USA - After the presidential election

Nov/Dec 2004

Bush finally kept his tenancy of the White House. Until the last minute, the Republican candidate and his Democrat rival, John Kerry, still appeared neck and neck in every opinion poll. But in the end, the anti-Bush feeling on which Kerry and his supporters in the trade-union bureaucracy had based their entire campaign turned out to be just not strong enough. And Bush won the popular vote with a 3.5m majority over Kerry - or 51% of the total ballot against 48%.

Predictably Blair wasted no time in congratulating his friend and partner in crime for this victory, adding that "now that America has spoken, the rest of the world should listen" (presumably this was addressed to all those opposing the invasion of Iraq) and calling for a reinforcement of the cooperation between the US and the European Union (presumably against the Iraqi population, in particular), in which Blair has prided himself as being in a position to play a pivotal role.

However, Bush's re-election was by no means the sweeping victory hailed by the headlines of some British newspapers.

Of course, the US president has improved his position since the 2000 presidential election. Indeed, it should be recalled that, at the time, Bush polled 500,000 votes less than his Democrat opponent, Al Gore. And if he finally made it to the White House, it was purely due to the peculiarities of an electoral system which gives the smaller, usually Republican-dominated states, more weight in the outcome of presidential elections.

This time round, of course, there was nothing similar to the Florida saga in 2000, where ballot papers had to be counted again and again for weeks, amidst a flurry of legal suites. Some wrangles did happen, particularly in the hotly contested state of Ohio, over whether 150,000 "provisional votes" (i.e. belonging to people who had moved house too late to be properly registered) should be counted or not. And the confusing variety of voting techniques used in the various states, some of which are rather questionable, probably left a number of voters more or less disenfranchised. But the overall result gave Bush enough of a lead to allow him to appear as the "good guy", or "clean" winner this time, should the ballot be challenged in court. Hence Kerry's early decision to concede defeat.

But Bush's improved performance does not mean, for instance, that the Republicans swept the Senate (in which 55 seats out of a 100 were up for re-election) or the House of Representatives (in which all 435 seats were renewed). In both chambers, the Democrats registered a net loss of 4 seats to the Republicans (including that of the Democrat leader of the Senate, Tom Daschle, who experienced a humiliating defeat). But this still means that in both houses the Democrats retain far more than the 40% minimum required by the constitution to allow them to block any major legislation introduced by Bush - that is, provided they choose to, which has seldom been the case in the past.

It has been pointed out that the turn-out this year was the highest since 1968, at 60% of registered voters. Quite apart from the fact that this still means that two people in five saw no point in voting, it is difficult to gauge what section of the electorate has come out in larger numbers this time. Whatever was the case, however, the new voters do not seem to have come out to support Kerry.

Maybe more significant is the fact that, while the Democrats held on to all the state governor posts that they were defending in this election, Kerry lost to Bush in three of the states in which his party had successfully defended its governor's post (Montana, North Carolina and West Virginia) and not by a whisker, but by a margin significantly larger than the national average.

To say the least, this would point to the fact that Kerry failed to mobilise the Democrats' own voters behind his name, let alone the large section of the electorate which has long given up using the ballot paper, particularly among working people and the poor.

This should come as no surprise. After all, the Democrats and the Republicans have a long tradition of alternating in power to pursue the same policies, in defence of the interests of the capitalist class. The fact that the main trade-union bodies usually give their backing to the Democratic Party makes no difference to its policies once in office. American workers know this from bitter experience and there was nothing, not even the strong anti-Bush feeling that permeated the campaign, to make Kerry stand apart as advocating policies addressing the problems they face.

Indeed, on the two issues which dominated the election campaign - the war in Iraq and the deterioration of the job situation and, more generally, of the standard of living of the working class - Kerry's language became less and less different from Bush's own as election day drew closer.

On the issue of Iraq, for instance, Kerry undoubtedly scored a point in the campaign's first television debate when he declared that this war was "the wrong war, in the wrong place at the wrong time." This piece of rhetoric did not represent much of a commitment on Kerry's part, but at least it sounded like a clear criticism of Bush's policy. However, Kerry went on to declare later: "I believe there's a better way to do this... I have a plan for Iraq. I believe we can be successful. I'm not talking about leaving. I'm talking about winning." And, of course, such a "plan" aimed at "winning", inevitably meant that US soldiers were going to stay in Iraq, that there would be more casualties for the sole benefit of Corporate America, and possibly even an escalation of the war, regardless of the well-wishing rhetoric in which Kerry's policy was wrapped - which was precisely the prospect that a lot of potential anti-Bush voters did not want to consider.

Just as the same voters were not prepared to enthuse over a candidate who, as can be expected from the representative of a party which is just as tied to big business as the Republicans themselves, always steered clear of making any commitment to reverse the past attacks against the working class (particularly against the welfare system) and the enormous handouts which have been awarded to the rich (in terms of tax cuts in particular), under Bush, but also under Clinton during his two previous terms.

Moreover, the record of the Democrats over the previous four years showed that, even in opposition, not only had they done nothing to seriously oppose Bush's policies, but in fact they had played a significant role in helping the Bush administration to introduce them.

The next two articles deal with this aspect of the Democrats' record as well as the policy of the trade union machineries in the presidential election campaign. They are slightly abridged version of articles first published in the US-based quarterly "Class Struggle" (#45 - Nov-Dec 2004), issued by the American Trotskyist group "The Spark".