“Ladies and gentleman, the horses are arriving at the starting gate,” says the announcer at the Kentucky Derby, the first of three famous races that rivet the attention of racing fans around the country in the spring of every year. The “Sport of Kings,” which Congress funds with $128 million yearly in tax breaks, is indeed a spectacle to behold, as crowds gather to watch “pure-blooded” three-year-olds, often pumped up with a variety of steroids, run for the money.
The race for the U.S. presidency is only a slightly different matter. Here, poor millionaires run for the money, virtually year round, while their billionaire and approaching trillionaire ruling-class backers stoke their treasuries with ever-increasing campaign contributions. The corporate elite orchestrate this charade with the full force of their kept media, daily promoting their horse for the top post in the “democratically elected” executive committee of the richest ruling families in the country.
The race is on and it matters not if their candidate is a blundering reactionary or racist fool, like most of the present Republican crop of race entrants, or the former Chicago Black community organizer and Harvard graduate, Barack Obama. The rules, as with any good horse race, hold that the people’s choice, the best participant, wins. In both cases, of course, the house wins—the racetrack owners when the race is between animals, and the U.S. ruling class when the race is between multiple candidates put up for the sake of appearances.
In U.S. politics, there are some premises aimed at guiding our choices, the main one being that it is intelligent and proper to vote for the “lesser evil.” Lesser-evil politics are based on the notion that capitalism can be reformed, that virtually all the evils attendant to it—racism, poverty, never-ending imperialist wars, and occupations, environmental destruction, global warming, massive unemployment, plant closures, foreclosures, and all the rest—can be changed with the election of the lesser evil. The alternative, it is often argued, is fascism!
Of course, in playing the lesser-evil game it takes some effort to view the Democratic Party as a force for reform of any sort. That’s why, as the June 28 New York Times reported, “Despite ‘fat cat’ talk, many bankers still support Obama. … His bark has been worse than his bite.”
The same article noted the banking community’s approval of Obama’s appointment of former JP Morgan Chase senior executive William Daley as his chief of staff. JP Morgan Chase (the Morgan and Rockefeller interests) are perhaps the richest capitalist families in the world. The Times, the ruling class’s newspaper of record and an ardent Obama supporter, neglected to add that Obama bailed out the banks, insurance interests, and related private financial institutions to the tune of $17 trillion, putting the previous Bush administration bailouts to shame!
The Times couldn’t help but note, however, that some “deep pocket” banker-fundraisers stayed away for appearances—“optics” was the selected word. “Wall Street is not the only one concerned about optics,” the article continued, “The president’s re-election campaign has not been actively courting Wall Street’s biggest C.E.O.’s to appear at such fundraisers, out of fear that their support could offend his most liberal backers…”
The political horse race requires Democrats and Republicans to take whatever opportunities seem open to them to try to fool the electorate. Accordingly, Commander in Chief Obama, mindful that polls show that a majority of Americans do not support U.S. involvement in any of its current wars, has chosen to play the role once again of a “peace candidate.” And thus he told Congress with a straight face that the U.S. is not involved in “hostilities” against Libya!
Obama received some flak over his insistence that the U.S. was not required to seek Congressional approval under the War Powers Act for continued U.S. funding for the Libyan War. The president argued that the definition of war is when the U.S. attacks a nation and they fight back. Given the fact that Libya’s air defenses were destroyed, not to mention that significant numbers of Libya’s people have been murdered, we are not really at war with that country, the “lesser-evil” president asserted.
Democrats in Congress, although complicit in the president’s charade, joined with their Republican colleagues to rap Obama on the knuckles by denying further funding for the war. Then, in another bill, both parties approved continued funding for the Libyan slaughter.
As part of the “peace-candidate” hoax, Obama recently announced an “increased rate of withdrawal” of U.S. troops from Afghanistan. He pledged to withdraw some 30,000 troops by next summer, beginning with 10,000 by the end of 2011. Obama insisted that after America’s longest war—11 years and running—a trillion dollars expended, and 1500 U.S. troops lost, yesterday’s “terrorist threat” has virtually disappeared.
“The tide of war is receding,” said Obama. “It is time to focus on nation-building here at home.” Officially, of course, the U.S. government, even under the George W, Bush administration, rejects the concept of “nation-building,” that is, smashing unfriendly governments and disbanding historic cultural, religious, economic and cultural norms which U.S. imperialism finds contrary to its interests. But in his haste to re-position himself as a “peace candidate” the president apparently slipped and told the truth about U.S. war aims in Afghanistan.
“Peace candidate” rhetoric aside, more than two-thirds of all U.S. troops, approximately 100,000, will remain in Afghanistan, plus an estimated equal number of mercenaries. Additional, but unspecified numbers of troops are to be withdrawn by 2014, but the loopholes and contingencies in these provisions allow for nothing less than permanent occupation.
Meanwhile, “counterinsurgency” or secret terrorist attacks led by mercenaries and “special forces,” better named death squads, on suspected opponents of the U.S.-installed Hamid Karzai government remain central to U.S. Afghan strategy. “Al-Qaeda is under more pressure than at any time since 9/11,” said an American commander, who neglected to add that al-Qaeda has been estimated for years to have about 40 fighters in Afghanistan.
A June 24 New York Times article reported Obama as stating, “The time to rely on massive military force is over. The need now is to focus on more clandestine operations of the type that the U.S. is conducting in Pakistan, Yemen and elsewhere. When threatened we must respond with force. But when that force can be targeted, we need not deploy large armies overseas.” “Targeted” of course, means destroying “enemy” forces via drone airplanes and death squads.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, new CIA director David Petraeus and outgoing Secretary of Defense Robert Gates all accepted Obama’s announcement “with reservations,” said The Times, noting that “the effort to transfer responsibility to Afghan troops has been elusive because these troops are proving to be [after 11 years] unprepared for the job. … Corruption in the Karzai government continues to be rampant, sapping the confidence of many Afghans.”
But the media-savvy Obama insisted, “Over the decades we have spent over a trillion dollars on war at a time of rising debt and hard economic times. Now we must invest in America’s greatest resource: our people.” Not to be outdone, Obama’s Republican “opponents” generally lined up to join the “peace parade.” And when the White House stated on July 5 that 10,000 U.S. troops might remain in Iraq beyond the end of the year (breaking earlier promises to withdraw them), Republicans were quick to protest, “Bring the troops home!”
In general, however, the two-party “lesser-evil” electoral game requires the “right” to be as outrageous and reactionary as possible, thus enabling the Democrats to pose as defenders of the people.
Republican Tea Party leaders met last month, approving the following debt-cutting proposals for candidates running in some 18 swing states: (1) Balance the budget within 10 years; (2) Cut federal spending to 18 percent of GDP—a $1.3 trillion budget cut. (3) Reduce the $14 trillion national debt to no more than 66 percent of GDP (from 100 percent today). (4) Reduce federal spending by at least $300 billion the first year and at least $9 trillion over the next 10 years.
These goals, backed by most Republicans, are supposed to be achieved with no new taxes, more privatizations, health-care cutbacks, etc. Within the Tea Party framework of capitalist politics, without cutting military spending and without raising corporate tax rates, no one seriously believes that these proposals can be accomplished. But this is beside the point! All are designed to give the Democrats enough space to meet their “adversaries half way,” so to speak—that is, to move the broad bipartisan ruling-class agenda farther to the right.
Obama’s rhetoric aside, the “lesser evil” Democrats are in substantial agreement with the Republicans, already reconciling with them on critical issues, like cutting $200 billion from Medicare and Medicaid. How they achieve this is pure gamesmanship, an annual ritual wherein the few direct representatives of the ruling rich, taking into account their conflicting and coinciding interests, arrange back room deals to settle accounts.
Republicans and Democrats debate tax hikes and whether to renewing the previous time-limited tax breaks for the rich. In the end, however, both agree that workers must pay for the failure of the system itself. The tax codes are replete with almost totally unknown tax breaks and outright gifts for the rich in every industry, not counting those who have, “under the law” moved their corporate headquarters outside the country to avoid paying taxes at all.
There is no end to evidence demonstrating that voting for and supporting Democrats as a “lesser evil” is a tactic that can never lead to effective social change. The worldwide capitalist crisis today compels Obama and the Democrats to make George Bush look like a liberal by comparison. Any serious challenge to his policies can and must arise from a fundamental break with both capitalist parties as well as so-called third parties like the Greens, which seek a “kinder, gentler” capitalism.
Challenging the evils inherent in all capitalist societies requires the concerted action of the great working-class majority, organized independently of all capitalist institutions and their political representatives. Today, the formation of a mass Labor Party based on a renewed, fighting, and democratic trade-union movement would be a good beginning.
Revolutionary socialists would actively build such a party and seek the adoption of a socialist program aimed at the construction of a new society that for the first time in human history would be based on the rule of the working-class majority in unison with all the oppressed and exploited. Exploitation of workers and despoliation of the environment would be ended. A democratically planned society would raise the quality of life for all. Today’s world of perpetual war and ever-increasing misery would be relegated to the dustbin of history.
> The article above was written by Jeff Mackler. It first appeared in the July 2011 print edition of Socialist Action newspaper.