Walking away with it

IssueMarch - May 2001
Comment by David McReynolds

Where will the election of Bush the younger take the US in the next four years? The election was, as readers know, remarkable. In my lifetime I've seen nothing like it. There is little doubt in objective observers that Al Gore not only won the popular vote but would also have won the Florida vote if it had not been for the Supreme Courts stunning decision to end the vote count. (The Supreme Court, in ruling 5 to 4, made Bush the first President elected by a single vote.)

There was a strange kind of post-election campaign as the vote counting went on long after the election. During the whole of the pre-election period the campaign had stirred little passion. Differences between Bush and Gore were hard to pin down. The thought of Bush as President was horrendous, mainly because he is so profoundly unqualified for it. But the thought of having to listen to Al Gores voice for the next four years was just about as disturbing. Passions were low. Disagreements were blurred. Both candidates favoured an increase in military spending, a cut in taxes, and a moderate administration.

A restoration

It was only after the election that it was obvious the two candidates had been talking in code and a lot of voters understood that. For all of Bush's blandness (he was a moderate and likeable guy compared to Gores robotic behaviour) it was clear that behind Bush stood all the forces of the ancient regime not only his fathers old advisers, but the radical Republicans who had been waiting eight long years in exile from power. It was truly a restoration and the fact that Bush had not actually won the election except by that one vote of the Supreme Court, made it also a kind of restoration comedy.

Republicans genuinely believed that the Democrats were trying to steal the election. This may be hard for observers outside the US to credit, since it was so clear that in the crucial state of Florida things were firmly rigged against Gore, but Gores efforts to simply get all the votes counted was parodied as the Democrats just want to keep counting until they get a result they like. Some of the passion and mob behaviour reported in Miami during the final counting was staged by the GOP (Grand Ole Party) but much of it was heartfelt.

And Democrats, once they realised that Bush the younger was actually going to walk away with an election he had, in fact, lost, realised what would go with his inauguration a roll back of legislation favourable to the environment, to labour, to women, to gays, to Hispanics and to African Americans.

Who pulls the strings?

So the new administration has taken power quietly, but with very great bitterness widely felt across the country within the moderate and liberal community. The fact it was a stolen election will put some curbs on what Bush can do, and there is another curb on the Administration which people don't like to talk about. The Vice President, Dick Cheney, is in poor health. He has had several heart attacks (including one just after the election), is overweight, and the chances of his finishing out the term are not good. Yet it is Cheney who actually exercises power within the White House. Never in my lifetime have I seen a Vice President so clearly in actual control. The British are used to seeing a minority party in control, since a good part of Maggie Thatcher's regime saw her with a technical majority because of the parliamentary system, but with an absolute minority of public support. And she governed with great vigour, God help us. The American system is quite different we are two nations with enormously different histories and the chance of the nation as a whole accepting a roll back to the past, as the GOP conservatives want to see, is not going to happen. If only because the Congress is evenly divided, with Cheney as the vote to break ties.

Every vote should count!

Two thoughts did occur to me, incidental to the main thrust of this article. First, when Al Gore said Every vote should count and every vote should be counted he was not actually referring to every vote. He meant the votes of the two major parties. My own campaign (I was on the ballot in seven states and a qualified write in in about a dozen more which meant voters could write in the Socialist Party ticket and it was supposed to be counted) racked up only just under 10,000 votes, very discouraging. But... we found that in states such as New York, or Massachusetts, where we know we had at least several hundred write-in votes, we got less than a dozen credited. What this means, and it is mildly cheering, is that if the Socialist Party had been able to get on the ballot in all states and if the votes had been counted, the Socialist Party vote would have been closer to 100,000. More interesting is the question of what would happen if a candidate of genuine change had won the election. Gore was a terrible candidate, his platform only marginally better than that of Bush but suppose you'd had a radical Democrat or even, subversive thought, a socialist, winning the election, would he have been permitted to take power? Certainly not without mass support in the streets.

Life, death and foreign policy

The key issue, for me, and I think for Peace News readers, is what will happen in the area of foreign policy an area which for fifty years the two major parties have kept off limits with the slogan politics stops at the waters edge we have a bi-partisan foreign policy. This is a fools slogan, since the issue of foreign policy is, more than any other, a life and death issue for everyone. If it isn't partisan, then when and how can it be discussed and changed!

American foreign policy will remain much the same, reflecting the global interests of American capitalism. There will be some moderate shifts. The Israeli lobby, so powerful with the Democratic Party, has less influence with the Republicans. The election of Sharon should worry everyone, but Bush is not likely to risk getting stung in new and endless negotiations. My hunch is that for now the Palestinians and the Israelis are on their own. US intervention in Africa, or in something like Kosova, is less likely. The Democrats have always tended to be more interventionist than Republicans. The big question is whether, in Iraq, Bush the younger (I feel like saying Bush the Pretender) will try to settle the fate of Saddam Hussein one way or the other. It is certainly, at a human level, tempting. Bush Sr won the war, but Saddam is still there, thumbing his nose at the US. (A vastly weaker Saddam, due to the horrifying effects of the sanctions. Sometime in the future Americans may look back on these sanctions and the resulting enormous loss of life and realise that, to the Arab world, they seem Hitlarian in their determination to crush an entire people, starting with the weakest the young and the very old.) My own guess is that Bush the younger will refrain from drastic action for the same reason the senior Bush did an Iraq that is in turmoil because of the overthrow of Saddam would pose more problems for the US than an Iraq weakened by sanctions.

There are certainly problems that can erupt with China, over the issue of Taiwan. And the US determination to send various forms of military aid to Colombia looks more and more like the beginning of a military adventure with implications not only for Colombia but for several Latin nations which are in economic and political meltdown. The discussion within the peace movement is whether the US role in Colombia is really an effort to stamp out the trade in cocaine or whether the drug war (which has long since been lost) is only a cover for greater US military involvement to stabilise the region by more open military intervention.

Pax Americana

Finally, and least dramatic because no one is actually going to get killed for a long time is the Star Wars programme, about which Bush and the Republicans are very serious indeed. Bush has caught the liberals off guard by his refusal to follow through with major increases in military spending and by aiming to cut the US nuclear arsenal. Both are sensible moves. But he (or those who backed him and make the decisions) seem in dead earnest about the Star Wars program.

This is a programme we thought wed seen the last of with Reagan. But it remains appealing to the ruling circles in the US, in part because of the vast sums of money it will channel to the military corporations, and in larger part, I believe, because it would, if anything even close to an effective Star Wars programme could be developed, ensure a long term Pax Americana. If the intentions of the US were as benign as some Europeans (and almost all Americans) seem to think them, then perhaps a Pax Americana would be alright. Yet if one looks back to the millions killed in Indochina in a foolish war the US couldn't admit was a mistake, to the hundreds of thousands who have died in Iraq because of the US-enforced sanctions, to the ruthless bombing of Serbia which went way over the top of any reasonable military targets, to list only three immediate issues, one might be as cautious to trust the US, as subjects of British rule were, in the 19th and 20th centuries, to trust to the compassion and benign intent of the British throne.

And this is a programme which I think can be defeated, which is why Id give it high priority and more than any other aspect of US foreign policy, it is held hostage to actions that can be taken across the globe. There isn't much that China, Russia, or Britain can do about US actions in Colombia. But the US doesn't really want to strain relations with Western Europe (which will not be protected by this magical shield). And the Russians and Chinese have been clear that to balance the Star Wars programme they will increase their own space programmes. The way is open for international peace organisations to begin exploring new coalitions that can try to link nations with whom we might not otherwise have much in common, in mounting a serious international campaign against the Star Wars programme.

Stealing from the poor

Let me close by saying that people are, in fact, dying from the money going to the military. In Africa today, particularly in the Southern part of Africa, AIDS has the quality of more than an epidemic it has the quality of a genocide by accident. The huge international drug firms are not willing to put the money into the drugs that can slow the spread of AIDS. I am reminded of that powerful quote from President Dwight Eisenhower, in April, 1953 Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies in the final sense a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its labourers, the genius of its scientists and the hopes of its children.

Topics: Empire