The farce around the election of the US president has allowed the rulers of Europe, increasingly anxious to assert their independence from the US, to mount a campaign about how much more efficient ‘our’ dgn about how much more efficient ‘our’ democratic institutions are over here. It’s true that the election stalemate has been a real embarrassment for the US ruling class, and the comrades of our US section analyse the reasons for the mess in the article below. But the article also shows that there are in any case no fundamental differences between Gore and Bush. And this applies to ‘democratic’ elections everywhere. However they are managed, parliamentary elections are always used against the consciousness of the working class. ‘Democracy’ is a mask hiding the real dictatorship of capitalism, and workers can only fight against this dictatorship by struggling for their own interests as a class.
At the time of writing, the outcome of the presidential electoral circus is still unknown. The electoral stalemate was clearly an unplanned accident for the US ruling class, a tremendous embarrassment creating a confusing political dilemma. The political strategy of the bourgeoisie going into the election appeared to reaffirm a commitment to maintain the left, the Democratic Party, in power in the White House. No significant domestic political, economic or imperialist factors existed to call into question the continuation of the strategy of the left in power, which has worked so effectively since 1992 for the effectively since 1992 for the bourgeoisie, not only in the US, but internationally (See International Review 98, ‘Why are the left parties in government in the majority of European countries today?’, 3rd quarter 1999). This strategy permitted the bourgeoisie to use the Clinton administration to maintain a continuous implementation of austerity and the dismantling of the New Deal welfare state, 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.
If there were no conjunctural factors pressuring the bourgeoisie to abandon the left in power strategy, neither was there any necessity to resort to an alternation in power to revitalize the democratic mystification. The left has only been in power for eight years, and the Republicans have controlled congress and a majority of state governorships, so there was no monopolizing of political power for an overly long period of time to wear out the democratic mystification. After all, the right had held power for 12 years under Reagan/Bush, and was removed from office not to revitalize demfice not to revitalize democracy, but rather because of imperialist preoccupations, following Bush’s indecisiveness to intervene in the Balkans and consequent squandering of American imperialist advantage built up by the Gulf War in 1991.
Consequently, a Gore victory seemed most sensible for the bourgeoisie. As we noted in Internationalism 114, at the same time, to protect themselves against an ‘accident’ the bourgeoisie installed the younger Bush as the candidate of the Republicans on the right. Despite all the campaign rhetoric, and despite their different party affiliations, both Gore and Bush adhere to the same, identical faction of the bourgeoisie, with no significant divergences on imperialist policy, and essentially identical positions on all significant domestic policy questions. Whoever won, the bourgeoisie was assured that basically the same orientation on domestic and international policy would be pursued.
The bourgeoisie tries to counter ‘voter apathy’
The campaign was manipulated to generate interest and enthusiasm in the election, to present it as ‘close’ in order to bolster participation by largely apathetic electorate, to rrgely apathetic electorate, to rejuvenate the electoral mystification. The propaganda stressed over and over that the campaign was too close to call, that every vote would count, etc. etc. The polls portrayed Gore as trailing even until the very eve of the election, prodding working class and liberal voters to come out to the poll to prevent the triumph of the right.
So, what happened? In large measure the strategy prevailed. Despite being portrayed as trailing in all but one of the national polls by three to five points, Gore won the popular vote, achieving 49% of the vote, a greater percentage than the vastly more popular Clinton received in 1992 or 1996. In fact, Gore received more actual votes than Reagan did in his landslide victories over Carter and Mondale, respectively in 1980 and 1984. The political accident that threw the electoral circus into turmoil was due to two factors. First, the loose cannon actions of the Green Party candidate, Ralph Nader. Second, the fact that for the first time since 1888, indeed for the first time in the epoch of capitalist decadence, the results in the popular vote were contradicted by the results in the anachronistic Electoral College, which appeared to give the election victory to the candidate who came in second place.
The Nader Factor
Unlike the Perot campaigns of ’92 and ’96, which were designed to siphon off votes from the Republicans and facilitate the victory of the left in those elections, the Nader candidacy was not designed to impact on the current election. The script called for the Green Party to develop a political presence so that it might prepare to play a crucial role in the future as a means to control radicalized workers and petty bourgeois elements, as the crisis deepens and working class discontent becomes more pronounced. In this sense the Nader campaign was designed as a electoral reference point for the Seattle-type anti-globalisation movement, as well as traditional environmentalists and ‘progressives’. The immediate goal was to achieve 5% in the popular vote, which would qualify the Greens for federal campaign funds in the future. However, Nader made a deal with the established environmental groups and the Democratic Party that he would not seek to alter the result of the election, and promised not to campaign in states where it might affect the outcome. For whatever reason – some of his critics in the left of the Democratic party and the environmental movement charge egomania – Nader reneged on this agreement Nader reneged on this agreement and concentrated his campaign in key battleground states that were crucial to a Gore victory. These states were also most receptive to Nader’s ‘progressive message’ attacking big business. Realizing that Nader was poised to threaten the Gore victory, about two weeks before the election the environmentalists and the left of the Democratic Party began an all-out campaign against Nader for reneging on the deal, urging him to withdraw from the election, and calling upon his supporters not to ‘waste’ their votes and help elect Bush. The New York Times joined this campaign, denouncing Nader for ‘electoral mischief’, and TV journalists joined the chorus as well. This campaign was in sharp contrast to the situation with Perot, who never received such criticism and was never asked to withdraw in ’92 and ’96 – precisely because his campaign was designed to affect the election results in the Clinton races.
Even though the bourgeoisie was successful in scaring off more than fifty percent of the people who were supposedly intending to vote for Nader, and achieved a Gore victory in the popular vote, the Green party candidate managed to screw up the Electoral College vote on the state level in at least three states: New Hampshire, Oregon and the all Hampshire, Oregon and the all important Florida, with its 25 electoral votes. For example, in Florida, where Bush had a 1,700 vote margin on election day (before the first recount which brought him down to 330), Nader got 96,000 votes. While undoubtedly a good number of the voters who cast ballots for Nader were people who were so alienated from the mainstream parties that they probably wouldn’t have participated in the election had Nader not been a candidate, if only 3 percent of the 96,000 had voted for Gore, Bush would have been easily defeated on election day.
The anachronistic Electoral College
The unforeseen accident that produced a situation in which the electoral vote did not match the popular vote was caused by Nader’s reneging on the deal, and aggravated by the Electoral College, an anachronistic, anti-democratic - even by bourgeois standards - historical relic created in 1787 as a check against ‘popular passions’. In today’s conditions this institution is weighted disproportionately in favor of rural, small population states, and it was these states that Bush won heavily.
The bourgeoisie’s strategy provided protection against an vided protection against an accidental defeat at the polls, but not against a contradictory and indecisive result at the polls. For the American bourgeoisie, no matter how much they pay homage to the wisdom of the Founding Fathers and the constitution they created over 200 years ago, an election in which the guy who lost the election is declared the winner is a tremendous political embarrassment and liability. All the rhetoric about the ‘will of the people’ and ‘the people decide’ rings empty. Despite the fact that the dominant faction of the bourgeoisie could certainly live with either Gore or Bush as president with no problem, each of the candidates, and their entourages, genuinely want to be president, and this has led to never-ending political soap opera since election day. All the bickering, posturing and rancor by the two candidates camps is in complete contrast to the normal unifying, mutual support and coming together that normally marks the conclusion an American electoral circuses.
The goal of the current recount, and the legal challenges by the Gore staff, is designed not simply to satisfy Gore’s real personal ambitions, but also to produce an election result in Florida so that the final Electoral College results will coincide with the popular vote, though the final outcome is stillugh the final outcome is still in doubt. The ruling class is trying to put the best ‘spin’ possible on the current situation, stressing how this election proves that every vote counts, and that the melodrama we are witnessing is a simply a stupendous civics lesson for the American public. But in reality both sides expose the pettiness and corruption of the highly touted American electoral political system, in which each side is shamelessly trying to cheat and manipulate the vote counts in their favor. Senior ‘statesmen’ in both parties, including former presidents Carter and Ford, are already pushing for a resolution that will somehow salvage the authority and legitimacy of the presidency and American democracy following the settlement of the current stalemate.
Indeed, the current squabbling in no way threatens the stability of American society. Whatever jitters there are on Wall Street have been there for over a year and are not caused by the inconclusive election. The working class is not engaged in open struggle, and the imperialist strategy of American imperialism is not in question. In this sense the so-called ‘sharp political division’ in the American electorate couldn’t come at a better time for the bourgeoisie, even if it is unplanned. While having the left in opposition m having the left in opposition might create certain problems for the ruling class in terms of justifying overseas military interventions, or in potentially provoking oppositional actions by the unions and the Jesse Jackson/Ted Kennedy wing of the Democrats, the situation will not be insurmountable.
Once the election is decided the bourgeoisie will try to foster reconciliation, and a strongly divided Congress and White House will somehow find the statesmanlike wherewithal to rise above partisan divisiveness to continue to attack the standard of living of the working class, and begin to repair the tarnished image of the democratic mystification.
Internationalism, ICC section in the US, 11/18/00.