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WHAT WE THINK
Democrats to the rescue as Bush and the Republicans flounder
Corporate America's B-team

May 26, 2006 | Page 3

IF THE Democrats win the elections in November and retake control of Congress, will anybody be able to tell the difference?

With anti-Bush sentiment reaching a new pitch, leading Democrats are hoping to regain the majority in the House of Representatives, and maybe even the Senate. But at the very same time, the Democrats have continued their lurch rightward.

With Bush and the Republicans paralyzed by plummeting popularity and internal splits, the Democrats are riding to the rescue--of Corporate America, of the occupation of Iraq, of tougher border control and a guest-worker program.

For example, the Democrats are the most consistent supporters of immigration legislation taking shape in the Senate.

The Hagel-Martinez bill--named after the two Republican senators who negotiated it--would divide families with a three-tiered policy for undocumented workers, establish a guest worker program for Corporate America, and pump hundreds of millions into militarizing the U.S. border with Mexico (though not Canada). But not a single Senate Democrat has criticized the legislation as the attack on immigrants that it is.

After George Bush made a prime-time television speech appealing to his divided party to support the Senate deal, more Republicans attacked him than backed him. Not Democrats, though. "The first priority of any immigration reform should be to secure our nation's borders," declared liberal darling Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois. "In that respect, the president's proposal has merit as a temporary solution."

Later, when Republican right-wingers tried to pile on anti-immigrant amendments to make a rotten deal even worse, Democrats got on the bandwagon for some of the most disgusting proposals--from new construction on the U.S.-Mexico border wall to a measure to make English the "national language."

Hagel-Martinez is being sold as a "compromise," and some organizations in the immigrant rights movement say that it needs to be supported because it is "better than nothing at all." But it isn't better than nothing at all. Hagel-Martinez will make immigrants' lives worse, and it should be opposed.

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THE DEMOCRATS couldn't really ask for a better situation going into the election. Bush's approval rating sank below the 30 percent mark in one opinion poll last week--territory familiar to Bush's father before he was run out of office in 1992, and Richard Nixon during the Watergate scandal. When pollsters ask which party people would like to see control Congress, the Democrats win by a record margin of 54 to 40 percent.

The Republicans still have important advantages--above all, the way that congressional districts have been "gerrymandered" to protect incumbents, giving them what analysts believed until recently was an "electoral lock" on Congress for this election. Nevertheless, even the speculation that the Republicans' total control of government is under threat shows how quickly the political climate has shifted.

Yet the truth is that as the Democrats get closer to regaining some power in Washington, they get further from presenting any kind of actual alternative to the Bush agenda on any given issue.

Thus, Bush's collapse in popularity is primarily the result of the disastrous occupation of Iraq. But the Democratic Party establishment is determined to present itself as more competent in defending national security than the Republicans, offering proposals to salvage U.S. domination of the Middle East, not end it.

The most "extreme" proposal tolerated by Democratic leaders--one that some in the peace movement have misleadingly labeled "antiwar"--is that of Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.), who is well known for representing the views of a section of Pentagon officialdom. Murtha is no peacenik. His main concern, like his Pentagon backers, is that the Iraq war has damaged U.S. military power--so he wants U.S. troops "redeployed" to other Middle East bases, while U.S. air power is unleashed on Iraq.

On abortion rights, supposedly pro-choice Democrats like Hillary Clinton talk about making common cause with the right to reduce the number of abortions.

And, of course, on immigration, no mainstream Democrat will open their mouth without first echoing the right wing's rhetoric about a nonexistent "crisis at the border." This is only bolstering the right's influence over the mainstream debate--because not a single well-known politician dares to challenge their myths about the "problem of illegal immigration."

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UNFORTUNATELY, MANY progressives believe that the future of the struggles they care about is bound up with a Democratic Party victory in November.

Leading voices in the antiwar movement are explicit about it. For example, the national coalition United for Peace and Justice refused to abide by an international call for antiwar demonstrations on the third anniversary of the invasion in March--and instead focused on an April 29 mobilization in New York City for a broad range of liberal causes, with a clear emphasis on electoral politics over antiwar organizing.

At the very time that antiwar sentiment became the majority opinion in the U.S., the biggest national antiwar coalition was toning down the message of the movement to match what its supposed "allies" in the Democratic Party are saying.

Among the immigrant rights movement, this kind of emphasis on electoralism is less common. Still, some organizations--most of all, among the established mainstream immigrant rights organizations committed to a strategy of lobbying--clearly believe that elections are key for the movement.

In the abstract, there is nothing wrong with their efforts to register people to vote--despite the injustice that, in a country founded on the slogan "no taxation without representation," some 12 million undocumented workers are consigned to exactly this.

But who will these new voters vote for? When immigrant rights groups see voter registration as a central activity--put on the same level as demonstrating and protesting--that orientation implies that there is a better alternative to elect into office. The Democrats have proven that they don't deserve such support--never more so than in their shift right during the current Senate debate on the Hagel-Martinez bill.

In part, party leaders are following an electoral strategy--of staying as quiet as possible to avoid Republican attacks, and positioning themselves as closely as they can their opponents.

But there's more to it. Anyone who thinks that the Democratic Party would take a stand for immigrant rights or against the war if only it had different leadership or a more aggressive election strategy needs to take a closer look.

Despite their claims of "standing up for working people," the Democrats have always been the second party of American capitalism--the B-team to the Republicans' A-team.

If the U.S. ruling establishment thinks it can carry out its agenda with the A-team in charge, the Democrats are consigned to being the loyal opposition. But if the Republicans ever become too discredited to win elections--or otherwise threaten the success of the ruling-class agenda--then the Democrats can be counted on to take over, with predictable, non-threatening policies.

This is precisely what is taking place today. The right wing of the Republican Party has gone off the rails. In pushing through the viciously anti-immigrant Sensenbrenner bill last December, they sparked off the largest mass social movement in the last quarter decade. Bush's war on Iraq is damaging the wider American imperialist project of safeguarding and promoting U.S. power abroad.

In these circumstances, the Democrats can be relied on to be the "responsible" imperialist party--and to deliver the guest-worker program that is Corporate America's chief priority in the immigration debate.

That is why no movement that hopes to win real change can tie itself or tailor its activities to the Democrats. They will only be betrayed by a party that answers to a different master.

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