Letter from the US: Ruling class gets best electoral outcome

Sunday, November 18, 2012

The outcome of the United States November 6 elections was the best possible one for the interests of the ruling class, even if some of them don’t understand this.

The best candidate to defend their interests, Barack Obama, retained the presidency. The Democrats control the Senate, and the Republicans the House of Representatives. This is a quite pleasant configuration from their point of view.

Before looking at why this is the case, I will look at other important results of the elections.

Under capitalist democracy, it can be difficult to read between the lines to see the underlying class conflicts. This is especially so in the US, where two parties beholden to the capitalist class maintain an overwhelming monopoly on politics. There are only very small parties that to some extent express the interests of the working class.

Racism

One stark result of the election is the racial polarisation. According to exit polls, Republican candidate Mitt Romney won nearly 60% of the white vote.

Obama won 93% of the Black vote, and more than 70% of the Latino and Asian vote.

Even among Cuban Americans in Florida, more than 45% of this previously reliable Republican base voted for Obama, a significant rise reflecting a new generation coming to the fore.

One important reason for the huge African-American vote for Obama was the solidarity of the Black oppressed nationality for the first Black president.

A second reason was the blatant racism of the Republican campaign. This was expressed in not-so-subtle charges that Obama is not a “real” American, that he is a Muslim, that he was influenced by his Black Kenyan father’s “anti-colonial mentality.”

Other Republican spokespeople made innuendos in the same direction, playing on racist stereotypes. Former New Hampshire govenor John Sununu said Obama was “lazy”. Newt Gingrich said he was the “food stamp president”. Others said he was unqualified for college and only got into Harvard due to affirmative action.

It was also implicit in the big issues raised by Romney. One of these was opposition to Obama’s health insurance reform. At first glance, why would the Republicans, the most open party of big business, oppose this reform, which is a bonanza to the health insurance industry?

They were appealing to white racist sentiment against using tax dollars to subsidise health insurance for the poor, disproportionately Black and Latino.

This was the same theme that underlay Republican opposition to “big government”.

But what put the icing on the racist cake was the sustained effort by Republicans in states they control to disenfranchise Blacks and Latinos. Some of these efforts made it very difficult for Blacks and Latinos to vote.

Examples include discriminatory voter ID laws, lowering the number of early voting days and hours, and cutting back on the number of voting machines in Black and Latino districts. Spanish-language voting instructions sometimes gave the wrong voting date.

Racists erected billboards in Black areas in some states warning that “voter fraud” would result in years in prison.

There were long lines at largely Black and Latino voting stations. Angered and determined, they often stood in lines for up to 10 hours to vote. The vote-suppression effort backfired.

The racism directed at African Americans spilt over to all non-whites. For Latinos, racism against them was augmented by anti-immigrant sentiment sweeping the US, as well as Europe and elsewhere in the ongoing depression.

The Republicans ran an anti-immigrant campaign, and in many states have passed laws and implemented openly racist anti-Latino policies. Romney came out in favour of making the lives of the undocumented so miserable they would “self-deport”.

Asian Americans also feel racism and many are also undocumented.

That Blacks, Latinos and Asians voted against the Republican racist campaign, and were joined by many whites, was a victory.

This defeat of racism enraged the hardcore open racists, who number in the millions. There are reports of a big upsurge in hate speech on the internet against Obama as a result of the election.

One young white woman was caught out, writing something along the lines of: “Four more years of the n…….r president. Maybe this time he will be assassinated.”

When questioned on TV news, she said with a sneer that she wouldn’t assassinate Obama, but that if someone did, it would not upset her.

However, hardcore racists are a shrinking sector.

Reactionaries lose

It must also be noted the recession has continued for all workers, including white workers. Neither Obama nor Romney put forward any meaningful proposals to turn this around.

Obama's miserable record on this in his first term impelled layers of workers to “try the other guy”. Workers faced a confusing alternative of charges and counter-charges without substance.

Romney also lost big in the largely white states of Iowa and New Hampshire. It would be an error to think that white workers are becoming more racist in general. If the hardcore white racist vote, centered in the south was subtracted, Romney would not have won the white vote.

It wasn’t a great election for homophobes, either.

Referenda in four states ― Maine, Washington, Virginia and Minnesota ― came out in favor of same-sex marriage. This marks an important shift in public opinion in the last few years.

Nor was it a good election for misogynists. In two elections for the Senate that were considered “safe” for Republicans, extreme woman-haters lost.

Tom Akin of Missouri was infamous for his statements that women who were “legitimately” raped could not get pregnant. Presumably, if a woman who was raped got pregnant as a result, that would prove she wasn’t “really” raped. Akin was defeated.

Richard Mourdock of Indiana opined that if a woman who was raped got pregnant, that was “God’s will” and she should therefore be deprived of the right to abortion. This creep lost, too.

It should be noted that both Indiana and Missouri went for Romney.

Wisconsin elected an open lesbian to the Senate, a first. A woman Buddhist was elected to the House from Hawaii, and a bisexual atheist was elected in Arizona.

There were the first cracks in the “war on drugs” monolith, as Colorado and Washington state passed referenda legalising marijuana.

Michigan voters repealed a law that allowed the governor to appoint “emergency managers” of cities with dictatorial powers to rip up union contracts and impose budgets.

In California, a referendum to restrict unions’ participation in politics was soundly defeated. A tax on incomes more than US$250,000 a year to help schools passed.

No left shift among votes, but not those elected

These and some other indications show there was a shift to the left in a majority of voters. The country is not “center-right” as most in the media claim.

But there was no shift to the left in either party or in who was elected.

History professor Steven Hahn, in a November 10 op-ed in the New York Times pointed out: “The repercussions of political racism are ever present, sometimes in subtle rather than explicit guises.

“The campaigns of both parties showed an obsessive concern with the fate of the ‘middle class,’ an artificially homogenized category mostly coded white, while resolutely refusing to address the deepening morass of poverty, marginality and limited opportunity that disproportionately engulfs African American and Latino communities.

"At the same time, the embrace of small business and the retreat from public-sector institutions as a formula for solving our economic and social crisis ― evident in the policies of both parties ― threaten to further erode the prospects and living standards of racial and ethnic minorities, who are overwhelmingly wage earners and most likely to find decent pay and stability [as government employees].”

Hahn also pointed to Obama’s failure to implement things such public works projects, support for homeowners facing foreclosure, comprehensive immigration reform, legal protection for unions and financial regulations as the reason for the decline in overall voter turnout since 2008. Hahn said this helped explained the “drop in Mr. Obama’s share of the white vote, especially the vote of white men”.

Both parties are committed to using the “great recession” and its lingering aftermath to cut social services, wages and rights of workers. They differ on tactics and how far to rip up the social safety net. There is a division in the ruling class on this.

Ruling-class tactics

Obama is better for furthering the ruling-class agenda than a Romney presidency would have been. Romney wanted to blast away at the social wage and unions with a blunderbuss, which contained the danger of provoking huge resistance.

Obama presents a more gradual approach ― moving in the same direction, but not as far. His timid proposals to ask the very wealthy to pay their fair share make him seem more balanced than Romney.

Being a representative of an oppressed sector, African-Americans, will aid him in selling his more gradual austerity program.

Obama has already promised to cut back on things such as Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security, but not as much as the Republicans.

The fact that the Senate is majority Democrat and the House majority Republican also helps Obama and the Democrats to sell cutbacks as the necessity of “compromise”.

Complementing this arrangement is the Supreme Court, which is in the hands of a far-right majority. It has just agreed to consider overturning a key section of the Voting Rights Act to protect Black voters passed as a result of the civil rights movement of the 1960s.

In the final two years of Obama's first term, we saw the Wisconsin workers・ struggle, the Occupy movement exposing the disastrous rule of the ・1%・ and the Chicago teachers・ strike in defense of public education ― one of the areas under bipartisan ruling class attack.

All three struggles garnered wide support.

How far the ruling class succeeds in furthering its agenda in Obama’s second term, only the class struggle will tell.


From GLW issue 946