The election results came in last week in the United States. Like its bourgeois democratic allies in Europe and to the north, the results were a victory for the forces of reactionary monopoly capitalism. This is a pattern that repeats itself over and over in these nations with an electoral system with two major parties representing the forces of neoliberal capital. There is a capitalist party that tends to share some of the system’s profits with the workers and the poor and then there is the other party which does not really seem to care about sharing anything with those not of their class. In its own way, it is reminiscent of the classic good cop/bad cop routine. If you are not a part of the ruling elites in the US, the former role is played by the Democrats and the latter by the Republicans; in Britain it is Labour and the Tories filling those roles; in Canada it’s the New Democratic Party and the Conservatives; in Germany it is the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and the Social Democrats (SPD) playing bad cop and good cop. Most other nations in today’s world maintain a similar version of the setup, with some like Colombia having the back-and-forth built into its constitution.
I can speculate about why the Democrats (the nice cops) got the pounding they did, but that requires more of a belief in this system than I have. The key element seems to be that people are pissed off because the hope and change Obama promised has been essentially hopeless for too many of his supporters. So they stayed home and let the right wing vote. Or they voted for the GOP because expressing their anger by voting against the Democrats meant they only had one other choice–voting for the GOP. It’s a damn good setup for the power elites that run this country. Even when they lose they win and it really doesn’t matter in the long run who’s sitting in Washington, DC.
This does not mean that whoever is in power makes no difference at all, because it does, especially for certain segments of the US population. Since Roosevelt’s New Deal, women, children, poor communities, the elderly and most working class Americans tend to live a little easier when Democrats are setting the social agenda in the United States. Yes, even with the bailouts of the banks and the numerous other actions undertaken with the Democrats’ approval to prop up the financial rip-off of the nation by the financial industry, there are still some aspects of the Obama-Democrat reign that are improvements over the way things were under Bush. On the other side, when the GOP holds the congressional majority it is the wealthy that benefit.
Some things do not change, however. Foreign policy and war tend to continue on the same path no matter which party is in power. Although recently the Republicans have tended towards grandiose invasions in their war on the world, Democrats have been only slightly less aggressive in their handling of the Empire and its military. True to the established template, Barack Obama and his people have been quietly expanding the numbers and mission of the US military forces returning to the battles of the Middle East and the Muslim world. Indeed, one of Obama’s first announcements following his party’s defeat at the polls on November 4, 2014 was that he was doubling the number of acknowledged US military forces in the war currently aimed at the Islamic State. Like presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson before him in Vietnam, Obama insists the troops are merely advisors. However, like those forces sent to Southeast Asia more than five decades ago, they will be in combat situations and will suffer and cause casualties. Although the direction of this war policy—which also includes bombing and other aerial support along with Special Forces operations—could remain at its current size (like the Central American wars of the 1980s), it could also expand quite quickly, much like what occurred in Vietnam after 1964. If it does expand like its predecessor in Vietnam, it will probably suffer a comparable futility.
Although some opposition to a US military re-entry into Iraq does exist in Congress, it is small. Most of those who opposed the war when it was being conducted under George W. Bush support the current effort with the caveat that there is some kind of Congressional debate. However, given that the majorities in both Houses support the operation in the Middle East, there is little likelihood that it will end and considerably more likelihood it will expand. The argument for this latter scenario increases when one realizes that the committee most involved with military operations (Senate Armed Services Committee) will be headed by GOP war hawk John McCain. McCain is also talking about arming the post-coup government in Kiev, Ukraine. That is a dangerously idiotic idea, to say the least.
Let’s get back to that difference having the Democrats in power usually makes. Over the past few decades it has been the Democrats who have responded to the people’s demands for government programs ensuring health care, food security, housing, education get to the people who have the least and need them the most. Under Obama, this has been less so as austerity measures begun almost a decade ago saw the funds for these programs get transferred to the financial and the war industries. Despite this intentional transfer of funds, more US citizens have affordable health insurance than they did ten years ago, although food stamps have been cut. Other programs helping the working class (employed and unemployed) have seen their funding shrink and the so-called middle class has seen its real wages decrease dramatically and its retirement plans threatened. Essentially, many people are struggling to keep a roof over their head and food on the table while the government continues to dismantle the safety net preventing millions from losing that struggle.
So, what can be done? The answer is simple on one level and incredibly difficult on another. We need to organize. In the streets and in Congress; on the National Mall and in our own towns. The focus must be clear. We want a Medicaid system for every US resident and we want food security. We want an end to foreign wars and amnesty for all undocumenteds. We want affordable quality education for all and a jobs creation program that creates good-paying jobs and not just profits for a small part of the private sector. We want police forces responsible to those they police and a fair court system. We want an end to the war on drugs and the racist system it exists in. In short, we want social justice.
That is our demand. The difficult part is doing the actual organizing. As we undertake this task, allies will come and allies will go. With a very few exceptions, those in the leadership of the mainstream parties will attack us more often than support us. When they do support us it will be because they want our votes. However, we are not organizing for votes, we are organizing for change. We are not organizing for the Democrats and against the Republicans, we are organizing for the working people and against those who think they own us. The past six years have proven that voting for change is impossible. It has also shown us that hoping we can vote for change is an elusive hope. There are no shortcuts to bringing this country back from the brink created by austerity, war, and neoliberalism. Our time grows shorter, but not so short there is nothing to be done.
Ron Jacobs is the author of the just released novel All the Sinners, Saints. He is also the author of The Way the Wind Blew: a History of the Weather Underground and Short Order Frame Up and The Co-Conspirator’s Tale. Jacobs’ essay on Big Bill Broonzy is featured in CounterPunch’s collection on music, art and sex, Serpents in the Garden. His third novel All the Sinners Saints is a companion to the previous two and is due out in April 2013. He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, published by AK Press. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.