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Why Voting for Democrats Doesn’t Help Working People

Just when the Obama campaign couldn’t appear any less inspiring, Paul Ryan was put forth as the Republican vice presidential candidate. Suddenly team Obama was supplied with enough political munitions to scare every last American over the possible destruction of Medicare, Medicaid, cuts to Social Security and the various other evils inherent in Ryan’s proposed national budget. Consequently, many Liberals and Leftists across the spectrum are now focused on preaching the horrors of a Republican presidential victory and thus the necessity of re-electing Obama.

But critical thinkers are immune to scare tactics. It’s no coincidence that the Obama campaign is not running on its own merits, but the lack of merit of its opponents.  Many Obama supporters, such as leftists Bill Fletcher Jr. and Carl Davidson, argue that Obama’s record doesn’t matter, because this election is about defeating the right wing’s “white supremacy and political misogynism.”

For progressive economist and former Labor Secretary under President Clinton Robert Reich, Ryan’s budget represents the nightmare of “social Darwinism”, and therefore Obama must be elected.

This writer will not argue with the above points about the far right, since there obviously exists deep elements of racism and misogynism in its camp. But voting for Obama is no way to fight these evils; quite the contrary.

Voting for the Democrats does not empower working people to fight against right-wing extremism. Instead, working people are forced to give away their power to a political party that is in no way beholden to them, since the Democrats have a corporate agenda divorced from the needs of the vast majority of working people. There is no way to hold Democrats accountable once they’re in office, especially when they’ve all but stopped making campaign promises to working people.

By now it should be clear to most Americans that the Democrats and Republicans are corporate-owned parties, and as such they are free to act as they wish, regardless of the political rhetoric they spew.

For example, in 2008 Obama promised Latinos a more humane immigration policy, and then proceeded to deport people more than Bush Jr. did. Obama likewise promised organized labor the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), as well as a more pro-labor policy. EFCA was then betrayed and Obama presided over the most anti-labor environment since Ronald Reagan.

When he campaigned, he voiced support for single-payer health care. He promised to renegotiate NAFTA. When he was elected, he declared single-payer health care “off the table” and did nothing about NAFTA. When he campaigned, he denounced Bush’s tax cuts for the rich; as president he extended them.

Let’s not forget Obama’s bank bailouts, Afghan “surge,” free trade deals, domestic spying, pro-corporate “race to the top” education program, etc. When the Wisconsin uprising happened Obama did not even visit the state; when the Occupy movement was being repressed nationally, Obama’s silence implied support for the anti-democratic police actions.

The point is that Obama and the Republicans are in general agreement about the trajectory of this country and strive through various social policies to create a difference that is largely fictional.

But is not voting for Obama a bulwark against racism? In reality, ethnic minorities in the U.S. suffer directly as a result of Obama’s foreign policy. By continuing Bush’s wars in the Middle East and North Africa, Obama is re-enforcing racism at home.  Foreign wars for conquest and occupations are fueled by racism, since they lack the inspirational purpose that would otherwise enhance combat morale.

When U.S. troops return home, many bring back the racist beliefs supplied to them as their fighting fuel, which can sometimes result in the kind of massacre that recently occurred at the Sikh temple in Wisconsin. The broader population too is subjected to the type of unconscious racism that must result from passive support of foreign wars across the globe, the victims of which want nothing more than U.S. bombs and military bases out of their countries. It’s obvious that if Obama were bombing England — and not Afghanistan — Americans would feel more inclined to protest.

Obama, like Bush, is a war criminal. His drone assassinations in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia — and likely others — are in obvious violations of the Geneva Convention.

Former President Jimmy Carter said of Obama’s foreign policy:

“It is disturbing that, instead of strengthening these principles [of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights], our government’s counter-terrorism policies are now clearly violating at least 10 of the declaration’s 30 articles, including the prohibition against ‘cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment’.”

When it comes to the domestic economic policies of the right wing, the Democrats have proved an important ally in implementing the corporate agenda. Obama himself has been instrumental in pushing Congress to implement “entitlement reform” — cuts to Social Security, Medicare, and other social programs, opening the political door that Paul Ryan exploited in his anti-entitlement budget proposal.

The only force capable of putting up a true fight against the far right is the power of organized working people, who, by putting faith and resources in the Democratic Party, are squandering their own independence and power.

Arguing that voting Democrat is a “lesser of two evils” is not an argument at all, but rather a statement about the fundamental political problem that is the two party system.

Liberals, Leftists, and working people in general cannot simply accept the lesser of two evils argument as meaningful, but must actively fight to change the absurdity that is the two party, corporate owned political system. This change cannot happen when labor and liberal groups funnel energy back into team Obama as they overlook the destruction his administration is causing at home and abroad.

The final philosophical barrier against breaking with the Democrats is again put forward by Bill Fletcher Jr. and Carl Davidson, who essentially argue that the failure of the last four years was due to the progressive social movement that failed to “put significant pressure on the Obama administration” through an “independent progressive strategy.”

In short, this means that the “social movement” created by Obama’s 2008 campaign did not maintain its independence and organization adequately to hold Obama accountable.

This is patently nonsense.

For one, the activists who campaigned for Obama did so under his organizational umbrella. There never existed an independent pro-Obama “movement.” More importantly, when average people are inspired enough to become active in politics, they do so with the expectation that “their” candidate will serve “them.” When their candidate betrays them, the natural response is demoralization, not organized protest and sustained action. Any average person who understands what Obama really stands for would not actively campaign for him, and thus will be unable to “hold him accountable” once he’s in office.

Anyone who believes that there exists anything near a social movement to campaign for Obama in 2012 is deluding themselves in embarrassing fashion. Many working people will hold their nose and vote for Obama, but this motivation does not include phone banking, door knocking, or financial contributions. The passion that Obama inspired by his demagoguery in 2008 has been crushed by reality, leaving an election that will be determined by the “big donors” and consequently, the number of TV commercials that can be purchased by the rich.

And because the rank and file of labor and liberal groups will not campaign for Obama in a significant way, he will be even less likely to reward them politically, thus ensuring an even deeper slide into the corporate abyss if he is elected.

Also, average working people are pushed into the camp of the right wing by Obama’s anti-worker policies, since the far right offers “solutions” to the two party system, while labor and community groups only offer more corporate Democrats.

The only thing that the Democratic and Republican parties respect is power, which they also fear. The Wisconsin and Occupy movements inspired people across the country, while striking fear into the heart of the two party system. And while the Democrats did their best to co-opt both movements, the potential for independent political action still exists.

Scaring the two party system to pass pro-working class policies requires mass, independent mobilizations for demands that address the real needs of working people, such as a massive federal jobs program, Medicare For All, saving and expanding Social Security, providing full funding for public education and social services, all to be paid for by taxing the rich and corporations. The Democrats cannot be scared by groups that are donating their time and resources into electing Democrats, while tricking their constituents into believing that Obama is a “pro-worker” candidate.

Ultimately, the only way out of the irrationality of the two party system is for working people to organize independently. In dozens of other countries this task was completed decades ago when labor unions broke with the traditional parties and used their own organizational and financial resources to build their own political party to represent all working people.

This remains the task of the day in the United States. Organized labor is the only social force among working people at this time with the resources capable of building a party able to compete with the two parties of big business. If unions broke with the anti-union Democrats and raised their own pro-worker demands, tens of millions of Americans would happily leave both the Democrat and Republican parties.  The Democrats cannot be reformed; their “progressive caucus” has proven unwilling to inspire working people with bold action, and serves only to give political cover to the corporate soul of the Democratic Party. Working people are overdue for change, and won’t be fooled again by fake promises of hope.

Shamus Cooke is a social worker, trade unionist, and writer for Workers Action (www.workerscompass.org) He can be reached at shamuscooke@gmail.com

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Shamus Cooke is a member of the Portland branch of Democratic Socialists of America. He can be reached at shamuscooke@gmail.com

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