3 November 2008Patrick Martin wsws.org
In the run-up to Election Day, with polls pointing to a lopsided victory by the Democratic Party, both Barack Obama and leading congressional Democrats are making it clear in advance that a popular repudiation of the Bush administration will not determine the policies of an Obama White House or Democratic Congress.
Having capitalized on popular hatred for President George Bush and mobilized working and young people on the basis of calls for “change” and “new politics” and invocations of the “fierce urgency of now,” Obama and the Democratic leadership are taking pains to reassure the ruling elite that if they win the election, they will carry out a thoroughly conventional and conservative agenda that upholds the interests of the financial aristocracy.
The mantra of spokesman after spokesman is that the Democrats should not “overreach,” that they should disavow “one-party rule,” and that bipartisan consensus should be the goal of the new administration. They are, in other words, repudiating the most fundamental precept of democracy—that the decision made by the voters on Election Day should determine public policy.
Tens of millions of people are going to vote for Obama in the hope that this will lead to a rapid end to the war in Iraq and to domestic policies that promote jobs and decent living standards, as opposed to the unrestrained profiteering by big business and the wealthy fostered by the Bush administration.
The policy of the incoming administration will not be guided by these popular illusions, however, but by the reality of a worldwide financial crisis, a deepening slump in the United States, and the ongoing resistance to imperialist military occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
A principal concern of Obama and his key strategists is that a large-scale Democratic victory will arouse popular expectations that they have no intention of meeting.
The disavowal of any political mandate in Tuesday’s voting was spelled out by the 2004 Democratic presidential candidate, Senator John Kerry, in an appearance as an Obama surrogate on the NBC Sunday interview program “Meet the Press.” Program host Tom Brokaw asked Kerry about statements from House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charles Rangel, a New York Democrat, that Obama should move rapidly on tax cuts for middle-income and low-income families, health care reform and a substantive program to promote alternative energy.
Asked how he would pay for such policies, Rangel had replied, “Don’t ask me where the money will come from. I’m going to go to the same place that Paulson went”—referring to the $700 billion bailout of Wall Street authored by Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson.
Brokaw asked Kerry, “Is that responsible fiscal policy?” The senator responded, “I don’t agree with all of that and nor does Barack Obama. Barack Obama is the person running for president and he’s made it very clear we’re going to have to restore fiscal responsibility to Washington.”
Kerry added that Obama would seek significant Republican input and involvement in his administration. “He’s going to govern in a way that brings the country together, and no matter what our majority, he’s going to seek to reach a broader consensus because that’s the only way we can govern America at this time.” The senator suggested that the Democrats would not seek to use their majority to push through policies opposed by the Republicans. “We don’t need to pass things by 51 votes or 60 votes,” he said, referring to the Senate. “We need to build 85-vote majorities.”
This statement deserves serious consideration. Insistence on “85-vote majorities” in the Senate means giving the Republican minority veto power over government policy. It amounts to a repudiation of any conception of democracy.
If the Democrats win on Tuesday, it will be because of broad popular sentiment for a reversal of the policies of war and social reaction pursued for the past eight years by Bush. But Kerry insists that it would be wrong for the Democrats to govern as though they had a mandate.
The anti-democratic character of this stance was underscored as Kerry voiced his agreement with comments by former Democratic Senator Bob Kerrey, who declared recently: “By my lights, the primary threat to the success of a President Obama will come from some Democrats… emboldened by the size of their congressional majority… Obama will need to communicate the following to Congress, in no uncertain terms: The Democrats have not won a mandate for all their policies. Rather, the American people have resoundingly registered their frustration with a failed status quo, and the next president must chart a new, less partisan course.”
Such a position is in stark contrast to the way the Republicans governed after Bush was installed in the White House in 2000 by the Supreme Court. Although Bush had lost the popular vote to his Democratic opponent Al Gore, and the Republicans had far smaller majorities in the House and Senate than the Democrats will enjoy after November 4, the incoming administration boasted that the election had delivered it 100 percent of the power.
Bush proceeded to make policy accordingly, ramming through (with significant Democratic support) massive tax cuts for the wealthy, and then embarking on wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and a host of other policies that were widely opposed by the American public.
Kerry’s remarks are an indication that an incoming Democratic administration will do as the Democrats did after their sweeping victory in the 2006 congressional elections, which was propelled largely by popular hostility to the war in Iraq. The newly installed Democratic majorities in the House and Senate pledged to work with President Bush on a bipartisan basis. The new House Speaker, Nancy Pelosi, immediately ruled out any effort to impeach Bush and eventually agreed to continue funding the Iraq war throughout the remainder of Bush’s presidency.
The comments by Kerry and other Democratic spokesmen underscore the essentially fraudulent character of the entire 2008 election. Despite large increases in voter turnout and widespread involvement by new layers of the population, particularly youth and students, the American people will end up serving as little more than extras in a conflict within the ruling elite. Once Election Day is past, Obama will put “hope” and “change” back in his briefcase and go about his real business: defending the interests of corporate America.
The Democrats responded with alacrity to the danger of a meltdown in the financial markets, turning over trillions in public funds to bail out the banks and speculators. The same political figures will turn to working people after the election and tell them that there is no money to provide health care, jobs, education and other social benefits, especially given the need to spend even more for wars in the Middle East and Central Asia.
Exclusive to STR
November 3, 2008
With Election Day looming, Americans are constantly being reminded about the importance of voting. Politicians, news media, celebrities, and talk show hosts alike wax poetic about this hallowed institution we call democracy and how crucial it is for voters to cast their ballot.
Rock the Vote! Vote for Change! Respect My Vote! Vote or Die! It’s as if the ballot box possesses some mystical power to make us all happy, healthy, wealthy, and wise.
Except when it doesn’t. Recent polls suggest that an overwhelming majority of Americans think that the country is “going in the wrong direction.”
Nearly 70% of Americans are dissatisfied with the job that the President is doing1, and Congressional job approval is even worse.2 The economy is in the tank. Consumer confidence is at an all-time low. The national debt is at an all-time high. The government is engaged in a series of unpopular wars and “strategic” military and political interventions in many foreign countries--with no end in sight.
So, what happened? These are the politicians that the voters chose to represent them. This is the President that the people asked for. This is the Congress that the citizenry demanded. Is it possible that voters made a mistake?
Nah, that can’t be it. Voters are generally well-informed, educated, thoughtful creatures who base their electoral decisions on objective reasoning and rational thought.
Except when they don’t.
So, perhaps voters simply had a lapse in judgment and unintentionally elected a handful of politicians that broke their campaign promises and didn’t have their best interests at stake. What can be done about it?
“Let’s vote them all out,” say the disgruntled electorate. “Fire every one of them. After all, they work for us!”
A wonderfully idealistic sentiment, no doubt. It should be easy enough, right? After all, there are a lot of unhappy folks out there. All that’s needed is to convince a majority of voters not to vote for the incumbent when he or she is up for re-election.
Except that it’s not that easy. Congressional incumbents are re-elected about 95% of the time, thanks to gerrymandering laws and certain privileges that entrenched politicians have generously provided themselves.3 So, “voting the bastards out” is not a legitimate option.
“But voting is important,” they say. “Voting allows your voice to be heard. After all, every vote counts!”
Except when it doesn’t. Expecting your “voice to be heard” by voting is akin to screaming at the top of your lungs in a gigantic sports arena filled to capacity with raucous fans and expecting the players on the field to hear what you’re saying.
Besides, what makes the “voice” of one person or one group more important than another’s? After all, government is a zero-sum game. The State cannot satisfy the wants or needs of one individual or group without subjugating others as a result.
Still, Americans overwhelmingly favor a representative democracy that provides equal representation under the law. According to this political philosophy, the people in a defined geographic district use the voting process to select a government official--a Congressional representative--to speak for them and represent their best interests.
In theory, it sounds like a good idea. The problem is that most Americans don’t even know who their representative is.
A Kaiser Foundation poll revealed that two-thirds of Americans could not name their Congressional representative. Half did not know whether their representative was a Republican or a Democrat.4
Furthermore, many did not know basic facts regarding how the federal government works. Nearly half didn’t know that the U.S. Supreme Court has the final responsibility for deciding whether a law is constitutional. Three out of four were unaware that U.S. senators are elected to serve six-year terms.
So, most Americans don’t know who “represents” them in Congress, what party they belong to, how they vote on important issues, or how the political system works. If this is true, how can their “representative” possibly embody their best interests, or the interests of their community? They can’t. It’s that simple.
So, why even bother voting?
“But, if you don’t vote, then you have no right to complain,” they say.
Whenever I hear this humorous non-sequitur, I’m reminded of a wonderful quote by the late, great George Carlin from one of his stand-up routines. In this one, he explains why he doesn’t vote:
“If you vote, and you elect dishonest, incompetent people and they get into office and screw everything up, you are responsible for what they have done. You caused the problem. You voted them in. You have no right to complain.”
By, George, I think he’s got it! If you exercise your “right” to vote, you should be “responsible” for the outcome as well – even if the intent was not malicious.
Let’s say, for example, voters elect a corrupt politician who absconds with millions of dollars in public funds. Shouldn’t the voters who pulled the lever for the dishonest official in question be held responsible, perhaps even legally liable, for his actions? After all, if they had not put him in a position of power, he could not have committed the crimes.
A getaway driver in a bank heist would be arraigned for manslaughter if his partners-in-crime shot and killed an innocent bystander while committing the robbery, even though he did not pull the trigger. The concept of voter responsibility and accountability is not much different.
So, what do voters get by casting their vote in November?
They get the privilege of electing “representatives” whom they know little about, who know nothing about them, who will renege on their campaign promises, in order to increase the role of the State in our economic and personal lives by waging endless wars overseas, expanding the welfare state, implementing laws that will directly (often adversely) affect their lives, and creating trillions more in debt that will be passed on to future generations of Americans.
Rock the Vote? No, thanks.
I say Toss the Vote. In the trash. Stay away from the ballot box. Voting is an exercise in futility. It accomplishes nothing, and typically does far more harm than good.
By refusing to vote, you are refusing to legitimize the outcome of the election and the criminal behavior of the political class.
As Election Day becomes a distant memory and the newest members of the political class impose their economic incompetence and legislative ineptitude upon the citizenry, non-voters can take solace in the fact that they did not sanction the behavior.
1. President Bush Job Approval. http://www.realclearpolitics.com/epolls/other/president_bush_job_approval-904.html#polls
2. Congressional Job Approval. http://www.realclearpolitics.com/epolls/other/congressional_job_approval-903.html#polls
3. “What High School Teachers Should Know about Congressional Elections.” http://www.congresslink.org/print_expert_congressionalelections.htm
4. “Who’s in Control? Many Don’t Know or Care.” http://www.drugsense.org/tfy/trust2.htm