USA elections: Voters reject right-wing agenda

Prepare to fight the bipartisan policies of the ‘1%’

Bryan Koulouris and Ty Moore, Socialist Alternative (CWI supporters in the US)
US President Barack Obama, photo NASA

US President Barack Obama, photo NASA   (Click to enlarge: opens in new window)

Tens of millions of people breathed an enormous sigh of relief upon hearing that Republicans Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan wouldn’t be entering the White House. Union members, women, African-Americans, Latinos and the LGBT community correctly saw the Republican agenda as a vicious and real threat.

The right wing tried to steal the election with voter intimidation, suppression and populist posturing on the economy in the final weeks, putting over $1 billion dollars in campaign cash into trying to disenfranchise the poor, young people and people of colour.

Barack Obama’s vote was nothing like the excited and energetic campaign of 2008. This year, voter turnout was down by 12 million compared to four years ago. Most people voted for Obama as a ‘lesser evil’ rather than as the saviour they saw in 2008, who would bring “hope” and “change.”

Last year’s Occupy Wall Street movement made an impact on this election by bringing a discussion about economic inequality between ‘the 99% and the 1%’ to the forefront.

Pent-up anger

Occupy Wall Street, poster by Adbusters

Occupy Wall Street, poster by Adbusters

A brighter spotlight shone down on the record $6 billion spent on federal election races, to the outrage of millions of people. Occupy’s message against corporate domination also fuelled a healthy hatred for ‘Mr 1%’, Mitt Willard Romney.

Obama won this election in spite of his pro-Wall Street and corporate record – when banks received trillions of dollars in handouts while social services were cut and millions of families lost their homes.

Many anti-war voters supported Obama, despite continued bombing of civilians in country after country, expanding Bush’s model of an unaccountable imperial presidency, waging war in Libya, and drone strikes around the world.

The Obama administration begins its second term without any real mandate. Now, with the elections over, people’s pent-up anger and frustration is set to boil over.

Demands for jobs, clean energy investments, education funding, housing rights, and solutions to an endless list of injustices will again come to the surface. And again, Obama will put the interests of Wall Street and big business first, provoking fresh outrage and opposition. The time is ripe for building new movements of workers and oppressed, politically independent of both corporate parties.

For the first time nationally, voters in Washington, Minnesota, Maine and Maryland voted in favour of same-sex marriage rights, marking a historic turning point in the struggle for LGBT equality.

Many other progressive ballot questions won across the country, from minimum wage increases, to defence of union rights, to measures against the racist “war on drugs.” Minnesota voters narrowly rejected an attempt to enshrine the harshest voter restriction laws in the country into their constitution.

This shows a shift in demographics and a shift in attitudes among young people and workers. Combined with massive working-class anger, this is the basis for explosive movements in the next year.


Romney based his strategy largely on a white male vote (especially in the South) and hopes of a low voter turnout. Republican tactics ever since the 1960s have been to win elections by whipping up fear and hatred among white voters. This strategy will be more difficult to implement in national elections, a reality that will become even clearer with coming elections, as the rising generation reaches voting age.

Romney’s election defeat will deepen this crisis brewing in the Republican Party, which will be forced to redefine its identity or face becoming a permanent minority party.

While there wasn’t a big shift in the composition of Congress along party lines, the changes in the Republican legislators are worth noting. The ‘moderate’ Maine Republicans and ‘centrist’ Dick Lugar are out of office as are several of the most crazed Tea Partyers. But the overall balance of power within the Republican congressional delegation has shifted even further right, setting the stage for more bipartisan gridlock.

Yet in Obama’s victory speech, he repeated his stale pledge to “reach across the aisle” to the Republicans. In reality, Obama’s bipartisanship is cynically designed to provide cover for his nakedly pro-corporate policies.

Both parties are preparing historic cuts to Social Security, Medicare, and other vital programmes before the end of 2012. This could provoke radicalism, street protests and further struggles. In this context, there will be opportunities to build mass, united working class resistance, anti-corporate electoral campaigns and a political party of the 99%.

The historic result for Socialist Alternative candidate Kshama Sawant in Washington State shows the potential to build the movement against capitalism (see below). Running openly as a socialist, Sawant got more votes than any Republican has ever received against Frank Chopp in this powerful Democratic politician’s 18-year career.

Standing against budget cuts and corporate tax avoidance, and calling for public ownership of Boeing, Microsoft and Amazon, Socialist Alternative’s electoral challenge helped popularise the ideas of democratic socialism, winning a projected 20,000+ votes once counting is finished. This is the best result for a local independent left candidate in 2012 and needs to be built upon.

To take advantage of this situation, organised resistance to cuts involving hundreds of thousands of union members, Occupy activists, community campaigners and young people needs to be built. These coalitions will need to prepare for strikes and mass direct action to defend living standards against the corporate assault. Out of these struggles, we can lay the basis for what is needed – a mass party of working people with a democratic socialist programme.

The presidential election saw the threat of right-wing populism in the form of Gary Johnson, the Libertarian Party candidate. He got over one million votes, three times the votes won by the most prominent left presidential candidate, Jill Stein from the Green Party.

Like the Tea Party victories in 2010, this shows the potential for right-wing populist ideas to grow if the left and workers’ movement fail to build a mass political alternative to the hated corporate establishment.

These elections took place in the fifth year of a grinding economic crisis and showed the deepening polarisation in US society. At root the political and social polarisation flows from the sharpening class divide and the growing desperation of tens of millions of workers.

Socialist alternative

Lacking a clear working class political voice in the elections, the contests between corporate politicians gave a distorted expression to the class anger. In this situation right-wing ideas could gather support, and the last four years have seen the rapid growth of hate groups.

On the other side, where a bold lead from the left is given, the class polarisation can also provoke people to consider far-reaching left-wing solutions.

There is a widespread search for ideas that can offer a way out of the capitalist misery overseen by both parties of big business. As the Socialist Alternative campaign for Kshama Sawant in Seattle illustrates, US society is becoming increasingly fertile for the rise of socialist ideas.

Socialist Alternative wins historic 27% against Washington State House Speaker

Kshama Sawant, the Occupy-inspired Socialist Alternative candidate for Washington State House of Representatives, scored 27% (estimated 20,000+ votes) against Democratic incumbent Speaker Frank Chopp.

“We achieved this election result as an openly Socialist campaign that was largely ignored by the corporate media, with no corporate donations, on a shoestring budget,” explained Kshama. “Occupy gave a voice to working people’s rage at Wall Street, and our campaign gave voice to mass anger at the corporate politicians. It shows the potential to build a powerful left electoral challenge to the two corporate parties.”

“This vote sends a clear message to Frank Chopp and the political establishment – we are coming after you!”, said Kshama. She added: “Wall Street has two parties – working people need a party of our own.”

Election night saw mass celebrations erupt in the streets of Seattle after the passage of Referendum 74 upholding marriage rights for same-sex couples. Speaking from atop a make-shift sound truck, Kshama addressed a crowd of over 2,000 people: “If you think that the Democratic Party politicians did this for you, let me tell you it was us that won this! The fight for LGBT rights has just begun, we still need to fight poverty, homelessness, and workplace discrimination.”