The November election was an extremely important event for the American ruling class. For six years, since the disastrous election of 2000, the U.S. Bourgeoisie experienced serious difficulties in controlling the outcome of the electoral circus and putting in place a ruling team and political division of labor that best corresponds to its long term strategic interests and goals. As a consequence the credibility of the electoral mystification, the democratic propaganda myth that elections enable “the people” to participate in the governance of society, had taken some terrific hits and had been seriously undermined.
Difficulties in Controlling the Electoral Circus
In good measure these difficulties were a manifestation of the tendency of “each for himself,” which is a central characteristic of the general social decomposition of capitalist society, within the electoral circus. In particular this was epitomized by the breakdown in the willingness of the various candidates and parties to subordinate their political ambitions to the requirements of the national interest.
Instead, especially in close elections, despite what was in the best global interests of the national capital, candidates and parties succumbed to the desire to win at any cost. This was demonstrated by the debacle of the 2000 presidential campaign in which the candidate who lost the popular vote emerged as president.
The rise of rightwing Christian fundamentalism, which played a pivotal role in recent elections, as a political force in the U.S. Is also a reflection of decomposition.
Confused by the increasing social instability and hopelessness and lacking a revolutionary alternative for the future, many people are driven towards religion as a simplistic solution to the chaos of capitalist society. The fact that the fundamentalists are controlled by their religious leaders and are consumed by crackpot social agenda items, such as opposition to abortion and gay marriage, seemed to make them impervious to classic forms of political manipulation by the media. Thus in 2004, despite sharing widespread concerns about the economy and war, fundamentalists cast their votes based on emotional hot button issues like gay marriage.
The difficulties in reaching a consensus on the best ruling team until quite late in September in 2004 was in part yet another example of the impact of decomposition on conjunctural political events.
It has taken six years and an intolerable crisis of its imperialist leadership for the dominant fraction of the ruling class to regain control of its electoral circus.
The Role of the Media
The overwhelming Democratic victory in the House, and the razor-thin margin in the Senate can be attributed to the tremendous and determined effort not to repeat the errors of the 2000 and 2004 elections.
This time in 2006, the dominant fraction of the ruling class committed itself early to Democratic victory as essential to implementation of its long range interests.
The emergence of a consensus on the need to readjust the ruling team and imperialist policy could be seen last March with the creation of the Iraq Study Group, the bipartisan commission created on the initiative of Republican congressmen and comprised of prominent officials from the administrations of Ronald Reagan, George Bush senior, and Bill Clinton. The purpose of the commission was to devise a fresh approach to the disastrous situation in Iraq and to pressure the administration into accepting that approach. In order to achieve such a midcourse correction, it was crucial to manipulate the elections to demonstrate popular disenchantment with the administration’s policy and to put pressure on Bush to alter policy.
Effective mobilization of the mass media became a high priority to assure the desired electoral outcome. Except for the rightwing talk show commentators and Murdoch’s Fox network, the media messages were clear and unrelenting in attacking the administration. The critical views of the Iraq Study Group appeared regularly in the media. Both Democratic and Republican commission members characterized the administration’s rhetoric of “cut and run” vs. “stay the course,” as a simplistic, false dichotomy. Broadcasters on CNN and MSNBC, in particular, kept a steady barrage of criticism. CNN even ran a series of broadcasts titled, “Broken Government,” in the week running up to the election, which ripped the administration.
The New York Times and Washington Post led the attack by publishing leaked documents that revealed that the administration had suppressed a consensus national intelligence estimate drafted by 16 espionage agencies that reported that the disastrous consequences of the mismanaged war in Iraq exacerbated, rather than alleviated, the Islamic fundamentalist terrorist threat against the U.S. In flagrant contradiction of the Bush administration’s falsely optimistic propaganda pronouncements.
These reports were picked up and highlighted by the rest of the mass media immediately. In contrast to its past reaction to such media leaks with threats of investigations for criminal leaking of classified documents, the administration was forced to de-classify and make public large portions of the intelligence reports.
Even more importantly the use of the media was instrumental in neutralizing the Christian fundamentalist problem that had been so serious in 2004. The ruling class unleashed a media campaign around the Foley scandal. This scandal included more than just the actions of Foley himself, an ultraconservative Republican congressman, champion of so-called “family values,” and arch opponent of gay rights and gay marriage, who was revealed to have made sexual overtures to teenage boys working as pages in the House of Representatives. More devastatingly, the media campaign stressed also the complicity of high ranking Republican leaders in the House, including Speaker Hastert, who covered up this scandal for nearly three years. Exploitation of this scandal on a daily basis effectively neutralized the Christian right in the election.
Reviving the Electoral Mystification
The reinvigoration of the electoral mystification that had been so badly tarnished since the beginning of the new century was an important accomplishment for the bourgeoisie. In 2004, we wrote that the bourgeoisie desired a Kerry victory in part to revive the electoral mystification, to demonstrate “the power of the people” to correct the political fiasco of the stolen election of 2000. They wanted people dancing in the streets in celebration of how the system works and “the will of the people” is manifest. Well, that is very nearly what they have achieved in 2006. The election has been portrayed in the media, and in comments by prominent politicians from both parties, as an expression of the political will of the American people for an end to the war in Iraq, for a change in political direction. Following the election, even on election night itself, it was interesting to hear not only journalists, but Republican political strategists and pundits as well use such terms as “the swing of the political pendulum,” “a change in the political cycle,” “the need for the Republicans to reclaim their principles,” in describing the meaning of the election. In this sense, the bourgeoisie signaled preparation for realigning the political division of labor to put the Republicans in opposition and the Democrats in power, and the Republicans acknowledge acceptance of this role.
Undoubtedly the Democrats will undertake immediately some popular domestic measures, such as an increase in the minimum wage and new legislation correcting the excessively regressive medical prescription plan imposed by Bush, and abandonment of the attack on social security. These measures will be designed to lay the basis for the Democrats to take the White House in 2008, in order to continue the healing process and prepare for future military actions in defense of U.S.
Hegemony. Of course the resistance of Bush administration hardliners to any significant alteration in Iraq policy, still risks undermining the gains made in reviving the credibility of the electoral mystification.
Indeed already there is some concern expressed among bourgeois media pundits that the administration’s plans to escalate the war in Iraq after voters had so clearly expressed their disapproval of the war will lead to political demoralization and a loss of faith in elections as a means to influence government policy.
The degree to which the Bush administration refuses to accept the meaning of the midterm election results, as a reflection of the political will of the dominant fraction of the ruling class, is the degree to which it risks facing even more serious political pressure to change imperialist course. Jerry Grevin, 13/1/07.