2 November 2004 will be remembered as the day the petit-bourgeois intellectual, middle-class and celebrity Left in the United States pathetically, finally and completely exhausted its bankrupt political strategy. It will take some years for it to become apparent but this Presidential election marked the exhaustion of the political strategy which the Democratic Party has been following for the last half-century, as STEVE PALMER reports from the US.

Under the rallying cry ‘Anybody but Bush’, anyone who dared advance a radical alternative was smacked down. An army of Democratic lawyers – who today are bleating and whining about ‘Republican electoral fraud’! – chased third-party candidate Ralph Nader across the United States to prevent his name appearing on the ballot. The AFL-CIO trade union federation ordered its affiliates to withdraw support from the Million Worker March against unemployment, racism and the crisis of US imperialism. They rallied their efforts behind John Kerry, their ideal representative, a liberal intellectual, conveniently a simultaneous war resister and a war hero. Although a millionaire, Kerry was the ideal candidate: the political personification of the petit-bourgeoisie, trapped between the two major classes of capitalist society and all the time, clinging to the coat-tails of the ruling class, terrified of falling into the working class. A leader ready to follow wherever he thought the electorate was moving, who stood by his principles while repeatedly changing them, someone who was consistently inconsistent:

• A man who voted for the war, then said it was wrong then insisted he would vote the same way if he had known there were no weapons of mass destruction!
• A man who loudly announced that he would ensure ‘workers’ rights’ by renegotiating the same trade agreements he voted for over the last decade!
• A man who criticised the Zionist wall – and then calls it an act of self-defence!

Here was the ideal candidate for the selfish, latte-lapping liberal middle-class: here it seemed was Bush’s intellectual superior. Did he not deserve to win? The only threat seemed to come from Nader.

What the liberals forgot was that political fights are not won on points for eloquence but by whoever delivers the knockout punch in the political ring. Like a floundering fish, fed to a shark, Kerry was chewed up and spat out by the Republican electoral machine. Karl Rove, a superb, brutal and utterly ruthless campaign strategist with an eye for important tactical details, engineered Kerry’s crushing defeat. How?

Electoral fights in the United States are largely fought out through the television screen, political mailings and hired political campaigners. Reaching back to the past Rove took the radical step of mobilising volunteers – now there’s a lesson for the Left! Months ago he chose to use the issues of ‘Guns, gays and God’ to excite and energise the Republican base amongst right-wing Christians. Seizing on recent attempts to win marriage rights for gays, legal challenges to the mention of ‘God’ in the oath of allegiance and the ever-present threat of ‘gun controls’, the Republicans created excitement amongst their most fervent supporters. With a sense of urgency, mission and dedication, these Republican cadres patiently visited prospective supporters to convince them to come out and vote for Bush. While paid Democratic campaigners would visit prospects once to satisfy their allocated quota; Republican volunteers, on a mission, would visit and call once, twice, three, four or more times. The dedication and hard work paid off: more Republican voters turned out than Democrats and Rove had his victory.

The next morning the liberals were reeling in despair from the knockout blow. An immediate torrent of allegations of electoral fraud flooded across the internet. A humourous Canadian website, offering to find spouses for progressive Americans was overwhelmed. The Canadian Department of Immigration website was hit by 179,000 visitors on that Wednesday morning: twice the previous one day record. Everywhere the middle-class sought escape: into fantastic conspiracy theories or to another country.

What happened here? While Kerry’s confusionism and Rove’s ruthlessness combined to ensure a Republican victory, the cause of this defeat lay much deeper. The Democratic Party underwent massive change in the 1960s when it started to abandon its white southern political base by hitching a ride on the back of the black civil rights insurrection and anti-war movement. Somehow it managed to embrace the contradictory programs of Northern lawyers, black radicals, youthful idealists, traditional trade unionists and the semi-aristocratic Southern patricians. Struggles moved off the streets and into the courts where they have largely stayed ever since. The inability of capitalism to simultaneously satisfy all – perhaps any – of these groups with their often contradictory demands meant that this coalition was doomed to fall apart sooner or later. The radicals evolved into comfortable opportunists; the traditional labour aristocracy shrank as manufacturing industries moved out of the country; the traditional Southerners switched allegiance to the Republicans; the lawyers were left in charge of the whole termite-ridden political machine and the poor and oppressed were left where they had always been. Even as political battles were won in the courtroom, the basis for support was slipping away, being corrupted or becoming demoralised. Until, finally, the whole rotten process exhausted itself on 2 November.

Immediately the recriminations started: some Democratic Party leaders decided that the lesson of the election was to continue to move even further to the right. The ‘anybody-but-Bush’ bunch now blamed the party for moving too far to the right – the very direction they helped push it. And through it all, the liberal intelligentsia continued to voice its sense of superiority by contrast with the supposedly uneducated, unsophisticated Bush supporters. Liberal columnist Ted Rall wrote:

‘We eat better, travel more, dress better, watch cooler movies, earn better salaries, meet more interesting people, listen to better music and know more about what's going on in the world’.
Better too, it should be said, not only than Bush supporters, but also than billions of people in the US and in the oppressed nations who are poor, illiterate and far from stupid. But the poor and oppressed are the furthest from the minds of the liberal left as they now pack their bags to flee the country.

What does this mean? What happens next? There has been speculation amongst liberals that, now that George Bush cannot stand for re-election, he is freed of obligations to the party right wing and will pursue more moderate policies. Quite why he should lean in a progressive direction rather than a reactionary one, was not explained. In fact President Bush is preparing more attacks on the poor and oppressed. His program is likely to be even more reactionary: a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, further attacks on working people, big tax handouts to the rich, more wars, lies and deceit.

Is this fascism? The word ‘fascism’ is casually used by the left to describe anything vaguely repressive, from a parking ticket onwards. In fact, fascism is a reactionary political movement used to crush real threats to capitalist power. At this time, there is no such threat: the liberal left are just ineffectual empty windbags. Why should the US ruling class resort to fascism when it has no need of it?

In fact, as we have seen, there is no real evidence of serious shift to the right: the Republicans won through a more aggressively organized campaign, not on a swell of public support. While liberals panicked and fled, others have to stand their ground and fight. Obviously, the hapless Democratic Party offers no hope for the poor and oppressed, for the working people of the United States. Unlike the liberals, they cannot flee the country or cry into their cappuccinos: they have no choice but to fight. The fight will have to move out of the courtrooms – the liberals’ home turf – onto the streets and into the communities. Undocumented immigrant service workers are being forced into struggle against capitalism: a major hotel workers strike is underway on the west coast. These, with black and other minority communities represent the forces of the future. Further bitter battles lie ahead – over the threatened constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, for abortion rights, against the inevitably intensified attacks on the working class demanded by crisis-ridden capitalism. Over all hangs the imperialist war against the people of Iraq, which will inevitably grow in depth and intensity. Anti-war sentiment is strong. With the election out of the way, the US left needs to seize the opportunity to build a strong anti-war movement, rooted amongst the poor and oppressed, a movement which can lay the groundwork and set the direction and example for the other struggles which will inevitably take place.

FRFI 182 December 2004 / January 2005


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