Every election cycle is a time of high anxiety for U.S. voters. This one is probably causing nightmares, especially for those who detest Donald Trump and the xenophobic, misogynist, racist horse he rode in on.
Opinion surveys and low voting turnouts consistently show what most people think about both the Democratic and Republican parties: not much. For many who do vote, it’s a case of hold your nose and choose the candidate you see as a lesser evil.
But this practice perpetuates a vicious cycle, one which guarantees that working and oppressed people will never get what they need. It’s time to seriously reevaluate this strategy!
Let’s start with some reminders about the objective record of Democrats in office. And this means looking not at what they say, but at what they do.
War, Inc. The Democrats have initiated, enabled or ramped up every major war and international “police action” in this century and the last.
Lyndon Johnson talked a good line for poor and working people with his “Great Society.” Meanwhile, he was busy escalating the Vietnam War. In 1964, with Democrats dominating the legislature, Congress passed the Gulf of Tonkin resolution and gave the president nearly unlimited power to carry on the war.
In the end, three million Vietnamese were killed, two million were injured, and 55,000 U.S. soldiers died, many of them from the hard-pressed groups Johnson had sworn to help.
The two Bushes gave us the Gulf Wars, but they couldn’t have done it without Democrats. The Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) was co-authored by liberal Senator Tom Daschle and granted the president authority to use force against whomever he determined “planned, authorized, committed or aided” the Sept. 11 attacks in 2001. The AUMF is being updated this year, and the proposed bipartisan version would give Donald Trump and his successors even broader powers to attack groups that Washington deems “terrorist.”
In the last year of Barack Obama’s presidency, he ordered the dropping of over 26,000 bombs, many of them drone strikes, on seven countries with Muslim majority populations. Meanwhile, U.S. special operations forces were operating in 138 countries, more than during the Bush administration.
Why is foreign aggression so bipartisan? Because it is so profitable. Military action protects U.S. economic interests around the globe while propping up the domestic economy, concerns that are just as crucial for Democratic politicians as for Republicans.
Opportunity for all? Not quite. The record is also clear when considering social and labor issues on the home front.
On immigration, the Democrats sound nicer than their counterparts — certainly than Trump — but the policies they carry out are not nice at all.
Obama earned the title “Deporter in Chief” by deporting more immigrants than any of his predecessors. And it was highly embarrassing for the Democrats when photos of immigrant children in cages released during Trump’s family separations this spring turned out to be from the Obama era.
In February this year, the late-night drama before the vote to fund the government included an impassioned plea by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi to oppose the spending bill, because it contained no provisions for immigrant youth protected under DACA. But Pelosi quietly urged her members to vote for the bill and it passed with strong bipartisan support.
What about the Democratic Party as the “friend of the working person”? Here are a couple examples out of many, many betrayals of the laboring class.
When Ronald Reagan fired the PATCO air traffic controllers in 1981, ushering in a union-busting period that’s still with us, the Democrats did nothing.
Candidate Obama promised to sign an Employee Free Choice Act, which would have made it easier for workers to join a union. After he assumed office in January 2009 with Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress, labor movement leaders thought that this was the golden opportunity for passage. But the Democrats folded under pressure from big business and the right wing, and the legislation died.
Democrat politicians cannot be trusted by the people they claim to represent, period. From the destruction of welfare and acceleration of mass incarceration under Bill Clinton to Obama’s executive order reinforcing the ban on federal funding on abortions to get his healthcare plan passed, their word means nothing.
Perhaps no more should be expected from the Democratic Party given its history. It started in the 1800s as a “states rights” party decrying “big government.” Just as the two major parties represent the banks and corporations today, the Democrats of an earlier time represented the economy of the South, dominated by slave owners.
End the two-party scam! Time and again, with the support of leaders in the labor and social movements, Democrats advertise themselves as the only choice to stave off Republican excesses. But this supposedly “pragmatic” course of action is not working.
Consider what has happened over past decades to reproductive freedom, voting rights, civil liberties, the wealth and income gaps, prospects for peace. Both parties have been moving rightward since the 1970s, when capitalism began being beset by one recession after another. That meant that liberalism became a luxury the system couldn’t afford.
The Bernie Sanders campaign led some excitable progressives and socialists to hope that a real left wing could develop within the party of Bill and Hillary Clinton and eventually take over. Those hopes have been rekindled now that Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a member of Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), won a Democratic Party primary in New York.
But history shows that this strategy is doomed also, from Michael Harrington’s attempt in the 1960s to Jesse Jackson’s in the 1980s. A recent example is the undemocratic squelching of Sanders’ popular candidacy by the Democrat machine.
The people of the U.S. deserve better, but will only get it when they say no more and organize for a true alternative: a labor party independent of the capitalist parties, with a strong working-class program, democratic and accountable. The attraction would be based on what it stands for, not on a star of the moment like Sanders.
The need for an independent political voice for workers and the oppressed is one of the key ideas of Steve Hoffman’s run for U.S. Senate from Washington state — and ideas are what his campaign is all about. Hoffman, a leader in the Freedom Socialist Party, is putting himself forward as a militant unionist and proud revolutionary feminist.
So, in this election, break free from the cycle of political abuse! In whatever races you can, vote socialist. Don’t settle for a fake alternative — start demanding a real one.