Saturday, November 09, 2002

I've put off writing about the American election because it gives me a headache and I'd rather not think about it too much, especially given all the suffering that the results are going to inevitably cause. There seem to be two related reasons being given for the Democratic disaster:

  1. The Democrats failed to take any positions different from the Bush junta on any important issue, and the completely 'tactical' campaign they attempted to run just didn't work. The general theory of the leaders of the Democrats was that they could win by default by scrupulously failing to take a position on any issue that someone might disagree with, and fall back on a general displeasure in the electorate with Bush's handling of the economy and his connections to crony capitalism. The official reasons why this didn't work appear to be: 1) it is logically impossible to simultaneously support every position of the party you are running against while claiming that that party is doing a wonderful job at managing those issues, and make the argument that the electorate should vote for you instead of them; and 2) the only issue that the electorate was concerned about was the fear of further terrorist attack, and the electorate was satisfied with the Bush Administration's position on fighting the war on terror, thus making the 'tactical' campaign of the Democrats completely irrelevant. Neither of these reasons is completely convincing. While the Democrats did support too much of the Bush agenda, they were resisting the worst of the plutocrat tax cuts, they were putting up opposition to Bush's friends' crony capitalism, and they were beginning to resist some of the worst excesses of the fascist security state. Despite the best efforts of the junta with all its phony terrorist warnings (and perhaps the October distraction of the snipers), it does not appear that the majority of the population supports the permanent state of war that the junta proposes, and, in particular, the majority of the population is not convinced of the prudence of a war on Iraq. Given that, the 'tactical' campaign should have worked, particularly given the propensity of any electorate to pass a message on to their leaders in mid-term elections by voting for the minority party (this propensity means that it won't do for the Democrats to claim that they really lost control of the Senate by only the cumulative effect of a few thousand votes, as they really should have won, given the circumstances, by many thousands of votes).

  2. Clinton destroyed the soul of the true Democratic Party by introducing large-scale corporate fundraising, which in turn led to a sharp turn in political philosophy to the right, and the corresponding loss of Democratic values. The idea appears to be that this dilution of the pure Democratic message caused traditional Democrat voters not to vote, thus leading to the extremely low turn-out and the loss of control of the Senate. Certain people have been on this 'Clinton did it' rant for years. It is amusing that the Republicans seems to hate Clinton as he was so successful at using traditional Republican methods against them, and the Democrats who hate Clinton hate him for the same reason. It strikes me that Clinton is a symptom, and not a cause, of the problems of the Democrats. If it had not been for his embracing of the Republican style of politics, the Democrats might not have won the two Presidential elections that he won. The idea that the Democrats would obtain more democratic success if they moved sharply to the left, to their supposedly historical roots, is laughable. Had they moved sharply to the left in this past election they would have done even worse than they did.

So why did the Democrats lose so badly? There has been a constant shift over the years from Democrat to Republican in all areas of politics. This was particularly noticeable during the Clinton era, and predictably, has been blamed on Clinton. I think this is unfair to Clinton, as the shift has been going on for many years. When was the last time that the Democrats actually outright won a Presidential election, rather than just winning by default? The JFK and Johnson wins. Carter only won because of the general disgust with Watergate, and Clinton only won because of the general exhaustion with 12 years of Reagan/Bush (and was reelected as he ran basically unopposed, and the complete lack of credible opposition is ironically the reason why Gore won). It is important to realize why Johnson was the last Democratic candidate for President who won because the electorate wanted to vote for him, rather than because it rejected the Republicans. Johnson brought in the civil rights legislation and much of the social welfare legislation that the Democrats rightly believe were the glory of the party (it is quite ironic, and perhaps instructive, that an ogre as bad as Johnson should have presided over such good legislation). In so doing, however, Johnson inadvertantly created the basis for the essentially racist hold that the Republicans have over American politics. The Vietnam War and the ensuing mass protests led to the creation of a gulf of perception between Nixon's 'silent majority' and what was then described as the counterculture, a rift that still exists to this day in a different form. Republican strategists wisely created the idea, based on a rather stupid nationalism, that war protestors were traitors, and associated such treason with the Democrats. The view was created that the civil rights movement and various social redistributive efforts by the Democrats were hidden forms of oppression of the white majority in favor of non-white minorities, and were just another form of the same treason. All of this is now hidden in the code words used by Republicans to describe Democrats. When Jeb Bush described McBride as a 'tax and spend' Democrat, cracker Florida voters had no problem reading that as a description of a man who wanted to redistribute white tax money to non-whites, and the race, with the Democrats running a perfectly credible candidate in an election where the electorate still should have been mad at Jeb for the last election fiasco, wasn't even close. Whenever you hear the words 'liberal' or 'soft on crime', there is a corresponding racist subtext. The whole war on drugs and the creation of the prison-industrial complex, not to mention the U. S. gun fetish and the fear that Democrats are 'gun grabbers', is part of the same subtext. The brilliance of the Republican strategy was to add to the racist vote the politically organized Christian religious fundamentalist vote, a group whose leaders have great powers to get the vote out. The Democrats, in their heroic shift from the party of racist oppression in the South to the party of social conscience, also lost any chance of doing well with voters who could be provoked to associate race issues with jingoistic U. S. nationalism (and the Republicans have now completely sewn up the traditionally Democratic South). The Vietnam protests allowed the Republicans to connect the Democrats to a form of treason which became associated with anti-white actions, and this same nationalism was successfully stirred up by 9-11. Of course, in 9-11 the racism was generally directed at Arabs and Muslims, and helps to explain why there was essentially no protest at the unconstitutional imprisonment of the thousands of young Muslim men who were (and are) imprisoned in the aftermath of 9-11. The Republican message is still that it is only the Republicans who have the will to protect white Christian folk from attack from other races or religions. This reached its height in the fact that a chicken hawk in Georgia was able to easily defeat war hero Senator Cleland by claiming that he was soft on terrorism for not supporting the Homeland Security legislation, when, with an essential irony that shouldn't be lost on the Democrats, Cleland's objection to the bill concerned the Republican attempt to sneak in a further erosion of labor union rights. The role of fighting non-white foreign terrorists is simply too powerful a weapon in the hands of the Republicans for the Democrats to be able to mount any kind of effective challenge. What does this mean?:

  1. The United States is fundamentally a much nastier place under the surface than most people are willing to believe. The deep racism of American politics makes possible the evils of American foreign policy, and explains the rather bizarre way that many Americans have of voting against their class interests in order to ensure preservation of what they perceive as their race interests.

  2. There is no real strategy that the Democrats can take that will ensure that they will win any given election. They have effectively been marginalized into what amounts to a third party. While the Gephardt/Daschle/McAuliffe strategy was stupid, and the Democrats should get rid of the lot of them, the strategy itself wasn't the fundamental reason for the Democratic disaster.

  3. The Democrats are not finished, and no doubt will do well again. The current Administration is now so completely arrogant that it will get into all sorts of trouble. If the war on Iraq goes well, that will just encourage them in their series of colonialist wars until they start one that runs into a disaster. The draft is sure to come, and the tens of thousands of body bags will just as surely follow. The obviously Republican judges will decimate the popular reproductive choice protections, and the continued crony capitalism will become even more outrageous. The environment will start obviously to be destroyed, and by the second George term or the first Jeb term the lack of American industrial competitiveness caused by the American failure to follow the Kyoto protocol will start to become obvious as wasteful American firms won't be able to compete with countries that have learned how to produce the same output using less energy. Eventually, some foolish war will result in destruction of the oil fields somewhere, leading to another fake 'oil crisis', and, in the ultimate political problem, SUV's will have to be parked. Even after stealing the Iraqi and Saudi oil fields, the cost of all the wars will destroy the U. S. economy. There's plenty of hope for the Democrats yet.