A 'rebirth of liberalism'?

In the final countdown to the November 7 mid-term congressional elections, Democrats.com has already begun celebrating. Calling for candlelight vigils outside polling stations across the nation on election night, the website says its blue-clad supporters will bear moral witness against voting fraud during the historic moment when the Democrats are expected to retake Congress (well, at least the House of Representatives), with the "Republican Revolution" finally unraveling after 12 long years.

"Let's imagine a Blue Revolution", the website's writers chirped, "every bit as joyous and historic as the Orange Revolution in Ukraine, the Cedar Revolution in Lebanon, the Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia, and the other democratic revolutions of recent years — right here in the United States of America."

Meanwhile, the sometimes-antiwar liberal pundit Todd Gitlin anticipated a post-election "rebirth of liberalism" on the British Guardian daily's website, predicting that the Republican Party's misfortunes will allow "American liberals" to "dare lift their heads and contemplate long-unimagined possibilities".

To be sure, the Democrats are likely to benefit from mass discontent against the Bush administration. But if the Democratic Party does finally manage to eke out a congressional majority from the scandal-ridden Bush regime, Democrats should not congratulate themselves prematurely.

The Republican Party is imploding due to its own outrageous "stupidity" and "arrogance", as senior US diplomat Alberto Fernandez recently described in an interview with Aljazeera television.

Iraq war

This election has been declared a referendum on the Iraq war, but no Democratic congressional leader has called for a fixed deadline for troop withdrawal. And the Democratic Party has refused to articulate a coherent alternative to the overriding aims of the Bush administration, merely continuing its long-standing and calculated orientation to the swing-voting "centre" — while disparaging its own anti-war voting base. This has resulted in continuing the rightward shift in mainstream US politics rather than challenging it.

James Lindsay, a former national security official in the Clinton administration, justified Democrats' reluctance to call for withdrawal. "The problem is you also have to win the general election", he argued. "You don't need to appeal to people who have made up their mind and had a bumper sticker on the back of their car for the last four years."

The Democratic establishment rolled out its spin doctors to lower expectations a week before the election, explaining in advance why they will accomplish little of significance even with a congressional majority.

Bipartisanship is the watchword of the Democratic Party in this election. Liberal New York MHR Charles Rangel told reporters, "God knows, the Democratic leadership will be reaching across the aisle… We will never have the margins — even if we did do it — to get anything done.

Charles Schumer, leading the Democrats' election-year strategy in the Senate, summarised the only principles at stake: "The days of Democrats' having to check 28 boxes before they run are over", Senator Schumer says. "We want to win."

As the October 29 San Francisco Chronicle noted: "The new Democratic majority, should it occur, will consist of a fresh crop of moderate and conservative members whose elections will have been won in part by distancing themselves from the party's progressive wing."

These Democratic Party upstarts include a set of social conservatives opposed to abortion and gay marriage, handpicked by party powerbrokers:

•Abortion opponent Bob Casey junior, challenging Republican Rick Santorum for his Pennsylvania Senate seat;

•Indiana sheriff Brad Ellsworth, running for the House, who opposes abortion rights and same-sex marriage;

•Black evangelical Christian Harold Ford, running for a Tennessee Senate seat, who names Ronald Reagan as one of his heroes. Ann Coulter, in turn, called him "one of my favorite Democrats."

•White evangelical Christian Heath Shuler, who opposes abortion, running for House representative in North Carolina.

The only Democrats expressing a desire to "fight" are those galloping to the right. California MHR Ellen Tauscher, co-chairperson of the House's centrist New Democrat Coalition, made clear that the Democrats' current embrace of social conservatism is not meant to be temporary: "I think there's tremendous agreement and awareness that getting the majority and running over the left cliff is what our Republican opponents would dearly love", Tauscher said. This is something "we've got to fight", she added.

As the October 30 New York Times reported: "Asked if he could envision a Democratic Party with, say, an anti-abortion platform, Mr. Shuler did not hesitate. 'I'm pro-life and I'm part of the Democratic Party, so I hope it's part of the platform', he said. 'Someone needs to lead.'"

1970s turning point

Democratic Party liberals, in contrast, remain tied to chasing the coattails of a party that has long since abandoned them. The mid-1970s marked a crucial turning point, when Democrats joined Republicans in a bipartisan project to launch a sustained ideological attack on liberal principles in order to lower US workers' living standards while re-building the might of US imperialism after its defeat in Vietnam.

Liberalism has been in decline ever since. Today's Democrats stand to the right of 1970s Republicans on key social issues. A case in point: George Bush senior, who was an ardent proponent of birth control clinics for women in the late 1960s — and committed to legal abortion — until he experienced an apparent "crisis of conscience" upon becoming Ronald Reagan's running mate in 1980.

Bush senior could not have dreamed of launching the attack on gay marriage spearheaded by the Clinton administration's 1996 Defence of Marriage Act. Thus far, bipartisanship has achieved only Democrats' accommodation to the right, and liberalism has long since lost its way.

Gitlin, a 1960s leader of the anti-war Students for a Democratic Society, now brandishes his pro-war credentials in the American Prospect online, declaring (along with co-author Bruce Ackerman), "We supported the use of American force, together with our allies, in Bosnia, Kosovo and Afghanistan".

Gitlin's American Prospect article was intended to rebut Tony Judt's recent London Review of Books article deriding US liberals, entitled "Bush's Useful Idiots: the Strange Death of Liberal America". Judt states simply: "In today's America, neo-conservatives generate brutish policies for which liberals provide the ethical fig-leaf. There really is no other difference between them…But the United States now has an Israeli-style foreign policy and America's liberal intellectuals overwhelmingly support it."

Gitlin's response merely illustrates Judt's point. In his October 25 Guardian article, Gitlin warns liberals with lofty expectations from a Democratic-controlled congress, "To accomplish the mission of expanding their power, liberals will require an iron discipline of the sort that the Republican right has found it easier to muster in recent years. Bush and the Republican leadership made the Christian Right wait its turn while it was busy servicing the pro-business right. On the left, too, bitter pills will sometimes have to be swallowed."

"On the other hand", he adds, "liberals will have to articulate and fight for principle" — as if these two goals do not stand in complete contradiction.

Barely noticed by the mainstream media in this election season is the real story — massive voter discontent. How else to explain the 11th-hour surge of the Green Party's unknown Illinois gubernatorial candidate Rich Whitney, reaching 14% in an October 23 opinion poll by Survey USA. Among independent voters, Whitney is polling evenly (at 29%) with Republican Judy Baar Topinka (31%) and incumbent (and scandal-ridden) Democrat Rod Blagojevich (27%).

A week ahead of the election, the Aurora Beacon-News headline read, "Neither of the above", based on a poll by the St Louis Post-Dispatch and KMOV-TV. The poll indicated 58% of Illinois voters view Topinka unfavourably, matched by the 57% who disapprove of Governor Rod Blagojevich.

Anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan, who helped focus the sentiments of the antiwar majority more than a year ago, has shown the courage to endorse New York's anti-war Green candidate Howie Hawkins, running against pro-war Hillary Clinton for the US Senate.

Mainstream liberals solely focused on the "blue revolution" from above could well be missing the real rebellion brewing below. Setbacks for the Republican Party do not automatically translate into gains for the political left — not without a fight. The world's future lies at stake.

[From Socialist Worker, weekly paper of the US International Socialist Organization. Visit .]

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