By Pete Brown
(CV #35, March 15, 2005)
The "values" debate
Voter suppression tactics
Town vs. country
To be, or not to be, discouraged
Verdict on the swing state
Dump the Democrats!
The need for an independent movement
. The bourgeois election circus is over. Bush has been re-announced the commander in chief of imperialist war abroad and capitalist reaction at home. The Democrats are licking their wounds and trying to figure out how they might ever regain their status as the majority ruling party. The Republicans are reveling their victory, free now to pursue death and destruction in Iraq, to consolidate and extend their tax cuts for the rich, and to seize the trillions in dollars in social security funds that Bush wants to direct into the stock market. Bush takes his election victory as a mandate to pursue the conservative bourgeois agenda and a unilateralist foreign policy. Following the election Bush shook up his cabinet to make sure he's surrounded only by yes-men (and women) who will defend his idiocy to the bitter end.
. Bourgeois pundits are trying to read much into the elections about the mood of the American masses and their supposed turn to the right. They say there was tremendous excitement about the election and a huge turnout. They hyped up this year's election as "the most important of our lifetime", and the day of the election they wildly predicted that voter turnout was way up, the highest in decades. But this turned out to be exaggerated like the claims of a used-car salesman. Weeks after the election it was quietly revealed that turnout was 53% of registered voters, just average for the last few presidential elections. The one candidate who generated something like popular enthusiasm, Howard Dean, was forced out of the race nearly a year ago.
. As in all bourgeois elections, money was all important, the candidates madly competing to buy the most votes with the hundreds of millions of dollars gleefully handed to them by special interests. Kerry did such a successful job of representing bourgeois opinion that the rich actually contributed more to him than to Bush. This eliminated the excuse usually offered by losing Democrats, that they can't compete with the Republicans because the latter have so much money. But this time around some of the biggest bourgeois, including Clinton treasury secretary Robert Rubin, billionaire financier Warren Buffet, and former Chrysler CEO Lee Iacocca were among Kerry's fund-raisers. International speculator George Soros spent $26 million of his own money in support of Kerry. Plus the Democrats used their traditional ties to the trade union bureaucrats to rake in gobs of money. One union, SEIU, by itself gave $27 million to Democratic-get-out-the-vote efforts of "527" organizations, new creations designed to skirt campaign finance laws. (Of course SEIU was also the biggest contributor to the Republican Governors Association. It gave $575,000 to help elect Republican governors running in eleven states, outbidding corporate donors like Pfizer and Citigroup and industry lobbyists like the American Gas Association. The amount it gave was almost twice as much as the conservative National Rifle Association. ) Kerry actually ended the campaign in the black, with millions of dollars unspent. Financially the Kerry campaign was a great success for the Democrats, but they still ended up losers.
. Bush and his Republicans won, but not by a landslide. The electorate remains about evenly split, with no clear mandate for either major party. Over the last few decades the Republicans have used their takeover of the Dixiecrat vote to become the majority party. The southern states that used to be solidly Democrat are now solidly Republican, due to the Republicans' courting of conservative white voting blocs. But Bush's victory was not due to any major shifts in policies or class alignments of the two parties; they both remain wedded to neoliberal economics and imperialist foreign adventures.
. For the bourgeoisie the question is, how fast should they push the Bush agenda? How much can
they get away with without sparking rebellions and new political alignments? For workers the
question is, how can we develop a powerful political alternative to the two parties of the rich?
The "values" debate
. After the election it was widely claimed that Bush owed his victory to his stress on "values", in particular "the three G's: God, guns, and gays. " Evangelical Christians did turn out in large numbers to the polls, mobilized by the Republican Party through their church leaders, and voted overwhelmingly for Bush. CNN exit polls reveal that 23% of voters identified themselves as Evangelical or Born-Again, and of those 78% voted for Bush. Another question widely quoted asked voters what issue they considered most important, and the number one issue cited (by 22% of those asked) was "moral values."
. This last statistic caused hysteria in Democratic ranks. Leading Democrats called for their party to turn even farther to the right to avoid electoral irrelevancy. For example, Al From of the Democratic Leadership Council called on Democrats to "get religion." And Bill Clinton said Democrats made a mistake by not coming out strongly against gay marriage. To hear Bill Clinton crying out about defending traditional marriage is pretty funny. But it's odd that this "22%" statistic is taken as so important anyway. A lot of it depends on how the question is asked, and on this question economic issues were divided up into a number of different categories -- jobs, health care, taxes, etc. Anyone who thought that the economy in general was the most important issue would have to divide his or her opinion into some sub-issue. Further, this 22% number actually represents a huge drop from previous elections. In 1996 the number of those citing moral values as the number one issue was 40%, and in 2000 it was 35%. So if Democrats want to follow voter trends, they should be dumping "moral values", not exalting them. The DLC and Clinton simply showed their own rightist prejudices here.
. Bush's hyping of "values" produced some illuminating experiences during the campaign. Many workers were shocked when Bush visited Detroit, and a number of black preachers from Detroit got onstage with Bush and endorsed him. Since black Detroiters vote almost 100% against Bush, that was an eye-opener. These preachers say they support Bush's stand on "values", but they've clearly forgotten all about the values of ordinary African-American working class people.
. Meanwhile some activists were pointing out that the "values debate" is itself skewed."What about peace and social justice as values?", they ask. Indeed. Recent events present marvelous examples of bourgeois hypocrisy on this score. The same preachers who are horrified by stem-cell research or abortions see nothing wrong with massacring real live babies (and adults) in Iraq. Look at William Bennet, self-proclaimed moralist of the Reagan generation (though his reputation has gotten a little tarnished lately by revelations of massive gambling debts). After the recent brawl at a pro basketball game in Detroit, Bennet was quick to go on TV talk shows to express his horror. "It's a symptom of something deeper," he intoned, "the growing incivility throughout society. " But what about bombing Fallujah into dust and forcing its population (those left alive) into internment camps? Nothing "incivil" about that, I suppose.
. But raising these issues would not do much for Democratic candidates who downplay social justice and try to out-warmonger the Republicans. Nobody raised the immorality of invading Iraq in this election. Kerry had the issue handed to him on a platter: Bush had mounted a massive campaign of lies and deceit (WMDs, etc.) to justify his unilateral, unprovoked assault on Iraq. Bush's invasion resulted in the death, it is estimated, of one hundred thousand Iraqi civilians. But Kerry, like Bush a representative of the imperialist class, never mentioned this. He did complain about American casualties and said he had a better plan, to spread the casualties among soldiers from other imperialist powers. But what about the notion that this war was wrong from the beginning? The Democrats' class interests and attachment to imperialism prevent them from even considering that point of view. Look at how they trashed Howard Dean's campaign -- and Dean himself never criticized the war from a moral standpoint, only that he thought it unwise and adventurous. The Democratic candidates who were more strongly anti-war, such as Sharpton and Kucinich, never even got a hearing from the media or the Democrat establishment.
. There are some workers who get carried away by the "values" propaganda, and some even voted for Bush. But their support for conservative politics is often more a symptom than a cause; it's a symptom of the lack of an independent movement. In an uncertain time, with the nation at war, job security disappearing, families breaking up, and the old class organizations (the trade unions) rapidly becoming irrelevant, some workers gravitate toward conservative ideas and political movements and latch onto the incumbent in a close election race. Such gravitation will probably continue until these sections see a clear alternative to bourgeois politics developing.
. In the meantime it's notable that leading bourgeois politicians run campaigns based on lies,
prejudice and hysteria. Bush's campaign propaganda focused on "family", "God", and "stay the
course in Iraq", with hardly any mention of economic issues. Bush and his campaign architect,
Karl Rove, tied his presidential run to gay-bashing constitutional amendments put up for vote in
18 different states. This was a replay of Bush's first run for governor of Texas, when his
campaign issued anonymous leaflets with a picture of men kissing and saying a vote for the
Democratic incumbent meant advocating this. Bush's rhetoric on Iraq was hardly a rational
analysis of strategy; instead it was designed to stir up maximum fear and hysteria against
foreigners and to present "stay the course with the incumbent" as the only chance of security in a
dangerous world. This was meant to stir up the same fundamentalist Republican base that rushed
to defend the placement of the Ten Commandments in courtrooms.
Voter suppression tactics
. Like any bourgeois scramble for power, this election was full of dirty tricks and nasty maneuvers. From early on the Republicans in particular worked to carry out their long-term policy of suppressing the black vote, which always goes heavily for the Democratic candidate. In the 2000 election Florida governor Jeb Bush had 57,000 black people removed from the voter rolls in a re-registration movement supposedly intended to purge convicted felons from the rolls. Ex-cons can be denied the right to vote in Florida, according to law, but Jeb Bush's purge threw tens of thousands of people off the rolls simply because they had similar names or addresses to some felons. When these people showed up to vote, they were not registered and not allowed to vote. This little trick by itself probably won the presidency for Jeb Bush's brother.
. This year Gov. Bush tried to carry out the exact same dirty trick, once again, but word of it leaked out to the press and he had to scale it back. But Bush had other tricks up his sleeve. Following Orlando's mayoral election last March, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement said there were allegations of voter fraud using absentee ballots in that election, and these allegations had to be investigated. Bush's top cops sent state troopers into the homes of elderly black people in Orlando to question them about their use of absentee ballots, an intimidation tactic that did frighten some voters.
. The Republicans use a variety of intimidation tactics in different parts of the country. In the 2002 Arkansas Senate election, Republicans sent poll watchers into black areas to take pictures of people as they went in to vote. In the 2003 governor's election in Kentucky, Republicans tried to mobilize poll watchers to challenge black voters, but had to back down after it was exposed. And in Texas this year, a local prosecutor threatened to arrest students at a predominantly black college if they tried to vote using their local college address.
. Then there were a number of anonymous racist tricks. In Wisconsin a leaflet circulating in black neighborhoods and signed by the "Milwaukee Black Voters League" warned people that they were not allowed to vote if they had voted in any previous election this year, or if they -- or anyone in their family -- had ever been found guilty of anything, even a traffic violation. And it said, "If you violate any of these laws, you can get ten years in prison and your children will get taken away from you. " Obviously Republican Party stalwarts are behind such deceptions.
. The wide-scale publicity about Republican tricks helped reduce their success in the presidential election. In Detroit the Republicans sent some white suburbanite party stalwarts into black Detroit precincts to try and act as intimidators, but the poll watchers themselves ended up being intimidated by the black voters and were forced to leave after some tussling erupted.
. As for the Democrats: the racist maneuvers of Jeb Bush are probably what won the election for
Bush over Al Gore in 2000. But instead of blaming Bush and going to the mat in defense of
black people's voting rights, the Democrats instead fastened blame for their loss on Ralph Nader,
who got 3% of the vote in 2000. This time around the Democrats mobilized teams of lawyers to
challenge Nader's petitions and succeeded in keeping his name off the ballot in a number of
states. Thus the Democrats practiced their own version of vote suppression.
. The number of voters this year was considerably larger than for the last election. In 2000 less than 95,000,000 votes were cast for president, Bush and Gore both getting 45,000,000 and Nader getting around two and a half million. This year the total votes cast was about 116,000,000. Kerry did get ten million more votes than Gore did, but Bush's evangelizing pushed his vote total up by 14 million from the 2000 election. Still in all, this was not the huge outpouring of voter interest predicted by bourgeois pundits who had predicted turnout in the high-50s or even 60%. This would have meant a return to the 1960s, when voter interest was much higher than it's been for the last few decades. Many people remained uninspired by the choice between Bush and Kerry, and percentage-wise turnout was in the low 50s, just average for the last few decades.
. Turnout is traditionally lower in the poorer and working class sections of the population, and this election confirmed it once again. Poorer people have more troubles to contend with when it comes to getting transportation to the polls, getting time off work, getting their kids taken care of, etc. , and so naturally there is lower turnout among them. But there's also less political interest in the bourgeois candidates. Even in Hawaii, where election day is a legal holiday, there wasn't any big rush of interest in voting.
. This lack of interest reflects the masses' knowledge that neither major party represents them. It's
widely known that both parties are facing coming crises which neither one is equipped to deal
with and isn't even trying to seriously address. Iraq is a looming disaster. Domestically the
ballooning deficits and spiraling health care costs are going to put intense pressure on any
attempts to stimulate the economy. Trade deficits and trade wars are other economic problems on
the horizon. And environmental catastrophes such as global warming are rapidly approaching.
Neither Republicans or Democrats are addressing the needs of the masses. This election only
confirmed the need for a political movement independent of the two bourgeois parties.
Town vs. country
. One feature of this year's election was the clear distinction between town and country. Urban centers vote Democrat while rural areas vote Republican. This is not a new phenomenon, but is becoming more pronounced. The old urban centers of the north and the east and west coasts contain large concentrations of African-Americans who overwhelmingly vote Democrat. Detroit voters, for instance, went 94% for Kerry. The urban centers also contain many professional elites, some of whom are liberal in outlook and favor theDemocrats. (Bush won among those with some college, or college graduates; but Kerry won by ten percent among those with postgraduate education.) The poorer working class sections are usually located in the urban centers or close-in suburbs, which vote Democrat. Farther away from old downtown districts are the leafy suburbs, the home of more middle-class and better off working class people. This is the electoral battleground for Republicans and Democrats, the "swing" areas which can go for either party, but recently have tended to go Republican. Then there are the exurbs, the home of the well-off professionals and businessmen. The farther out and more countrified, the more conservative in outlook and the more Republican the voters. In rural areas proper there are many poor, but the old rural populism which supported Democrats has died out as small farmers were squeezed out. And in this last election rural economics were downplayed by both campaigns, as Bush and Kerry competed for the "God and guns" vote.
. But as working class struggle against its exploiters revives, a clash between the workers and the
liberal elites will also be revealed. The clash inside the city will supplement the clash between
town and country, and the clash between the exploited and exploiters will penetrate more deeply
into the country as well. The class struggle will then replace the division between town and
country. So the nation is not a unified whole, and these divisions are not going to go away. Even
now, as Bush pursues his neo-conservative agenda, the resentments felt by the urban poor and
blacks are only going to intensify. the question is, how long will the Democrats be able to use
these sections as voting fodder? At what point will the urban masses look for an alternative?
To be, or not to be, discouraged
. Bush's victory has gotten some workers discouraged. In the week after the election there was a big jump in interest in immigration to Canada and New Zealand from Americans. These are countries which have more extensive social programs than in the US. So some activists see them as a positive alternative to life in America. But for most of the last fifteen years, Canada has had one rounds of cuts in social programs after another under the Liberal Party of Jean Chretien and Paul Martin. While in New Zealand, the Labor Party was responsible for initiating, in 1980, a full-scale neo-liberal transformation that has devastated the living conditions of the working masses, and that has proceeded no matter which capitalist party was in power. So, go where one may, there is no escaping the class struggle.
. Some workers, discouraged by the election, don't see any possibility for change in the U. S. It's even said that poorer sections of the working class are the most backward and most fervent supporters of Bush. But exit polling done on election day shows this is wrong. Polling by CNN (available at cnn. com) breaks down voters by income level:
|Income||% of voters||Bush||Kerry|
. Looking at this table, the general trend is obvious: among voters the richer you are, the more likely you are to vote Republican, and the poorer you are, the more likely you'll vote Democrat. Among the poorest section, those with an annual income under $15,000, Kerry got a big majority -- 63% -- of the vote. Among the richest section the opposite is true -- Bush got 63%.
. If we reduce the number of divisions in the table, the general trend is still clear:
|Income||% of voters||Bush||Kerry|
|$50,000 or more||55%||56%||43%|
. This table lumps together everyone making under $50,000 a year, which includes the great bulk of the working class and poor. Among them Kerry got a majority of 55%. So it's not as if the poor working class sections were flocking to support the reactionary Bush. Among those who voted, a clear majority rejected Bush. And even among white born-again evangelicals, the majority of those with incomes under $50,000 are not Republicans. (1) But among evangelicals, as well as the population as a whole, the wealthier ones vote in higher numbers than the poor.
. It's also true, of course, that 36% of the poorest section voted for Bush, just like it's true that
35% of the richest section voted for Kerry. Voting trends show certain class feelings, but
electoral parties in the U. S. do not represent clear class differences. Both Republicans and
Democrats campaign among broad sections of the population and receive votes from all sections,
but the Democrats remain the main party of political deception of the working people.
Verdict on the swing state
. Similar trends can be seen in Ohio, which got a lot of press coverage because it was the swing state on which the fate of the election hinged. And it was widely publicized that Ohio is one of the states hardest hit by the loss of manufacturing jobs in the last few years. On election night, when it started becoming clear that Ohio had gone for Bush, some workers expressed dismay, saying "What's wrong with those idiots in Ohio? Don't they know how many jobs they've lost under Bush?"
. Well, yes, they know; the poor and working class in Ohio voted against Bush in fairly large numbers, larger than nationally. And the urban areas hit by job losses gave a strong anti-Bush vote. Mahoning County, for instance, which includes Youngstown, voted 63% for Kerry. But the rich -- those making $100,000 or more -- turned out in even bigger numbers in Ohio than nationally, and of course they voted overwhelmingly for Bush. Other questions in the CNN exit poll bring out these differences.
. One question asked voters if they thought the job situation in their area was better than, worse than, or the same as, four years ago.
|Job situation in your area||% of voters||Bush||Kerry|
|About the same||28%||77%||23%|
. A majority (55%) of those voting said the job situation was worse, and of these the vast majority (75%) voted for Kerry. A similar result comes from a question about family financial situation: better or worse than four years ago?
|Family financial situation||% of voters||Bush||Kerry|
. Those who see that their situation has worsened vote overwhelmingly (85%) for Kerry.
Dump the Democrats!
. Since the election there has been a lot of hand-wringing by Democrats about the fate of their party. The Democratic Leadership Council, the neo-liberal outfit founded by Bill Clinton and others to push the Democratic Party to the right, has called for the Democrats to run after the Evangelical vote. But it's hard to see how the Democrats could shift any farther right without simply declaring themselves a wing of the Republican Party. Kerry's campaign rhetoric was actually to the right of Bush's, bragging about his plans for a "stronger America". In his personal history Kerry forgot about his anti-war activities in the early 70s and his twenty years as a liberal senator; instead all he talked about was his "defense of America as a young man" in Vietnam. Democratic politicians used to visit plant gates, Labor Day marches and picket lines; but Kerry concentrated on shooting geese in camo to show his love of guns.
. But none of this did any good. So the Democrats have been thrown into crisis by this election.
But it is not the task of working class activists to rescue them. Even as Rooseveltian liberals the
Democrats were a party of the rich, dedicated to exploitation and war. The Democrats made big
social promises in the 60s in order to pacify the mass struggle of the time, but what they carried
through with was the war in Vietnam. Under Clinton they moved to liberalism on the cheap, a
neo-liberalism devoted to free markets and free trade backed by big-stick imperialism. Working
class activists cannot push the Democrats back to the old days of Rooseveltian liberalism, and
even if they could it wouldn't be worth the effort. The crises we're heading into nowadays cry out
for the class organization of the workers as an alternative to the Republican conservatives and
Democratic liberals. Social programs are being butchered because the bourgeois think they're
unnecessary politically and that money should only go to subsidies for the corporations and the
rich. Clinton's destruction of "welfare as we know it" sealed the neo-liberal alliance of the two
major parties. And Kerry's support of the Iraq war shows the Democrats ready to sacrifice
anything for imperialism. It's always possible that more liberal Democrats could acquire control
of the party and present a better face. But the Democrats would still represent the rich, not the
The need for an independent movement
. This election proved once again the need for an independent movement of the working class and its political allies. Neither major party had platforms reflecting the needs of workers. The Republicans remained wedded to their big-business program, and the Democrats offered nothing in the way of an alternative.
. But there were positive signs of political life during the election campaign. At campaign stops around the country, Bush and Kerry often had to face protesters, not only from the other bourgeois party, but serious activists looking to build an independent movement. Activists took to the streets in oppositional demonstrations during both parties' national conventions. Many activists faced beatings and arrest by the police to make their voices heard. The Million Worker March in Washington on October 17 raised working class issues and did not attach itself to either major party. And there have been more protests since the election. Anti-war actions continue and will get bigger as Bush's policies turn to disaster. The government's fiscal crisis is igniting protests, like the ones against layoffs and utility shutoffs in Detroit.
. These events show there is ferment among the working masses and a yearning for independent organization. This is what's needed to carry forward the struggle -- not a "better" Democratic Party, but new, working class organization linked to the struggles of the masses for health care and education, against cutbacks and war. The strikes, anti-war demonstrations and other mass protests are the base out of which new independent political organization can be built. Such organization can act as a rallying center for those left out from the present corrupt electoral system. It can give a voice to the oppressed, something the Democrats pretend to but don't. And its very existence will represent a challenge and a slap in the face to the smug bourgeois fat cats who dominate the two major parties. The bourgeois election circus is over, but the tasks of working class organizing are just beginning.
(1) Nolan McCarty, Keith T. Poole, and Howard Rosenthal, Polarized America: The Dance of
Ideology and Unequal Riches, Chapter 3 "Income Polarization and the Electorate," Table 7:
"Republican Identification By Income and Religion, Whites Only" , p. 54. (Return to text)
Last changed on April 29, 2005.