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WHAT WE THINK
Republicans face meltdown on election day, but...
Will the Democrats make a difference?

November 3, 2006 | Page 3

IF THE Republicans are beaten in the November 7 elections, all the people who have opposed six long years of the Bush administration will feel their spirits lifted.

But if they believe a Congress with Democrats in charge of one or both houses will challenge the Republicans' right-wing agenda in any meaningful way, they will be disappointed.

The Democrats are certain to gain congressional seats from the Republicans--the question is how many. Even most Republicans expect the Democrats to win more than the 15 seats they need for a majority in the House. In the Senate, the Democrats have a taller order to gain control--take seven of the eight races where the outcome is at all in doubt--but many analysts think this is an even-money shot.

That Democratic control of both houses of Congress is even a possibility shows how dramatically the tide has turned against Republicans.

The bottom really fell out for Republicans with the Mark Foley page scandal, which exposed the corruption and hypocrisy of the party leadership in Congress--always ready to preach to others about morality, but prepared to cover up for one of its own. But the Foley scandal amplified already existing--and growing--discontent with the Republicans.

The issue that looms over all others is the disaster in Iraq. With sectarian violence taking further hold, new indicators of the terrible toll suffered by Iraqis, and growing casualties among U.S. troops, virtually every wing of the U.S. political establishment--Republicans as well as Democrats--is now critical of the Bush administration's stay-the-course mantra, and demanding some kind of "Plan B."

The alternative on November 7

THE REPUBLICANS and Democrats will dominate the election on November 7. But in a number of places, there are independent left-wing candidates providing the opportunity to cast a vote for an alternative. There are also important ballot measures being decided in this election.

Among the left-wing candidates on the ballot in different states are a number whose writing or interviews have been featured in Socialist Worker.

In California, Todd Chretien, a member of the International Socialist Organization and regular contributor to SW, is running against the pro-war incumbent Sen. Dianne Feinstein. Other candidates on the Green Party's Million Votes for Peace ticket with Todd are Peter Camejo, running for governor, and Donna Warren, candidate for lieutenant governor.

In Washington, former Black Panther Aaron Dixon is running his Green Party campaign for Senate against incumbent Maria Cantwell out of the same Seattle building where the Panthers organized their free health clinic. In New York, the veteran Green Party activist Howie Hawkins is taking a stand against Democratic star Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Meanwhile, there will be more referendums on the ballot this year than in all but two elections in the last 100 years.

The Christian Right is again hoping to get its base to the polls with ballot measures in eight states for a constitutional ban on equal marriage rights, though opinion polls show less support for these initiatives.

Probably the most prominent referendum in the country is the South Dakota ballot measure that would overturn the state's near-total ban on abortions--a law passed specifically to challenge the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion. In California, there is a second referendum in two years to impose parental notification and waiting-period restrictions on abortion rights. A similar measure is up for a vote in Oregon.

Right-wingers have put anti-immigrant initiatives on the ballot in Colorado and Arizona; Michigan voters will decide on a measure that would ban affirmative action in state universities; and in Wisconsin, there is an advisory referendum on bringing back the death penalty.

But among the ballot measures attracting the most attention across the country are labor-backed efforts to raise the minimum wage in Arizona, Colorado, Missouri, Montana, Nevada and Ohio. These are expected to win by a wide margin.

 

The November election has become a referendum on the Iraq war and on one-party Republican rule in Washington. But the Democrats have done their best to make sure this "referendum" is purely about the Republicans, not any alternative they put forward.

With Bush's popularity near all-time lows, the Democrats are more vocal than ever in criticizing administration policy, but without offering any concrete proposals of what they would do differently. That's because on crucial issues like Iraq, the Democrats don't represent a different policy, merely different tactics--and sometimes not even that--to the same end.

If the Democrats do take control of Congress next January, many of the new senators and House members coming to Washington will sound more like most people's idea of a Republican.

In the case of James Webb, who is running to unseat Virginia Sen. George Allen, that's because Webb was a longtime Republican--even serving as secretary of the Navy in the Reagan administration.

The Democrats' Senate candidate in Tennessee, Rep. Harold Ford, has tried so hard to mimic GOP sound bites that he accused his opponent of shifting positions on Iraq and sounding "a little like John Kerry"--evidently forgetting, as Newsweek magazine pointed out, that Ford was one Kerry's earliest supporters for president.

When the Republicans released an attack ad charging--wrongly--that Ford supports gay marriage, Ford responded with his own spot that called the Republican ad "despicable, rotten lies."

Then there's Bob Casey Jr., the Democratic Senate candidate in Pennsylvania, who proudly states that he wants legal abortion overturned. As of late last year, Casey was insisting that had he been a senator in 2002, he would have voted--just like his opponent Rick Santorum--to authorize the invasion of Iraq, even knowing the disaster to come.

These are not the exceptions among Democrats. On the contrary, they are the pride and joy of Democratic Party leaders--for running model campaigns that "reach out" to conservative "swing voters" while showing the back of the hand to the party's liberal voting base.

This isn't a problem of a faulty campaign strategy or a few conservatives leading the party astray. The problem is that the Democrats are now, and always have been, the second party of American capitalism.

Despite their rhetoric of being the "party of working people," the Democrats historically have been dedicated to defending the status quo, the interests of corporations and the bipartisan imperialist project of extending U.S. power overseas.

America's rulers prefer to have the Republicans in power. But if the Republicans become too discredited to win an election--or so incompetent that their management of the system threatens ruling-class interests--then the Democrats can be relied on to take over, with predictable, non-threatening policies.

The shift in political contributions currently underway shows how easily Corporate America can change horses.

The Democrats' share of campaign contributions from big business climbed by one-third in October. The giant military contractor Lockheed Martin, for example--a reliable funder of Republicans--switched over and gave 60 percent of its donations to Democrats last month. Thus, as Brian Wolff, deputy executive director of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, explained, "after the election, we will have a lot of new friends."

This is not news for most people. Corporate America's funding of the politicians and its immense influence with both parties is one of the great non-secret scandals of the U.S. political system. Especially after a campaign in which Democrats single-mindedly echoed Republican rhetoric, many people will vote for the Democrats with little or no expectation of anything positive emerging from a new Congress--purely to say no to the Republicans.

Whatever these expectations, however, if the Democrats do end up with a share of the power in Washington, they won't challenge the Republican agenda.

The Democrats don't deserve the votes of the millions of people who want the Bush administration's agenda stopped. The task remains of building an alternative to the trap of choosing between a lesser and greater evil at every election.

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