The electoral circus is once again upon us and this time it is a particularly fascinating drama. In decadent capitalism, elections have long served as an insidious mystification, an ideological swindle designed to deceive the population, particularly the working class, into believing that it is free to choose the political leadership that will determine the direction of society. In this manner, the ruling class hides its class dictatorship over society behind a democratic myth. For decades the real decisions have been made behind the scenes by the dominant fraction of the ruling class, including political leaders from the major parties, the permanent state bureaucracy, leaders from major corporations, think tanks, and the mass media, based on an assessment of what best serves the interests of the global national capital both domestically and internationally. In this context elections have long been reduced to a theatrical event, scripted, manipulated and controlled to produce their predetermined results.
In recent years, as the social decomposition of capitalist society has progressed, it has become increasingly difficult for the bourgeoisie in the U.S to control effectively its electoral process and assure the desired result. The past two presidential elections, especially the disastrous election of 2000, are notable examples of this tendency. These problems include the ability of the media to manipulate popular opinion, in part because of the rise of religious fundamentalism, and a tendency in particularly close elections for candidates not to accept the division of labor, not to accept their role as designated loyal opposition, but to want to win at any cost. As we have written before, this is essentially what happened in 2000, when the Bush camp stole the election in Florida through the efforts of Jeb Bush, George W. Bush’s brother, and his underlings. The two sides then fought it out in the courts rather than gracefully accepting defeat in the interests of national unity. That Gore finally accepted the partisan ruling of the Supreme Court, rather than resort to the resistant posture of Lopez-Obrador in the recent Mexican election, is testimony to a more mature, responsible concern for the interests of the national capital, than Bush.
In 2004, the bourgeoisie had difficulty in deciding upon a strategic orientation until quite late, well into September when consensus finally crystallized on support for Kerry. This lack of clarity on how best to proceed in the wake of Bush’s bungling of the war in Iraq meant it was too late to implement this policy successfully, despite the best efforts of the media to boost Kerry’s candidacy.
Emerging Ruling Class Consensus On Need to Change Iraq Policy
As we examine the current political campaign, it is necessary to consider what political division of labor best corresponds to the strategic needs of the dominant fraction of the bourgeoisie in the coming period. While this fraction was unanimous in support of the invasion of Iraq and in the underlying imperialist strategy that aimed to reassert American imperialist hegemony, insert the U.S. into a dominant position with a military presence in the strategically important Middle East, and to mount pressure on its increasingly rancorous former allies in Europe, there is today consensus within the dominant fraction that the situation in Iraq is an absolute mess. The U.S. military is stretched too thin because of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and is incapable of responding to challenges in other parts of the globe, which is absolutely necessary. Recent reports in the New York Times reveal that high ranking military officers have been leaking classified documents to sympathetic congressional leaders, think tank scholars, and retired military officers that indicate that only 7,000-8,000 combat troops are available to respond to any military challenge beyond Iraq and Afghanistan (NYT 9/22/06).
Even worse from the ruling class perspective, the Bush administration’s inept handling of Iraq has resulted in the total collapse of popular support for the war and will make it increasingly difficult to mobilize support for future imperialist military missions abroad. This is a particularly serious problem for American capitalism because in order to maintain its imperialist dominance it has to increasingly exert its military muscle. The inability of the Bush administration to modify its policy, to compensate for shortcomings, to in any way restore the squandered national unity that accrued from the 9/11 attacks, makes the current division of labor even more intolerable for the ruling class. Except for the removal of Paul Wolfowitz as undersecretary of defense and chief architect for Iraq war policy, the administration has failed to make any fundamental changes, and, in the words of Vice President Cheney despite whatever mistakes may have been made, if they had to do it all over again, the administration “would make exactly the same decisions.”
The dominant fraction’s consensus that the Iraq war is a disaster led in March to the creation of the Iraq Study Group, a bipartisan group headed by James A. Baker, III, close adviser to the elder President Bush and secretary of state during the 1991 war in Iraq, and former Democratic Congressman Lee Hamilton, who served as co-chair of the 9/11 commission. A long time friend and confidant to the Bush clan, Baker has a reputation as the Bush family “janitor,” who steps in to clean up the messes they have created from time to time. As the Washington Post recently reported, “The group has attracted little attention beyond foreign policy elites since its formation this year. But it is widely viewed within that small world as perhaps the last hope for a midcourse correction in a venture they generally agree has been a disaster” (WP 9/17/06).” Leon Panetta, former White House chief of staff under Clinton, and a member of the study group, characterized the need to find a solution to the mess in Iraq in these words, “If this war is consumed by partisan attacks, if the choice is presented as simply one between ‘stay the course’ or ‘cut and run,’ we will never be able to do what is right.” Panetta’s remarks reflect a concern to go beyond the politicization of the war in the current congressional campaign and assessing ‘blame,’ towards a policy adjustment that will serve the needs of the national capital. Some observers have likened this study group to a similar effort in 1968 after the Tet Offensive had exposed the lies and false intelligence disseminated by the government on the Vietnam War. That group recommendations led Pres. Johnson to decide not to run for re-election and to seek negotiations with North Vietnam.
Political Division of Labor That Best Serves Ruling Class Needs
The political goal of the dominant fraction of the bourgeoisie continues to require modifications in the disastrous implementation of the imperialist policy by the Bush administration. For the bourgeoisie, the problem is not, as some leftist intellectuals contend, that the irresponsible neoconservative faction has seized control of the state. Bush and Cheney and Rumsfeld are undeniably part of the dominant fraction of the ruling class; it’s just that they are not effective in implementing the shared imperialist strategic orientation of this fraction. In part this is because Bush has allowed the neocons to assert more influence – but not control – within this administration than ever before, and in part because Cheney’s orientation is particularly reactionary, oriented towards a clumsy reversal of the Watergate era responses to the excesses of the Nixon administration and a return to a “strong” executive branch. In addition, another aspect of this problem is Rumsfeld’s ill-founded penchant for a lean military with quick strike capacities, but insufficient manpower for sustained conflict and military occupation, as many in military circles have complained.
That the concern to revamp Iraq policy reflects the bourgeoisie as a whole and not the narrow partisan interests of this or that part of the Democratic party is demonstrated clearly not only by the creation of the Iraq Study Group, but by the festering political disputes within the Republican party itself. The feuding between the far right and the president over his failure to implement their extremist social agenda is only a small part of this problem. Of greater importance is the rebellion by Senators John McCain, former military hero and prisoner of war during Vietnam, John Warner, former Secretary of the Navy and head of the Armed Services Committee in the Senate, and Lindsey Graham, a former military judge, over the Bush administration’s attempt to openly abandon the Geneva Convention. The conservative Republican senators, with their strong military credentials, argue that Bush’s proposal to reinterpret Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions (Bush complained that the treaty’s prohibition against “outrages upon human dignity” is vague and meaningless) in order to permit the extreme mistreatment and torture used by the CIA in their secret prisons to interrogate al Qaeda prisoners would risk terrible long range consequences. They warn of an erosion of American political authority on the international level, growing international chaos as each nation would emulate US comportment and redefine and reinterpret Article 3 to their own liking, and would thereby jeopardize the safety of American soldiers taken prisoner. It’s not that the senators are reluctant to use extreme measures to interrogate prisoners, as their “compromise” agreement with the president demonstrates, it’s the open repudiation of the Geneva Convention that they oppose. The public repudiation of the Bush administration position by Colin Powell, the former four-star general and head of the Joint Chiefs, who served as Bush’s Secretary of State from 2001-2004, and the congressional testimony by high ranking legal military officers against reinterpreting Article 3 demonstrates the seriousness of this dispute within the ruling class as a whole. Powell warned that the attempt to sidestep the Geneva Conventions would put in question “the moral basis of our fight against terrorism.” The leaking in late September in the New York Times and Washington Post of a classified intelligence estimate, reporting on the consensus of 16 U.S. spy agencies that the mistreatment of prisoners at Abu Ghraib and the indefinite imprisonment of suspects at Guantanamo has given rise to a new generation of Islamist terrorists and increased the threat of terrorism (the opposite of the Bush administration’s repeated boasts) is yet another example of the growing pressure on the administration to abandon its “stay the course” line and in fact make a midcourse correction in imperialist policy implementation. The fact that hardliners in the Bush administration over the summer began blaming the elder Bush’s administration, including particularly James Baker, for emboldening bin Laden by deciding against ousting Saddam in 1991, reflects their bitterness against the pending policy changes that will be forced upon them.
The situation is no better on the domestic front. Despite controlling both houses of congress, the Bush administration has been totally paralyzed in implementing its domestic agenda, as the failure of its attempts to privatize and gut the social security program and to “reform” immigration amply demonstrate. Bush can no longer control the far right of his own party, which provided the electoral base for his victories in 2000 and 2004. The failure to push through an immigration reform package that would stabilize the situation of 12 million illegal immigrants who have been here years and to permit a guest worker program that would guarantee a reliable supply of cheap labor to the retail, meatpacking, hospital, and agriculture industry poses potential economic disaster, as the shortage of immigrant workers to pick this summer’s fruit crops in California illustrates.
In this context, the best electoral result from the bourgeoisie’s perspective would be for the Democrats to gain control of at least one house of Congress. This is most likely to be possible in the House of Representatives. Such an adjustment of the political division of labor would enable the dominant fraction of the ruling class to increase pressure on Bush to moderate his imperialist policies and block the most egregious mistakes through legislative action. It would increase pressure for extra-electoral adjustments in the administration, including perhaps the forced resignation of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. Journalist David Gergen who served in the White House as a press spokesperson for both Republican Ronald Reagan and Democrat Bill Clinton, recently criticized Bush’s tendency to rule in a divisive way with a partisan cabinet and pointed favorably to the examples of presidents John F. Kennedy and Bill Clinton, both of whom appointed Republicans as their defense secretaries (Robert McNamara in the case of Kennedy and William Cohen in the case of Clinton).He suggested that appointing a prominent conservative Democrat to replace Rumsfeld at defense would go a long way toward moving toward a unity government. Of course he meant “unity” for the ruling class. A conservative Democrat, such as former Senator Sam Nunn of Georgia, for example, would make a fine replacement for Rumsfeld from the bourgeoisie’s point of view. The departure of Vice President Cheney, seen by many as the “evil” force behind the war in Iraq and the attempt to legitimize torture and the negation of traditional civil liberties, because of “health” reasons might be another alternative extra-electoral adjustment to the ruling team.
While a Democratic victory would best serve the needs of the bourgeoisie, the question remains as to whether they will be able to control the process to achieve the desired result. Certainly the Foley scandal unleashed by the media in early October opens the possibility to crack finally the monolithism of the Christian right that Bush has relied so heavily on in past elections, and thereby favors Democratic gains in the election. In addition, the divisions within the Republican party at the moment go a long way towards undercutting the Bush administration’s attempt to use national security as an issue against the Democrats in the election and certainly undermines his political authority. Bush’s denunciation of prominent Republican critics as “putting the nation at risk,” his characterization of the conclusions that the war in Iraq had created a new generation of Islamist terrorists and increased the threat against the U.S. in the National Intelligence Estimate prepared by America’s 16 spy agencies as “naïve,” and his press secretary Tony Snow’s dismissal of Colin Powell as “confused” only fuels widespread fears about the administration’s self-delusional views on the current situation, and tendency to see critics as traitors, which might further isolate it from support within the ruling class. On the other hand such extremist posturing reveals an almost messianic belief by Bush that his is the one and only vision that can save the nation and could therefore justify using any means necessary to maintain control – in much the same way that Nixon justified his use of the state against his critics within the ruling class in the 1972 election. Thus despite the clear requirements from the ruling class’s perspective for a political realignment in Washington, we should not be surprised if the Bush administration resorts to all manner of illegal, fraudulent maneuvers to steal the election, which in the case of House races could be done at a very local level.
This election is a very important moment in
the political life of the American ruling class. A situation in which the
ruling class of the only remaining superpower has extreme difficulty in putting
in place a ruling team and political division of labor that best serves its
interests cannot be tolerated indefinitely. J. Grevin, 09/06.