There is deep disappointment in Britain and worldwide at the victory of Bush in the US elections. This, however, does not justify drawing pessimistic conclusions for the future or insulting the US people, as did the Daily Mirror: "How can 59 million people be dumb enough to vote for this?"
Similar conclusions were drawn about the elections in Britain in 1992 when John Major unexpectedly crept back to power, despite the previous forcible eviction of Thatcher from office and the defeat of the hated poll tax. Six months after Major’s re-election came ‘Black Wednesday’ and the collapse of the European Exchange Rate Mechanism (ERM) which sealed the fate of the Tories, from which they have never recovered.
US President Nixon also managed a second term but was then thrown out because of the Watergate conspiracy and the mass revolt of the people of America against his lying, corrupt government. Similarly, Lyndon Johnson was compelled by the revolt against the Vietnam War to resign unceremoniously before he could start his ‘second term’.
History never repeats itself in exactly the same way but what these examples demonstrate are that elections, as the socialist has explained many times, reflect the mood at one moment in time and not fixed views set in concrete. These views can be shaken by big events.
The first Bush term polarised US society to a greater extent than at any time for 30 years. This was reflected in the turnout which was up 8 per cent compared to 2000, the highest since the 1960s; 51% voted for Bush and 48% for Kerry. But this is not the complete picture; Greg Palast the US investigative journalist, has shown that an estimated two million votes for Kerry were ruled out by Republican-influenced officials. Nevertheless, the fact remains that, despite the horrors of Iraq and the worst economic record of any president since Hoover in the 1930s, Bush has been returned to power.
Millions, particularly young people and 88 per cent of Afro-Americans, voted for Kerry. Their votes were, however, cancelled out by millions of others and crucially by the millions of Christian evangelicals who did not vote in the last election and identified Bush as the upholder of traditional American ‘values’. Mobilised by the 300,000 ‘shock troops’ of Bush’s ‘grey eminence’, Karl Rove, they responded to the campaign to uphold ‘traditional values’ and some of them to the vile campaign against a woman’s right to choose, against gay rights and stem cell research.
The vicious, almost medieval, rant of this section of the Republican Party was summed up by Senator Tom Coburn, who promised on election day to "ban abortion and execute any doctors who carried them out". [Daily Mirror] This has posed the question: how, in an advanced industrial society, millions of people in the US, perhaps unlike elsewhere, can cling to outmoded ‘moral’ precepts founded on fundamentalist, evangelical religion?
Many of those who voted for Bush, including a small but increased layer of Afro-Americans, in effect voted for their oppressors, the big capitalists who finance and support Bush and against their own economic self interests. There are many historical and cultural reasons, including the urge to hold on to some kind of ‘security’ in the form of the family and the church in an uncertain world, in a period of turmoil and upheaval. Such support for their own worst enemies, however, is very tenuous and will be shaken by the big events that impend in the US and internationally.
Moreover, in this election, the American people were not given a real choice. Democratic Party candidate Kerry, with his changing positions and general ‘flip-floppery’ engendered no real confidence. He voted for the Iraq war and then voted against funds to support it. When he was challenged he made things far worse: "I actually did vote for the $87 billion before I voted against it."
Hardly anything was heard from him about the increased poverty, the million jobs lost under Bush’s rule, the shameful state of healthcare in the US, etc, as he concentrated on his Vietnam War record. The ‘middle class’ and the ‘underclass’ were mentioned but never the working class, its needs and interests, despite the fact that the trade union leadership poured millions of dollars into Kerry’s election coffers.
Shadow of 9/11
At the same time, the shadow of 9/11 and the fear of a repeat hung over this election. The Republican Party - now cloaked in the garb of an American nationalist party - presented itself as the ‘comfort blanket’ to prevent any repeat of 9/11 by means of an international ‘war on terror’. Bush will attempt to unscrupulously utilise this for a programme of ‘more of the same’ on the international arena as well as at home.
He has already alleged that the American people have given him "increased capital", which he intends to use to the full. The fear now is of a more ferocious military onslaught and a worsening of the war in Iraq, as well as a new military ‘pre-emption’ against Iran, Syria and a dangerous confrontation with North Korea.
However, Bush faces failure and defeat in Iraq in a war that he cannot win on the basis of the present military and financial capacity of the US alone. It is experiencing ‘imperialist overstretch’ with not enough military forces to hold the whole of Iraq in check never mind launching new military adventures.
The war is also swallowing government funds more proportionately than even the Vietnam War of over 30 years ago. Yale University economist William Nordhouse has estimated that, in modern prices, the Vietnam War cost around $500 billion (£270 billion) over eight years from 1964, while Iraq will have hit half that level by next autumn after just two and a half years.
Even the neo-conservatives around Bush expect that US troops may only stay until the Iraqi ‘elections’ and then beat a retreat. If such an ‘exit’ strategy was pursued, Iraq itself could implode - break up - with massive repercussions for neighbouring countries.
Iran, on the other hand, has a population almost three times bigger than Iraq. Bush no doubt dreams that a military ‘pre-emption’ could topple the conservative mullahs in Tehran. There are undoubtedly widespread illusions in Iran, especially amongst young people about American living standards and even ‘democracy’. But as the example of Iraq demonstrates, any military intervention would resurrect Iranian nationalism, with the majority of the population prepared to confront any invasion force.
The main military option open to the US is to use one of its ‘proxies’, Israel, for instance, which bombed Saddam’s nuclear facilities in 1981. Even that is problematical, as Jack Straw has admitted, given the changed situation in Israel and the explosive repercussions of such an action in the Middle East region, particularly amongst the Shias in Iraq, Lebanon and elsewhere. Therefore, economic sanctions to weaken the Iranian regime are the most likely weapon of the Bush regime.
Similarly, confrontation with North Korea, which already possesses nuclear weapons, is extremely dangerous. Even economic sanctions that led to the toppling of the North Korean regime would result in a mass exodus to the South. This could lead to the collapse of South Korea as well, with the US forced to step in to pick up the bill.
Nevertheless, the antiwar movement and the labour movement worldwide must be vigilant and be prepared to oppose any programme for increased military incursions by US imperialism. The first Bush term stirred up a mass antiwar movement worldwide. This has not gone to sleep because of one election result but remains mobilised, in particular against the war and further bloodletting in Iraq.
At home, Bush’s right-wing reactionary programme, with his ‘divinely ordained’ victory, will probably mean the appointment of more conservative judges to the Supreme Court in order to ram through a repudiation of the 1973 Roe v Wade abortion ruling, to oppose gay rights and to suppress stem cell research. If this is coupled with the part-privatisation of social security, attempts to, in effect, abolish all taxes on the rich and their replacement with a ‘sales tax’, an explosion of anger exceeding the antiwar movements of the 1960s and against the Iraq War, will ensue.
Unlike Bush’s first term, this second one could see the emergence of a mass opposition and an increasingly socialist youth movement coupled with the re-emergence of the US working class. The first Bush term represented a whiff of reaction; the second, if it is the whip of reaction, can result in a movement that will challenge not just his regime but the very existence of US capitalism itself.
An edited version of this article will appear in The Socialist, weekly newspaper of the Socialist Party in England and Wales.