Millions of Americans are determined to see Bush and the Republicans defeated in the next elections. Yet millions are also disappointed at the Democratic Party’s dismal failure to offer a serious alternative. From war on Iraq to Bush’s aggressive right-wing domestic agenda, the leading Democratic figures have tumbled over themselves to show their “centrist” credentials, grabbing Bush’s coattails as he steers Washington rightward.
Most Democrats and the party leadership proclaimed their support for Bush’s war on Iraq. On October 11, 2002, the then Democratic-controlled Senate voted 77-23 in favor of the resolution authorizing Bush to take military action.
In the months leading up to war, when half the country opposed Bush’s plans and millions were protesting, liberal Democrats voiced some opposition. However, they always said they would support a war on the Iraqi people if the UN approved it and after the inspections had been given more time. Most “anti-war” Democrats represented safely anti-war electorates, and their rhetorical opposition was mainly calculated to maintain support for the next election, not to prevent war.
On March 21, the House voted 392-11 expressing “the support and appreciation of the Nation for the President” and the military, followed by a Senate vote of 99-0. On April 3, Congress handed Bush an additional $79 billion to prosecute the war on Iraq by a vote of 507-12. With the war over, no serious Democratic voice has emerged against the costly, colonial occupation.
If Democrats were serious about stopping the war, they would have helped mobilize a massive anti-war movement. They would have used their authority and access to the media to expose the lies that Bush used to justify war, explaining that this was a war for oil profits and global power.
The Democrats refused to expose Bush’s real motivations because they too are beholden to big business and see control of the Persian Gulf’s oil as essential for US capitalism. While they may fear Bush is going “too far” in his crude assertion of US power, risking a global backlash, they vigorously support the “war on terror,” which in reality is a war for US power and prestige.
The Democrats were also politically intimidated by the intransigence of the Republican hard-liners and feared electoral punishment for being “unpatriotic.” Moreover, they feared that a serious opposition to Bush would have further encouraged the massive anti-war movement, radicalizing millions against US imperialism and capitalism – the system they are part and parcel of.
On domestic issues, the Democrats offer no real alternative either. While complaining that Bush’s tax cuts favor the rich, their “alternative proposal” is for … tax cuts favoring the rich, simply on a smaller scale. Instead of Bush’s $700 billion tax cut, Democrats proposed $350 billion! Across the country, both Democratic- and Republican-controlled state governments are implementing deep cuts in social services and public sector layoffs.
Democrats’ Populist Turn?
The Democrats’ electoral defeat in November 2002 was caused by the failed strategy of the “moderate” Party leaders who refused to challenge the Republicans. The liberal Democrats have since become more aggressive, recognizing the electoral potential of a more populist message tapping into widespread anger at Bush and big business. The election of Nancy Pelosi, a liberal California Democrat, instead of a moderate to be the House minority leader reflects this debate.
A number of liberal Democrats have joined the race for President. Senator John Kerry from Massachusetts recently called for “regime change” in the US (NY Times, 4/4/03). Kerry’s strong words, however, came just days after he voted for the Senate resolution pledging the support of the “nation” to the President and his war.
Former Vermont Governor Howard Dean, another candidate, portrayed himself as anti-war and received an outburst of support as a result. But when push came to shove, he too lined up behind US imperialism. On Feb. 20, Dean told Salon.com that “if the U.N. in the end chooses not to enforce its own resolutions, then the U.S. should give Saddam 30 to 60 days to disarm, and if he doesn’t, unilateral action is a regrettable, but unavoidable, choice.”
Dennis Kucinich, perhaps the most “left-wing” Democratic candidate, voted against the resolution authorizing Bush to attack Iraq. He promises to be a “people’s president,” living in a “worker’s White House,” and to nullify NAFTA as his first act in office. But “anti-war” Kucinich voted in favor of Bush’s war on Afghanistan. Kucinich also has a long history of failing to defend abortion rights.
Kucinich may mobilize significant support by campaigning on a populist platform. But by failing to break from the corporate-controlled Democratic Party, and by urging his supporters to vote for other Democrats who stand diametrically opposed to the best aspects of his platform, Kucinich will be incapable of achieving even his limited demands.
If a section of the Democrats moves in a populist direction, there could be a certain increase in illusions in the Democratic Party as an alternative to the Republicans. But liberal Democrats, despite their rhetoric, will never burn their Party’s corporate bridges and fight for working people. They hope only to be better stewards of the capitalist system, to more effectively placate the growing outrage at capitalism’s devastating effects on workers at home and abroad while leaving the system itself intact.
We need a new, independent party that stands up for the millions, not the millionaires – a party that truly represents the interests of workers, young people, women, people of color, the environment, and the anti-war movement. Where possible, we urgently need to form electoral coalitions at the local level bringing together activists from these constituencies to challenge the two parties of war, racism, and corporate domination.