Presidential election in U.S.A ( 2 Nov.
What's going on, what the left
by Elson Boles
Unlike some have argued, the election did not boil down to resurgent US
nationalism designed to recoup US decline. Bush did not win because of Iraq, but
despite it. The decline of the US, the shrinking of the middle class, and the
Republican economic policies behind these developments, were NOT why Bush won. On
the contrary, he won largely because certain Americans voted on certain cultural
issues: they voted for racism, homophobia, etc. and these as requisite features of
Since Reagan, the Repubs have become masters of "bait and
switch"; bait the "hate vote" among the rural poor and middle class
and the suburban angry white men with cultural-value issues; then in legislation, switch
with legislation that is mostly about pro-business, pro-rich policies (supply side
economics). What's so brilliantly evil about this strategy is that the very
polices that worsen the conditions of this angry white constituency
also lead it to embrace and support these policies.
Consequently, the more this
constituency's conditions worsen, the more polarized the US becomes. The worse it
gets for them, the more they "blame the Other victims" (racial and ethnic
minorities, the poor, immigrants) for their declining fortunes, and the more their growing
anger is effectively channeled to hate Others (gays, liberals, feminists, minorities).
In short, the Republicans have created
a virtuous cycle for themselves by expanding or intensifying their base's
support precisely by creating a vicious cycle for their base.
But how do they pull this off? With two different policies that hide
under a single slogan: "get government off our backs."
To the angry white men, the slogan may means a little bit more money
in their pockets. But above all, it is an expression of anger, prejudice, racism,
etc. It mean that less of their money goes to the welfare-lined pockets of lazy
poor, especially the blacks, or the lazy immigrants who won't even learn English. It
means reduction of the welfare state, an end to race quotas, the whittling away of
Affirmative Action. It means government should not support Roe vs. Wade and the
feminists and liberals, but should support key conservative values: pro-life, prayer in
school, "one nation under God," marriage as "one man and one
But to corporate America, the slogan has a very different meaning in terms
of legislation, laws that without coincidence worsen the living standards of the
Republican's base, as well as the middle and poor. To corporate America, the slogan
> deregulation (of work safety, of product safety, anti-environment
laws that, for instance, open up public parks to oil companies, or reduce pollution
regulations and standards, etc.),
> privatization (school vouchers, faith-based welfare help, of social
security, of medicare and medicaid),
> corporate wealthfare (continued huge subsidies of the industrial
military complex, mega agribusinesses, capital gains tax reductions, big income tax
reductions for the richest),
> anti-labor legislation and the continued evisceration of
unions (neoliberal policies that encourage de-industrialization, no minimum wage
increases, an official poverty line set at an obscenely low income level, etc.
In short, it means neo-liberalism and supply-side
economics. These policies thus contribute to the decline of the American
working people. However, the slogan is one that simultaneously encourages hate and
thus ethnic, gender, racial, conflict WITHIN the working people as a whole. It's a
classic divide and rule strategy.
At the local level (intrastate), until the left takes the culture-values
issues very seriously and fights back by contending that Republican policies are immoral
and, for example, "un-Christian" (indeed the opposite of the teachings and
values of Jesus), and until they unite with the New Testament left-Christian groups
(liberation theologists, Catholic worker groups, etc.) and progressive Jews, Muslims, etc.
and go on a very strong moral offensive, then they will continue to lose elections to
the "old testament" (mean, fearful God) Christian Right, as they did this year
The Democrats have been too
sophisticated to do this, especially if they're Liberals from the New England. But
the must combine morality this with another cultural tactic: they must talk tough on these
issues, be aggressive, and thereby appear to have a "strong
personality" a "strong leadership" ability (which doesn't require
nationalistic chauvinism). Complexity, reflection, introspection, detailed
explanation, is political suicide.
Consider that the last Democrat president who held some kind of high moral
ground was Carter. But he appeared to be a wimp along side Reagan. Clinton was
just the opposite: firm enough of a leader, but morally corrupt. None have responded
forcefully to the Repubs, and as a consequence of seeming to take a "neutral"
position, they appear both weak and immoral.
The left needs candidates who can put the two together: take the
high moral ground and be aggressive about it. Less talk about the class per se,
more focus on the immorality of Republican policies and the righteousness of doing good.
Less explanation, more sound-bites. They must point out not only the moral
bankruptcy of Republican policies (division, hate, growing inequality), but stress
that the cultural positions the Repubs have been baiting Americans with are
hateful, divisive, and immoral. And they must point out how Republicans
are total hypocrites in this regard -- how they've been proclaiming the high moral ground
and proclaiming to be good Christians, but in fact have been deceiving Americans by
implementing policies that make the rich richer, the poor poorer. How they've
diverted money from American tax payers to pay for a war, to pay Haliburton, etc.
At the very least, this would make the
middle-road people consider that perhaps the Republicans are not as moral as they claim to
be and are not pursuing policies in the interest of their base.
Elson E. Bolesboles@svsu.edu
Dept. of Sociology
Saginaw Valley State University
University Center, MI 48710