US elections: the changing of the guard

‘The object of our policy has to be to get our little white asses out of there as soon as possible.’ Anonymous Iraq Study Group participant

The November 2006 mid-term elections have resulted in the Democrats winning a majority of seats in both Houses of Congress. How did this happen and what does it mean?

Past issues of FRFI have covered the growing disenchantment of the US ruling class with its Neoconservative functionaries in the Bush administration. While very satisfied with the economic fruits of the Bush administration – tax cuts and the record rise in profitability – the ruling class is deeply concerned about foreign, domestic and immigration policy.

The Bush regime has alienated most major allies, fostered hostility to the US and made it difficult for the US to intervene elsewhere – in Latin America, for example. Its policies of torture and detention have made US pontifications on human rights a sick joke. The war in Iraq, which lies behind this, has exhausted its army, drained the economy and become an internal political liability.

Domestically, there have been massive violations of civil liberties from arbitrary arrest, detention without trial, denial of access to lawyers, violation of due process and widespread phone-tapping and eavesdropping. These have fostered deep political divisions.

Right-wing zealots believed that aggressively racist anti-immigrant policies would help re-elect the Republicans. This was disproved during the election, when anti-immigrant candidates and measures were generally voted down. But this Neocon activist zeal has made it difficult for the ruling class to set up its guest-worker programme and has provoked millions of immigrant workers into political activity on an unprecedented scale.

It was time for a change and the November election was the most expensive and most vicious mid-term election ever. Altogether some $2.8bn was spent on the election. Capitalists switched allegiance from the Republican to the Democratic party: in the 2002 mid-term corporate donors gave the Democrats $248.6m and Republicans $342.2m; in 2006, the amounts were balanced: $616m and $632.2m respectively.

‘Respectable’ criticism of the war began to grow, accompanied by leaked intelligence estimates, juicy memoirs from various rats jumping ship and verbal sniping from retired generals.

Dirt was thrown in every direction. Sexual scandals were a strong favourite. Some candidates publicized sado-masochistic and paedophiliac fantasies in their opponents’ novels. Representative Foley was exposed for his ‘inappropriate relationships’ with underage young boys. Ted Haggart, a prominent married right-wing evangelist campaigning against gay marriage was exposed as a customer by a gay sex-worker, angry at his client’s hypocrisy.

George Allen, Republican candidate for Senator in Virginia, ridiculed an Indian American as ‘Macaca’ – a species of monkey and a racist epithet – a particularly stupid move, since the man, Mr Sidarth, was videoing him at the time. Harold Ford, a right-wing Democrat who happens to be black, was the object of racist sexual innuendo in a Republican campaign advertisement.

And if it wasn’t sex or race, it was money: a host of leading Republican politicians and a few Democrats were exposed in bribery scandals centering around the right-wing lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Dissatisfaction with the war, unease with repression at home and continuous scandals encouraged floating voters to tilt toward the Democrats.

Where’s this going?
The most important challenge facing the ruling class right now is what to do about Iraq. The US is facing certain defeat; its goal of a pro-imperialist democracy lies in shreds and its Middle East policy has ended up strengthening everybody in the region it considers an enemy – Hizbullah, Hamas, Iran, Al Qaida. ‘Stay the course’ isn’t working, so it’s time to try something different. The core of the ruling class realizes this. The first step has been to fire Defense Secretary Rumsfeld immediately after the election. Almost simultaneously, Speaker-designate1 Nancy Pelosi and John Conyers, expected to chair the House Judiciary Committee, made clear that presidential impeachment is off the table.2

At the same time, wiser sections of the Republicans and Democrats realise that whoever is left holding the Iraqi disaster is going to lose the 2008 election. So the hunt is on for both bipartisan and partisan ‘solutions’.

Early in 2006, leading centre-right Republicans started to plot how to bring the Neocon delinquents back under adult control, and, somehow, develop a plan for getting out of Iraq. And so they set up the unofficial Iraq Study Group (ISG). The group includes both Republicans and Democrats: two former Secretaries of State, a former Attorney General, an ex-Justice of the Supreme Court and former Senators. Expert advisors are drawn from companies like Citigroup, Cambridge Energy Associates and a host of other hardcore ruling class corporations and institutions. James Baker, the ‘Velvet Hammer’, former Secretary of State, heads the group. Baker has been described as Papa Bush’s consigliere – a mafia godfather’s right-hand man and ‘fixer’.

Sworn to secrecy, the ISG has been remarkably leak-proof. It is clear, however, that its members are far less fixated on imposing bourgeois so-called ‘democracy’ on Iraq than ensuring that US overall strategic interests are preserved. So the idea of talking with Iran and Syria, an impossibility to Neocons, is perfectly acceptable, provided that US interests are met. With its bipartisan composition, made up of retired statesmen and stateswomen and having independent status, the ISG has a legitimacy which invites support from almost all ruling class factions – if it can come up with a plan for leaving.

Sections of the Democratic Party have recognized that they can no longer whine about Iraq but have actually got to get off the fence and do something about it, if they are to hold power after 2008. Representative John Murtha grasped this late in 2005 and strongly proposed moving US troops ‘over the horizon’, out of Iraq into bordering countries (see FRFI 188). At the time it was as if he’d been sprayed by a skunk – Democrats couldn’t run away fast enough. Holding her nose, House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi dangled him at arm’s length: ‘Mr. Murtha speaks for himself’. However, Pelosi soon realised that if the Democrats didn’t develop an alternative to ‘stay the course’, they would face the same problem as the Republicans: popular support for immediate withdrawal, the only realistic option, would continue to grow and they could end up sharing direct responsibility for the quagmire. However, her attempts to swing Democrats behind a clear, consistent and different position, through backing Murtha for Majority Leader of the House, have run into opposition from sections of the Democrats who naively continue to chase Republican votes. Steny H Hoyer, who was elected Leader, sounds like the administration: ‘a precipitous withdrawal of American forces in Iraq could lead to disaster, spawning a civil war, fostering a haven for terrorists and damaging our nation’s security and credibility.’

Before the election, bourgeois politicians tried to avoid disagreement on Iraq policy. But now everyone is engaged in ‘reviewing’, ‘exploring options’ or tasting some ‘fresh thinking’. The Bush administration has suddenly commissioned its own hasty review, to report before the ISG does. Vice-President Cheney has announced: ‘America is going to complete our mission’, whatever that means. The Pentagon, too, has conducted its own internal review, rumoured to advocate a short-term increase in troops. Prospective Republican presidential candidate and war criminal John McCain advocates increasing troops. Prize for dumbest policy goes to Democrat Charlie Rangel, who’s proposing to bring back the draft – this is from someone supposed to be in opposition!

At this rate, there’ll be some muddlesome compromise attempt to fix the impossibly broken war. In 2008 the vote could be split by a third party peace candidate, the Democrats could lose and then there would be another Republican in the White House
Steve Palmer

1. Unlike the Speaker in the British House of Commons, the Speaker in the US House of Representatives exercises great control by setting the House agenda, selecting speakers, choosing Chairs of Committees and other aspects of House business.
2. In January, Conyers had produced a 350-page document giving detailed grounds for impeaching members of the administration. Immediately after the election, this document disappeared from the House website.

FRFI 194 December 2006 / January 2007


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