[Marxism] "They are the not-GOP Party"

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Mon Nov 6 11:43:34 MST 2006

(I don't agree with the political imperative implied by this piece, which 
is to vote DP, but it does make some shrewd points.)

What do the Democrats stand for? But what if, as some pollsters, pundits, 
and even Republican prognosticators are suggesting, those New York seats go 
Democratic, along with moderate Republican ones in Connecticut and 
previously red-meat Republican ones in states like Indiana? What if the 
Democrats win by 20-35 seats or more, as some are suggesting, decisively 
gaining control in the House?

 From the opinion polls, we already know that most Democratic voters this 
time around will see the taking of the House, or all of Congress, as a 
mandate to begin a draw-down of American troops in Iraq and to bring the 
American part of that war to an end in some undefined but rather speedy 
fashion. As it happens, however, Democratic leaders do not see it this way. 
Their strategy has been to "lay low" and let anger towards Bush sweep them 
into office.

An indicator that voters know the Democrats ran on a non-platform is the 
fact that independent voters favor them in polling by two-to-one margins 
mainly because they are incensed with the President and the GOP. As the 
Washington Post put it:

     "Independent voters may strongly favor Democrats, but their vote 
appears motivated more by dissatisfaction with Republicans than by 
enthusiasm for the opposition party. About half of those independents who 
said they plan to vote Democratic in their district said they are doing so 
primarily to vote against the Republican candidate rather than to 
affirmatively support the Democratic candidate. Just 22 percent of 
independents voting for Democrats are doing so 'very enthusiastically.'"

A Democratic victory, if it actually occurs, will be a statement by 
independent (and other) voters that they disapprove of Bush administration 
policy on a wide range of issues, not an ideological tilt in support of the 
Democrats. But then how could it be? Today's Democrats essentially stand 
for nothing. They are the not-GOP Party.

Will a Democratic victory mean a "mandate" for change? Do the Democrats 
need to avoid political positions? Those of us who are actively hostile to 
the Bush administration tend to excuse the absence of a Democratic program 
as a necessary ploy to win the election. Laying low and not being too "left 
wing" are, the common wisdom goes, the keys to winning independents -- and 
thus the election. Many of us expect that the Democrats, once in control of 
all or part of Congress, will see themselves as having a mandate from the 
people to be much more liberal than their campaigns have suggested. This, I 
suspect, is an illusion -- and this cynicism is, unfortunately, supported 
by our recent political history.

Remember, as a start, that Bill Clinton's 1992 election was based on a 
similar "anti-Republican" appeal. Yet, once in office he proved himself to 
be a "modern Democrat" by, for instance, advancing the GOP agenda in 
eliminating much of the welfare system, adopting a "don't ask, don't tell" 
policy on gays in the military, and abandoning a national health plan. 
Then, of course, came the Republican "revolution" of 1994, which really did 
drastically alter policy. The GOP made an explicit and vociferous break 
with the failing policies of the Democrats, began the most serious drive of 
our times to rollback history to the days before Franklin Delano 
Roosevelt's New Deal, and never flinched from taking strong stands.

Since that year, the Democrats have found themselves increasingly locked 
out of power, while the GOP has finally inherited the mantle of the 
established party with the failing policies. Instead of riding back to 
power on a dramatic set of alternative policies as the GOP did, however, 
the Democrats -- like Clinton -- are mimicking parts of the GOP platform, 
while arguing that the Bush administration administered it in an inept, 
extreme, and corrupt way.

This strategy may indeed get them elected if the Karl Rove system of 
political governance finally comes apart at the seams, but it won't work to 
generate the changes in policy that so many of us desire. Instead, we can 
expect Democratic leaders, suddenly invested with the power of the subpoena 
(but probably little else), to investigate past Republican sins while 
attempting to prove that they can, indeed, pursue a less overtly offensive 
Republican program more honestly and efficiently than the Bush 
administration has. Just as the Democratic leadership has promised, they 
will probably continue to support fighting the disastrous wars in Iraq and 
Afghanistan more "effectively." They are also likely to continue the 
essence of Bush tax policy (more cuts, just not as favorable to the very 
rich), and to serve money to the Pentagon more or less on demand, but not 
to domestic "reconstruction" programs.

Could the Democrats win in 2008 on the basis of actual differences in 
policy? Only if they tried to win over the American people (including 
independents) to a genuinely different platform. On the Iraq War alone, 
look at how close ex-Marine Paul Hackett came to winning a 60% Republican 
congressional district in Ohio back in 2004 on a simple platform of 
withdrawal from Iraq.

Or look at the actual attitudes held by independents. According to a 
typical recent poll, only a third believe the war is "worth fighting"; 
three quarters think the country is "headed in the wrong direction"; only 
37% approve of the job Bush is doing. Doesn't this suggest that such voters 
might indeed be receptive to ideas that dramatically challenge Bush 
administration policies?

But, let's face it, even if such a strategy could win, the Democratic 
leadership will not follow the path laid out by the GOP from the 1970s 
through the 1990s as they toppled an entrenched Democratic establishment. 
They may want to win on Tuesday, but what they don't want is a mandate to 
lead Americans in a new direction. In the end, they prefer to hang in there 
as the not-GOP Party, pick up old-hat and me-too policies, and hope for the 

What's at Stake in This Election

As in 2004, there is no mystery about what the voters think when it comes 
to this election: It is a referendum on Bush administration policies in 
which unhappiness over the war comes first, second, and third. And this is 
why, no matter what the Democrats do afterwards, the 2006 midterm elections 
whose results we will all be anxiously watching on Tuesday are so 
important. If the Democrats prevail, however narrowly, against a world of 
massively gerrymandered seats, Republican finances, blitzes of dirty ads, 
the presidential "bully pulpit," and well-planned campaigns of voter 
suppression, American -- as well as world public opinion -- will interpret 
it as a repudiation of Bush administration war policy. And this will become 
a mandate for those who oppose these policies to speak and act ever more 
forcefully. With or without Democratic Party leadership, this added 
momentum might even make a difference.

full: http://www.tomdispatch.com/index.mhtml?pid=136516



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