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THE REAL loser in the US presidential election will be one who gets the presidency, says LYNN WALSH. Disputes over bungled counting and allegations of vote-rigging, will envelop the new administration in a dark cloud of suspicion. Whatever the final decision, neither Bush nor Gore will enter the White House with a decisive popular mandate.
Election war in the USA
EVEN IF the outcome of presidential voting is decided soon, Congressional and judicial enquiries into balloting irregularities in a number of states may throw up dirt for years to come. Florida, where George W's brother, Jeb Bush, is governor, is a can or worms.
Unbelievable incompetence aside, there were clearly attempts to fix the vote in favour of Bush, including racist steps by the police to exclude African-Americans from some polling stations. After this, the presidency will inevitably be tainted.
Whoever occupies the Oval Office will face a gridlocked Congress. The Senate is divided right down the middle (50 Republicans, 49 Democrats). The House of Representatives has a reduced Republican majority (221 to 212 Democrats, 2 Independents), hardly a stable, working majority for the president given the recent breakdown of party discipline.
With budgets and legislation, the White House will have little room for manoeuvre. Embittered by wrangles over the election, the Congressional atmosphere will be poisonous (outdoing the guerrilla warfare over Lewinsky and impeachment).
Foreign policy initiatives, trade negotiations and anything else requiring Congressional approval will become bogged down in unending wrangles.
Comparisons have been made with the 1960 election, when Kennedy narrowly beat Nixon, notoriously helped by vote-fixing by two Democratic party bosses, mayor Daley in Chicago and Johnson in Texas.
Yet in spite of that, it is claimed, Kennedy still became a "great president". JFK, however, took office at the height of the post-war economic upswing, when US imperialism was at the peak of its global power.
HE WHO enters the Oval office next January will be taking over in the closing phase of the present upswing, feeble compared to the 1960s and already giving way to a new downturn. The next president will inherit what will almost certainly be the worst economic and social crisis since the end of the second world war. Burning social grievances and class issues will force themselves into the political arena currently dominated by the big-business twins, really two factions of a single right-wing party.
Seemingly engaged in mortal combat, Democrats and Republicans have no fundamental differences. They are almost equally financed by big business, together spending well over $3,000 million in this election.
There are only marginal policy differences, over the scale of tax cuts for the wealthy, privatising pensions, etc. The real fight is over the spoils of office: the power and patronage which goes with office, especially the presidency. Jobs for the boys and girls, pork-barrel hand-outs and tax-breaks for business backers, deregulation for polluters, military contracts for favourite firms, and so on, and so on.
This time the turnout was slightly higher than 1996, 51% compared with 49 %. This was partly because it was so closely fought, but also because of Nader's campaign. Still, nearly half the eligible electorate saw no point in voting.
In some areas minorities, women, and union members turned out in higher numbers, overwhelmingly for the Democrats to oppose worse policies from the Republicans on minority rights, abortion, affirmative action, law-and-order, pension privatisation, etc.
As the Washington Post (9 November) commented: "Examination of exit polls shows that those who do vote are increasingly draw from the ranks of the most affluent Americans." Voters with household incomes of less than $50,000 made up only 47% of those voting, compared with 61% in 1996. By contrast, 15% of voters had family incomes of over $100,000 compared to 9% in 1996.
Nader Lights the Fuse
THE MOST positive aspect of this election was Ralph Nader's marvellous campaign. Standing on the Green Party ticket, Nader, though not a socialist, voiced the anti-big business anger that erupted in the anti-WTO protest in Seattle last November.
He boldly denounced the corruption of the political system by corporate money, demanded protection of the environment, and called for a $10-an-hour minimum wage, the restoration of union rights, and a universal health-care system.
In complete contrast to Gore and Bush, Nader attracted tens of thousands of mainly young people to his rallies, raising $8 million in small donations.
Nader (with a few results still outstanding) won 2.7 million votes or 3%, compared to 700.000 or under 1% in 1996, when Nader mounted only a token campaign. This fell short of the 5% the Green Party would need to get federal election funding in the next election.
But it is still an outstanding result which prepares the way for a future movement for radical change, independent of the Democrat/Republican machines.
Apart from Alaska, where Nader did well in 1996 and got 10% this time, his strongest showing was in the North-East: Vermont 7%, Rhode Island 6%, Maine 6%, Massachusetts 6%. Nader took 4% in California as a whole, but got much higher percentages in the cities.
Throughout the campaign, Nader came under ferocious attack from the Democratic leadership and from major national papers like the New York Times, Boston Globe and Los Angeles Times who backed Gore/Lieberman as the best executive teams for US capitalism.
They denounced him as an irresponsible, wilful, eccentric spoiler who could allow Bush to creep into the presidency. To his credit, Nader was unbending in defending the need for an independent campaign raising issues silently censored by the Big Two.
"The Republican and Democratic Parties," said Nader, "both take money from the same big-business sources; they morph into one corporate party with two heads."
THE CLOSENESS of the presidential result, especially with Nader taking 96,844 votes in Florida as well as significant votes in New Hampshire and Oregon (which Gore appears to have lost), intensified the stream of abuse. One leading Democrat denounced Nader for pursuing "a narcissistic, self-serving, Sancho Panza windmill-tilting expedition."
The strategists of the ruling class fear the political effects of Nader raising issues of big-business domination, corruption, growing inequality, workers' rights and other vital issues excluded from the "Republicrat" campaign.
"Nader fails to grasp," thundered the Boston Globe (9 November), "that the two party system has proved durable because it forces political leaders to build coalitions... Nader and other outsiders appear appealing because they do not dirty themselves with the compromises that are essential to lead a national coalition to power."
These elite mouthpieces fail to grasp that tens of thousands of high-school and college students, together with a section of young workers and the older generation enthusiastically support Nader just because he rejects the rotten, cash-lubricated compromises and special-interest "coalition building" which has produced the present electoral deadlock.
Many who voted for Nader would not have voted for either Gore or Bush in a two-horse race. Exit polls in New Hampshire (The Telegraph, Nashua, 10 Nov), where Gore beat Bush by 7,282 votes and Nader polled 22,156, show that 46% of Nader voters would have voted Gore in a two-horse race, 21% would have voted Bush, while 30% would not have voted at all.
On those figures, Gore would not necessarily have won this state if Nader had not been running.
But the real question is: Why did Gore fail to win a decisive majority in the country, given the usual advantages held by an incumbent vice-president during a period of economic upswing and relative prosperity?
The real reason is not Nader's 4% but the fact that the Clinton-Gore administration stole Republican's clothes, implemented a big-business agenda for eight years, and failed to deliver improvements to working people.
When the campaign got under way, Gore, largely to counteract Nader's attraction, started attacking the big tobacco and pharmaceutical corporations, and warned against Bush's proposed tax cuts for the super-rich and privatisation of social security (pensions).
Few people were taken in by this electioneering demagogy. Many voted Gore because Bush appears even worse. As before, a majority of the poorest and most oppressed working people saw no reason to vote at all.
THE ACHIEVEMENT of Nader's campaign is that 2.7 million decisively rejected the "lesser evil" argument that it is imperative to vote Democrat to keep out a Republican president. They have rejected the Democrats' fraudulent claim to be a progressive, left party or even a liberal party.
Any possible, marginal advantages of a Democratic presidency - such as defence of abortion rights and state-funded pensions, and the appointment of less reactionary judges to the supreme court - are now completely outweighed by the importance of taking concrete steps towards building a broad, radical Left party, completely separate from big business interests, to mobilise support for anti-big business policies and speak for working people.
Nader's electoral challenge, with only $8 million and a very improvised campaign organisation, demonstrates the potential for an independent , third-party challenge. His result shames the trade union leaders who gave $30 or $40 million and a small army of volunteers to the Democrats - in return for what?
It has also shamed the fledgling Labor Party, launched in 1996, whose leadership has again failed to mount any campaigns for independent working-class candidates, and would not even endorse Nader.
The radicalised young people, mostly students, who turned out to the Nader rallies are the forerunners of a much wider radicalisation that in the future will embrace key sections of the working class and totally transform the political landscape of the United States.
If the momentum of this result is not to be lost, Nader and his supporters should rapidly call a conference of all the radical forces touched by his campaign, appealing to labour unions, radical women's groups, community and minority organisations, the Labor Party and socialist organisations to discuss the launching of a radical Left party which will fight for independent representation for working people.
When a majority doesn't count
THE ELECTORAL cliffhanger in the USA has revealed to many US voters for the first time that they do not actually decide the US president by their votes. Instead that task goes to a hand-picked electoral college, made up of loyal party hacks and supporters, who then vote in December on the new president.
Keith Dickinson , Socialist Party National Committee
The contradiction between Gore winning the popular vote, though only just, and Bush being the likely winner exposes the limits of so-called US democracy.
Apart from the fact that, whether you voted for Gore or Bush - Tweedledum or Tweedledee - there wasn't in reality much difference between them, many voters in a majority of states would cast their vote only to find out it would make no difference to the result as the winner of a state takes all.
So, for example a Democrat voter in a strongly republican state will have no influence on the final outcome, as the winner takes all the votes in the electoral college. The recent presidential election and the intervention of Ralph Nader has brought this out for the first time.
Gore campaigners, complained that Nader votes could lose them key swing states where there was little in between the two main candidates. But it is Gore's and Bush's own policies that lost them votes.
But on a broader level, 'democracy' in the USA, like in other countries including Britain (as shown below) is very limited. Approximately only 52% of the population is registered to vote in the USA - two million prisoners are also disqualified from voting.
Of those registered less than half voted in the 1996 presidential and congressional elections. In the 2000 election the turnout was marginally up to 51% - probably because of the closeness of the votes and the increased votes for Green candidate Ralph Nader.
That means that in 1996 only 27% of the population actually voted and only 12% voted for the victorious candidates.
over $3 billion was spend on the presidential election - about $30 per voter. In 1996 the average cost of getting elected to the House of Representatives was $520,000 and a Senate seat would set a candidate back $4.6 million in campaign expenditure.
But 96% of US citizens don't give money to any political party and the candidates are all funded by big business. As they say 'he who pays the piper calls the tune'.
IN BRITAIN a constant theme of government ministers during interviews over the fuel protests was that "democratically elected government cannot be allowed to be undermined by a small self-interest group".
But who does this so-called democratically elected government really represent.
At the last general election in 1997 only about 74% of the population in Britain were registered to vote and only about 52% of the population actually voted for all the parties put together.
The New Labour government received approximately only 22% support of the population. If the abstentions, non-voters and unregistered are taken into consideration, a majority of people do not support the 'elected' government.
How can any these MPs argue that what happens in Parliament is the democratic expression of the views of the people, with such limited public backing?
The government had a 'landslide' 187-seat majority but only received 43.2% of the votes cast and have 63.4% of the seats in Parliament.
Their majority is large enough to have brought in policies which would have alleviated the problems of the majority of people. They could have also carried out measures against big business, which would have benefited farmers and other small businesses who have been involved in the fuel protests.
If they had used that majority to take away the wealth of big business and use it for the benefit of society then undoubtedly they would have secured the support of the majority of the population.
In The Socialist 17 November 2000: