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USA - Lame duck president George Bush waddles on
BUSH IS no longer the invincible, '9/11 president'. His appeals for "unity" against the enemy and for the US to "stay the course" in Iraq are now falling on deaf ears.
He liked to be compared to Churchill in the second world war. Today Bush is being compared to president Nixon, who was forced out of office in 1974 amid ignominious defeat in Vietnam and criminal scandals in Washington.
LYNN WALSH reports.
EVENTS HAVE exposed the phoney, neo-conservative pretexts for the invasion of Iraq - and the impossibility of US imperialism winning the war. Recent polls show over half now think the war was a mistake, 60% - including one-in-four Republicans - support withdrawal of US troops within a year.
Events have shattered the propaganda and lies of the Bush regime and the predominantly right-wing media. Polls show that two-thirds of the public doubt Bush's honesty.
Hurricane Katrina changed everything. 2,000 dead and over 15,000 US troops wounded in Iraq - "protecting the security of the American people". Yet Bush's regime abandoned the poor, mainly black, working-class population of New Orleans to the flood waters. The callous incompetence of the government crystallised a new mood of mass criticism, which even previously Bush-loving media outfits like Fox News had to reflect. The 9/11 president was no longer immune from criticism.
As with Vietnam, the Iraq war disaster is spilling over into domestic politics, poisoning the atmosphere. Already it has produced multiplying corruption scandals, defeats for the Republicans in recent elections, splits between right-wing and 'moderate' Republicans in Congress, and a rising tide of mass opposition to Bush.
Only a year after his triumphant re-election, Bush is the lamest of lame duck presidents, waddling unsteadily from one intractable problem to another. He boasted he had accumulated political assets - they have turned out to be fictitious capital.
The Iraq Syndrome
PUBLIC OPINION in the US has swung decisively and irreversibly against the war. This alone spells political disaster for Bush. While Bush insists the US will 'stay the course', the strategists of the ruling class are desperately debating the least damaging exit strategy for US imperialism.
Instead of leading public opinion, the Democrats, supposedly the opposition party, have trailed behind.
In mid-November, Senate Democrats feebly moved a resolution calling on Bush to provide estimated dates for 'phased re-deployment' (that is, withdrawal) from Iraq. This was amended by Republicans to call on Bush to report to Congress every 90 days on 'progress' in Iraq, saying that US forces should not be in Iraq 'any longer than required.'
Even this diluted resolution (passed 79-19) was, in reality, a vote of no confidence in Bush's Iraq policy.
Reflecting the changed climate, the House Democrat John Murtha (Pennsylvania), a former Marine and Vietnam veteran who previously strongly supported the war, called it "a flawed policy wrapped in illusion". He called for the immediate redeployment of US forces.
"The burden of this war," said Murtha, "has not been shared equally. The military and their families are shouldering the burden. Our military has been fighting this war for over two and a half years."
As in the past Bush and his supporters denounced Murtha as a 'cut and run coward'. He was suddenly the 'Michael Moore of the extreme liberal wing of the Democrats'. This time, however, the hawks were forced to back off. Cheney had to say that Murtha was "a good man, a Marine, a patriot" and had raised "legitimate" issues. This telling incident was dubbed 'Murthaquake', another blow to Bush.
Even now, however, the Democrats, the second party of big business, have not come out decisively against the war and in favour of US withdrawal.
"Many fellow Democrats," commented the New York Times (23 November), "are uneasy about [Murtha's] call for an immediate withdrawal, fearing it will give Republicans a chance to brand them as weak on national security."
Only the anti-war movement, joined by a growing number of veterans' families, has actively campaigned against the war. But with the approach of the mid-term elections next year, however, more Democrats may opportunistically take a more anti-war stance.
Bush boasted that the invasion of Iraq would bury the 'Vietnam syndrome' once and for all. It would restore US imperialism's power to intervene militarily wherever it chose. Bush's adventure, however, has demonstrated the limits of US power and is creating the conditions for a deep crisis in American society. Bush has created the 'Iraq syndrome'.
AS WITH Vietnam, the new militarisation of the US government has produced a web of criminal conspiracy and a toxic cloud of corruption, now poisoning the political atmosphere.
Lewis 'Scooter' Libby, Vice-President Cheney's former Chief of Staff, has been charged with obstruction of justice and perjury. His role is clear. He was trying to cover up a White House conspiracy to discredit Bush's critics in the run-up to the war.
The trial of Libby and possibly other officials is likely to reveal skullduggery on a massive scale. The real issue for most people is not who leaked what or who outed whom, but the lengths Bush, Cheney and Co. were prepared to go to fabricate fraudulent justification for the Iraq War and to silence their critics.
An even bigger scandal, however, involving corrupt politicians and officials on a massive scale, is now gathering momentum. It revolves around the notorious lobbyist, Jack Abramoff, a former political advisor to leading Republicans.
Abramoff lobbied members of Congress and government officials on behalf of Native American tribes who either wanted to license new casinos or block government approval for casinos operated by their rivals.
Apart from ripping off his clients on a big scale, Abramoff spent about $80 million of his clients' money to pay for free luxury trips abroad for members of Congress, extravagant gifts and big donations to campaign funds. Most of the cash went to Republicans, but some also went to Democrats; and a number of prominent politicians are now being investigated by the Justice Department.
Abramoff is also linked to Tom DeLay, the House Republican majority leader and a key Bush enforcer, who was forced to resign after being charged with using illegal campaign funds. Also, Dennis Hasert, the Republican House Speaker, reportedly received $100,000 between 2000-04 from Abramoff and his clients.
Michael Scanlon, a former partner of Abramoff and also a former political aide to DeLay, has also been charged. His agreement to co-operate with prosecutors has spread panic among many members of Congress - over 30 legislators shared more than $830,000 of Abramoff related donations.
The scandal is only just beginning to unfold, and may well develop on an even bigger scale than the Watergate scandals under president Nixon. "I think this has the potential to be the biggest scandal in Congress in over a century," commented Thomas Mann, a Brookings Institute analyst. "I've been around Washington for 35 years... and I've never seen anything approaching Abramoff for cynicism and chutzpah in proposing quid pro quos to members of Congress." (International Herald Tribune, 21 November)
Domestic Agenda Derailed
DESPITE REPUBLICAN control of both the Senate and the House of Representatives, Bush's legislative agenda has been completely derailed. Earlier this year, he quietly abandoned his proposal to 'reform' Social Security, the US state-pension system. Many Republicans feared that Bush's plan for partial privatisation, with the introduction of personal pension accounts, would be economically unviable and electorally disastrous. In fact, private accounts seem to be popular only with financial advisors and Wall Street brokers.
Since Katrina, however, Bush has faced a split among Congressional Republicans and a rebellion by 'moderate' Republicans against key legislative proposals. Since DeLay was forced to resign as House Majority Leader, Bush has no longer had the same iron control over Republican legislators.
At a deeper level, the rebellion of 'moderate' Republicans reflects a change in the political climate since the summer.
Right-wing Republicans, fiscal conservatives, called on Bush to sponsor a cuts package which would cancel out the $60 billion emergency spending on post-Katrina relief and reconstruction.
Around 22 moderate Republicans joined with Democrats in voting down a $50 billion cuts package which would have slashed Medicaid (health care for the poor), food stamps, and other social programmes.
They also opposed extension of some of Bush's tax cuts worth $68 billion to the super-rich (including reduced tax on share dividends) and the abolition of estate duty, or inheritance tax, (which would have saved $90 billion a year for the wealthiest 1%).
To add insult to injury, rebellious Republicans also helped defeat a proposal to open up drilling by the big oil companies in the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve. Some Republicans are also threatening to filibuster some of the more repressive provisions of the Patriot Act when it comes up for renewal.
These defeats are a major setback for Bush, and probably are only the beginning of a Congressional rebellion. Many of the 'moderate' Republicans face a battle for re-election in November 2006, and recent Republican defeats have persuaded them to change their tune.
On 8 November, for instance, Democrats took over state governors' positions in Virginia and New Jersey. In St. Paul's, Minnesota, a Democrat took the mayor's position from a fellow Democrat who backed Bush in 2004.
But the rebellion against Bush also reflects fears on the part of strategists of the ruling class: Bush's reckless tax-cutting for the rich is opening up a black hole in federal government finances, and his social cuts are in danger of provoking social explosions in the years ahead.
Bush also faces the prospect of a Democratic filibuster in the Senate to block his latest nomination to the Supreme Court, Samuel Alito. The outcry against his earlier nomination of Harriet Miers, an unqualified office crony, and her subsequent withdrawal was a humiliating turn for Bush.
Ironically, the strongest objections came from the conservative and religious right, who considered Miers unreliable on abortion and other key 'moral' issues. Bush then nominated Alito, clearly high up on the religious right's private shortlist, in a move to consolidate support amongst his only real base, the conservative-religious right.
With growing opposition to Bush on all fronts, however, it is now possible that the Democrats, who previously played an utterly cowardly role on the Supreme Court issue, may attempt to block Alito in January.
BUSH HAS been lucky with the economy, so far. Despite this year's hurricanes and the surge in oil prices, the US economy continued to grow quite strongly (at an annualised 3.8% in the third quarter). Economic growth, together with high corporate profits and capital gains in the finance sector, boosted tax revenues, reducing the federal deficit from $412.8 billion in 2004 to $318.6 billion in 2005.
The improvement will be short lived, however, as Bush's massive tax cuts for the wealthy cut deeper and deeper into the federal government tax revenues.
US growth, moreover, is driven mainly by consumer spending, heavily dependent on the housing boom and ballooning household debt. Last year, for the first time since 1945, the US personal savings rate turned negative: overall household spending exceeded household income.
This massive domestic debt is linked to US capitalism's massive external debt. The US consumes more than it produces, giving rise to a balance of payment deficit of $782 billion (annualised) in the third quarter, compared to $600 billion in 2004.
The recurring trade deficit means that the US has built up a debt of $2.5 trillion to foreign lenders. This trend is unsustainable and at a certain point will produce a painful crunch for the US economy.
Meanwhile, US workers are paying a heavy price for the 'success' of big business. Over the last year, average real (inflation-adjusted) wages fell by 2.3%, the biggest real annual loss on record. This was the result of squeezed wage rates and higher inflation (3.7%).
At the same time, the assault continues on unionised manufacturing jobs, which in the past paid relatively good wages and benefits (health insurance, pensions, etc). Since 2000, over 3 million US manufacturing jobs have been lost.
Currently, the giant vehicle producer GM is threatening to cut another 30,000 jobs. Delphi, one of the biggest auto parts manufacturers, is threatening to cut 14,000 out of 24,000 jobs. Delphi bosses, who are being paid huge incentive bonuses, are also demanding wage cuts of two-thirds, from an average of $26-$30 an hour to $10-$12.50 an hour, together with cuts in benefits. If carried through, these cuts would have a devastating effect for workers generally in cities like Detroit (GM) and Lockwood, NY (Delphi).
The United Auto Workers are threatening strike action to stop Delphi's savage attacks (and a strike at Delphi could also shut down GM). But the generalised assault on jobs and condition in manufacturing underlines the need for a united, nation-wide response by the unions.
Unions will only be able to defend their members' interests by coming together on an action programme to fight the neo-liberal policies of the big corporations.
Arnie's wake - and the way forward
THE DEMOCRATS have scored some victories over the Republicans in recent elections.
But "a majority of Americans say the Democrats are not offering the country a clear direction that is different from the Republicans," reports the Washington Post (6 November) in an analysis of opinion polls. "I just think they're sitting back, waiting for something to happen," commented a retired Denver high school teacher who generally votes Democrat.
This just about sums it up. The Democrats, the alternative party of big business, have trailed behind public opinion. Not only have they been cowardly in opposing the war, but they have mostly acquiesced to Bush's tax handouts to the super-rich and cuts in social spending, as well accepting the cancellation of democratic rights.
The Democrats will most likely step up their opposition in coming months, as anger against Bush and the Republicans grows.
Some Democrats may well adopt more liberal, even radical, rhetoric. But they are bound hand and foot to big business, and operate purely as an election machine within the confines of cash-lubricated parliamentary elections.
The 'lesser evil' argument, that they are the only effective alternative to the Republicans, is a trap for workers and any other sections who want radical social change.
The potential for active campaigning against right-wing Republican reaction, however, have been shown in California. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who ousted the Democratic incumbent Gray Davis in a recall election in 2003, called a special ballot this November.
Schwarzenegger put forward a series of propositions, aimed at empowering him to carry through his counter-revolution.
These included granting himself more budget-making authority, political redistricting (in reality, gerrymandering), and a measure to prevent public-sector unions from making political donations.
Another required parental notification from any minors seeking an abortion. The vote on these propositions was seen as a referendum on Schwarzenegger's record.
All the governor's proposals were resoundingly defeated. But a key factor was the anti-corporate campaign mounted by unionised nurses, fire-fighters, teachers and other public-sector workers, led by the 65,000-strong California Nurses Association.
The success of this campaign points to real potential for building a new mass party in the US, completely separate from the Democrats and independent of all big business interests. Such a party is needed to provide a political voice for working people and to mobilise mass action for workers' interests. The fight against Bush and his allies must be coupled with a fight for fundamental system change.
More on the US, the campaigns of Socialist Alternative (the Socialist Party's US counterpart) and for copies of its paper, Justice - see www.socialistalternative.org
In The Socialist 1 December 2005: