George Bush’s policies, such as his blatant tax cuts for the rich and war for oil, have provoked widespread and growing public opposition. But are the Democrats an alternative to Bush? Is Howard Dean the anti-war, anti-Bush insurgent he is made out to be? PHILIP LOCKER examines the Democrats’ record and explains why workers and young people should not support the Democrats.
The Real Howard Dean
Howard Dean has been catapulted into the forefront of the Democratic Presidential primaries race. Described as an “insurgent,” “fiery” “maverick,” Dean has proclaimed himself leader of “the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party.” TIME Magazine called him the candidate of the “anti-Bush, anti-war left” (8/11/03).
Unlike the main Democratic Party leaders, Dean’s attraction is based upon stridently and aggressively attacking Bush’s policies on Iraq and the economy. Dean is tapping into the widespread anger and frustration with Bush, the economy and the Iraq war. Dean is exploiting this mood, presenting himself as coming from outside the Washington D.C. political establishment and standing up for ordinary people. Many Democratic voters who are fed up with the Democratic leadership’s strategy of cuddling up to Bush, supporting the Iraq war, and presenting themselves as “Republican-lite” have latched on to Dean.
But aggressively attacking Bush is not the same thing as standing for programs that benefit working people or the oppressed.
Dean has been most outspoken about completely repealing Bush’s $1.7 trillion tax cuts for the rich. But instead of promising to use that money to fund crucially needed social programs, he says his top priority is to balance the federal budget deficit.
In 1995 Dean said: “The way to balance the budget … is for Congress to cut Social Security, move the retirement age to 70, cut defense, Medicare and veterans pensions, while the states cut almost everything else” (Meet the Press, 6/22/03).
In fact, Dean’s record as Governor of Vermont was one of budget cuts for social services. “Howard would start [each budget cycle] by cutting programs for the needy, things like wheelchairs and artificial limbs,” says state auditor Elizabeth Ready (TIME Magazine, 8/11/03).
While Dean says he wants to increase healthcare coverage, he proposes to expand the inherently flawed for-profit healthcare insurance system, rather than replacing it with a single-payer universal plan. “My health-care plan is not reform,” Dean explained in July, “and if reform is all you care about, I’m not your man” (TIME Magazine, 8/11/03).
Dean is an enthusiastic fan of free trade, NAFTA and the WTO. He criticizes the Kyoto global warming accord and supports the death penalty.
Many in the anti-war movement support Dean for his sharp attacks on Bush’s lies about Saddam having weapons of mass destruction and being linked to the Al-Qaeda terrorists and his apparent opposition to Bush’s war on Iraq. However, a closer look at what Dean actually stands for shows he is not a genuine, principled anti-war candidate.
Dean opposes only “parts,” not all, of the Patriot Act. Rather than calling for immediately ending the occupation of Iraq and bringing the troops home, rather than using his platform to help organize mass anti-occupation protests, Dean is actually calling for a doubling of U.S. troops in Iraq! Further, Dean fully supports the “war on terrorism,” demanding an increase in spending and more troops to occupy Afghanistan.
The truth is Dean is no “radical” opponent of big business or U.S. imperialism. When Dean’s mother was asked if he was truly a radical insurgent, she said with a chuckle “He’s not really. I hope they [Deans supporters] don’t find that out just yet.” (TIME Magazine, 8/11/03). If Dean wins the Democratic primaries, he is likely to move to the right, assuming his support on the left is safe.
The Kucinich Campaign
Some activists have been attracted to Dennis Kucinich, the most left-wing of the Democratic presidential candidates. Kucinich 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 repeal NAFTA as his first act in office.
However, there are no real ways for Democratic Party members to democratically vote on the Party’s Presidential candidate, and the big business leaders of the Party will simply not allow Kucinich to be their candidate.
So what should Kucinich and his supporters do when another Democrat is chosen as the candidate?
When asked whether he would endorse Ralph Nader if a Democrat completely opposed to his platform wins the nomination, Kucinich refused to answer.
This shows, radical-sounding rhetoric aside, Kucinich’s real role is to bring anti-war and other activists into the pro-war, pro-corporate Democratic Party behind their eventual candidate. He has explicitly stated that a key goal of his campaign is to bring third party supporters back into the Democrats’ fold.
If Kucinich were serious about fighting for the demands he has raised, he would break from the Democrats and build a mass working class party completely independent of big business interests.
The Democratic Party – A Party of Big Business
The Democratic Party tries to present itself as the party that fights the corporate-dominated Republicans and stands up for workers, people of color, women, LGBT people, and the environment. One way the ruling class promotes this myth is by consistently re-writing the history of the 1930’s to portray Democratic President Franklin Roosevelt as representing the interests of the working class when he presided over the greatest social reforms since the Civil War, such as the creation of welfare and Social Security and the right to form unions. However, it was the gigantic struggles of the working class in the 1930’s – the massive strike waves, sit-down occupations of factories, protests, unionization drives of key industries, general strikes, and more – that won these gains, not hand-outs from an enlightened Roosevelt.
The same applies to the Civil Rights movement of the 1960’s. It was the mass movements on the streets that threatened the entire system that forced the ruling class to grant major concessions, not who was President. In fact, the Democrats resisted and opposed the development of the civil rights movement at every step of the way.
Since the end of the post-World War II boom in the 1970’s, both the Democrats and Republicans have carried out a neo-liberal offensive on behalf of big business to claw back the gains won by workers and to dismantle the welfare state. From Jimmy Carter’s deregulatory policies and budget cuts to Clinton’s support for free trade policies and the destruction of welfare, these politicians have all supported the corporations’ attempts to restore profitability by driving down the working class’s living standards.
Both the Democrats and Republicans are parties of big business, swimming in corporate cash. In the 2000 elections both parties spent over $1 billion together. This money did not come from ordinary people (half of which don’t even vote), but from the rich and giant corporations.
The two parties share the same fundamental agenda – defending the interests of big business and their system, capitalism. While there are differences between the two parties, they have more to do with strategies and tactics for best achieving their shared goals.
Cuddling Up to Bush
Contrary to the corporate media’s mantra that Bush is popular, polls repeatedly show that a majority of Americans oppose Bush’s policies. A major reason why Bush has been able to ram through his right-wing corporate agenda so aggressively is because the Democrats have actively supported him in many instances.
Al Gore won the popular vote in the 2000 Presidential elections, yet the Democrats did not protest the undemocratic Electoral College and the Bush brothers’ racist coup in Florida, the Republican-dominated Supreme Court’s arbitrary decision to stop counting ballots, nor Bush Junior’s brother, Florida Governor Jeb Bush, ordering of police to blockade African Americans from voting. Not a single Democratic Senator even participated in the huge protests against King Bush’s Inauguration.
After the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the Democrats refrained from challenging Bush out of fear of being labeled unpatriotic. 193 of 260 Democrats in Congress voted for the Patriot Act. Every Democrat in Congress except for one voted for the war in Afghanistan, and approximately half voted for the Iraq war. Of those that voted for Bush’s Iraq war resolution, the vast majority were not against the war in principle, but opposed how Bush was going about it. They preferred going to war with the support of the UN or after giving the weapons inspectors a little more time.
Where the Democrats run state and local governments, they are implementing sweeping cuts in social services and layoffs of public sector workers. This is fueling a growing wave of anger, of which California Governor Grey Davis will most likely be the first casualty.
Build an Independent Political Movement
Yet every election year, the Democrats still come around to unions, civil rights, women’s, and environmental groups claiming to be the party that stands for “the people, not the powerful,” or at least the lesser evil compared with the Republicans.
The problem is that the logic of “lesser evilism” directly undermines grassroots movements, which are the key force for exerting pressure on the ruling class. Focusing on getting Democrats elected postpones the urgent task of building our own independent mass movement. It also forces movements to limit their demands and tactics to what the Democratic Party and their corporate paymasters find acceptable, rather than basing our demands on the needs of workers, oppressed groups, and the environment.
So how can we stop the ruling class’s offensive? The only practical solution is to build a mass movement from below.
There is no denying this is a difficult task that will require enormous struggle by millions of people. Nonetheless, history shows that voting for a Democrat will not get the job done, and it is actually counter-productive. As Malcolm X put it: “You put the Democrats first, and the Democrats put you last.”
Workers and young people need to begin now to organize our own political party, a workers’ party, to fight for our interests and organize a mass movement. (See p. 6 for info on building an independent political alternative to the Democrats.)
“The differences between the Republican and Democratic Parties involves no issue, no principle in which the working class has any interest… every [worker] who has intelligence enough to understand the interest of [their] class and the nature of the struggle in which it is involved will once and for all sever [their] relations with both.”
Eugene Debs, former leader of the American Railroad Union and Socialist Party Presidential candidate
The Clinton Years
Many Democrats are manipulating people’s genuine desire to get rid of Bush to strengthen the Democrats’ chances of winning back the White House in 2004, by promoting a myth that Bill Clinton was a “progressive” President. While there are real differences between the Clinton and Bush administrations, they both have fundamentally served the interests of profit-driven corporations at the expense of workers and the environment. Bush, in fact, is carrying out similar attacks on working people as Clinton, although more aggressively and blatantly. A look at Clinton’s record in office shows how he and the Democratic Party in no way represent the interests of working people or the oppressed.
As the New York Times explained, whenever Clinton and Gore faced a choice between policies favoring Wall Street or main street, “in almost every instance, [Clinton and Gore] took the route favored by Wall Street, business executives, and conventional economists, not the ones that ordinary people might have favored and that almost certainly would have been easier to defend politically.”
To get elected in 1992, Clinton made a popular promise to create a universal, national healthcare system. Even though Clinton was elected and the Democrats controlled both houses of Congress from 1992-1994, his healthcare promise never materialized. In fact, under Clinton and Gore, the number of Americans without health insurance rose from 35 to 44 million. Instead of fighting for healthcare, they invested their political capital on a massive campaign to pass NAFTA – a move that was fought bitterly by unions and environmentalists but strongly supported by corporations.
In 1996, Clinton and Gore demolished the welfare safety net, ending the 61-year-old guarantee of at least some income for the poorest Americans (a program which survived many Republican administrations). The Welfare Reform Act barred immigrants from receiving welfare and cut $24 billion from the federal food-stamp program. Despite this, the logic of “lesser evilism” held back labor leaders and others from building any serious opposition to this vicious attack on the poor.
Clinton and Gore carried out an aggressive “law and order” agenda, massively beefing up police and expanding the racist “war on drugs,” doubling the U.S. prison population to two million – more than any other country in the world. After the Oklahoma City bombing, Clinton and Gore pushed through the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act which foreshadowed many of the attacks on immigrant rights and increases in the government’s repressive powers in Bush’s Patriot Act.
In 1992, Clinton promised to end the ban on lesbians and gays in the military. As president, he settled for the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, which resulted in a 70% increase in discharges of gay service members. In a further slap in the face to LGBT people, Clinton signed the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996, barring states from approving same-sex marriages, and then proudly advertised his stance in his 1996 re-election bid.
While espousing support for women’s right to choose, Clinton failed to seriously defend abortion rights as it came under attack from the right wing, as the number of abortion providers declined by 14% from 1992 to 1996. In 1992, Clinton promised to pass a Freedom of Choice Act to guarantee every woman the right to abortion. Once elected, he never mentioned it again. Clinton signed off on restrictions on abortion for federal employees, D.C. residents, and Medicaid recipients.
The only thing preventing a precipitous decline in living standards for most workers during the Clinton years was the wildly unsustainable financial bubble, which mainly benefited the rich and which began deflating shortly before Clinton left office. Average CEO pay skyrocketed from 100 times the average worker’s pay in 1992 to 475 in 2000. Meanwhile, corporations forced workers to work longer and faster for stagnating wages in part-time, low paying jobs, sinking deeper into debt.
Under Clinton and Gore, union busting went unopposed, union membership continually fell and anti-union laws remained on the books. Al Gore led the administration’s “re-inventing government” program, which fired 377,000 federal workers – 17% of the workforce.
What about foreign policy? Rather than the “peace dividend” promised, six of Clinton’s eight budgets called for increases in military spending. Clinton and Gore were the main enforcers of the genocidal sanctions which killed more than one million Iraqis. Clinton and Gore dispatched U.S. troops into combat situations more than any other recent administration – nearly twice as many times as the four preceding presidents combined. This was within the long tradition of the Democrats serving as a party of war, leading the U.S. into World War I, World War II, Korea, and Vietnam.