U.S. Elections 2006: A Referendum on Bush

“I thought we were fine yesterday. Shows what I know!”

– Bush to reporters, Nov. 8th

In what was in all but name a referendum on George W. Bush, the Democratic Party has been swept into power in the House of Representatives and Senate.  The majority of state governors’ mansions were won by the Democrats as well. The bulk of state legislatures now have Democratic majorities. After six years of Bush and twelve years of Republican control of the House, working people in the United States have rejected those policies.

For the first time since 2002, the Bush Administration will no longer have total control over Congress. Despite outspending the Democrats in the election, the Republicans in general, and Bush in particular, have lost whatever credibility they once had with the majority of American society. Two long years as a “dead duck” president await Bush and those rats that don’t jump off the sinking ship.

Reflecting a recent string of Republican scandals, exit polls revealed that three-fourths of all voters said corruption was a major concern. Two-thirds of voters were concerned about the war in Iraq, and 4 out of 10 said they were voting to oppose Bush. For the first time since 9/11, the majority of voters who said terrorism was a concern were slightly more likely to vote for Democrats rather than the Republicans.

About 24 percent of Americans under the age of 30, or at least 10 million young voters, cast ballots in the elections, and the youth vote strongly favored the Democrats. With this support come honest illusions that the Democrats will bring about real change. According to a CNN poll, 40 percent of voters expect the Democratic House to withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq within a year.

The White House has clearly been shaken by its repudiation at the ballot box. On the day after the elections, Bush announced Donald Rumsfeld’s resignation, replacing him with former CIA chief Robert Gates. Most likely, they decided to toss Rumsfeld overboard on its own rather than being forced to do so by a Democratic Congress. The Democrats had previously called for investigations into the Iraq War as well as for Rumsfeld’s resignation, so this post-election sacrifice may be an attempt to strike a deal with the Democrats on other issues later on.

Rumsfeld’s resignation will surely not be the last. Speaking at the same White House press conference on November 8th where he announced the Secretary of Defense’s resignation, a visibly angry Bush had trouble answering reporters’ questions in a coherent way. In typical fashion, the most fitting representative of today’s capitalist class said to a reporter, “I knew you would try to get me to negotiate with myself.” 

From the above it is clear that the election was largely seen as a referendum on Bush, and that for lack of an alternative, the majority of voters hope the Democrats can offer some kind of alternative. But can they?           

Bush and his cabinet will now be forced to govern without Congressional backing. The biggest loss for the Republicans in the mid-term elections has been the House of Representatives, where they had held a large majority since 1994. Nancy Pelosi, who the right-wing media has absurdly called a “radical leftist,” will now be Speaker of the House, and a such, third in line for the presidential succession after Bush and Vice-President Cheney.                                   

So how closely connected is this “radical” to the interests of working people? According to online encyclopedia Wikipedia, “The Pelosi family has a net worth of over $25 million, mainly from [husband Paul Pelosi’s] investments. Besides a large portfolio of jointly owned San Francisco Bay Area real estate, he also has millions of dollars worth of shares in publicly traded companies such as Microsoft, Amazon.com and AT&T.”  Despite their “middle class America” stage act, the Democrats are a part of the same rich elite as their Republican counterparts. Not for nothing has Bush called Pelosi a “secret admirer” of his tax cuts.

Soon after the return of the election results, soon-to-be Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced that “in its first 100 hours” the Democratic House would enact legislation on the minimum wage, tax cuts, and health care, and would launch an inquiry into the Iraq War. It would seem that they will seek to increase the minimum wage to around $7.50 an hour. This is an improvement, but is nowhere near enough to seriously improve the financial conditions of working people, and nothing near a living wage.

Several top Democrats have also said they want to either repeal or scale-back the Republican tax cuts as well as making vague promises to improve the health care system. Lastly, there is the promised inquiry into the Iraq War, the results of which can’t be predicted in advance, but the fact that an investigation of the war will be conducted is in and of itself a blow to the neo-conservatives.

The Democrats do not have anything even resembling a party program, and while criticizing the war in speeches, they have not presented any clear or unified position. However, the Iraq War can only end in defeat for U.S. imperialism, and the Democrats may be forced by the deteriorating situation to beat a retreat and withdraw, much as Richard Nixon was forced to pull out of the Vietnam War.

Bush’s tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans may also be on the chopping block. The cuts are scheduled to become permanent in 2012, but the Democratic Congress has the ability to enact new laws revoking them, just as they have the ability to move to revoke any other number of anti-worker laws like Taft-Hartley. These tax cuts, in addition to saddling the American working class with nearly all of the nation’s financial burdens, also pose the danger of leaving the government itself bankrupt in the near future.  The Democrats may very well be forced to repeal these cuts due to pressure from below and fiscal reality.

It is clear that a divided government will exacerbate the contradictions in Bush’s administration.  At the same time, the contradictions within the Democratic Party will also be multiplied. There are already divisions at the top of the party, and between the party leadership and those voters who expect a settling of accounts with Bush and co.

Democratic Party leaders Nancy Pelosi, John Conyers, and Howard Dean have said unequivocally that the Democratic Congress will not impeach George W. Bush. This has already angered not a few Democratic voters. While they were in the minority they called for investigations and even impeachment. So why the sudden change of heart? The answer is that the Democrats are confident that they can take the White House in 2008, so why damage the office of the Presidency now?     

They also understand that impeachment proceedings in such a highly charged political climate could spell disaster for the very institutions of the state itself.                  

These elections have made it clear that the masses of the American workers feel that they can’t go on living in the old way. They are tired of the war in Iraq, they are tired of the jobless recovery, and they are tired of a decade of counter-reforms aimed at their living standards.  The Democrats, who represent the slightly more astute wing of the ruling class, realize this, and because of this will be forced to offer some kind of superficial reforms in order to stabilize the system. The length to which the Democrats will be forced to bend will depend on the quickly-changing domestic situation as well as events internationally. As we’ve learned the hard way since 2000, a lot can change over the course of a year, and even from one day to the next. In 2000, no one could have predicted September 11, and in 2004 no one could have predicted the man-made tragedy of Hurricane Katrina.  

What is certain is that the U.S. working class is now entering the School of the Democratic Party. After living through six years of Bush, the masses have made a healthy rejection of the Republicans. But the interests of the working class and those of the Democratic Party’s capitalist masters run counter to each other. As Lenin explained a century ago: “In any bourgeois-reformist trend there are two main streams: the bourgeois big-wigs and politicians, who deceive the masses with promises of reform, and the cheated masses, who feel that they cannot go on living in the old way, and follow the quack with the loudest promises.”  (After the Elections in America, LCW volume 36.)

For the time being, and for lack of options, the Democrats have benefited. But our class will have to learn through harsh experience that the Democrats cannot offer any genuine or lasting alternative. This party has said it will increase the minimum wage – but will they provide a living wage and guarantee jobs for all? They have called Bush’s response to Hurricane Katrina “inept and racist” – but will they rebuild New Orleans in a way that truly serves the needs of the people of the Gulf Coast? They have called the Iraq War a ‘disaster’ – yet they continue to paint Hugo Chavez with the same brush as they did Saddam Hussein.

Working people need a party of our own! It is the duty of the Marxists to go shoulder to shoulder with our class through this “school”, patiently explaining that the way forward is to break with the Democrats, to build a mass party of Labor, and to join the struggle for a better world: for the American Socialist Revolution and the establishment of a World Socialist Federation.

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