intention of keeping these promises. Here are four examples:
- The 2020 Democratic Party platform and the Biden for President campaign website promised to “end support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen and help bring the war to an end.” Not only has Biden not done this, not only is he Saudi Arabia’s biggest weapons dealer, but Congress has not voted to end this war, as it did when it could count on a Trump veto. A single member of Congress could force a new vote, but not a single one has the decency to do so.
- The same Party platform promised to reduce military spending: “We spend 13 times more on the military than we do on diplomacy. We spend five times more in Afghanistan each year than we do on global public health and preventing the next pandemic. We can maintain a strong defense and protect our safety and security for less.” President Biden has twice demanded major increases in military spending. Congress has twice given him more than he asked for. And that’s not counting giving Ukraine tens of billions of dollars worth of free weapons, with not a single Democrat so much as voting No even once passage was assured.
- The same Party platform promised to repeal old “Authorizations for the Use of Military Force.” Congress has not done so.
- The Biden campaign website promised to get war weapons off U.S. streets: “In 2005, then-Senator Biden voted against the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, but gun manufacturers successfully lobbied Congress to secure its passage. This law protects these manufacturers from being held civilly liable for their products – a protection granted to no other industry. Biden will prioritize repealing this protection. Get weapons of war off our streets. The bans on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines that Biden, along with Senator Feinstein, secured in 1994 reduced the lethality of mass shootings. But, in order to secure the passage of the bans, they had to agree to a 10-year sunset provision and when the time came, the Bush Administration failed to extend them. As president, Biden will: Ban the manufacture and sale of assault weapons and high-capacity magazines…. Buy back the assault weapons and high-capacity magazines already in our communities.” None of this has been done.
For the past eight months it’s been virtually impossible to get any Democrat, or any corporate media outlet that isn’t Fox News, to say anything even sane about war, peace, or Ukraine. I’ve found myself in agreement with Henry Kissinger, Elon Musk, Tulsi Gabbard, and Donald Trump — reduced to relying on radioactive time bombs to be right twice a day. For the past eight months, people have been telling me to vote for Republicans, and marveling at the supposedly novel phenomenon of Congress Members flipping their war rhetoric based on the Party of the president. Often a rational view on Ukraine is accompanied by a demand for war on China, or other odious positions. But on Monday, 30 Congress Members sent a letter to Biden saying something we hadn’t seen for two-thirds of a year:
“[W]e urge you to make vigorous diplomatic efforts in support of a negotiated settlement and ceasefire, engage in direct talks with Russia, explore prospects for a new European security arrangement acceptable to all parties that will allow for a sovereign and independent Ukraine, and, in coordination with our Ukrainian partners, seek a rapid end to the conflict and reiterate this goal as America’s chief priority.”
That’s the best we’ve got after eight months. No hint at voting against more giant shipments of free weapons. No suggestion of using Congressional power in any way. No opposition to Ukraine joining NATO. No change in nuclear weapons policy. Just the expression of a desire to negotiate an end to the war. To get even a bare majority of the House and Senate to that point, we would need about 268 of them to come around. Of course we wouldn’t need the Senate if the House were to act by blocking something rather than passing something, but that really isn’t how things are politely done, and the important thing at a time like this is manners. So, instead of 188, we need 238 more.
But what if we got that many Congress Members to sign even a slightly more sternly worded letter, while at the same time voting for infinite free weapons, NATO expansion, nuclear weapons construction, new bases in Europe, bigger military bills, and so on? I’ll tell you one thing we’re likely to get: Republicans. When people are fed up, even good rhetoric can be worse than nothing, in the absence of good actions. Given two revolting choices, most people pick the one they haven’t been trying to stomach for the past couple of years.
That even the letter signed by 30 members was not intended to mean much was pointed out by its author Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal some hours later on Monday evening:
“In a letter to President Biden today, my colleagues and I advocated for the administration to continue ongoing military and economic support for Ukrainians while pursuing diplomatic support to Ukraine to ensure we are helpful partners on efforts to reach ‘a solution that is acceptable to the people of Ukraine…. Let me be clear: we are united as Democrats in our unequivocal commitment to supporting Ukraine in their fight for their democracy and freedom in the face of the illegal and outrageous Russian invasion, and nothing in the letter advocates for a change in that support.”
Impressive. A meaningless letter presented as meaningless. This sort of stunt tends to just highlight the absence of what’s needed, namely elected officials who would not have handled the Cuban Missile Crisis by killing all of our parents and grandparents. Where can we find such people? Not on any ballots I’ve seen.
I know that corporate polling suggests, and is aimed at suggesting, that U.S. voters want more weapons sent to Ukraine. But other polling suggests that view is quite unstable. I believe it is just possible that
1) The U.S. public has learned what Ukraine is.
2) The U.S. public has learned that wars have victims.
3) The U.S. public has learned that wars cost money.
(It took a proxy war with white victims for these things to happen.)
and just maybe
4) The U.S. public has begun to catch on that the war in Ukraine is a choice, chosen by both sides, not a necessity.
But it’s simply not possible that
5) Democrats will ever learn anything.
David Swanson is an author, activist, journalist, and radio host. He is director of WorldBeyondWar.org and campaign coordinator for RootsAction.org. Swanson’s books include Leaving World War II Behind (2020), Curing Exceptionalism: What’s wrong with how we think about the United States? What can we do about it? (2018) and War Is A Lie (2010; 2nd Ed. 2016). He blogs at DavidSwanson.org and WarIsACrime.org. He hosts Talk Nation Radio. He is a Nobel Peace Prize Nominee and U.S. Peace Prize Recipient. Support David’s work.
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