As the 2010 elections approach, millions of working people and young people who are looking to fight against the right-wing corporate agenda will be confronted with the question: Should I give my vote to the Democrats?
In the 2006 and 2008 elections they were confronted by a similar choice. Tens of millions decided to vote Democrat based on that party’s promises to end the wars, stand up to the power of corporate America, and put Americans back to work.
Yet, by 2010, none of these promises have been fulfilled. The ten million jobs lost during the Great Recession have not been replaced. Wall Street has had a further bailout, yet tens of millions of workers and their families suffering from the blows of unemployment and foreclosures have been neglected. Despite Obama’s recently announced “withdrawal” from Iraq, 50,000 U.S. combat troops will remain in Iraq, and the casualty rate in Afghanistan is growing.
So much was expected of Obama. His inauguration was greeted by huge crowds. Less than two years later, these seem like days from a bygone era. Instead of resting on his popular mandate to make change, the Obama administration has disappointed its most ardent supporters.
On the campaign trail, Obama promised to take on the insurance companies and corporate health care interests and to provide “universal health care.” Instead, he delivered health care “reform” constructed around the private drug companies, hospitals and insurance companies that are responsible for all the inequities in the health care “system” in the U.S.
Instead of health care becoming a right, it will become a duty backed up with fines. Insurance companies have become further entrenched into the system, and so-called Cadillac plans – that is, quality health plans enjoyed by some workers – will be taxed. No wonder popular support quickly slipped away.
On education, the Obama administration is leading the charge to push through a right-wing agenda. Under his Race to the Top initiative, $4.39 billion has been used as a bribe for states to drastically restructure their education policies toward the development of charter schools, to weaken teacher seniority, and to pay teachers based on the test scores of their students. If enacted, these policies will create a more unequal two-tier education system in the U.S.
Obama Losing Support
Over the last 18 months there has been a decline in approval for Obama: from 78% soon after he was elected to around 45% today. There is a possibility that Obama has so disappointed his supporters that they will abstain in the 2010 elections and let the Republicans back into office.
The corporate media are now arguing that Obama is losing support because his policies are too “left wing.” This is just their spin on events. In fact, the opposite is true: the public is way to the left of Obama. A solid majority supports a government–run, universal health care system like those that exist in Canada and most of Europe. A majority opposes U.S. occupations in the Middle East, supports a major green jobs program, and supports clipping the power of big business and Wall Street.
Obama is losing support because he failed to deliver on his promises, not because he’s “too left.” The corporate nature of his health care bill and his big bank bailout shattered the enthusiasm of his supporters. His failure to provide jobs in this recession-plagued economy has allowed the Tea Party people, and even the hated Republicans, to tap into popular anger and re-emerge as supposed “defenders” of the interests of the people!
There are no excuses for the failure of the Democrats to deliver. They had control of the presidency, the House and a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate (60 seats). They could have passed any legislation they wanted. In the face of Republican obstructionism, all Obama had to do was expose the Republican right-wing agenda, and he would have won the public debate. By mobilizing the public he could have pushed back Republicans and conservative Democrats, as well as the threat of filibusters.
What is the Democratic Party?
This failure of Obama points to the true nature of the Democratic Party. Despite their public image of standing for working people, women, the environment and civil rights, they are a party funded and controlled by corporate America.
The leadership of the Democrats is rooted in corporate America. Under Clinton they passed NAFTA, founded the WTO, effectively abolished welfare, laid off millions of federal workers, militarized the Mexican border and instituted sanctions on Iraq that killed millions of its citizens.
Despite their record, many progressive people close to the Democrats will point to the need to vote Democrat as the “lesser of two evils.” But this is falling into the trap set by big business and its two-party system. Both Democrats and Republicans are integral parts of this two-party system; when one of the corporate parties is discredited, big business has their alternative party ready to step in.
Democrats rope in support from the leaders of labor and social movements by dangling unfulfilled promises. In the health care debate, Obama and the Democrats used the carrot of the “public option” to allow leaders of the labor movement and progressive movements to sell the Democratic Party to their members, only to yank the “option” away at the last moment.
The same pattern occurred during the first two years of the Clinton administration when they had a similar majority. They could have passed any legislation they wanted, including their promised sweeping health care reform and legislation to ban permanent replacement of workers during strikes. Instead, they corralled enough Democrats to support NAFTA and the WTO, leaning on Republican votes to bypass more progressive Democrats.
Role of Struggles
It is not by voting Democrat that victories were won in the past. None of the benefits we enjoy today was given to us by the two main parties. They were won through struggle. U.S. history is full of amazing struggles by ordinary people to win improvements in their lives.
Rather than being allies in these struggles, we have usually found the Democrats on the other side of the line. This was true in the struggle against the WTO, the Vietnam War, and in countless labor struggles.
Supporting Democrats also weakens our ability to organize powerful struggles. Most leaders of labor and other social movements shut these movements down near election time in order not to “embarrass” Democrats with demands unacceptable to corporate America.
There is a myth put out by many liberal left-wingers that it is the “mean-spirited” agenda of the Republicans causing our problems. This completely misses the fact that capitalism is in decline and serious crisis. The ability of Democrats and Republicans to offer reforms in the 1960s and 1970s was due not only to the level of struggle but also to the huge upswing of capitalism after World War II.
That period of boom is over. We are now in a period of prolonged and deep structural capitalist crisis, in the U.S. and internationally. Just like the Republicans, the Democrats have adopted a policy of cutting social programs and propping up big business.
Therefore, it is not a question of opposing the “mean” Republicans and electing “better” Democrats. There is a bipartisan agenda for budget cuts and corporate profits. Both parties support slashing social spending. The debate is only over how fast and how deep the cuts will be.
Anger at Both Parties
There is deep public dissatisfaction with the two corporate parties. According to a CBS News-New York Times poll in February 2010, 75% of Americans disapproved of the job Congress is doing, with only 8 % of Americans wanting the members of Congress to be re-elected. A Wall Street Journal poll in early December 2009 found over 50% said they wanted a new political party.
We need to tap into this anger and build an independent movement in the interests of working-class people and the poor. Because the labor movement and the left have muted their voices by clinging to the coattails of the failing Democrats, this anger has partially found a home in the Tea Party phenomenon. While the Tea Partiers are a diverse grouping, their right-wing politics – especially their attacks on immigrants – are a warning of the danger of allowing the right wing to profit from anger that needs to be channeled into a movement of working-class people.
The Democrats cannot be the vehicle for a new movement that demands jobs, services and an end to wars. Democratic politicians point at Republicans to distract us from Democratic crimes of inaction, corporate compliance, pro-war policies and hundreds of billions in bailouts.
In order to stop budget cuts and the right-wing agenda we need to build a new movement in the streets. We need to build powerful coalitions of all affected community, labor and activist groups to coordinate these struggles.
At the same time, we need to put forward a clear political voice, placing blame on big business and capitalism as the cause of the crisis. What we need is a new political party that refuses to take corporate money, is controlled through the democratic vote of its members, and fights determinedly for the interests of the working-class majority on the issues of jobs, wages, benefits, health care, housing, war, discrimination and the environment. Conferences need to be held locally and nationally to organize struggles and political action. These conferences should have a focus on mass action, involving as many people as possible while maintaining a clear program to improve the lives of working people that does not bow down to the interests of corporations or their two parties. In 2010, candidates like Dan La Botz in Ohio, Jill Stein in Massachusetts and Howie Hawkins in New York deserve our support. Also, there is increased anger growing among sections of the labor movement at Obama’s anti-worker policies. We need to open up a discussion in the labor movement about the abusive relationship that the Democratic Party has with working people.
Although these are small first steps, they show what needs to be done on a much wider scale in the coming period of capitalist crisis if we are to defeat the right-wing corporate agenda. The task is to build a powerful working-class movement that can break open the straightjacket of the two-party system and bring together the hundreds of millions of workers and young people to challenge capitalism and build a new, socialist society.