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Presidential election in U.S.A ( 2 Nov. 2004)

What's going on, what the left should do
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 "moral integrity." 

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 woman."

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 means:

> 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 again.

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. Boles
Assistant Professor
Dept. of Sociology
Saginaw Valley State University
University Center, MI 48710

Project for the New American Century
U.S. State Terrorism
Strategies for transition to a First People's Century
How G. W. Bush and his gang of state terrorists lied to the world to justify the invasion of Iraq
The forged intelligence dossier on Iraq
The US invasion of Iraq
The US war on Iraq (Le Monde Diplomatique)
War is a racket
World Crisis Web
Washington Report on Middle East Affairs
U.S. Financial Aid to Israel: Figures, Facts, and Impact
Background Readings
Campaigns (to impeach Bush, etc)
Capitalism in crisis
Centre for Research on Globalisation
World Social Forum
Center for Corporate Policy

Criminal records:
Ronald Reagan
US imperial army war crimes
Noam Chomsky interviewed by J. Paxman (BBC News, 21 May 2004)
The Bush Doctrine and crimes against humanity
"If George Bush were to be judged by the standards of the Nuremberg Tribunals, he'd be hanged. So too, mind you, would every single American President since the end of the second world war, including Jimmy Carter"

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