With the Romney candidacy mired in scandal, and with the Republican Party convention displaying its rightward shift, one would expect Obama to be a shoe-in for president. Yet the race is still tight. The Obama campaign has even hired Bill Clinton as their new sharpshooter.
Romney and the Republicans had been expecting Obama to be very vulnerable due to the miserable state of the U.S. economy: high unemployment, growing poverty, and record numbers of home foreclosures. But, having pushed through an elite corporate CEO as their presidential candidate, the elite Republican strategists have been unable to redefine Romney as a ‘man of the people.’
Why Can’t the Democrats Finish Off Romney?
The recently leaked video of Romney speaking at a $50,000-per-plate fundraiser, in which he openly dismisses the needs of the poorest 47% of the American public, has not helped him. The video leak compounds the attacks Romney has already made on immigrants, the poor, labor unions, environmentalists, and reproductive rights. This has played into the Democrat’s own strategy of labeling Romney as a corporate raider and a citizen of the 1%.
Clearly, this is Obama’s election to win or lose. But even with the combination of Romney’s "corporate raider" reputation and the ambivalence of the right-wing base of the Republican Party towards their own candidate, this election is still too close to call.
What an indictment of Obama and Democrats that they cannot take electoral advantage of the Occupy Wall Street movement to bury a CEO Republican presidential candidate! Instead, they determinedly continued to push forward their pro-corporate policies, including passing legislation that restricts the civil liberties of those who protest these policies. If the Democrats can’t win this election, they will have only themselves to blame.
This confirms Socialist Alternative’s analysis of the Democrats as a corporate party. Despite offering a few promises at election time, their politics are dictated by corporate CEOs, Wall Street bankers, and capitalist strategists, just like the Republicans. The real difference between the two parties is their target audiences.
While both parties rely on big business funding, Republicans rely on the vote of small businesspeople, the religious right, and rural voters. While the Democrats were originally the party of the slave owners, they are now dominated by Wall Street and big business. In terms of voting base, however, they target working people, unions, and the progressive-thinking public.
But Obama’s consistent support of policies that favor Wall Street and capitalism has driven his supporters into anger and apathy. By almost any objective measure, people are no better off than they were four years ago. Obama’s recent speeches targeting the needs of the 99% as opposed to the elite 1% are an attempt to wipe clean any memory of the corporate policies that dominated the previous three and a half years.
An important player in this narrative is the former Democratic Party president, Bill Clinton, who has recently reappeared on the political scene in a major way. Mortal enemy of Obama in the 2008 battle for the Democratic Party nomination, Bill Clinton used his much-publicized speech at the Democratic Party to reframe Obama’s economic record.
Clinton stated: “He [President Obama] inherited a deeply damaged economy, put a floor under the crash, began the long hard road to recovery, and laid the foundation for a modern, more well-balanced economy that will produce millions of good new jobs, vibrant new businesses, and lots of new wealth for the innovators.”
“No President – not me or any of my predecessors could have repaired all the damage in just four years. But conditions are improving, and if you'll renew the President's contract you will feel it.”
Clinton’s Democratic Party convention speech further claimed credit for his own economic policies and would have us believe that if only Bush had not interrupted Clinton’s economy, then everything would be fine. Clinton claimed that Obama is fixing the mess left over from Bush, and that he needs four more years for the results to show - we just need to be patient. That’s not a lot to go on. But Obama strategists obviously think it’s enough to get him over the line.
The Clinton Record
So what was Clinton’s record? Contrary to Clinton’s convention speech, under his Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin, Clinton’s economic policies ensured a steady stream of wealth into Wall Street. The plan was to raise the ships of Wall Street, and then hope the rest of the economy would follow. NAFTA, GATT, and the WTO were “free trade” policy agreements passed by Clinton to help open up international markets to big business and investors.
The Clinton Administration continued the policy of deregulation of industries begun by Democratic President Jimmy Carter. The policy of investing in more jobs for workers, a key promise in his election campaign, was jettisoned. Not surprisingly, while the rich got even wealthier. Despite Clinton’s job claims, out of 22.5 million jobs created while he was in office, over half paid under $7 per hour. William Greider writes: “Clinton’s presidency was distinctive for that fact: throughout his term, despite economic recovery, wages were flat or falling for all but the top 20% of the wage earning ladder” (One World, Ready or Not: The Manic Logic of Global Capitalism, p. 302).
A New York Times article on August 6, 1996 stated, “In almost every instance, [Clinton] took the route most favored by Wall Street, business executives and conventional economists, not ones that ordinary people might have favored and that almost certainly would have been easier to defend politically.”
His final step as president was to reward Wall Street, by repealing the Glass-Steagall Act, a bill passed by President Roosevelt in 1933 as a firewall between banks, insurance companies, and investment companies (which sell and buy shares). Since then, the big banks and the 1% had been chomping at the bit to get it repealed. To achieve this, the banking, insurance, and brokerage industries spent $300 million in 1997 and 1998 alone.
In 1999, President Clinton rewarded Wall Street by signing the Financial Services Modernization Act, sweeping away all the controls of Glass-Steagall. This bill passed both houses with a bipartisan majority. This kick-started an explosion of mergers in the finance industry, setting off a further speculative binge that led directly to the financial implosion of 2008 and the present economic stagnation.
Capitalism’s Twisted Logic
While the financial crash of 2008 and the housing market implosion, which began in 2007, were triggers, the present economic crisis is rooted in the far deeper, inherently flawed logic of capitalist system itself. To make a profit, capitalism needs a market. The market system means that capital flows to the area of greatest profitability irrespective of the consequences for jobs, living standards, the environment, or national borders.
Beginning in the 1980s, and accelerating in the 1990s and 2000s, the capitalist elite shifted investment into speculation in the financial sector and cheap labor markets overseas, using these to make most of their profits. All the presidents throughout this time, irrespective of political party, supported these policies and removed obstacles to this process. Clinton followed economic policies that differed only slightly from those of the Reagan and Bush presidencies.
Despite his electoral promises, Obama also signed up to this agenda. He displayed this even before he came into office when he determinedly stood next to Bush to push through the bank bailout in the fall of 2008, despite fury from the public. Then followed the appointment of Wall Street bankers and ex-Clinton officials to Obama’s cabinet. Then, in the early months of his administration, Obama enacted his own second bailout of Wall Street banks.
Under Obama, Wall Street and big business have been protected and have prospered. In comparison, the unemployed, homeowners under water, and the poor have been neglected. While the official U.S. unemployment rate lies just above 8%, real jobless rates (which include discouraged workers, those forcibly working part–time, etc.) are almost three times that high in some states, with the national “real” unemployment rate lying closer to 15%. Victims of the cruel economic logic of capitalism, they have been left to suffer. This reality was not lost on the U.S. working class who broadly supported Occupy in polls.
In November, most voters can only see a choice between an open representative of the capitalist elite and a president who has protected their interests. That is the only choice the corporate media wants them to see. They have shut out of the mass media all genuinely progressive and pro-worker candidates.
For a Public Jobs Program
Under the insane logic of capitalism, short-term profit maximization will continue to drive economic decisions – again directed towards speculation on stock and bond markets. Once again, corporate investors will ignore the need for long-term restructuring of the U.S. economy. We should not expect major investment in living wage jobs, affordable high-quality housing, improved public schools, or a retooling of the economy based on green technology. These policies would really benefit working people, the poor, and the environment, but the capitalists and their political representatives will not willingly implement them. This leaves the question: how can we end this wretched economic crisis? This is where socialists have something to say.
What we need is a massive green jobs program, which can stimulate the real economy, creating millions of carbon-free jobs. Such a program could get the economy moving again. But it can only be temporarily successful as long as the power of the Wall Street and big business is left intact. To transform the economy so it meets the real needs of workers and the poor will require socialist policies.
Socialists say that to break the power of Wall Street and to stop our economy and society from being distorted by the profit-driven logic of capitalism, decision-making needs to be taken out of the hands of this tiny corporate elite. The 99% needs to control the real levers of society, most crucially the economy - not just decide every four years which of two corporate parties will cheat them.
Only if the working people have the levers of power in their hands, through democratic control and ownership of the banks and dominant sectors of the economy, can the power of the capitalist elite broken. Only then can working people and the poor be able to take decisions that really affect their lives. That’s why Socialist Alternative calls for public ownership of the 500 largest banks and corporations. We call for these resources to be directed by the 99% through elected committees at a local, regional, and national level, and through workers’ control of the workplace.
U.S. Economy in Crisis
Bill Clinton’s powerful oratory skills cannot change the corporate nature of his administration, and his role in fostering the present Wall Street-dominated phase of decaying capitalism we live in. Obama has not put into place the fundamentals to enable a new period of powerful growth that will benefit working people. Just last week, the Federal Reserve was so concerned about an imminent slowdown of the U.S. economy that it announced it would began pumping $40 billion per month into the economy. This is on top of an existing $45 billion program to buy long-term treasury bonds.
The present period of feeble economic growth is increasingly showing signs of spluttering out. Obama can only pray the economy staggers on two more months into November. Romney will be praying the opposite.
Challenge both corporate parties
Obviously, as a career corporate politician, Obama is not about to embark on such socialist policies if he is re-elected in November. If he follows the pattern of Clinton’s second term, we can expect him to move further to the right because he will not have to face the voters in 2016. By alienating more workers and progressives, this could well result in the Republicans sweeping to power in 2016. That is the consequence of electing Democratic Party candidates, who then inevitably disappoint.
That’s why the working class majority in the U.S. needs to break from supporting Democratic and Republican candidates. Neither party represents the interests of workers or the oppressed. Neither party will reject the profit-maximizing logic of the capitalist system or the interests of Wall Street.
A new, independent, pro-worker political movement must be built. The recent victorious struggle by students in Quebec and the dynamic strike by teachers in Chicago provide a reminder that only concerted and powerful struggle can change society. But this needs to be combined with a powerful electoral challenge to the two corporate parties.
That is why Socialist Alternative supports the strongest possible independent left challenge to both parties in 2012, as a chance to demonstrate the two-party system can be defeated. At the same time, we put forward socialist policies as an alternative to this capitalist system.
In 2011, Occupy Wall Street dynamically tapped into the anti-big business anger, demonstrating that tens of millions supported their challenge to the power of Wall Street. Imagine if Occupy and the left had run 200 candidates in 2012. This could have built on the energy of 2011 and provided a serious challenge to the corporate parties. Unfortunately, this didn’t happen. So, in 2012 there is no powerful independent left challenge to the two corporate parties. But the Occupy movement showed the potential support that could be mobilized for a serious challenge.
Vote for Jill Stein for President
Jill Stein of the Green Party, though not well known, is running a credible campaign and will likely appear on at least 40 state ballots. A recent CNN poll showed her polling at 2% when her name is added to the choices presented to voters.
Stein supports a Green New Deal jobs program, ending the wars, canceling student debt, a single-payer health care system, and many other progressive reforms. Despite the failure of the Green Party to see capitalism as a central problem, Socialist Alternative has endorsed her campaign as the strongest national campaign.
We also support other left, independent candi¬dates running at a local and state level, including Socialist Alternative candi¬date, Kshama Sawant, running for state legislature in Washington State. We need to register the most powerful independent left vote in 2012 as a step towards building a strong independent left alternative in 2013 and beyond. This could lay the groundwork for building a new independent political party of working people and the poor, and for socialism.