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READING BETWEEN THE LINES
Bush defies message of the 2006 vote
Do elections matter?

By Lance Selfa | January 19, 2007 | Page 6

READERS OF this newspaper will remember that many people described the 2004 presidential election between George W. Bush and John Kerry as "the most important election of our lifetimes."

Encapsulated in this slogan was the idea that if Bush won, he would take power with a Republican congressional majority that would allow him to steamroll his right-wing program through Congress. Bush certainly thought he had won a mandate to move the country rightward. Immediately after the election, he boasted of the "political capital" he would spend to push through the privatization of Social Security.

To be sure, Bush won a few victories, like an anti-working class "bankruptcy reform" law and the installation of two right-wing justices on the Supreme Court. But when most people look back on the two years between Bush's (re) election and the Republican defeat in the 2006 midterm elections, what is most remarkable is how quickly Bush's popularity plummeted to a point where GOP candidates were running away from him in 2006.

What happened? First, in a classic example of ruling-class overreach, Bush tried to parlay his relatively narrow victory over Kerry into highly unpopular initiatives--like the attempt to privatize Social Security. Second, the unexpected eruption of major events, like Hurricane Katrina and the mass immigrant rights movement, put Bush and the right wing on the defensive.

And throughout it all was the growing realization among broad reaches of the American population of the increasing disaster in Iraq. In fact, Bush's popularity dropped below 50 percent for good in August 2005--when Cindy Sheehan's vigil outside Bush's ranch galvanized antiwar sentiment.

All of these factors provide an illustration of what socialists mean when they describe bourgeois elections as the "lowest form of politics." Bourgeois elections tend to reduce conflicting public attitudes to a simple choice of Party A or B. And they actively prevent the electorate from considering other options.

This didn't happen because bourgeois elections--and especially those in which the main contenders are capitalist parties--present choices that are already pre-approved as acceptable to the ruling class.

In 2004, the U.S. ruling class was willing to hold out hope that its project of turning Iraq into a pivot for the U.S. goal to remake the Middle East. That's why both Bush-Cheney and Kerry-Edwards supported the war. Had a genuine antiwar voice found expression in the 2004 presidential election, Bush might not have won at all.

What's more, elections only provide a snapshot of the political situation and the consciousness of the electorate on Election Day. But events shift consciousness. And shifts in public consciousness can undermine the supposed "mandate" of the previous election.

It's quite clear that the public turned on the Iraq War long before the political elite did. Even though the Democrats made virtually no serious criticism of war, they reaped the benefits of the collapse of public support in the war and in Bush's leadership.

Three months ago, millions of Americans desiring a new course in government went to the polls to throw the Republicans out of office. The message of the 2006 election as a referendum against the Iraq War could not have been clearer.

Yet, astoundingly, with its announcement of the "surge" of 21,500 troops to Iraq and its threats against Iran and Syria, the Bush administration is flouting the public will.

As bourgeois elections go, a politician disregarding the public will is nothing new. But Bush's flouting of the public will also entails flouting the opinion of a large section of the U.S. ruling class that is looking to extricate itself from the Iraq disaster so as to salvage U.S. credibility in the Middle East. This ruling class option coalesced in the proposals of the Iraq Study Group.

This means that there is a serious breach inside the U.S. ruling class--caused by the specter of defeat in Iraq. Because a substantial portion of the U.S. ruling class--from the generals to the media barons--thinks U.S. interests would be better served if the U.S. followed the Iraq Study Group's recommendations, the Democratic Party, a major ruling class institution, is actually starting to voice an opposition to Bush's policies that it hadn't ventured before.

The fact that the ruling class is split opens up the potential for a wider debate in society. It also means that a revived antiwar movement which takes to the streets can push the opposition to the war even farther than the politicians are willing to go.

And when that opposition starts move away from the ballot box into direct action against the war--even within the U.S. military--the potential exists for a much more important change than "the most important election in our lifetimes."

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