The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

United States:
The 2004 Election Gave No Mandate to Continue the War and Attack Social Security!

Jan 27, 2005

On the day after Kerry decided not to push for the contested votes to be counted in Ohio, thus ceding the election, Bush declared: "I earned capital in this campaign, and now I intend to spend it." Calling his victory, "the will of the people," he proclaimed, "When you win, there is a feeling that the people have spoken and embraced your point of view, and that's what I intend to tell Congress."

"The will of the people," according to Bush and Republican leaders includes: privatizing Social Security; making the tax code still more regressive, perhaps replacing the barely graduated income tax with a flat tax; further reducing money to public schools while increasing the amount going to private and religious schools. And even as Bush was cynically talking about "helping the emerging democracies of Iraq and Afghanistan," his administration was giving the go-ahead for U.S. troops to move into position to destroy Falluja. Finally, in a bow to the solid reactionary base that had put him back into the White House, Bush pledged to "uphold our deepest values of family and faith."

The news media for the most part presented this whole package as though its passage were inevitable, a consequence of the big "mandate" that Bush had won in the election – and all the more so since so many more people voted this time. As for the Democrats, they may have promised, in Kerry's high-flown and very vague words, "to do everything in my power to ensure that my party, a proud Democratic Party, stands true to our best hopes and ideals." But they also concluded, again in Kerry's words: "In an American election, there are no losers, because whether or not our candidates are successful, the next morning, we all wake up as Americans....With that gift also comes obligation. We are required now to work together for the good of our country. In the days ahead, we must find common cause.... I pledge to do my part to try to bridge the partisan divide." The Democrats with their flightier flights of rhetoric also pretend that "the people have spoken." In other words, blame "the people" for what is about to happen.

What Mandate? What Rush to the Polls?

Bush may be pardoned for being ecstatic about the increase in his vote, since he actually won both the popular vote and the electoral vote this time, rather than getting into the White House as he did in 2000 with fewer popular votes than his opponent had – and with suspicion hanging over his head about Florida.

But the 2004 election was no crushing mandate. Bush's popular vote margin was 3.4 million votes – out of 117.4 million votes cast for president, that is, a spread of 2.9%. Going back to 1900, only four other elections were decided by this narrow a popular vote margin – and one of them was 2000 with Bush himself. As for the electoral college vote, Bush had only a 34 vote margin out of 538 votes. With two exceptions, this is the smallest margin of any election going back as far as the election of 1876, when a tie vote threw the election into the House of Representatives – and one of those two exceptions was Bush's win in 2000. Nor were there any big changes. The famous map – with red seemingly splashed almost everywhere – looked almost the same as the 2000 map. While Iowa and New Mexico shifted to the Republicans and New Hampshire shifted to the Democrats, the outcome was once again decided by one state, with a close vote: Ohio went to Bush by under 119,000 votes. (And how close Ohio was, we will never know, since Kerry conceded before the 167,000 challenged ballots were counted – the majority from precincts that had voted for him.)

Nor was the turn-out particularly sizeable. There were early claims that the turn-out had soared, hitting between 59% and 60%. It's not clear how anyone could have arrived at this, other than through wishful thinking or putting a very big political spin on the numbers, since the voting age population as of July 2004 stood at 220 million. When compared to the number who voted, 117 million, this gives a turn-out of a little over 53%. In other words, while the 2004 turn-out was 2% higher than in 2000, it was less than the turnout in 1996, when Clinton was elected, and about the same as it was in 1976, 1980 and 1984.

Bush pretends that the people "have spoken" – and for him! No they didn't. Just over half the adult population voted, and Bush won barely over half of those who did vote. That leaves almost three-quarters of the population that voted for Bush's opponents or didn't bother to vote at all.

Nor Was Bush's Point of View Widely "Embraced"

There may be some people who "embrace" Bush's point of view. But not the big majority that Bush (and much of the media) pretend. This is shown in clear fashion by all the polls, whether taken before the election, on the day itself, or afterwards. For example, on the question of the war, the New York Times/CBS News Poll, taken close to inauguration day, showed that less than 25% of the population trust what Bush says about the war, and less than half think the war was "worth it" – to use the despicable terms the pollsters use. On the question of the economy, only one-third of the population believe things are getting better, despite Bush's claims. On the question of privatizing Social Security and reducing benefits, which Bush has since made the focal point of his domestic agenda, less than 25% think this is a good idea. Polls done by the Pew Forum on Religion in Public Life repeatedly show that a majority of the population oppose Bush's proposal to give public money to private and religious schools through school vouchers. On the question of taxes, in every poll that asks this question, a very large majority believe that Bush's tax cuts have favored not people like themselves, but the wealthy.

In the election day polls, just over one-fifth of all voters called the catch-all term, "moral values," the most important thing for them in this election, but here too Bush's positions on the specific issues that make it up are "embraced" by only a minority of the population. When people are asked specifically about abortion, repeatedly only about 30% say the procedure should be banned. When asked in the exit polls about whether relationships between homosexual couples should be recognized, something Bush made a focus of his campaign for over one year, 27% of the voters were ready to accept marriage, another 35% to accept civil unions, which means giving homosexual couples the same legal and inheritance rights that married couples enjoy. That left less than 38% who oppose any kind of legal recognition. On limiting the use of human embryos in stem cell research, another of the issues used by Bush to inflame passions, he does even worse: today, only 15% think using embryonic stem cells in research should be banned because it's "unethical and immoral."

Certainly the accuracy of polls is limited. But numbers of this size suggest that there was anything but strong agreement with either Bush's policies, or what he put forward as his views and perspectives.

A Four Year Campaign Aimed at Mobilizing a Reactionary Minority of the Population

Given the different language and stance of the Republicans, they usually win a very large share of the vote from the wealthiest people. This year was no different. Gauging by the exit polls, Bush had 58-41 margin with voters whose family income was more than $100,000 a year. That translated into a 3.6 million vote advantage from this sector alone – more than his total margin of victory. But obviously, Bush had to find votes from other sections of the population, not nearly so well off. His means to do that was to appeal to that relatively small section of the population sometimes called, loosely, Christian fundamentalists.

Soon after the 2000 election, Karl Rove, Bush's closest political adviser, concluded that there were about three million fewer Christian fundamentalist and evangelical voters than even in the 1994 Congressional election. This was the beginning of a very precisely conceived four-year campaign aimed at appealing to and mobilizing that sector of the population. Almost from the day Bush took office in 2001, his administration used the White House as a pulpit to build growing support from religious conservatives.

One of Bush's first acts in taking office was to appoint a few well-known Christian fundamentalists or evangelicals to office. A number of outspoken opponents of abortion were put in positions dealing with women's health. John Ashcroft, an evangelical who has made a career out of religious pronouncements, was appointed attorney general. Ashcroft quickly made the news by calling a press conference in the Justice Department where a semi-nude statue had long resided. Draping the statue gave him almost as much publicity as his revelation that he had anointed himself with cooking oil, in the style of the Old Testament prophets, before taking office. This was only the beginning of a constant series of publicity stunts calculated to bring those recalcitrant Christian fundamentalists back into the fold!

On a more substantial level, Bush put forth a series of proposals giving financial advantages to churches and other religious organizations, for example, his "faith-based" charity initiative, which proposed to hand government money over to churches to run community and charity projects. Legal advisers may have squelched the bill that would have established many of Bush's "faith-based" projects. Nonetheless, he managed to funnel a great deal of money to the churches. According to the Los Angeles Times, Bush handed over more than one billion dollars from the federal budget to "faith-based" groups or churches in 2003 alone – including some strategic gifts to a few traditionally Democratic black preachers in close states like Ohio, Wisconsin and Florida.

Bush's "no child left behind" act had a similar purpose. Taking the pretext of raising educational results in the public schools, this act set stringent standards on the public schools, cutting off federal funds to the ones that didn't meet the standards. At the same time, other Bush initiatives on the federal level, as well as ones on the state level, encouraged the development of – and government funding for – private schools, including those run indirectly by churches. Pointing up the hypocrisy of Bush's claim that no child would be left behind – these schools were not subjected to the same stringent requirements as the public schools. "No child left behind" should have been called "no religious organization left behind."

Karl Rove, by all accounts, acted as Bush's special ambassador to the churches, in general, and especially to the milieu of the Christian right. If part of his work was to be the bearer of good money tidings, another part was to start mobilizing the membership of these churches, not only to vote themselves, but to act as a get-out-the-vote machine coming into 2004.

Bush is hardly the first politician to have targeted money for his own political gain, but he, or more exactly, Rove, turned it into a carefully calculated "science," sending most of this money into the so-called "critical" states and districts.

At the same time, Bush made conscious appeals to prejudices and reactionary ideas that circulated, especially in these milieus, but also in some others.

Like Reagan before him, Bush used abortion as a rallying cry to round up the faithful. His administration resurrected a bill prohibiting second-trimester abortions, calling this procedure by the exceedingly false misnomer, "partial-birth abortion" – as though a viable foetus were first being born, only to be killed. (While Bush took the credit for pushing the bill through, it needs to be said that he could not have done it without the votes of 17 Democrats, who joined hands with most Republicans in this attack on women.)

Bush was somewhat careful on the abortion issue, however, since it had the possibility to backfire against him – as the 2000 election, with its substantial "gender gap" had demonstrated. Rove must have calculated that the issue of gay marriage presented fewer problems on this level. In any case, it was Bush's biggest rallying cry throughout 2004 in the milieu of Christian fundamentalists. Bush made the somewhat symbolic promise, in his 2004 State of the Union address, to push for the adoption of a constitutional amendment on the issue "if necessary" if it wasn't handled by the states. In fact, that was simply the introduction to a concerted effort to put the issue on the ballot in a number of states. Church members, supplemented by paid canvassers, worked to put amendments to state constitutions on the ballot in 11 states. Defining the only legal form of marriage as the union of one man and one woman, these amendments were clearly a calculated attempt to increase the turn-out of people who hold reactionary prejudices, assuming they would vote for Bush. The maneuver appears to have worked, since the turn-out in these 11 states increased almost three times as much as it did in the rest of the country. Interestingly enough, eight of these 11 referendums were in states which Bush would have won anyway, without any contest. But without the referendum, the turn-out may well have been lower, even much lower. This would not have cost Bush his majority in these states, but it would have deprived him of most of his overall popular vote majority. The issue was also put on the ballot in three of the so-called "swing" states, Ohio, Michigan and Oregon, as an attempt to overwhelm the Kerry turn-out. By all accounts, these calculations worked, even if Michigan and Oregon stayed with the Democrats (but by a smaller margin this year).

All of this played a role in accomplishing what Rove set out to do for Bush starting four years ago: reinvigorate a Republican base in a religious milieu where reactionary prejudices are prevalent. By all accounts, the people who characterize themselves as either Christian fundamentalists or evangelicals or charismatics were pulled back into the Republican fold, making up almost 25% of the electorate this time, as opposed to about 22% in 2000. (By contrast, they make up between 14% and 20% of the population – because this category is so ambiguous, different surveys produce a wide range of numbers here.) In actual numbers, at least four million more religious fundamentalists voted this time than last time.

Moreover, if we can gauge by the exit polls, the targeting of black churches apparently allowed Bush to chip into the most solid base of the Democratic party. Overall, Bush increased his vote among black voters only slightly (going from 9% to 11% nationwide), but in several of the states that had been targeted with "faith-based initiatives," the increase was much more significant. In Ohio, it appears as though he won 16% of the black vote. In two other "battleground" states, Wisconsin and Florida, where Bush had also repeatedly appeared in black churches, speaking against abortion and gay marriage, and handing out money, he got 14% and 13% respectively of the black vote. According to the Los Angeles Times, this shift in the black vote accounted all by itself for most of Bush's margin in Ohio. And what Bush did among black churchgoers, he was able to do even more so among Hispanics, especially among Hispanic Protestants, similar in their outlook to the white fundamentalists on a range of "cultural issues."

Kerry: Countering Reactionary Views by Embracing Them

What did the Democrats do to counter these reactionary maneuvers, to distinguish themselves from Bush? Nothing. To be more exact, Kerry acted like a pale imitation of Bush, when he wasn't rushing to the right to outdo him.

Bush wrapped himself in the flag and used "Code Orange" alerts to create a semi-hysterical atmosphere, so Kerry did the same – adding that, because of his military record, he was better equipped to deal with the terrorist threat. He didn't even bother to point out what many journalists had noted – that Bush was using "Code Orange" alerts as an electoral tool. And while Kerry vaguely criticized the way Bush was using the reactionary laws pushed through in the wake of 9/11, he nonetheless justified the adoption of those laws.

Kerry barely addressed issues of concern to the working class, or when he did, it was in the most reactionary way. Take the war, for example. Trying to tap into popular dissatisfaction with the war, Kerry criticized Bush for lying about the weapons of mass destruction, and for not having a successful policy to "win" the war – and then Kerry rushed to position himself to the right of Bush, proposing that he would step up the war, sending in more troops – a proposal that Bush acted on as soon as the election was over!

In answer to the problem of serious and lengthening unemployment, he promised, like Bush, to give government money to – who else but the big corporations, in the form of tax breaks.

As for the problem of falling wages, here again, Kerry had almost nothing to say. Formally the Democratic Party platform called for an increase in the minimum wage – but only to $7 an hour, which isn't enough to keep a family of four out of poverty.

The Democrats could have made the abysmally low minimum wage a real issue – but to do it, they would have had to oppose the interests of the bourgeoisie, and this they were not ready to do, even for an electoral advantage! For example, the Democrats did not bother to do what the minority party often does in an election year: that is, to push in Congress for a minimum wage bill so as to put their opponents in an electoral corner. Would such a proposal have made an impact on this election? It's certainly possible. In both Florida and Nevada, states carried by Bush, referendums put on the ballot by popular initiative to increase the minimum wage were passed by large majorities – 70% in Florida. (It's interesting to note that whereas Florida Governor Jeb Bush had earlier opposed such an increase, he was essentially quiet during the November referendum campaign, apparently trying to avoid it becoming an issue in the presidential campaign.) And if the Democrats had really pushed a bill in Congress to increase the minimum wage, it's possible it would have passed, since Republicans in tight races wouldn't have wanted to oppose it. But the Democrats were too busy trying to act as the responsible opposition to offer such a challenge to big capital and its profits. It's only an example, but it's a telling one.

Kerry even attempted to keep pace with Bush on Bush's so-called "moral questions," making only a small, stiff little bow to his own electorate. He said, for example, that he too disapproved of homosexual marriage, but he thought that constitutional amendments were the wrong way to go. He took a comparable hair-splitting stance on the question of abortion, and most of the rest of Bush's "moral" issues.

If Kerry thought he could win the fundamentalists from Bush by aping his positions, he was mistaken (after all, why vote for a copy, when you can vote for the original!). But he certainly helped Bush fasten such reactionary ideas on wider parts of the population. And because he did not speak to the working class in terms of its own interests, he had nothing else to offer that part of the fundamentalist milieu that is part of the working class, in fact makes up some of its poorest layers. Proposing to give more money to corporations, while making no effort to increase a minimum wage that keeps a family in poverty was no way to reach them.

Not only was Kerry not able to pull part of Bush's electorate from him, he wasn't able even to bring out significant parts of the Democrats' own traditional base. There were ten states in which the rate of participation in the election was lower this year; seven of them were strong Democratic states. And New York and California, two of the bastions of the Democratic party, saw a sizeable decrease in the actual number of voters: a million and a quarter fewer voters went to the polls in those two states.

The Work of 200,000 Union Activists Gone for Nothing

Even many union officials, some of Kerry's strongest supporters, complained privately, and sometimes even publicly, that Kerry did not really address the needs of the working class.

This did not prevent the unions from making an extraordinary effort to turn out working class voters for Kerry. The union apparatuses nearly doubled both the money and the efforts they made for the Democrats this year compared to the 2000 election. The AFL-CIO bragged that the unions had sent some 5000 paid staff and local officials into 16 so-called "battle-ground states," along with 200,000 volunteers, using them to try to tip the balance for the electoral college vote. And they said they gave 180 million dollars for the effort to elect Kerry.

Unable to say anything concrete about Kerry, the unions' campaign centered on playing on the workers' disgust with Bush, on the assumption that this would pull workers to the polls to vote for Kerry. It did not.

In attempting to tie the working class to Kerry, who was campaigning as a pale imitation of Bush, the unions offered working people no way to express their disgust with Bush and his policies. And focusing, to the exclusion of all else, on getting Kerry elected, they did not use the election to prepare workers for the fight they are going to have to make to oppose Bush's policies.

Leaving the Field Open for the Reactionaries

The union apparatuses themselves never took on the range of reactionary ideas and policies that have been spewing out of the White House – neither during the campaign, nor before.

First of all, they never really made an open, public campaign against this war. Very few of the unions have taken a stand against it since March 2003. And even those unions that have – like SEIU, CWA, AFSCME and two postal unions – muted what they had to say during the election campaign. Of course, given Kerry's stance, it would have been a little bit difficult to push the issue beyond criticizing Bush for lying about the "weapons of mass destruction." Should SEIU leaders, for example, have said to workers that Kerry wanted to send still more of the soldiers currently in the Reserves over to Iraq for a year? Hardly a good campaigning point.

As for the big majority of the unions, a good number of their leaders may have privately expressed some kind of luke-warm opposition to the war, at least the one in Iraq, if not the one in Afghanistan; but as far as speaking publicly, as a leader of their union, almost all of them remained remarkably silent. One could read issues of the AFL-CIO journal, as well as the magazines and newspapers of most unions, and never see a word about the wars. You'd never know that U.S. forces were destroying Iraq. And if there are occasional references to what this disastrous war has meant for U.S. troops, it's only in the most backhanded way. Even the few unions that have taken a position critical of the war, haven't then pushed to discuss this position with their own members, much less with the rest of the working class. The war was one of those issues that were "too hot" for the unions to handle. The unions gave workers, who increasingly are disgusted with this war, no way to express it.

And let's not even talk about the unions' complete abdication over the past four years of all responsibility for taking on the reactionary ideas that Bush has pushed. Despite the number of women union members and other working class women negatively affected by the restrictions on abortion, the unions ignored the issue. As for the question of gay marriage, while this might not impact directly most of their members, it nonetheless is just one more in a long line of reactionary prejudices that Bush has inflamed, prejudices when added all up together have served to help create the reactionary atmosphere in which we live today. And this impacts directly on the working class itself.

Most unions have been unwilling to take on any of these questions. In fact, as quoted approvingly in the January issue of the AFL-CIO journal, America@Work, a local union president had this to say about the campaign: "our goal always was to focus on economic issues because they impact us directly and unite all of us, regardless of our individual religious or cultural views." (In fact, the unions didn't really take on the economic issues facing the working class because Kerry's positions precluded that.)

How dare union officials pretend that religious or cultural views are of no consequence! How dare they, for example, pretend that the attack by religion on science doesn't directly affect workers and especially their children! To ignore the attempt of people who would prevent evolution from being taught in the public schools is to accept that the schools where workers' children get their education will provide an abysmal education. The issue is not simply one of money, but also the anti-scientific views fed to workers' children.

Using the same kind of pretext, the unions of an earlier period did not take on Jim Crow in the South – or in the North, for that matter. For decades, not only did they not attempt to confront the open racism prevalent in working class milieus North and South – codified then too as "religious or cultural views"; in many cases, they inscribed those racist attitudes in their own constitutions and practices. Just as today, not confronting a reactionary "religious or cultural view" meant they not only accommodated to it, they reinforced it.

A union really devoted to the interests of the working class has to try to contribute to the education of its members – all of them, and not just a few union activists – and not just on how to carry out the daily activity of the unions, but on the whole range of issues that impact on the workers. The workers need more knowledge about the physical world they live in, as well as about society. To widen the workers' perspectives, to fight against prejudices and superstition – these are some of the most important ways to prepare workers to fight for their own class interests. Otherwise, they will be left in the hands of demagogues like Bush, or how many others before him, Democrat and Republican.

When the unions refused to take on the whole range of disgusting ideas that Bush has been pushing ever since he took office in 2001, not only did they help him back into the White House; they left him free to create a more reactionary climate than the one that existed when he took office. Today, their continuing abdication leaves the field open for Bush's demagogy to gain a wider hearing.

Workers Cannot Count on the Democrats to Stop Bush's New Round of Attacks

It's truly disgusting to look at the amount of money and militant effort the unions devoted to putting Kerry in the White House – effort that would have been turned against the working class if Kerry had won.

Today, if the loss to Bush leads to a sense of hopelessness, the unions' election campaign will also be turned against the working class. The working class militants who were pulled into this campaign to elect Kerry know just how much effort it cost. The re-election of Bush under these circumstances can end up creating a sense of despair, the idea that if we couldn't win this time with all the effort put in, then maybe Bush is unstoppable – that all the attacks he is preparing to carry out in the next four years can't be blocked. Certainly Bush is unstoppable if the workers depend on the Democrats to stop him.

Listen to what the Democrats say today, now that the election is over. You would believe that the election had weakened them to the point that all they can do is put up a symbolic resistance. In reality, they lost four seats, net, in the Senate, and four seats, net, in the House – counting the six lost in Texas as the result of a gerrymandered redistricting. They still have, if they wanted to use their position, more than enough seats to block every one of Bush's policies. The Republicans explain that openly, when they talk about Social Security. They admit they need 60 votes in the Senate to prevent it from being blocked through procedural maneuvers, and they have only 55. The Republicans, in another period, when they were the minority party, and with even fewer seats than the Democrats have today, blocked Democratic proposals – Clinton's health care initiative, for example.

Listen as many of the Democrats complain that their party has allowed itself to be pushed out of the "mainstream," by which they mean, this relatively small milieu in which reactionary ideas are prevalent. And what does it mean that they want to get into this "mainstream" – which is not a mainstream, but only a small creek, rushing backwards? When the Democrats chose Nevada Senator Harry Reid as their new leader in the Senate, they made it clear that they intend to move still further to the right than they already are – after all, the man is known for, among other things, his desire to make all abortions illegal.

No, the working class cannot depend on the Democrats to defend us from the attack that Bush is preparing. They intend to ape the Republicans again for another four years. They will work with the Republicans to impose new attacks on the working class, just as they did over the last four years, when they provided Bush's margin of victory on all his key initiatives, including the wars against Iraq and Afghanistan, tax breaks for the wealthy, cuts in the social programs, and the late-term abortion bill.

But this does not mean that Bush is unstoppable, nor that the attacks he is preparing are inevitable. It simply means that the workers have to depend on their own forces to throw back these attacks, which will come from both Republicans and Democrats.

And the working class has those forces. Look at the amount of working class time, money, militant activity and energy that went into the campaign for Kerry. The working class could devote that same effort to respond to the attacks, and to take on and dispel the reactionary prejudices and reactionary ideas swirling around us.

If workers begin to use their own forces in this way for their own interests, not only could they defend their immediate interests, they could end up constructing their own party also.

In any case, this election has shown once again the absolute necessity for the working class to have its own political party.