Since winning re-election three months ago, George W. Bush has made it very clear that he intends to go on the offensive in his second term. He claims a mandate for continuing the “war on terror” – in reality a series of imperialist adventures – while attacking the remaining gains made by American working people in the 20th century, first and foremost Social Security.
The mandate is a lie, but how far will Bush be able to push this agenda? More to the point, what can be done to stop and reverse the attacks on working and poor people here and around the world?
The first point to make is that, the January elections notwithstanding, the Iraqi occupation remains a disaster with no end in sight. American soldiers will continue to die, the situation will deteriorate further, domestic support for the war will continue to fall, and the whole sorry mess will be a millstone around the neck of this administration.
Domestically, the Bush agenda can certainly be described as bold. As Bush’s recent budget proposal shows, the plan to privatize Social Security is only a part, albeit a key part, of the drive to curtail or destroy all social programs that assist poor and working people in this country.
Bush’s budget targets dozens of programs including Medicaid, child care assistance, food stamps, and veterans’ benefits. Bush also wants to make permanent the tax cuts for the rich passed during his first term and to go further towards replacing income taxes with a regressive flat tax or sales tax.
It is hard to imagine that the massive growth of inequality in the past 20 years could go even further. But in this period of economic stagnation and decay, the main way capitalists seek to keep their system profitable and viable is through large-scale theft from the rest of the population.
It would be wrong, however, to think Bush will have an easy time achieving his domestic agenda. Social Security privatization will face far more resistance than any other domestic policy he has pushed to date.
A significant part of the ruling class has grave reservations about having to borrow the projected $2 trillion required to set up individual retirement accounts at a time of soaring federal budget deficits. In fact, if the economy begins to slide into a new recession in the next year – a distinct possibility – the whole privatization proposal could unravel.
The Democratic Party, which happily went along with the Patriot Act, the buildup to war against Iraq, and many of whom accepted the Bush tax cuts, also look set to oppose Bush’s Social Security proposals fairly vigorously. This is partly because of the concerns already cited and partly because they are looking for a way back in the 2006 elections.
But we need to be absolutely clear that while the Democrats will step up the rhetoric a notch – assisted by their new chairman, Howard Dean – they still agree with significant parts of the Bush agenda and they are quite capable of making rotten compromises, even on Social Security. They are in fact being quite cagey about their plan for financing Social Security in the long run but the party leadership seems to be leaning towards a mix of increasing Social Security taxes on workers and reducing benefits! Once again it is clear that absolutely no faith should be placed in American politics’ other corporate-dominated party.
In the next period, we will see the reigniting of a mass movement against Bush. Already, we see increasing resistance from veterans and military families to the war, and numerous actions by high school and college students against the presence of military recruiters on campuses. On March 19, anti-war protests will take place around the country. In the next period, the AFL-CIO and the AARP will undoubtedly organize huge protests against Social Security privatization. And when Bush nominates abortion opponents to the Supreme Court, this will lead to huge protests by women.
The current situation brings home the point that elections are far from being the only vehicle for defeating attacks from the right. If the situation in Iraq continues to degenerate, the economy begins to sink again, and Bush is defeated on key parts of his domestic agenda, the Bush regime could implode like the Johnson and Nixon presidencies did during the Vietnam War.
Of course, waiting around for Bush to defeat himself is not an option. Mass struggle is key. But the force that has the social power to stop Bush’s agenda is the American working class. Mobilizing the working class requires reinvigorating the labor movement.
It is guaranteed that the Democratic Party will do everything possible to stop or neuter a real mobilization of working people. This is why the labor movement as well as the anti-war and women’s movements need to break from the stranglehold of the Democrats and lay the basis for our own political party. Such a party should not stop at opposing the attacks of the ruling class, but put forward a bold program for real change including a national guaranteed income for all workers regardless of age and free universal health care.
As socialists, we struggle alongside others to establish such a party, while pointing out that all reforms made under capitalism, like Social Security, are vulnerable to attack by the capitalists at a later stage. This is why we need to get rid of the whole capitalist system once and for all.