Iraq, corruption and wealth gap send Republicans into a tail-spin

But corporate Democrats offer no real alternative

THE REPUBLICANS and Bush have suffered a ‘thumping’ political defeat. Bush himself admitted it, adding, “I didn’t see it coming. But what would I know?” LYNN WALSH explains the issues behind the Republicans’ collapse but also why the corporate Democrats are no real alternative for US workers.

MID-TERM elections (between the four-yearly presidential elections) are usually swayed by local issues. But this time they were a national referendum on Bush and the Republicans, who controlled both houses of Congress. The disastrous war in Iraq was the biggest issue, with six out of ten opposing the war. About four out of ten voters said (in exit polls) their vote was a vote against Bush.

The result is Democratic control of both the House of Representatives and the Senate (from next January). For the next two years Bush will be a ‘lame-duck’ president.

What a change since Bush’s sweeping re-election in 2004! Presenting himself as commander-in-chief in the ‘war against terrorism’, Bush played on fears of terrorist attacks. The feeble opposition of the Democratic candidate, John Kerry, let him get away with it.

Bush boasted that he had ‘political capital’ and intended to use it. Karl Rove and other Republican spin-doctors claimed there had been a massive swing to the right, the basis for a permanent Republican majority. This political mirage has now evaporated.

Iraq is the main factor. An overwhelming majority now sees the war as a disastrous mistake. They have seen through the phoney argument that the war reduces the threat of terrorist attack against the US.

Next to Iraq, corruption has been a major issue. In exit polls, three-quarters of voters said corruption influenced their vote. A dozen or more congressional candidates were affected by corruption scandals and investigations. The recent conviction of Washington lobbyist, Jack Abramov, sentenced to five-and-a-half years jail and a $21 million fine, revealed a web of corruption between corporations, lobbyists and members of Congress.

Over 20 members of Congress had received campaign contributions, free trips, other perks in return for corrupt decisions.

More recently, the scandal around congressman Mark Foley, involving inappropriate sexual communications with congressional pages, has further discredited leading Republicans.

But these are not the only grievances against Bush and his Republican supporters. The administration’s criminally incompetent response to the catastrophic impact of hurricane Katrina on New Orleans and the Gulf area has not been forgotten.

Moreover, Bush’s ‘success’ with the economy has not impressed most people. Corporate profits have soared, but real incomes have stagnated. The gulf between rich and poor has deepened. The typical chief executive of a big corporation ‘earns’ more before Monday lunchtime than a low-paid worker earns in a year.

‘Conservative Democrats’

The dramatic change in control of Congress reflects a vote against Bush and the Republicans, not a positive vote for the Democrats. In fact, it was in spite of the Democrats, whose election success is a pale reflection of the deep reservoir of dissatisfaction and anger among US workers and sections of the middle class. Besides, only 40% of the electorate voted, though this was a higher turnout than usual in mid-term elections. The poorest, most down-trodden people have no confidence at all in politicians or the political system.

Before the elections, Democratic leaders like Rahm Emmanuel, chair of the Democratic congressional campaign, pushed to put in place ‘moderate’ and conservative Democratic candidates. For instance, Heath Shuler, who won a House seat in North Carolina, is anti-abortion, pro-gun lobby, and anti-tax (against more social spending). After this election, both the ‘New Democrats’ and conservative ‘Blue Dog’ caucuses of the Democrats are strengthened.

The Democrats rode a wave of anti-war sentiment, but they have not put forward a clear anti-war position. Their call for ‘redeployment’ of US troops, widely assumed to mean withdrawal from Iraq, remains a vague slogan. They have no clear plan.

Before the election, Howard Dean, who made his own bid for the Democratic presidential candidacy in 2004 on the basis of anti-war rhetoric, said: “We will put some pressure on him [Bush] to have some benchmarks, some timetables and a real plan other than to stay the course.” That was vague enough. But after the election he said: “We can’t leave Iraq now. We need to stabilise the situation.”

Hilary Clinton, who is already campaigning for the 2008 presidential election, favours stabilising the position in Iraq – which would mean more troops.

Democrats have attacked Bush over Iraq and criticise his draconian restriction of democratic rights at home. They are promising investigations through congressional hearings, using powers of subpoena if necessary to get evidence from Bush and his officials.

Even before the elections, however, Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi announced that impeachment of Bush was ‘not on the table’. Senator Charles Schumer of New York, a leading Democrat, said: “We are not going to hold a whole raft of hearings pointing a finger back at 2001.”

Even before the elections, they effectively let Bush off the hook for all the lies and deceptions, all the unconstitutional and illegal actions, he has deployed over the occupation of Iraq. The Democratic leaders are more concerned about preparing for the 2008 elections than holding Bush to account for his ‘crimes and misdemeanours’.

The Democrats are equally vague and evasive on economic issues. They are promising to raise the minimum wage from $5.15 to $7.25. Even this would be a welcome improvement for the poorest workers, the working poor. But it is really a pathetic improvement.

For years, many Democrats have denounced Bush’s tax cuts for the super-rich. But now they are saying it will take six months to a year to review the tax structure. Howard Dean “cautioned against expecting the tax cuts many Democrats want for the middle class [i.e. blue-collar and white-collar workers]”. (International Herald Tribune, 13 May)

Eager to reassure big business that they are ‘fiscal conservatives’, Dean said that Democrats support a budget-balancing approach.

Democratic leaders continually promise ‘reform’. No one should expect any serious anti-corporate measures or significant economic improvement for workers.

Corporate politics

The Democrats are the alternative party of US big business. The whole political system is designed to maintain the ‘Republicrat duopoly’, and exclude challenges from third parties. Discontent with one party is then safely channelled into support for the other.

Both major parties receive huge sums of corporate finance. In this election Republican candidates spent $559 million, while Democrats spent $456 million. Hilary Clinton, campaigning for a safe Senate seat in New York state, spent $30 million on her campaign. Overall, the mid-term elections cost the two parties $2.8 billion.

In the closing stages of the campaign, when it began to become clear that the Democrats would make big gains, a number of big corporations began to switch their finance from the Republicans to the Democrats. Pfizer, Sprint, UPS, Hewlett-Packard, Lockheed Martin, etc, all made big donations to the Democrats. Undoubtedly, they believe such contributions will grease their access to congressional leaders and produce the kind of policies they want.

At the same time, labour unions continue to make massive donations to the Democrats. In the 2004 elections, for instance, labour unions donated $55.4 million, 90% to Democratic candidates. This year it will have been even more.

In this way, they have tied organised labour to one of the big-business parties. Even though the Democrats long ago abandoned the liberal, social-welfare policies of the New Deal era, the labour leaders stick to this approach.

Time and again, they have blocked (with one or two honourable exceptions) every move to break away and build a new, independent party of the working class. So organised labour remains the ‘tail’ of the Democrats, handing over millions of dollars but exerting little or no influence on policy.

The outcome of the mid-term elections reveals a glaring contradiction. On the one side, the angry, anti-war mood of the majority of voters, resulting in a decisive defeat for the Republicans. On the other, the wavering, pro-business stance of the Democrats, completely failing to give expression to this mood.

Millions in the US (as well as internationally) are breathing a huge sigh of relief that Bush will be checked in his last two years of office. Many will be prepared to give the Democrats time. Many are no doubt thinking that the Democrats will need to take the presidency before they can implement real changes. But in the next few years, even more than under Clinton’s presidency, the Democrats will demonstrate their subservience to big-business, with little or nothing to offer the working class. They have no magic solution to Iraq, and will become embroiled in the disastrous mess that Bush has created.

For those who wish to fight for the interests of working people, and want to see a fundamental change in the system, the struggle to build a mass party independent of big business and committed to anti-corporate policies is top of the agenda.

Overall results

THESE MID-TERM elections have ended the 12-year Republican dominance of Congress. Democrats won 24 of the 33 Senate seats up for election this year, winning seven million more votes than Republicans. They now narrowly control the Senate, 51 to 49.

In House elections, the Democrats defeated at least 29 Republican incumbents. Normally, around 80% of incumbents keep their seats, fortified by big corporate donations and gerrymandering of the districts. The Democrats so far hold 230 House seats, while the Republicans hold 196.

In House contests, Democrats received about 53% of the two-party vote (many Democrats ran unopposed).

Against the trend, the pro-war Democrat, Joe Lieberman, running as an independent, kept his Senate seat in Connecticut. This was because around 70% of Republican voters voted Lieberman, while his ‘anti-war’ opponent, Ned Lamont, more or less abandoned his anti-war stance.

The Democrats now hold 28 out of 50 state governors. Also against the trend, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Republican candidate in California, was re-elected. After the earlier defeat of his right-wing measures, Arnold apologised and stole the Democrats’ policies.

The Democrats now control both chambers in 23 state legislatures, while the Republicans control 16.

Green Party

THE GREEN Party was the main party standing on an independent, anti-war, anti-corporate platform in these mid-term elections. They ran 382 candidates in 38 states, winning 62 positions in local elections. With the system stacked in favour of the two big-business parties, most Green candidates got limited votes, less than 2%. In a few cases, however, Green candidates gained significant support.

In Illinois, Green candidate for governor, Rich Whitney, won 11%. In a two-way contest with the Democrat for House seat in Colorado, Tom Kelly won 21%. In Richmond, California, a Green was elected mayor.

In 2004, when a majority of the Green Party endorsed the presidential candidacy of David Cobb, as opposed to Ralph Nader, who opposed both Republicans and Democrats, the radical wing of the Greens launched Greens for Democracy and Independence (GDI).

To play a part in preparing the way for a new mass party representing workers in the US, the radical wing of the Greens would have to take up all the issues that affect workers and fight for them in workplaces, the community, and in the political arena.

“People stood up to Chevron and said NO!”

Green elected mayor of Richmond, California

IN THIS gritty working-class city on the east side of San Francisco Bay, grinding poverty, violent crime, pollution, and fiscal scandal fueled the successful campaign of Richmond City Council member Gayle McLaughlin. Richmond is the first US city with over 100,000 residents to elect a Green mayor.

Ty Moore, Socialist Alternative, USA (the Socialist Party’s US counterpart)

Justice (the paper of Socialist Alternative) interviewed Tarnel Abbott, a volunteer for McLaughlin’s campaign and a longtime leader in her union, SEIU Local 790, which represents most city workers and endorsed McLaughlin.

“This is a company town in a lot of ways. Chevron contributes thousands of dollars to the candidates of their choice. What I’m so proud of is that people stood up to Chevron and said NO,” Abbott said.

The incumbent mayor, Irma Anderson, “wife of former Mayor and Councilman Booker T Anderson, has deep roots in the black community. She was also supported by Chevron and the Richmond Chamber of Commerce.” (Contra Costa Times, 11/8/06) With this backing, the mayor spent over $110,000, whereas McLaughlin refused corporate donations, raising $14,000 from labor and supporters.

Anderson’s central campaign theme was combating crime by hiring more police and expanding military-style crackdowns on gangs. Richmond competes with Oakland and Compton as the most violent city in California, according to FBI statistics.

In contrast, McLaughlin “spoke about ending violence by dealing with root causes, not just throwing more money at the police. She was proposing that we hire a thousand young people to get them real jobs,” explained Abbott. “The Richmond Youth Corp would be part-time union jobs with the city.”

To fund this and other programs, McLaughlin and supporters put an initiative on the ballot to force Chevron to hand over $8 million per year in tax revenues. However, Chevron and its political supporters succeeded in defeating the initiative through a big misinformation campaign, Abbott said.

Incumbent Mayor Anderson presided over a financial scandal in 2004. “The money was so badly managed that they couldn’t pin it on anybody. $35 million in debt and they could not account for that lost money,” said Abbot. “At the library I work at, two-thirds were laid off and library hours were cut in half… almost half the city’s workforce was laid off.”

“The current president of our union did not support Gayle; she supported the mayor… How could you endorse the people who laid you off? That was the Democratic Party machine at work again. But the people in our union didn’t want to play the game… The membership voted overwhelmingly to support Gayle and agreed to give several thousand dollars to her campaign.”

socialism 2006 –

Session on US imperialism

Which way forward for the Middle East?

Speaker: Jenny Brooks (Committee for a Workers’ International – CWI)

Sunday 26 November 10am-12noon at the University of London Union building, Malet Street, London WC1.