US: Vote Lesser Evil in 2004?

Are the Democrats a viable alternative to Bush?

Bush’s brutal war on Iraq, his right-wing policies, and an economy that is hemorrhaging jobs, have led many to look to the Democrats for relief. But would a Democratic President’s policies really be that different?

Presidential candidate Howard Dean has received phenomenal results by sharply attacking Bush’s policies on Iraq and the economy. Half a million supporters have flooded his campaign with donations, and thousands are turning out at his rallies. He presents himself as coming from outside the political establishment to stand up for ordinary people, and he is tapping into many Democratic voters’ anger with the Democratic Party leadership’s "Republican-lite" strategy of kowtowing to Bush.

However, a sober examination of Dean’s policies shows he is no defender of workers, the oppressed, or the anti-war movement. Garrison Nelson, a political science professor at the University of Vermont, told Business Week: “Howard is not a liberal. He’s a pro-business, Rockefeller Republican” (8/11/03).

Howard Dean has been an enthusiastic supporter of "free trade" agreements such as NAFTA and the WTO. He criticizes the Kyoto global warming accord and supports the death penalty. As Governor of Vermont, he is well known in the state as a fiscal conservative who slashed budgets for social services and sided with big business at the expense of working people, civil rights, and the environment.

To build a base of support among workers in hopes of winning the Democratic primary election, he has altered some of these previous views. He criticized some of the “free trade” agreements Clinton signed, and he proposed to reverse measures deregulating industries. However, he still defends his pro-business track record in Vermont.

Despite his early criticism of Bush’s Iraq war policies, Dean does not call for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq. On one occasion, he called for increasing the number of U.S. troops to 200,000, and on another, he called for continuing the U.S. occupation but with some U.S. troops being replaced by foreign troops.

He has not clarified who would own Iraq’s oil, how the country would be rebuilt, and most importantly how the Iraqi people would be allowed to control their own country. In other words, under President Dean the U.S. would continue to occupy Iraq, and U.S. soldiers and Iraqis would continue to die.

Dean only opposes "parts," not all, of the Patriot Act. He supported the war on Afghanistan, Bush’s wider “war on terror,” and the 1991 Gulf War.

With the endorsement of two large, diverse unions, SEIU and AFSCME, Dean could reach a wider audience of workers and people of color and hold onto his momentum in the early Iowa and New Hampshire primary elections. However, his comments about wanting to appeal to “guys with Confederate flags in their pickup trucks” are an indication of the direction we can expect Dean to travel if elected – abandoning any radical stances and courting big business and editorial columns of the corporate press.

Incredibly, the more conservative wing of the Democratic Party, the National Leadership Council close to Clinton and Gore, is scared Dean is too liberal! They’re blind to the anger building up against Bush’s policies, believing they need a candidate who is just a fraction to the left of Bush to defeat him.

Other Presidential Hopefuls

Fearing that the more conservative Democratic candidates John Kerry, John Edwards, and Joe Lieberman were showing no momentum or ability to stop Dean, a clique around the party leadership drafted General Wesley Clark, hoping he would “save” the Democrats from “left-wing” Dean. Never mind that Clark was a life-long Republican who voted for Reagan and Bush Sr. and was NATO’s supreme commander in the brutal bombing of civilians in Yugoslavia! His plans to revitalize the economy include increased spending on homeland security and tax cuts for business – just like Bush.

The other major Democratic candidates – Dick Gephardt, Kerry, Edwards, and Leiberman – are lagging behind, unable to attract a significant following, and their actual policies are not that different from Dean’s and Clark’s.

Dennis Kucinich has a more radical program, but the right-wing leadership of the Democratic Party will simply not allow him to be their nominee. If Kucinich was serious about the anti-corporate, anti-war policies he advocates, he would break from the Democrats and run an independent campaign to help build a mass movement against Corporate America and their occupation of Iraq.

However, Kucinich says, "I have no interest in a third party candidacy. None. I want to do it the other way – bring third party candidates into the [Democratic] Party." (The Progressive, April 2003) The role of Kucinich’s campaign is to draw anti-war and other left-wing activists into the Democratic Party and deliver their votes to the Democrats’ eventual pro-war, pro-corporate candidate, like Dean or Clark.

An essential issue that will influence any candidate’s ability to deliver is the economy, which is overwhelmed with structural problems. The national debt is at a record high, the current account deficit (money the U.S. pays to overseas corporations and governments) is rising at an alarming rate, there are huge bubbles in the stock market and real estate markets, and investment in new plants and equipment in the U.S. is stunted.

The U.S. economy is mired in a classical capitalist crisis. Corporations can’t raise prices to raise profits because they have invested so much capital in other countries to exploit cheaper labor, and now their products are flooding the U.S. market, but U.S. consumers are overwhelmed with debt as well-paid manufacturing jobs are hemorrhaging and being replaced by low-wage service jobs.

None of the candidates is even talking about these massive problems because solving them would mean standing up against big business and their system, capitalism – the very interests they all defend. Big business demands policies that will protect their profits and off-load the burden of the crisis onto the backs of workers. All the major Democratic candidates have a long history of proven service to big business. This electoral campaign is their chance to demonstrate to Corporate America who will best be able to continue carrying out these policies at a national level, while at the same time showing they have that common touch.

Bill Clinton made campaign promises to create a universal health care system, protect workers and the environment from the effects of free trade policies, and defend women’s abortion rights. He told his story of personally overcoming poverty and promised to help the average American. Yet when he left office, he had delivered none of these.

Instead, Clinton presided over the creation of NAFTA and the WTO, the expansion of the racist “war on drugs,” a massive increase in spending on the police, a doubling of the prison population to 2 million, the bombing and sanctions on Iraq which killed 1 million Iraqis, and dismantling welfare. In fact, he initiated many of the policies Bush Jr. is following through on.

Workers and young people should not be fooled by the promises of this new crop of Democrats. They are campaigning to be the candidate of a party created and controlled by big business. Its upper structures are dominated by corporate elites, the majority of their funds come from big corporate sponsors, and they are loyal to this class. The Democrats will try to convince big business that they will be more successful in carrying out the ruling class’s agenda than a weakened, discredited Bush administration.

Four years of Dean, Clark, Gephardt, or Kerry as president will mean a continuation of big businesses policies. They all accept the logic of capitalism, in which maximizing profits is supposedly the way to stimulate the economy. They will continue the policies demanded by the ruling class – massive plant closures, attacks on workers’ health benefits, the explosion of low-paid service jobs, further wars, racism, and sexism.

They will deliver the same kind of medicine – maybe with a dose more of sugar – that is dished out by the Republicans. That’s the legacy of Clinton. Look at any other Democratic president, and you will see a similar history. It was Democrats, for example, who took us into both World Wars and wars in Korea and Vietnam.

Many will still argue, “But no one could be as bad as Bush!” But we have to ask: how on earth did Bush get elected in the first place? It was because of dissatisfaction with Clinton and Gore. That’s also how Schwarzenegger got elected in California – dissatisfaction with Democratic Governor Gray Davis. Fiscal conservative Howard Dean would attack our living standards, cut social programs and take us to war as needed by Corporate America. Dissatisfaction with him would lead to Bush III! So the cycle will continue.

That’s why we say, “Get off the Democratic Party train now.” It’s not for nothing that the Democrats are called “the graveyard of movements.” They suck the lifeblood out of real social movements, which are the only way to force concessions from the ruling class. Instead, join the socialists in fighting for a new political party, a workers’ party, that will refuse to take corporate money and remain committed to making fundamental change in the interests of working people – the vast majority of the population.

From Justice, paper of Socialist Alternative, cwi in the US

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January 2004