Electoral Circus Off to an Early Start

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As we go to press, the bourgeois media has already been ablaze for months with intense coverage of the Democratic primary race. The media campaign that always accompanies American presidential elections got off to an early start this time around, as pundits weighed in on the race months before the official start of primary season in January with the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary. As early as November of last year, the quirky former governor of Vermont, Howard Dean, who positioned himself as a harsh critic of Bush's Iraq policy, was declared the democratic front-runner, with the media all but anointing him the Democratic candidate in 2004. Quite clearly, the American bourgeoisie deliberately used the media campaign surrounding the primary race to attempt to accomplish several distinct propaganda goals at once: distract the American public from the continuing chaos, death and destruction resulting from the war in Iraq, revitalize the Democratic party as a viable party of government, and once again drum-up illusions that the electoral process is the appropriate avenue through which to seek political and social change and have one's just grievances addressed.

This last goal corresponds to the general strategy of the American bourgeoisie to revitalize the image of bourgeois democracy following the debacle of 2000. In that election the Democratic Party candidate, Vice President Al Gore, won the popular vote but lost the presidency to Republican George W. Bush due to the Byzantine rules of the anachronistic Electoral College. It became evident in 2000 that as capitalism's decomposition advances, the bourgeoisie is tending to lose some ability to control and manipulate its electoral mechanism, and the bourgeoisie does not want to risk a repeat of that mess. Understandably, the election of 2000 left many voters with a bad taste in their mouth, fuelling the political alienation of many in a nation where most eligible voters already stay home on Election Day. The following three years of Bush's presidency have done little to heal the wounds. While Bush was able to reap some initial public relations benefits from the tragedy of 9/11, after which his approval ratings soared, his administration was unable to translate this propaganda coup into long-term political capital. Continuing concerns over spiralling American casualties in Iraq, the deteriorating economy, unemployment that won't go way, overseas job losses, soaring budget deficits in the face of huge tax cuts, and the administration's low credibility regarding pre-war justifications for the attack on Saddam Hussein have all begun to take their toll.

It is in this context, the bourgeois media initially hailed Governor Dean as an idealistic political outsider with a strong principled stand against the Iraq war. Dean's unorthodox organizational base, raising campaign funds almost exclusively over the Internet, was hailed by journalists and academics alike as evidence of an emerging 'post-modern social movement' based on a new 'electronic public sphere' of progressive activists. All of this was designed to lure disaffected young people back into the political fold and revive the democratic electoral mystification after the hard hit it took in the last election. Nevertheless, it is evident that the American bourgeoisie never had any real intention to make an ardent opponent of the war in Iraq like Dean the Democratic Party candidate for president. As quickly as the media built him up in November and December they took him apart in January and February. The media build-up and subsequent destruction of Howard Dean is an excellent demonstration of how bourgeois 'democracy' really works. With his utility as a presidential candidate exhausted, the media shamelessly replayed Dean's infamous 'scream,' from his speech after the Iowa caucuses to discredit him as unstable and therefore unfit to be president.

With Dean gone, the media next turned its attention to propping up Senator Kerry as an acceptable alternative, as a Democrat who could actually defeat George W. Bush in the General Election come November. 'Electability' now became the central theme, as the bourgeois media campaign to strengthen the electoral mystification now switched to rehabilitating the Democrats as a viable party of government. With the Bush administration in trouble on both the domestic and especially the foreign policy fronts, the American bourgeoisie is leaving all its options open for the moment. In case circumstances require a change at the top, it needs a Democratic candidate who not only can repair the electoral myth, but can also successfully lead the country to war in defense of its imperialist interests in the future, hopefully using a more convincing ideological justification than the kind Bush offered in Iraq. Kerry is being groomed as just that type of candidate. He is being painted as man who would be a reluctant warrior who would use military force only if absolutely necessary or for humanitarian purposes.

It is too early to say whether the bourgeoisie has decided that Bush should be replaced, but it is clear that this will be one of the longest running electoral circus in history. Usually the campaign doesn't start in earnest until after Labor Day, after the Democratic and Republican conventions during the summer, but the Bush campaign has already begun airing campaign commercials, and the conventions are still months away.

While the bourgeoisie tries its best to rehabilitate the image of its democratic facade, workers must refuse to fall for the trap. No matter which candidate comes out on top in November, the meaning for the working class will be the same: more austerity, more war, more death and more barbarism. In order to put an end to all this, the working class must search for its own identity and its own political response to capitalism's historic impasse, a response grounded firmly on its own class terrain. In order to achieve this, it must refuse to participate in the bourgeois electoral circus and recognize that the change begins, not in the voting booth, but on the shop-floor, in the necessary struggle to defend its living and working conditions from capitalism's attacks, and the class consciousness of the need to destroy the entire capitalism system that this struggle must generate.

Henk, 3/20/04.