Article from the Nov 2004 edition, the Socialist
Bush's election "triumph"
Has America moved to the right?
STUNNED DISBELIEF and astonishment probably best described the feelings of tens of millions of Americans and hundreds of millions of people across the world when George W Bush was re-elected. However Bush's second term in office will be dogged by the crisis in the US economy and the ocupation of Iraq says Matt Waine
AS THE shock of the result is replaced with anger and disappointment, it is necessary to have a sober and balanced analysis of the causes and reasons behind the re-election of Bush.
Firstly, it would be wrong to write-off the American people as the Daily Mirror in Britain did, asking, "How can 59 million people be dumb enough to vote for this?" Yes Bush was re-elected by enlisting the support of four million rightwing evangelical Christians who did not vote in 2000. However, there is no evidence that the Christian right in America is growing or that Americans are turning in ever increasing numbers to religion. The vast majority of working class people are in favour of maintaining a separation of church and state.
It would also be wrong to conclude that American society has turned to the right. To do so would be to draw a negative analysis of the present period and would ignore the opportunities that exist to build a real working class alternative in the US. While the Republicans won a majority in the Senate and the House of Representatives this election shows that American society is extremely polarised. Only three percentage points separated Kerry and Bush at the end. A more honest assessment would be to say that Kerry lost the election rather than Bush winning it.
Turnout was up 4% on the 2000 figure whilst thousands of hacks were enlisted to get the vote out. Over $4 billion was spent, the vast majority of which came from corporate donations, in a media equivalent of "shock and awe."
There are many reasons for Bush's victory. The Republicans set the agenda and ensured that moral issues were put to the fore in order to guarantee a turnout from the Christian right. While Bush played on peoples desire for a return to an America of so-called "traditional values" counter-posing this to a society of corruption, crime, "terrorism" and violence, Kerry "flip-flopped" on the war in Iraq, abortion rights and stem cell research.
19% of Americans cited security and terror as the most important issue in the election and despite Bush's disastrous record in Iraq and the "Vietnamisation" of that conflict, Kerry was unable to offer any credible alternative. Swing voters were put off by his inability to display any consistency on the issue - having voted in favour of the invasion and then voting against increasing the defence budget - while the millions of Americans who opposed the war were disillusioned by Kerry's call for more troops for Iraq.
Bush's re-election took place against the backdrop of September 11th and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Since September 11th the American people have had to endure an onslaught of jingoism and patriotism washed down with a constant stream of what Michael Moore described as the fear industry - constant warnings of further terrorist attacks, all choreographed by the Whitehouse and the TV networks. This unceasing drive to terrorise the American population into a perpetual state of fear was without doubt a major factor in Bush being re-elected. Incredibly over 30% of Republican voters still believe there is a connection between Al Qaida and Saddam Hussein!
Bush was the first President since Hoover in the 1930's who saw a net decrease in jobs with two million mainly manufacturing jobs lost in the last four years. Kerry was silent on this issue. Whilst talking about a better deal for the poor and the "middle class", he made no attempt to reach out to the millions of working class Americans who have seen a dramatic decline in their living standards. Those who have no access to medical insurance and to the 46 million workers who are dependant on Wal-Mart type minimum wages.
This is not accidental. The Democrats are a big business party - as can be seen by the amount of money raised in corporate funding - who differ from the Republicans only on a question of tactics and not of substance.
Despite Bush's destruction of the English language and child-like perplexity on some "difficult" questions asked by journalists, it is clear that Bush was a better leader of right wing opinion than Kerry was of progressive thought in America. Despite the increase in turnout, 43% did not vote. These were mainly made up of young people and the black and Latino communities who simply weren't convinced that Kerry was worth supporting.
If Kerry had adopted a programme including immediate withdrawal from Iraq, a living minimum wage and a guarantee of job security linked with a programme of free health care, repeal of the Patriot Act and other anti-union legislation, then he could have mobilised millions of working class Americans to vote for him. Of course Kerry and the Democrats would never do this, they are just another wing of the US ruling class who will do whatever is necessary to defend the interests of US capitalism and imperialism at home and abroad.
The need for a new party to challenge the twin parties of big business has been reinforced, not diminished, by this election result.
Kerry's failure is really the failure of the Democrats as a whole. It is not possible for a party of the establishment to give a political voice capable of mobilising the US working class who have suffered under Bush's policies, the Afro-Americans, Latinos and other minority communities, or the millions who oppose the war.
The real alternative to the Republicans for these people, who make up the majority of US society, is not the Democrats. Many will now draw the conclusion that there is little point in waiting four years for the possibility that a Democrat who, in any case, will carry out basically the same policies as the Republicans, might win.
Now the issue of building a working class party, capable of campaigning on issues such as poverty and war in a way that the Democratic Party never could, can come on the agenda for millions of US workers.
US economy - Running on empty
DURING THE Presidential election Bush diverted attention away from the US economy. Yet the richest, most powerful country in the world is also its biggest debtor, with its economy slowing down. The ever-rising level of US debt, expressed in the 'twin deficits' (balance of payments and Federal budget), is becoming unsustainable. A crunch is approaching, speeded up by rising oil prices over recent months.
US capitalism managed to avoid a major downturn after the financial bubble burst in 2001 through 13 cuts in interest rates and the running up of a huge Federal budget deficit. This policy by the Bush regime and Alan Greenspan's Federal Reserve was massively reinforced after the 9/11 2001 attacks, when the US ruling class feared an imminent slump. Apart from massive tax concessions to the rich and super-rich to which Bush was already committed, low interest rates and increased military spending have been the key planks of the Bush regime's economic strategy.
According to the US Census Bureau, the number of Americans living in poverty or lacking health insurance rose for the third year running in 2003. In 2003, an additional 1.3 million fell below the poverty line, bringing the total to 35.9 million, including 12.9 million children. 45 million people have no health insurance. At the same time, Bush's tax cuts, peanuts for the poor and billions for the billionaires, have helped widen inequality, which is now more extreme than any time since the Great Depression.
The only thriving industrial sector under Bush has been the defence and aircraft industry. This reflects the huge increase in military spending. The Pentagon budget for fiscal year 2004 is $400 billion, with an additional $40 billion a year to be spent on Homeland Security. The Bush administration plans to spend $2.7 trillion on the military over the next six years, despite the huge budget deficit. These budget allocations do not include the cost of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, around "$200 billion so far, which have been financed from supplementary appropriations by Congress. This military expenditure, while good for the arms manufacturers and dealers, will be a massive burden on US economy and it's working class over coming years.
At the end of 2003, the current account deficit was 4.5% of GDP, by mid-2004 it had risen to 5.7%, around $600 billion. Even an economy as rich and powerful as the US cannot sustain this indefinitely.
The US has a net indebtedness of $2.4 trillion. This is around 300% of US exports (not far from the 400% ratio of Brazil and Argentina, "basket cases" according to Wall Street investors). If the current trend continues during Bush's second term, the accumulated external debt will soar to 40% or 50% of GDP by 2008. This is clearly an unsustainable process.
This economic forecast does not bode well for American workers especially with Bush in the Whitehouse. US workers can expect a further diminishing of their living standards as the economy worsens while the corporate sector benefits from generous tax cuts.
Bush's first term was characterised by a vicious anti-working class agenda, the next four years promises to be even more brutal. In his victory speech he declared, "I have earned new political capital and I'm gonna spend it on what I told the people I'd spend it on", is a declaration of war on workers and pensioners, abortion rights, the gay community and immigrants.
The neo-cons hope that their "shock and awe" methods will cow the US working class, but are likely to get a rude awakening. In California they have used brutal methods to try to crush the San Francisco longshoremen (dockers). These workers have been locked out of their jobs, have faced rubber bullets and the threat by Bush to bring in the National Guard to break their pickets.
Such methods will not succeed in preventing the working class from opposing Bush's policies. Feeling that they have been checked on the political front and faced with four more years of the neo-cons in charge, many workers will see no option but to turn to the industrial front to resist.
Battles like last year's historic strike by Wal-Mart workers for union recognition and a decent wage could come to characterise Bush's second term. Even if the US working class feel temporarily stunned by the election result and the new round of attacks to follow, this is likely to be short-lived. Attacks on pensions, social security, medicare; the new threat to the environment and the effect of a new economic downturn on jobs wages and conditions, are certain to provoke massive opposition. Bush could find that he faces a new war at home - with the US working class.
THE IMMEDIATE consequences of Bush's re-election are being felt on the streets of Fallujah were US troops are killings dozens of innocent Iraqis as they attempt to re-occupy the city. Contrary to US military spin, the coalition forces are now facing an uprising with the support of the majority of the population. The electricity shortages, the unemployment, the lack of any reliable social services and the general day to day misery of life for millions of Iraqi's has consolidated anger and opposition behind the various resistance groups. In a recent poll only 2% of Iraq's supported the US occupation.
Militarily, US imperialism is beginning to feel the pinch with oil production at a third of what it was before the invasion. With no oil bonanza to underwrite the occupation costs many are wondering whether the war was worth it at all. According to Peter J. Peterson, "keeping just two divisions engaged in 'stability operations' in Iraq for one week costs $1 billion, keeping them engaged for a full year would costs the entire GDP of New Zealand!" Yale University economist William Nordhouse has estimated that the Vietnam War cost around $500 billion (in today's money) over eight years while Iraq will have reached half that level by next autumn - just two and a half years after the invasion.
The US is now facing severe military overstretch. The present economic crisis in the US economy and the quagmire that is Iraq may mean that pre-emptive action against other "rogue nations" is less likely. However, the very nature of the Bush junta means that US imperialism will go to any lengths to defend their interests. "Surgical strikes" like those used by Clinton against Sudan and Afghanistan in the mid-90's could be used against strategic targets in Syria and Iran. It is not ruled out that this could be done by one of US imperialism's "allies" in the Middle East like Israel. Bush may also consider returning to the NATO or UN fold and argue for economic sanctions as a way of destabilising "rogue regimes". Whichever of this strategies are pursued they will only result in further instability and mass opposition to US Imperialism.
The re-election of Bush for four more years will not result in a more stable world, but instead we will witness four more years of attacks on the US working class and the people of the neo-colonial world. These policies will bring the Bush regime into conflict with millions of US workers and the masses of Iraq and the Middle East.
This brutal colonialism will bring ever more numbers of youth and workers into collision with the system and will pose the question of ownership of the resources of the planet. Left in the hands of the capitalist warmongers, our future will be increasingly dominated by war, terror and exploitation - the people of Iraq will testify to this. The only other alternative is socialism - the common ownership of the world's wealth used to provide the necessities of life for all, free from poverty, disease and war.
Statements on the Election of Bush are available from
- < ahref="http://www.geocities.com/socialistparty/cwi/USCWI-onBush.htm">The US cdes
- The British cdes
- The International Secretariat-CWI
- US cdes on electoral frauds