The following article, which discusses the primaries taking place within the Democratic Party in the run-up to this November's presidential election in the US, was originally published by the US Trotskyist group The Spark, in their quarterly journal (Class Struggle #58 - May-June 2008).
By every traditional measure, the Democrats should not only take the presidency by a big margin in November 2008, but also make important gains in Congress.
Big money seems to have shifted from the Republicans to the Democrats this year. No Republican came close to collecting what the Democratic candidates did. Even Romney, who poured nearly $42m from his own personal wealth into the campaign, didn't approach what the two Democrats brought in.
It's even worse for McCain, the Republican nominee. He took in only $75m total in the 15 months ending in March 2008. Compare this to Obama, who raised $95m in just the two months of February and March of 2008, and about $233m altogether. What's more significant, by the end of February, Clinton had already put aside $22m for the November election, and Obama had $7m, whereas McCain had nothing. The big donors who oiled Bush's 2004 campaign have been very slow to answer McCain's fund-raising appeals.
The population itself is clearly fed up with Republican rule and has every reason to be: the war, the flagrant handing over of government money to Wall Street while the population faces a real crisis, steep inflation, the degradation of public and social services - the list of grievances is endless. In the very first days of April, a New York Times/CBS News poll revealed that 81% of the population think the country is headed in the wrong direction, with their anger focused on the economy. Very large majorities worried they won't be able to afford housing or medical care or that someone in their household will lose a job. Add all that to the popular disgust about the Bush administration and Iraq, and you have a recipe for a whopping Republican defeat this fall.
And yet, in most election polls neither Obama nor Clinton get very far ahead of Republican McCain, and in some polls one or the other or both fall behind him. The Democrats seem to be squandering the population's anger at Republican rule, rather than capitalizing on it.
So what's up with the Democrats?
In the first place, the population saw little benefit from the 2006 election, which turned control of Congress over to the Democrats. The Democrats certainly criticised Bush and his policies, but not only did they not use their majority and the support they had in the population after 2006 to fight against those policies, but they continued to vote for Bush's budgets, which determine the real policy followed by the government. So it's no wonder the same polls that show contempt for the Bush administration show even more for Congress, which the Democrats control.
As for the Republicans, they certainly picked the one candidate who might have the best chance against the Democrats. McCain had built a reputation for independence, rather than blindly falling in line behind the disasters of the Bush presidency. McCain drew attention for criticising Bush's stance on torture; for pushing an investigation that penalised Boeing for corruption in military contracts; and for being the architect of the campaign finance reform bill. Much of this was more show than substance, or aimed at furthering the interests of a company like Airbus, which three of his top advisers were linked to. And he is hedging on some of his earlier positions now - like tax cuts for the wealthy. Nonetheless, he can still seem unsullied by the muck in the Bush White House. In any case, he is not a prisoner of the religious right, which has even harshly attacked him. Finally, given that organisers of the immigration demonstrations called for support for the bill that McCain had sponsored along with Kennedy, he could expect to gain some support in immigrant communities.
But the main issue is not McCain. It's what the Democrats have done to themselves during this campaign - shoot themselves in the foot.
Take the fiasco about Michigan and Florida, two important big states that the Democrats ordinarily would have to win to take the presidency. For nearly three months, the party has been unable to resolve a nasty fight over whether Michigan's and Florida's elected delegates - 11% of the total number of elected delegates - will be seated at the Democratic Party Convention.
Wanting to break out of the long-standing hold of Iowa and New Hampshire in the early days of the primaries, Florida and Michigan pushed their primaries forward - only to be warned that their delegates wouldn't be seated, nor the popular vote recognised at the Convention.
Nonetheless, the primaries took place, with high participation. The turnout in Florida was more than twice the size of the 2004 primary; in Michigan, it was almost four times as big (bigger in part because Michigan had organized the primary in 2004 as a caucus). In Florida, where Obama was on the ballot, Clinton won, 50% to 33%; in Michigan, where Obama had pulled himself off the ballot, forces backing him and Edwards campaigned for a vote for "uncommitted". Clinton got 55% of the vote, with 40% going to "uncommitted".
If the Michigan and Florida votes were to be counted, Clinton would be right back in the race again. If not, Clinton almost certainly loses. Either way, given how long this has dragged out, voters for one or the other candidate might well feel deceived.
This mess was made worse when both campaigns moved to play the race card. Up until mid-January, both candidates had refrained from playing with what was generally regarded as dynamite, knowing it could backfire on them in the November election. But when it became obvious the nomination was up for grabs, both sides jumped in.
For example, people in Obama's camp tried to play on strong resentments that reside in the black population, accusing Bill Clinton of disrespecting Obama, when Clinton characterised Obama's judgement on the war as "a fairy tale," and accusing Hilary Clinton of demeaning Martin Luther King, when she said: "Dr. King's dream began to be realized when President Lyndon Johnson passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, when he was able to get through Congress something that President Kennedy was hopeful to do, the president before had not even tried, but it took a president to get it done."
Clinton's camp, in turn, played on the current of racism that exists in the Mexican population or the white working class to reinforce the base she had already built up in those sections. For example, there was the comment by Geraldine Ferraro, part of Clinton's finance committee: "If Obama was a white man, he would not be in this position." This was hardly innocent, given how it plays to a sentiment that "affirmative action" promotes black people at the expense of the white population.
The Republicans can only gain from this whole sorry mess. At the very least, it might push a number of voters in the losing camp to sit out the November election - if not cross over to McCain. Moreover, if the Florida and Michigan primaries aren't recognised, the Republicans will be more than delighted to campaign all through those two critical states, pointing out that the Democrats didn't even record people's votes.
A divided Democratic Party
The party apparatus probably initially did nothing, hoping the primaries would put one of the two candidates clearly in the lead, thus making the issue irrelevant. But just the opposite happened. Today, neither Obama nor Clinton can gain enough delegates from the remaining primaries to get the nomination before the Convention. And that's been true for quite a while.
Even after if became obvious that the Democrats had a big, nasty problem, the apparatus of the party didn't move to force a resolution on the Michigan-Florida issue. And that fact alone strongly suggests there is a serious fight going on inside the Democratic Party apparatus.
The struggle between the two candidates is not a fight over policy, even in the sense that the Democrats give this term. Both candidates have taken almost the same stand on all important issues. On the war, for example, they have both voted all the money Bush asked for. Obama says he didn't support the first resolution authorising Bush to go to war. It's true, he didn't - he couldn't! He wasn't yet in the Senate when the vote was taken. Or on medical coverage, to take another example, both have proposed plans that would be only one more overlay on top of the current broken system based on profit, plans whose final result will be to funnel still more money into the medical and pharmaceutical industries, at a very big expense to the population.
Nor does the fight between the two candidates reflect a big difference over which part of the bourgeoisie is supporting which candidate, since both Obama and Clinton draw funds from the most important parts of the bourgeoisie - including Wall Street and other financial interests ($18m for Clinton, as of the end of February; $15m for Obama); corporate lawyers and big business lobbyists ($16m to Clinton; $14m to Obama), not to mention communications and electronics (around $7m each).
So, if it's not policy, nor big money that has practically frozen the party apparatus in this matter, there's only one other obvious explanation: the party itself is engaged in a fight over who will control the apparatus.
It's not easy to see what goes on inside one of these massive parties. But some things are clear. Even after Bill Clinton left office, his forces maintained a grip on the apparatus - that was apparent by the wide support given by important Democrats to Hillary Clinton long before the primaries ever started. Yet, as soon as Obama did well in Iowa, the first primary, a number of important Democrats quickly coalesced behind him - witness the well-co-ordinated announcements coming into Super Tuesday by John Kerry, Ted Kennedy and powerful California Congressman George Miller. As NBC news commented, "This is perhaps the closest thing to getting a Nancy Pelosi endorsement as you can come without actually getting it. Miller is incredibly close with her politically. He wouldn't be doing this without her consent of sorts."
The importance of who controls the Democratic Party apparatus boils down to the same reason the two parties fight each other over who controls the state apparatus: the spoils of office - judgeships, appointments, contracts, the slush funds that flood government corridors, etc,.
The federal government is a multi-trillion dollar business for the taking. Just look at Vice President Cheney, who has turned the government into his own wealth-making machine. Many of these folks in the Democratic Party have been waiting quite a while to get their hands on that machine.
Apparently, both sides in the Democratic Party split are ready to risk letting the Democrats lose the election, rather than give up their possibility to control the loot if the Democrats win. And no one with enough standing in the apparatus is able (or wants) to impose on everyone for the good of the party.
A "democratic" process to muffle the voice of working people
To make matters worse, all these problems are tangled up in the convoluted primary process the Democrats use to choose their nominee.
Superficially, the Republican nominating process seems much less democratic. In 30 of the contests, whichever Republican wins a state's caucus or primary wins all the delegates in that state (or at least all the delegates in a district). In other words, the Republican system functions much like the Electoral College system that selects a president. But in a situation like this year's, with four or five main candidates, a candidate can roll up a very small plurality, and yet get all of the state's delegates. For example, in Missouri, McCain got only 33% of the vote, while four other candidates, rolled together, got 67% of the vote - yet McCain got all the delegates.
When the votes were counted on Super Tuesday, other Republican candidates began to drop out. McCain had only 40% of the popular vote, but he had gained nearly 60% of the Republican delegates awarded.
The Democrats, by contrast, have a primary system that gives the appearance of being more direct - since every state must award delegates somewhat proportionately to the popular vote.
But behind that "democratic" veneer is a primary system whose functioning impedes the population from choosing the nominee. It certainly prevents the working class - the Democratic Party's solid voting base - from having any real influence over the whole process.
The Democratic Party sets up its primary election calendar in such a way that the concerns of the working class do not frame the discussion. This year, only four states were allowed into the first round of the Democratic Party primaries: Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina. They are states where conservative politics hold sway; voting more often for a Republican presidential candidate than a Democrat, and they are primarily rural or small town. With the exception of Las Vegas, there are no major cities in any of the four. Trying to break into this calendar, Michigan and Florida set in motion the squabble over seating delegates at the convention.
Furthermore, while Democratic party delegates in most states are selected in primaries, those in 16 states and territories are selected in caucuses, which de facto exclude most workers from participating. Ordinarily held in the evening, when many people are still working, and stretched out in lengthy discussions before the votes, caucuses effectively are dominated by students and other privileged layers of the population. Overall, turn-out is much lower, and the proportion of working people among those who do vote is much, much lower than in states where the primary took the form of an election. Obama, whose main base has been in middle class layers of the population, won 13 out of the 15 caucuses run so far.
Then there is the bizarre example of Texas, which asks you to vote twice on the same day if you want your vote fully counted, first during the day in a traditional ballot-box election, then return again in the evening for a caucus meeting. Even worse than elsewhere, working people - having already voted once - didn't come back for the caucuses. The election awards 126 of the Texas delegates, and the caucus 67. Clinton won the election part, Obama won the caucus part.
As for the so-called "proportional" awarding of delegates, there are so many intervening factors that the election is only faintly reflected in the delegates. For example, Obama gained more delegates from Nevada, even though he lost the popular vote; Clinton and Obama split the delegates from Missouri, although he got more of the popular vote.
Some states award a certain number of delegates to the candidate who wins state-wide, then add delegates somewhat proportionately from each county. Other states allocate delegates proportionately county by county - with some taking population numbers into account, while others don't. Some award delegates only statewide, with some degree of proportionality, but not completely, etc.
Even today, no one really knows exactly how many elected delegates each of the candidates has, since a delegate chosen in the primary to cast a vote at the convention for a particular candidate often doesn't have to do it. Furthermore, in many states the primary is only the first step, from which the slate of delegates elected then go on to meet in state-wide conventions, where they choose the delegates who will go to the national convention. And sometimes the process even goes through three steps: to a county convention, then a state convention, then the national convention. Even that's not all. In many states, like California for example, delegates can change their vote at each step of the process, promising to vote for one candidate, but then voting for the other.
Finally, the Democratic party has one more barrier - in case the popular vote doesn't come out the way the Party wanted. Almost 20% of the delegates to the nominating convention are never voted on by the public. These are the so-called "super delegates", elected officials, party officials, ex-officials and honorary figures, all given a special status to cast their votes however they please. Despite the fact that everyone keeps repeating that the "super delegates" shouldn't go against the wishes of the electorate, it's clear they will be the ones to decide the nominee - unless enough horse-trading goes on behind the scenes to work it out before the convention.
People may go to vote for "the candidate of their choice", but the actual choice of candidate is still made in back-room deals.
Who votes for whom?
Generally in the primaries, Obama's support has come from the black population, along with middle class layers of the rest of the population, many of them Republicans or independents who crossed over into the Democratic primary in the 20 states that allow it. Even now, Obama forces are campaigning in Pennsylvania, pushing Republicans to change their registration so they can vote in the upcoming Democratic primary. Clinton has had a strong lead in the Mexican and white portions of the working class, and to some extent among middle class women, although that support seems to have eroded somewhat.
What was striking in the period leading up to and into the first primaries was the shift in the allegiance of the black population, which started sometime in December and gained a lot of ground in January. Last year, Obama trailed Clinton among the black population in many polls, essentially because he was either unknown or distrusted by important parts of the poor and working class layers of the black population. On the other hand, Hillary Clinton was associated with Bill Clinton, whom black preachers and politicians had long presented as a great friend of the black people. But with his victory in the Iowa caucuses, Obama suddenly appeared to have a chance in the election. This not only opened up the overt struggle inside the Democratic Party apparatus over control of the party, but the publicity Obama gained by winning in Iowa, primarily a white state, also gave the black population the feeling that perhaps a black man could win. With the sudden flourishing of pride in his candidacy, the polls drastically changed.
With some exceptions, Obama has won many more of the smaller states with fewer votes, many of which generally vote Republican; while Clinton has won most of the big states with lots of votes that usually vote Democrat. In addition, Florida, Ohio and Tennessee, important "swing" states that were Republican last year, also went for Clinton.
So this has raised a debate: can Obama pull enough Republican states in the fall, while keeping most of the Democratic states in his camp; can Clinton hold all the traditional Democratic states, as well as the few big swing states with a working class population?
Lost in all this electioneering is the question of whether either candidate represents his or her constituency.
Obama - representative of the working class black population?
From the beginning, the axis of the Obama campaign was to attack the "divisiveness" in Washington, the bickering between the parties. He presented himself as the man who could bring Democrats and Republicans together, the man to initiate "change" by bringing all the different forces together. And he appropriated Republican Ronald Reagan as one of his models. Initially, he directed his appeal to the white middle class, with students forming a very large part of his campaign workers.
At the same time, he tried to depict himself as someone who came up from poor beginnings. When speaking to an audience in a poor part of South Carolina, for example, he declared, "I know what it's like to be raised by a single mom, living on food stamps."
He should have been ashamed to say that, attending as he did only the most prestigious and expensive private schools - from elementary school all the way through Harvard Law School. His mother on food stamps? Perhaps, while in college, but she hardly shared the life of those who depend on food stamps. Nor did Obama. From the time he was very young, they moved in those spheres that allowed them to travel widely, his mother moving to Indonesia with her second husband, who was called back there in the period following the CIA sponsored military coup - a coup which had crushed all opposition in the population and which led to the massacre of over a million people. Later on, she had important positions in Indonesia and then Pakistan, with both the US Agency for International Development and the Ford Foundation. Whatever she herself was doing in those agencies, they were hardly humanitarian organisations, aimed as they were at imposing US policy on poor countries.
Obama may have grown up in a poor country, as he has often said, but he did not share the life of the poor in Indonesia.
But the real reproach to be made to Obama about his pretense to represent the interests of the poor black population, is what he says to and about that population.
Speaking before a black audience in Beaumont, Texas, at the end of February, Obama declared, "Spend more time with your children. It's not good enough for you to say to your child, 'Do good in school.' ... So turn off the TV set, put the video games away. Buy a little desk or put that child by the kitchen table. Watch them do their homework.... Make them go to bed at a reasonable time. Keep them off the streets. Give them some breakfast. We can't keep on feeding our children junk all day long, giving them no exercise... a bag of potato chips for lunch or Popeye's for breakfast."
Yes, parents should take care of their children, but black working class parents do not set their work schedules, so they can't watch their children, much less help with their homework, any more than white working class parents do. Parents are not responsible for the lack of books in schools or the overcrowding of classes. Parents don't shut down all the decent grocery stores in large parts of cities where the poor and even slightly better off sections of the working class live, so that healthy food isn't available. The answer to these problems doesn't depend on "individual responsibility" as Obama - or Bush - would have it. The answer will come, as it always has, from the collective struggle of working people for better schools, or higher wages, or shorter hours, and all the other things they need.
In this speech, which is a common one in his campaign, Obama puts himself into the long line of reactionaries who shift responsibility for the problems created by a society run for profit onto the backs of working people, black and white.
Obama doesn't represent the working class layers of the black population. He demeans it. And there is nothing that shows that better than his reaction to the uproar produced by Fox News and other reactionary media outlets about the sermons of Obama's minister, Reverend Jeremiah Wright.
When Fox News pushed the campaign against Wright, grabbing sentences out of context from a vast ranges of things he had said, distorting them to make him sound like a raving demagogue, Obama quickly rushed to say: "I reject outright the statements by Reverend Wright that are at issue." (Hillary Clinton, not to be outdone, announced, "Given all we have heard and seen, Wright would not have been my pastor.")
So what, exactly, were Wright's positions that Obama and Clinton rejected?
This, for example, on US foreign policy: "We bombed Hiroshima, we bombed Nagasaki, and we nuked far more than the thousands in New York and the Pentagon, and we never batted an eye... and now we are indignant, because the stuff we have done overseas is now brought back into our own front yards. America's chickens are coming home to roost... Violence begets violence. Hatred begets hatred. And terrorism begets terrorism. A white ambassador said that y'all, not a black militant... An ambassador whose eyes are wide open and who is trying to get us to wake up and move away from this dangerous precipice upon which we are now poised."
Or this: "Governments lie. The government lied about the Tuskegee experiment... The government lied about bombing Cambodia... The government lied about the drugs for arms Contra scheme orchestrated by Oliver North... The government lied about a connection between Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein and a connection between 9-11-01 and Operation Iraqi Freedom. Governments lie."
And this on the situation of minorities in this country: "And the United States of America government, when it came to treating her citizens of Indian descent fairly, she failed. She put them on reservations. When it came to treating her citizens of Japanese descent fairly, she failed. She put them in internment prison camps. When it came to treating her citizens of African descent fairly, America failed. She put them in chains, the government put them on auction blocks, put them in cotton fields, put them in inferior schools, put them in substandard housing, put them in scientific experiments, put them in the lowest paying jobs, put them outside the equal protection of the law, kept them out of their racist bastions of higher education and locked them into positions of hopelessness and helplessness. The government gives them the drugs, builds bigger prisons, passes a three-strike law and then wants us to sing 'God Bless America'. No, no, no, not God Bless America. God damn America - that's in the Bible - for killing innocent people."
Wright's sermons became the big issue for several weeks. In that context, Obama delivered his famous speech about the need for "racial understanding," trying in front of his middle class constituency to dissociate himself from Wright, while trying to maintain some link with him for the black audience that understood where Wright was coming from.
Thus, Obama: "But the remarks that have caused this recent firestorm weren't simply controversial. They weren't simply a religious leader's effort to speak out against perceived injustice. Instead, they expressed a profoundly distorted view of this country - a view that sees white racism as endemic, and that elevates what is wrong with America above all that we know is right with America; a view that sees the conflicts in the Middle East as rooted primarily in the actions of stalwart allies like Israel, instead of emanating from the perverse and hateful ideologies of radical Islam. As such, Reverend Wright's comments were not only wrong but divisive, divisive at a time when we need unity; racially charged at a time when we need to come together to solve a set of monumental problems."
In other words, Obama puts himself forward as someone ready to defend the military actions carried out by this government around the world in the interests of big US companies, ready to excuse US wars by pretending they were caused by "hateful ideologies of radical Islam" - exactly like the lying justification Bush claimed for US wars against the people of Afghanistan or Iraq. With these words, Obama reassured the imperialist bourgeoisie that he is their man.
But then, Obama goes on to explain Wright, saying that the anger expressed by Wright and others of his generation was "understandable" and even "real," given the time they grew up in. However, in today's situation, according to Obama, "anger is not always productive; indeed all too often it distracts attention from solving real problems; it keeps us from squarely facing our own complicity in our condition, and prevents the African-American community from forging the alliances it needs to bring about real change."
On a superficial level, it's nothing more than the demagogy of a politician who pretends our problems - problems that are deeply rooted in the functioning of the system - could be solved by loving one another.
But profoundly, it's a denial of the worth of the fights made by the people of Wright's generation, whose anger fuelled their struggles against Jim Crow. With words like these, Obama defends the bourgeois system against all those movements whose determined struggles pushed the American bourgeois system, imperialist and racist, to step backwards. The gains made were produced by massive struggles of the black population, overflowing into the streets in anger; by struggles of the soldiers in Viet Nam, unwilling to fight that dirty war; by hundreds of major strikes every year at workplaces. Those struggles imposed a different relationship of forces between the American ruling class and all those it had oppressed. It was not, as Obama claims, "the true genius of this nation" that brought about "change". It was the militant struggle of laboring people imbued with anger - which Obama wants to tell us is "not always productive"!
Not only does Obama reproach the ordinary black population for having done the very things that helped break their chains. He deeply disrespects that same population, as he showed when he "joked" to a group of black legislators in South Carolina in April 2007: "You know what would be a good economic development plan for our community would be if we make sure folks weren't throwing their garbage out of their cars".
An economic development plan!
Hillary Clinton - representative of the labouring people?
Clinton is often characterised as the Democrat who is most "intransigent" in her opposition to the Republicans. It's true that parts of the Republican Party seem to hate Clinton with a passion. It may have a lot to do with their misogynous attitudes - in any case, it can't be her "intransigence" that bothers them.
Clinton voted for Bush's two wars, and kept voting to fund them. Her criticism of Bush's handling of the war did not appear until the population itself began to express serious doubts. Before then, she was every bit as ready as McCain to rush to Iraq for a photo-op.
She voted for Bush's "no child left behind" bill, a broad attack on the public schools (state schools) - a law so bad that even Republican governors have called for its repeal.
She voted for Bush's Medicare "reform," which has changed very little for the population, but handed over so much Medicare money to the medical, pharmaceutical and insurance industries that it appears on the verge of "breaking" Medicare.
Even when she voted against Bush - for example, on his two very reactionary Supreme Court appointees or on bills aimed at reducing women's access to abortion - she did so with exactly the same timid and defensive stance that the rest of the Democratic Party had, not daring to propose the Democrats use their numbers, which were more than sufficient, to block the appointments or the measures.
If Clinton is the most "intransigent" Democrat, no wonder Bush had such an easy time pushing through his whole program.
Clinton herself tries to appear as someone sharing the fate of all those who work for a living. It was the whole point of her famous "Night Shift" ad. With the camera panning across tired workers, an oily voice proclaimed: "You're often overworked, underpaid, and sometimes overlooked. But not by everybody. One candidate [and here we see Clinton, sitting at a desk, apparently working away] has put forth an American family agenda to make things easier for everyone who works so hard: universal health care, increased day care and help with elder care. She understands. She's worked the night shift, too."
Perhaps, but not for the same wage. In fact, the Clintons just released their tax returns, showing they earned $109m over the last eight years. Apparently, Clinton's night shift pays a somewhat heftier premium than the one paid to those who work midnights in hospitals, restaurants, and factories!
She certainly wasn't working her night shift in the interests of working people, despite her claim to be putting forth "an American family agenda to make things easier for everyone who works so hard."
Take health care, for example, the issue most commonly associated with Hillary Clinton. Of course, she's said very little really concrete about her "universal health care" plan - but even what she has said shows how much her proposals not only ignore the real situation of the working class, but would make that situation worse.
All those who are today uninsured, all 47 million of them, would be "mandated" to enroll and pay for health care insurance - as though they simply don't have insurance today because they choose not to have it! They could either pay for private insurance, which would continue as it is today, that is, unaffordable, or they could enroll in a stripped-down government program, which nonetheless would be administered by private insurance companies. People who could afford it would be given a tax credit - one more bureaucratic hassle that most ordinary people would never gain the benefit of. People who couldn't afford to pay for the insurance, according to another bureaucratic formula, would be eligible for government subsidies. Nonetheless, it's obvious that everyone would be paying more for health care - first, by having to sign up, and second through the taxes that will be used to pay the cost of the plan.
For the insurance industry, it would be another bonanza, on top of the one Bush awarded them with the 2003 Medicare D "reform". Millions of new customers - potentially 47 million - would be marched into insurance offices, under the force of law. Insurance companies would be required to take everyone, regardless of their medical condition - but without any limits on what they might charge someone with serious problems.
Same thing for the pharmaceutical industry - another bonanza, handing over the rest of the population not covered under Medicare D or private plans to the mercy of the big drug companies.
But those big industries are not the only beneficiaries. Just as with Medicare D, employers who continue to provide medical coverage would be eligible for tax credits or subsidies, even if they reduce what they offer.
Of course, having insurance is not the same as getting to use it. The only mandate that Clinton has spoken of is the one requiring everyone who doesn't have insurance or anyone who loses it to purchase it. Nothing would mandate the insurance companies to guarantee that people get the care they need. Nothing would mandate the pharmaceutical industry to reduce costs, so people could afford to purchase drugs. Nothing would mandate hospitals or doctors to accept the government insurance. Nothing would prevent a serious condition from pushing a family into financial ruin. Nothing would mandate the government itself to provide as good a medical coverage in the government-sponsored plan, as what people get from paying for it privately.
Clinton's plan - in the rough form so far disclosed - looks remarkably similar to the plan passed in 2006 in Massachusetts under former governor Mitt Romney, a Republican. So look at what has already happened there. The state did not control premium hikes, costs of the subsidised program are supposed to double over the next three years, and the state is already debating whether to slash the health services offered through the subsidised plan or cut payments to doctors and hospitals. And only half the uninsured enrolled despite the legal requirement. They couldn't afford it.
Clinton's proposal would leave in place this horribly convoluted system that exists today, just adding one more enormous bureaucratic bandage on top of the running sore of a system whose results, as far as the laboring population is concerned, are the worst in the industrial world. And it would expand and entrench the iron grip of private insurance companies over the whole industry, just as Medicare D did.
It is hardly a coincidence that some of the major contributions to her campaign have come from the health care industries - to the tune of $4.5m. They know that Hillary Clinton is their advocate.
Her approach to the range of other problems facing working people today follows the same approach - she slaps on another bandage to hide wounds that are potentially fatal. For example, in response to an education system which today prices most working class people out of the market for a decent advanced education, she proposes to extend to more people "Pell Grants" (which cover very little of a year's cost), to give more tax breaks (which imply you have enough income to take advantage of them), and to stretch out repayment schedules on student loans over a still longer period (guaranteeing that a college education puts someone in debt for life).
But the most striking proposal in her "Plan for Shared Prosperity" - as she calls it - is to "encourage America's families to save... So my American Retirement Accounts plan will offer up to $1,000 in matching tax cuts, and will give employers new incentives to automatically enroll their employees in savings accounts."
As if working people had money to save! With jobs paying less than what people can live on and raise a family, people are working more hours and several jobs, going deeper into debt, while pulling money from their 401(k) retirement plans, when they aren't cashing them out altogether. The elderly are being forced to work past retirement because they have little or no pension, not to speak of inadequate health care benefits under Medicare.
No! The problem doesn't stem from workers' bad spending and saving habits - the problem has been produced by the attacks carried out by big companies to increase their profits by lowering workers' living standards over the past decades, during which time the government helped them do it.
In the face of that, Clinton proposes to hand over incentives and other advantages to the employers - even on these piddling little "savings plans" - not to mention financial interests, who will manage, for a fee, the "savings plans".
This is what almost all Clinton's schemes boil down to: providing still greater advantages to the wealthy and to the biggest companies under the pretense of helping ordinary people.
What choice for the working class?
It's understandable that after the experience of the last eight years that working people want to express their anger at Bush and dump the Republicans. It's even possible that more people will go to vote this year than usual - certainly, that has been so in the Democratic Party primaries. However, even if the turnout were to increase markedly, it would still leave nearly 45% not voting, feeling that their votes can make no difference.
Nonetheless, many in the working class undoubtedly will go to vote, just to register their disgust, and most will vote for the Democrats. If they do, they should have no illusions. Both Obama and Clinton have already shown they are going to continue with the policies that Bush has carried out over the last eight years, policies many of which were prepared for in the eight years of Bill Clinton's administration.
Obama and Clinton may be more critical of the war and Wall Street than McCain is. But criticising the war, as Obama and Clinton do, is not the same thing as moving to put a stop to it. Reminding people of their disastrous situation is not the same as acting to control the Wall Street titans who have caused it.
Maybe some people will vote, but without succumbing to the false hope that the new president will "change" the situation, and without the intention of waiting on the promises of the next president. Because it's not true that everything comes to those who sit and wait!
What working people want - an end to the war, an end to the degradation of their economic situation, an improvement in their living and working situation, the prospect that the lives of their children will be better, not worse than their own - what working people want, will come from their own collective struggles. That has always been the case, no matter what person or which party was in office. It's exactly the same today.
13 April 2008