Election of George W. Bush

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Now that the dust has settled from November's electoral mess, it's business as usual for the American ruling class. The incoming Bush administration will largely continue the same basic policies as the Clinton administration, particularly in regard to American imperialist interests. Already the bourgeoisie is pushing with great success an ideological campaign to cast the recent electoral embarrassment in the most positive light.

The causes of the electoral mess

The inconclusive result in the November election was clearly an unplanned accident for the bourgeoisie. Nothing in the current situation either on the level of the economic crisis, inter-imperialist tensions, or the class struggle, required the bourgeoisie to abandon the strategy of the left in power that had worked so effectively for the past eight years. As pointed out in Internationalism 115, "this strategy permitted the ruling class to use the Clinton administration to maintain a continuous implementation of austerity and the dismantling of the New Deal welfare state, and to intervene frequently and effectively on the military level around the world under the ideological cover of 'humanitarianism,' and to maintain the disorientation of the working class. At the same time the ruling class was able to revamp and strengthen the union apparatus in order to confront future working class struggles." Thus, the best interests of the bourgeoisie would have been served by a Gore victory as a continuation of the left in power strategy. The inability for the ruling class of the world's greatest imperialist power to control the electoral outcome was a great embarrassment, one which European powers did not hesitate to ridicule. This failure was largely attributable to the confluence of two factors: the actions of Green Party candidate Ralph Nader, who reneged on a deal with the Democrats not to pursue his campaign in states that might affect the outcome of the election, and the anachronistic Electoral College, which is weighted heavily in favor of sparsely populated rural states, that voted for Bush. The fact that Gore won the popular vote by 500,000 votes, but was not the winner of the election severely undercut the democratic myth that the "people decide," that the government is a reflection of the "will of the people."

Following the election night impasse, this accident was exacerbated by a tendency for the political situation to spin out of control, as political ambition, and not the best interests of the ruling class became dominant. With 9,000 senior and middle level appointments at stake, the political and legal wrangling was quite unsightly for the bourgeoisie, incidentally exposing for the moment the hypocritical qualities of bourgeois electoral democracy. Robert Reich, former Secretary of Labor in the Clinton administration openly lamented this losing sight of the national interest in an op-ed piece in the New York Times, in which he complained about "the career politicians, congressional aides, party activists and the staffs of partisan think tanks and Washington-based interest groups that have gone ballistic." Reich moaned, "None of them expected an outcome so hair-splittingly close. There was no script for anything like this," and complained that this led to a "naked quest for power in the absence of clear rules" for settling the election (New York Times Dec. 4, 2000).

A popular e-mail parody of the election began circulating throughout internet asking what the media would say if in an African nation, there was a controversial election in which the winning candidate was the son of a previous president, who had previously served as director of the state security forces (CIA), and where the victory was determined by a disputed counting of the ballots in a province governed by a brother of the presidential candidate. Even the Supreme Court, which normally benefits from a mythic ideological portrayal as an exalted, "non-political" branch of government guaranteeing the rule of law in American society, permitted itself to be drawn into the highly charged partisan maneuvering. The Court ruled 5-4 along narrow political lines to stop the recount in Florida and award the election to Bush, a decision tainted by the vested interest of two of the conservative judges in the outcome of the election: Scalia, whose son was a Bush campaign official, and Thomas, whose wife was working as a personnel recruiter for the Bush transition team.

Capitalism unleashes a damage control campaign

As embarrassing as this political loss of control was for the bourgeoisie, the American ruling class was not powerless to protect itself. First, as we pointed out in Internationalism 115, the dominant faction of the ruling class had preventatively protected against serious damage in the event of such an accident by making sure that both major party candidates, Al Gore and George W. Bush, represented the outlook of the same ruling class faction, and that no matter who won essentially the same policies would be implemented. Thus, both Gore, and Bush, a champion of "compassionate conservativism," advocated identical positions on imperialist issues, and very similar positions on domestic policies. In this sense, while there was definitely a loss of political control for the bourgeoisie, it occurred within very proscribed limits and posed no particular threat to political stability. This was not a clash of two rival political factions for control of the capitalist state, but rather a bickering between two members of the same faction.

This enabled the bourgeois media, despite the ridicule emanating from Europe, whose leaders bragged that such a mess could never happen in their parliamentary democracies, to unleash an ideological campaign that emphasized the strength and maturity of American democracy. The ridicule that portrayed the U.S. as little better than a banana republic was refuted by the argument that the electoral stalemate did not lead to violence, that the rule of law would prevail, and ultimately that the system worked. This campaign to salvage the democratic myth, of course, was bolstered by Gore's concession speech after the Supreme Court ruling, which was hailed, even by conservative commentators, as one of the greatest speeches in American political history.

Bush cabinet affirms continuity with Clinton years

The emerging Bush cabinet demonstrates the effectiveness of the bourgeoisie's policy of minimizing the dangers of an electoral accident. Bush's political inexperience and alleged "lightweight" intellectual capacities, are fully compensated for from the very beginning by the role of the new vice president, Dick Cheney, who served under the elder Bush as Secretary of Defense during the Gulf War in 1991, and coordinated the transition team and played a key role in cabinet member selection. So prominent a role has Cheney played that the Economist, and even some American journalists, have quipped that the US is switching to a more European style government, with a largely ceremonial president, and the vice president serving essentially as prime minister (Economist Dec. 23, 2000, and Tom Brokaw, NBC News Jan. 20, 2001).

Bush's cabinet selection clearly demonstrates that his administration does not personify the Republican Party's right, but occupies essentially the same ground as the Clinton-Gore administration. Cabinet members for the most important posts, those dealing with imperialist and economic policy, come from the Republican Party mainstream, what the Economist (Jan. 6, 2001) called the traditional Republican "east coast establishment," not the right of Ronald Reagan. The imperialist policy team members have all served in previous administrations: Secretary of State Colin Powell who previously served as Chief of Staff of the U.S. military and National Security Advisor in the elder Bush's administration; and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who previously held the same post in the Ford administration. Treasury secretary designee Paul O'Neill also served in the Ford regime, as Budget director, and more recently as CEO of Alcoa Aluminum Corporation. As further evidence that his administration is not representative of the Republican right, Bush has gone out of his way to outdo Clinton in making his cabinet the most ethnically diverse in American history. This demonstrates clearly that Bush is not representing the far right of the party, but rather the center of the Republicans. Bush has thrown a bone to the far right by making several controversial appointments to less important posts, especially John Ashcroft as Attorney General, who will serve as a lightning rod for liberal and left opposition, especially on abortion - a social issue that the bourgeoisie purposefully and skillfully exploits to stir up emotions and divert attention from fundamental class questions. In fact, some news commentators have pointed out that the liberal Democrats want Ashcroft in office so they will have someone to attack.

The one error made in cabinet appointments made by the Bush transition team was the initial nomination of Linda Chavez as Secretary of Labor. She was forced to withdraw not, as the media would have us believe, because she had lied to the Republican vetting team and FBI investigators about employing an illegal immigrant as a housekeeper in the early '90s, which was surely just the pretext, but rather because she was too far right for the post. The Labor Department has a key role to play for the government in regard to the class struggle, through its regulation and control of the unions and laws regulating wages and employment. The bourgeoisie still needs to continue its efforts to revitalize the unions, and because of Chavez's opposition to unions, and minimum wage laws, her leadership at Labor would have jeopardized the continued strengthening of the unions, undercut the cozy relationship between the unions and the government of the Clinton years, and risked provoking premature confrontations with them. A more centrist nominee, like Elaine Chao, who was named within 48 hours of Chavez's withdrawal, will assure a more peaceful relationship with the capitalist unions in the immediate future.

The election is over, and after embarrassing itself and momentarily losing control of the political situation, the American bourgeoisie has already recovered, and is repairing whatever damage may have been done. Even if the election outcome appears to contradict the principle that the majority wins, the American population is being serenaded with a lullaby about the rule of law and the legitimacy of the new president. As soon as possible the Bush administration will get down to business, continuing to make the working class bear the brunt of the economic crisis and embarking on military missions to defend America's threatened hegemony in the world arena.


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