Can George Bush’s second-term offensive be defeated?

USA feature

Can George Bush’s second-term offensive be defeated?

SINCE WINNING re-election three months ago, George W Bush has made it
very clear that he intends to go on the offensive in his second term. He
claims a mandate for continuing the "war on terror" – in reality a
series of imperialist adventures – while attacking the remaining gains
made by American working people in the 20th century, first and foremost
Social Security (pensions).

Tom Crean, Socialist Alternative, USA

The mandate is a lie, but how far will Bush be able to push this
agenda? More to the point, what can be done to stop and reverse the
attacks on working and poor people here and around the world?

The first point to make is that, the January elections
notwithstanding, the Iraqi occupation remains a disaster with no end in
sight. American soldiers will continue to die, the situation will
deteriorate further, domestic support for the war will continue to fall,
and the whole sorry mess will be a millstone around the neck of this

Domestically, the Bush agenda can certainly be described as bold. As
Bush’s recent budget proposal shows, the plan to privatise Social
Security is only a part, albeit a key part, of the drive to curtail or
destroy all social programmes that assist poor and working people in
this country.

Tax cuts for the rich

Bush’s budget targets dozens of programmes including Medicaid,
childcare assistance, food stamps, and veterans’ benefits. Bush also
wants to make permanent the tax cuts for the rich passed during his
first term and to go further towards replacing income taxes with a
regressive flat tax or sales tax.

It is hard to imagine that the massive growth of inequality in the
past 20 years could go even further. But in this period of economic
stagnation and decay, the main way capitalists seek to keep their system
profitable and viable is through large-scale theft from the rest of the

It would be wrong, however, to think Bush will have an easy time
achieving his domestic agenda. Social Security privatisation will face
far more resistance than any other domestic policy he has pushed to

A significant part of the ruling class has grave reservations about
having to borrow the projected $2 trillion required to set up individual
retirement accounts at a time of soaring federal budget deficits. In
fact, if the economy begins to slide into a new recession in the next
year – a distinct possibility – the whole privatisation proposal could

The Democratic Party, which happily went along with the Patriot Act
(massively extending the powers of the state to spy on citizens and
attack democratic rights), the build-up to war against Iraq, and many of
whom accepted the Bush tax cuts, also look set to oppose Bush’s Social
Security proposals fairly vigorously. This is partly because of the
concerns already cited and partly because they are looking for a way
back in the 2006 elections.

Mass movement

But while the Democrats will step up the rhetoric a notch – assisted
by their new chairman, Howard Dean – they still agree with significant
parts of the Bush agenda and they are quite capable of making rotten
compromises, even on Social Security.

They are in fact being quite cagey about their plan for financing
Social Security in the long run but the party leadership seems to be
leaning towards a mix of increasing Social Security taxes on workers and
reducing benefits!

Once again it is clear that absolutely no faith should be placed in
American politics’ other corporate-dominated party.

In the next period, we will see the re-igniting of a mass movement
against Bush. Already, we see increasing resistance from veterans and
military families to the war, and numerous actions by high school and
college students against the presence of military recruiters on

On 19 March, anti-war protests will take place around the country. In
the next period, the AFL-CIO (trade union federation) and the AARP
(pensioners’ organisation) will undoubtedly organise huge protests
against Social Security privatisation. And when Bush nominates abortion
opponents to the Supreme Court, this will lead to huge protests by


The current situation brings home the point that elections are far
from being the only vehicle for defeating attacks from the right. If the
situation in Iraq continues to degenerate, the economy begins to sink
again, and Bush is defeated on key parts of his domestic agenda, the
Bush regime could implode like the Johnson and Nixon presidencies did
during the Vietnam War.

Of course, waiting around for Bush to defeat himself is not an
option. Mass struggle is key. But the force that has the social power to
stop Bush’s agenda is the American working class. Mobilising the working
class requires reinvigorating the labour movement.

It is guaranteed that the Democratic Party will do everything
possible to stop or neuter a real mobilisation of working people. This
is why the labour movement, as well as the anti-war and women’s
movements, need to break from the stranglehold of the Democrats and lay
the basis for our own political party.

Such a party should not stop at opposing the attacks of the ruling
class but put forward a bold programme for real change including a
national guaranteed income for all workers regardless of age, and free
universal health care.

As socialists, we struggle alongside others to establish such a
party, while pointing out that all reforms made under capitalism, like
Social Security, are vulnerable to attack by the capitalists at a later
stage. This is why we need to get rid of the whole capitalist system
once and for all.