Letter from the US: Elections mark further rightward shift

Rally in Chicago to raise the minimum wage. Referendums on November 4 for minimum wage rises were mostly successful, even in fou

The November 4 congressional mid-term elections in the US reflect the further shift to the right in capitalist politics.

The obvious aspect of this is the fact that the Republicans won control of the Senate, increased their majority in the House, and won more state governorships.

There has been speculation in the media about how this result came about.

An editorial in the New York Times titled “Dark Money Helped Win the Senate” discussed one aspect. It said: “The next Senate was just elected on the greatest wave of secret, special-interest money ever raised in a congressional election.”

The editorial concluded: “Political operatives say this year was just a dress rehearsal for 2016, when there will be even more money, much of it secret, all benefiting the interests of the richest and best connected Americans.

“Given big money’s influence on [the recent election], the chances for limiting it are more distant than ever.”

In this election, most of the big money went to the Republicans, who spearhead the bipartisan assault on the wages, conditions and rights of working people.

But that can change if the ruling rich calculate that mass discontent requires a less frontal attack.

Indeed, various polls show growing discontent with both capitalist parties, the White House and especially Congress.

This malaise is reflected in another fact that has been discussed in the media: the low voter turnout. Only one-third of registered voters bothered to vote.

Denying the right to vote

If we include the large numbers of unregistered and deregistered, the percentage of the adult population who voted for the Republicans is less than 15%.

The issue of deregistered voters has generally been given short shrift in the media. One aspect is the huge prison population -- and even ex-prisoners -- denied the right to vote. They are disproportionately Black and Latino.

There has also been a concerted effort in Republican-controlled states to attack the right to vote of Blacks, Latinos, Asians and students.

This rollback of the gains of the Black liberation movement of the 1960s and '70s has been carried out through various schemes and new laws making it harder for lower income workers to be registered to vote.

In many areas, college students have been not allowed to vote by complicated residency rules.

These factors are all part of the picture. Rulings by the most reactionary Supreme Court in decades have paved the way.

One ruling was to gut the Voting Rights Act, won by the civil rights movement in the 1960s. This opened the floodgates for states to attack the voting rights of Blacks and other oppressed nationalities.

Another was a series of decisions equating money with “free speech”, and corporations with people, opening another floodgate of big money flagrantly buying candidates at obscene levels.

In the history of capitalist democracies, the ruling rich have always dominated politics, whatever their rules on election financing have been. In the US, this has traditionally been achieved through control of the Democratic and Republican parties.

But in recent years, the blatant domination of big money has become even more open and thoroughly corrupting.

The November 4 elections involved a huge flood of advertisements mainly delivering ad hominem attacks, appeals to racism and US chauvinism, and vacuous mudslinging devoid of substance.

This was not just the usual capitalist electoral farce, but buffoonery. It will be worse in the presidential election in 2016, as the NYT noted.

Democrats lost

But the main point to take away from the results is that the Republicans did not so much win this election as the Democrats lost it -- by scarcely differentiating themselves from the Republicans.

Nowhere was this clearer than on the economy -- the elephant in the room both parties made no serious bid to address.

The anemic recovery after the Great Recession shows some signs of a possible acceleration, and the stock market and profits are soaring, but wages have stagnated or dropped.

For the average worker and lower middle class, the recession continues. For Blacks and Latinos, especially youth, their situation is dire.

Everyone knows that inequality is getting greater. The top 10% are making gains, the top 1% are raking in even more dough and the top 0.1% are jumping ahead even further.

Incomes for the bottom 90%, however, are stagnating or dropping.

The Republicans made racist and xenophobic appeals to scapegoat Blacks, other minorities and “foreigners” and “immigrants” for the bad economic situation, winning votes on this basis. But the Democrats had virtually nothing to offer.

A November 8 New York Times op-ed, headlined “Democrats’ Weak Economic Message Is Exposed”, reflected this reality.

But this “weakness” was not the result of bad election policy choices. It flowed from the record of the Democrats.

Even just starting with the 2007-08 financial crisis and Great Recession, what did the Democrats offer?

First was the seamless transition from the Bush to the Obama administrations on the response to the crisis. This was to bail out the big financial institutions that were the centre of the crisis.

Trillions in outright gifts and loans were showered on these institutions. But no help was given to the millions of working-class families whose homes were foreclosed on by the banks.

The big banks were bailed out, under the concept that they were too big to allow to fail.

In the years since, the Obama administration refused to bring criminal charges against individuals in these institutions who violated laws in their feeding frenzy leading up to the crisis.

Instead, there have been fines levelled against some of these institutions, which they write off as expenses.

So as well “too big to fail”, the Democratic administration, with full Republican support, added the principle of “too big to jail”.

Poor abandoned

The Obama administration has done nothing substantial to aid the unemployed and underemployed during the recession and its aftermath.

For example, it did not launch a government program to hire the jobless to rebuild the country's ageing and dangerous infrastructure of roads, bridges or railways -- or to rebuild blighted cities.

A campaign of urban renewal would have gone far in building affordable housing and alleviating the crisis-aggravated housing situation.

Such projects could have greatly cut joblessness, as well as bettered the country for everyone.

But the Democrats, tailing the Republicans, went in the opposite direction. They slashed government spending -- at the federal, state and local levels - on services like education, fire departments, veterans' benefits and food aid for the poor.

Along the same lines, there have been bipartisan drives to privatise education and other government services. Tuition for post-high school education has soared.

Much of this was done by the Democrats with the excuse that “compromise” had to be reached with the Republicans to “get things done”.

It meant that in the elections, the Democrats were unable to offer more of the same policies they have been following.

No wonder that tens of millions did not bother to vote. But there was one result of these elections that did indicate that if there was a mass workers’ party that put forward a pro-worker program, it could have had an effect.

There were referendums in some states and cities proposing a raise in the minimum wage -- and for the most part, these were won.

Significantly, these referendums were successful even in four states that Republicans won.

Like the article? Subscribe to Green Left now! You can also like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.