In a previous article The Political Economy of the Election, we attempted to offer a Marxist assessment of the forthcoming Presidential election. We argued that the material elements of the three candidates’ campaigns (class status, top staff, and financial backing) were better indicators of what the working class could expect from the forthcoming election than the opportunistic, media-driven public circus of endless pandering for votes. In our view, the expensive, carefully orchestrated Primary campaigns are little more than “American Idol” played on the politic stage. While there are differences between the candidates (and the amateur entertainers), they are differences vetted by the ruling class (the program directors) before the performance begins. We sought to peek behind the curtains to expose the class forces that will shape the candidates actual performance after the November elections.
Sometimes even Marxists get lucky. In an important article appearing in the May 10-11, 2008 issue of The Wall Street Journal, we were treated to a rare glimpse into the thinking on this subject of the US ruling class. Authors Gerald F. Seib and John Harwood (Seib is the jost reliable and insightful – and little known – political writer in the bourgeois media) opine that the 2008 Presidential contest is a decided break with the past and an effort to establish a new, firm and stable political center (“America’s Race to the Center”). Like much of the media, they concede that the election is now between Barack Obama and John McCain. They discount Obama’s campaign populism and focus on his “We are all Americans” pleas and expressed intention to unite across party lines. Similarly, they minimize McCain’s dutiful homage to the lunatic right and cite his demonstrated independence from the Republican legislative juggernaut.
To illustrate this emerging model of ruling class governance, they cite the examples of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Michael Bloomberg. Both are nominal Republicans who have won office in a critical state and city with historically strong Democratic constituencies. Both are reasonably popular with Democrats and Independents and both hue to the new doctrine of bringing political factions together in the spirit of unity and compromise.
Interestingly, Seib and Harwood tie this point together with developments in the labor movement. They point to SEIU President and Change to Win leader Andy Stern as an example of this new centrist, accommodationist approach. “There’s a greater sense of common purpose outside the political system than there is inside the political system…We need a culture of success more than a culture of partisanship,” they quote him approvingly.
In both cases, the model purposely leaves no room for class struggle.
For decades, US politics has been dominated by a rightward drift driven by the ascendancy of the ultra-right. The absence of a strong left and the opportunism of the Democratic Party allowed a highly organized, determined cabal with vast resources, but a limited core base to dominate the political agenda. The disastrous foreign and domestic policies of this road coupled with its profound unpopularity eroded ruling class support. This trend was apparent with the decided corporate and elite funding advantage enjoyed by the Democrats before the 2006 interim elections. The ruling class has some time ago unceremoniously abandoned the Bush agenda.
Of greatest concern to the ruling class is the marked shift in registration from the two Parties to Independent status. Seib and Harwood cite example after example of this worrisome shift away from the two-party system. Clearly, this marks a growing dissatisfaction and crisis for this fundamental safeguard of bourgeois governance. The new, strengthened political-center model is meant to be the answer to this crisis.
Absent from Seib and Harwood’s account is the strong poll-supported desire for a third party. The growth of political independence is not only fueled by dissatisfaction with the two-party system, but a reasonably strong desire for other options. As much as 66% of Independents have expressed a strong desire for a third party in Pew Research Center Polls. From 40 to over 50% of all voters have consistently expressed a similar preference.
The last thing the elites who rule the US want is one or more parties, independent of the two dominant parties. They immeasurably prefer to offer the voter a Coke or Pepsi choice. Unfortunately, much of the left and progressives have proven incapable of divorcing, or at least separating from, the Democratic Party. They have consistently found Through-the-Looking Glass reasons for staying true to their fickle political spouse. The same Pew Research Center found in a large sampling of the Deaniacs committed to the candidacy of Howard Dean in the 2004 Presidential primaries that over four in ten were favorably disposed towards the Green Party. One might have thought that many of this substantial group would have thrown their impressive energy into Green Party activism, especially after the rough treatment Dean received from the Old Guard. But far too few have.
The evidence clearly points to a circling of the two-Party wagons around a center staked out by the guardians of capitalism. We, on the left, are faced with a formidable task: we must examine carefully and deeply the powerful bond that constrains dedicated activists from mapping a course independent of the Democratic Party leadership. This bond has adversely affected the militancy and success of oppositional causes from the anti-war movement to labor’s struggles. We must work tirelessly to weaken this bond.
Clearly, a centrist, ruling Democratic Party is ill-equipped to deal with the legacy of the Bush era: an obscenely destructive war, international bullying, a flagging economy, the dismantling of civil rights, the rise of racism and anti-immigrant sentiment, and so much more.
For those of us of the Marxist-Leninist left, we must renew our call for an anti-monopoly formation, encouraging any and all political movements independent of the suffocating politics of state-monopoly capitalism.