Last November, George Bush won reelection by distracting a section of voters with the war on terrorism and appeals to “traditional values.” But the underlying reality of the class divide in the U.S. continues to undermine support for Bush and his right-wing, big-business policies.
Tens of millions of workers can see Bush’s flagship proposal, “Social Security reform,” for what it really is – an attempt to hand over part of Social Security income to Wall Street investors. A recent Newsweek poll showed that only 33% of the public now supports Bush’s plan. An NPR poll showed that the more familiar people were with Bush’s Social Security plan, the more likely they were to oppose it.
Opposition to Bush’s privatization of Social Security is an expression of opposition to Bush on a range of policies. His approval rating on Iraq is now down to just 39% in a recent Gallup poll – his worst Iraq Gallop rating ever! By 70% to 27%, people consider the number of U.S. casualties unacceptable. And, by 54% to 43%, the public thinks the U.S. is bogged down in Iraq.
Recent polls by Newsweek and Zogby show Bush at his lowest ratings ever on a number of domestic issues, with only 37% approving of his performance on jobs/economy, 37% on education, and 32% on the environment. These statistics show that Bush lacks a mandate for his policies, despite all the claims to the contrary.
Underlying this opposition to Bush is the growing gap between rich and poor, and growing economic insecurity for workers. Consumer and credit card debt are at record levels, increasing by 11% in 2004 alone.
In her book The Two-Income Trap, Elizabeth Warren found that the typical American household in the early 1970s spent about 54% of its income on big fixed expenses -home mortgage, health insurance, car, child care – with the rest left over for discretionary spending. By the early part of this decade, however, the typical family was spending 75% of its income on these large fixed costs. The author wrote: “They’re spending much more of their income on things that can’t be cut back quickly.”
With the current weak economic upturn now starting to falter, it is likely that the Bush administration will be hit by a new, and possibly quite deep, recession, and will have no one to blame but its own policies. This will further weaken Bush. Bush already has the lowest level of support for a second-term president since records began.
If Bush’s policies are so unpopular, how come Bush is going ahead with them without any open opposition? The main reason is the role played by the Democratic Party in pretending to be an opposition party, yet failing to expose Bush’s policies and seriously organize to defeat them.
This was most sharply shown in the last election, with the Democratic Party leadership pushing forward billionaire John Kerry as their candidate, who was almost indistinguishable from Bush on his policies.
The Democrats are not a political party that represents the interests of working people. However, the Democrats rely for their votes on getting support from the main progressive organizations in society – including labor unions, women’s organizations, the anti-war movement, and environmental organizations – by arguing that they are better than the Republicans.
But since the Democrats are controlled by big business, which funds their campaigns, they will not fundamentally challenge the corporate agenda pushed by Republicans. By failing to promise any policies fundamentally different from the Republicans, they fail to offer any serious political alternatives to working-class voters, leaving the Republicans’ corporate agenda unchallenged.
The dangerous role played by the Democrats can be seen in that, despite the widespread opposition and anger of workers at Bush’s Social Security proposals, they are not yet dead. That’s because the Democrats want to ensure that their corporate sponsors don’t have to pay for any potential future shortfalls in the program. Key Democrats could still step in to provide political cover by supporting Bush-lite Social Security cuts, just like they helped pass the Patriot Act, the No Child Left Behind Act, and his tax cuts for the rich.
Then who is going to demonstrate that Bush has no mandate? The responsibility for doing that lies with the leadership of the labor, women’s, anti-war, environmental and other progressive movements. Unfortunately, the leaders of these movements have been paralyzed by the belief that Bush has a mandate. They see the defeat of billionaire Kerry’s pro-corporate election campaign as “proof” that workers support Bush. In reality, voters were disgusted with both parties, and almost half failed to even vote in the last election.
Bush is in a very weak position on Social Security, and his overall support is seriously falling. This is a major opportunity to launch a struggle to definitively defeat his Social Security plans, and to weaken Bush’s entire agenda.
Now is the time for the unions, anti-war groups, women’s groups, and civil rights groups to go on the offensive against him. The first step would be to call, and seriously mobilize, for protests in cities across the country to build up to a national march on Washington, D.C. against Bush’s privatization of Social Security and his entire anti-worker agenda, demanding “money for jobs and education, not war” and to defend women’s rights.
Rather than relying on lobbying corporate politicians, the anti-war, labor, and women’s movements need to build a serious struggle from below, break with the Democrats, and put their resources into building a new political party with a radical working-class program.
Bush’s massive attacks will increasingly place the need for such a struggle on the agenda, and underline the need for a fundamental system change – to end this anarchistic, exploitative, destructive system of capitalism.