A Turning Point in U.S. Politics
Shortly after winning re-election last fall, President Bush declared that he had earned “political capital, and now I intend to spend it.” One year later that bank account has been significantly drained, if not depleted and mired in debt.
By Philip Locker, Socialist Alternative (US CWI)
“This is not what the Republicans envisioned 11 months ago, when they were returned to office as a powerful one-party government with a big agenda and – it seemed – little to fear from the opposition.” (NY Times, 9/28/05)
In the face of Hurricane Katrina, a storm of scandals, the deepening catastrophe in Iraq, skyrocketing gas prices, and stagnating living standards for working people, support for Bush and the Republicans has plummeted.
This anger is felt most intensely in the African American community. Support for Bush among blacks has collapsed to 2%, down from 19% six months ago, according to a new NBC/Wall Street Journal poll (mrzine.org, 10/16/05).
Even before Katrina hit, Bush was already in serious trouble. For example, his flagship policy, Social Security privatization, was completely stuck in the water with massive public opposition. But Katrina was a decisive turning point, acting as catalyst to bring to the fore all the accumulated opposition to Bush.
A Pew Research poll released October 13th showed the president’s overall job approval rating slipping to 38% with 56% opposing Bush. Fifty-seven percent say that Bush’s policies have negatively affected the nation’s economy and the gap between rich and poor.
While tax reduction has been a centerpiece of Bush’s presidency, nearly twice as many respondents said his policies have made the tax system worse than those who said they have made it better (40% vs. 22%); his healthcare policies: 43% worse/16% better. Even on the issue of morality in America, supposedly one of Bush’s strong points, the poll showed just 25% said Bush has made things better, while 35% think he has made things worse.
The public overwhelmingly says that they want the next president to offer “different policies and programs” than those of the Bush administration (69%), rather than similar policies and programs (25%).
Reemergence of the Antiwar Movement
One of the key repercussions of Katrina was that it exposed the lie that the Iraq war was protecting ordinary Americans. It is widely understood that Bush cut the funding for levee improvements to pay for the Iraq war, and that relief efforts were hampered by many of Louisiana’s and Mississippi’s National Guard soldiers being in Iraq.
With the domestic costs of the war exposed by Katrina, opposition to the war is growing by leaps and bounds. Opposition to the war has spread to wide sections of the working class, including a significant section of workers in “red states” who had voted for Bush. For the first time a majority (52%) now supports an immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq, up dramatically from 33% over the summer (NY Times, 9/17/05).
Following Bush’s “re-election” there was a widespread mood of despondency and demoralization which led to an ebb in antiwar protests. However, as Justice argued, this was a temporary mood, and on the basis of new events, there would be a new surge forward in the antiwar movement.
The massive anti-war protest of 300-500,000 people on September 24th in Washington D.C., along with the Cindy Sheehan protests over the summer, signaled the reemergence of the mass antiwar movement. With the number of U.S. soldiers killed surpassing the symbolic 2,000 mark, the anti-war movement will likely grow in an explosive fashion in the next period, given that the deepening catastrophe in Iraq will continue to drive forward opposition to the war here at home.
The recent constitutional referendum and the upcoming December elections will not solve any of the underlying problems in Iraq. In reality, the constitution is accelerating the slide towards sectarian conflict and deepening the crisis. The passing of the constitution will strengthen support for the insurgency among Sunnis who feel they are being cut off from Iraq’s wealth by the Shi’a and Kurds. It will also give a green light to the Shi’a in the South and the Kurds in the north to carve out highly autonomous regions under their control.
Caught in a Storm of Scandals
Against this background, Bush and the GOP have been buffeted by a wave of scandals. The potentially most damaging, the so-called Palmegate affair, relates to an effort by the White House to punish a critic of their Iraqi WMD claims, Joseph Wilson, by leaking to the media his wife’s (Valerie Palme) identity as a covert CIA agent. This scandal threatens to bring down two central figures in the Bush Administration – Karl Rove and Lewis Libby- and potentially even Dick Cheney could be implicated.
This follows on the heels of the criminal indictment of Tom DeLay for illegal campaign fundraising from corporate backers, which compelled DeLay to resign from his post as leader of the Republicans in the House. And in the Senate, Republican leader Bill Frist is being investigated for insider trading regarding the sale of stock in his family’s hospital corporation.
These cases, particularly Palmegate, have the potential to grow into a major crisis, seriously wounding Bush and shaping the remainder of his second term. In and of themselves their political importance would be limited, but its effect are of a far greater magnitude given the convergence of several scandals at a time of mounting social discontent and crisis for the Bush administration.
Already this string of scandals has dealt a serious political blow to Bush and the Republicans, further undermining their public support and credibility. Moreover, as the columnist Frank Rich pointed out, the investigation into the Palme leak has opened the lid on a far greater scandal, “the one that took us on false premises into a reckless and wasteful war in Iraq. That conspiracy was instigated by Mr. Rove’s boss, George W. Bush, and Mr. Libby’s boss, Dick Cheney” (NY Times, 10/16/05).
The debate about the Iraq war is at the heart of Palmegate. “If this war was widely judged to have been necessary along the lines of Afghanistan after 9/11, I don’t believe you would have [the Palme] controversy. If the war had gone extremely well, you wouldn’t have this controversy,” explained Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations (NY Times, 10/23/05).
The catastrophic failure of Bush’s Iraqi adventure has plunged the American political establishment into a deep crisis. Lt. Gen. William Odom, National Security Agency Director under Reagan, recently declared the Iraq war “the greatest strategic disaster in United States history.”
This has pushed a growing section of the ruling class to challenge Bush, fearing his policies and tactics are rebounding against the interests of U.S. capitalism. In this regard Katrina was a turning point. The inept and bungled response of the Bush administration crystallized the view among a section of the ruling class that Bush had become a liability for their system. This wing of the establishment, and their allies in the mass media, have seized on the Palme controversy and the other Republican scandals, in an effort to weaken Bush.
Building a Real Opposition
All second term presidents become lame ducks, but they seldom limp and quack this soon. Undoubtedly, Bush faces an enormous political crisis. Many commentators have pointed out that Bush faces the deepest political crisis of any president since Nixon in the early seventies confronted a U.S. defeat in Vietnam, massive social unrest in the U.S., and impeachment.
Bush’s greatest asset, though, is the weakness of the so-called opposition party, the Democrats. The Democrats have failed to aggressively go on the offensive against Bush. Tied by a million strings to big business and the political establishment, they have been incapable of mounting a political challenge to Bush which could arouse mass support from workers, the poor and the oppressed.
There is mounting distrust and anger among workers and young people at both corporate parties. While support for the Republicans has been sharply falling, it has not translated into any increase in support for the Democrats. A Pew poll showed support for the Republican Congressional leadership falling to only 32% but support for the Democrats faring no better! This has given Bush significantly more room to maneuver, since, despite mounting anger at Bush, there is little public appetite for putting the Democrats in power.
This shows yet again how futile it is to rely on the Democratic Party as a political vehicle for fighting the right wing. The key to resisting Bush is to mobilize the power of the working class, women, people of color, and the anti-war movement, which the Democrats are utterly opposed to doing.
The corporate stranglehold over U.S. politics needs to be broken. There is a pressing need for a new political party to represent the millions, not the millionaires – a party that is based on the interests of workers and the oppressed and that fights big business. It could galvanize anger at Bush into a new working class political movement by putting forward a bold program, including: bring the troops home now, no gas or fuel price increases, end corporate downsizing and attacks on workers’ benefits, public works programs to create jobs, quality health care for all, and a living minimum wage.