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November 2010, Week 2

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Quick Notes on Election 2010 

Submitted to Portside by the author

By Bob Wing
November 9, 2010

(These notes are in response to a number of inquiries
and hardly represent a fully thought out strategic
view. I invite your comments: [log in to unmask])

This election highlights the extraordinarily high
stakes of this period in U.S. and world history, and is
a barometer of which way the country is moving. As I
see it the Republicans scored a remarkable victory at a
critical juncture in a historic struggle marked by two
huge trends.

1. Although the U.S. is still clearly the most powerful
country in the world politically and economically and
militarily, the clear trend over the last 60 years and
especially the last few decades is that Western
domination of the world is eroding and the rest of the
world is rising.  In the last few decades the U.S. has
been losing its position as the world’s only superpower
and non-Western countries, led by the BRIC (Brazil,
Russia, India, China), are quickly growing in power.
For example, the G-8 has been supplanted by the G-20;
many countries now ignore the WTO and the IMF; regional
economic blocs are becoming more powerful and are
linking to each other without going through the West;
and the U.S. could not build a broad coalition behind
its war on Iraq.

The country and the world are in a particularly
aggravated period of that transition marked by a battle
over whether or not to accept the loss of superpower
status, how to navigate it when the U.S. is still the
strongest country in the world, and indeed whether to
fight to retain superpower status by extreme violent
and aggressive means (the Bush II line).  This debate
is particularly sharp now due to the economic crisis
which focuses the issue of the decline of the U.S. The
environmental/climate crisis is also part of this
discussion. How quickly or slowly will the decline of
the U.S. How rapid will the developing countries led by
the BRIC countries move forward and what economic and
political forms will they take? How violent will the
process be? What new role or roles will the U.S.
assume, and what other countries will gain power? How
will the U.S. economy, government and military be
reshaped to meet these challenges?

2. White domination of the U.S. is eroding as peoples
of color and their allies within the U.S. are gaining
more power, economically and politically, and as their
numbers grow state by state and in the nation as a
whole. The clock is ticking on when peoples of color
will become the majority of the country driven by
immigration and higher birth rates. Again we are at
aggravated transition symbolized by the election of a
black president that many perceive has moved the clock
up on this process by decades as well as high
immigration levels. How peaceful or violent will that
process be (armed militias are growing at an alarming
pace)? How short or long? How skillful will the
adversaries in this process be?

In the world of U.S. politics these two huge trends
combine: increasingly the axis of U.S. politics is how
to deal with the growing power of people of color at
home and abroad and the decline of white American
privilege and power at home and abroad. The Republican
Party, especially its powerful far right, fairly
consistently represents the reactionary position. The
Democratic Party, mainly the leftwing of it, haltingly
and unevenly represents the other. The center is an
increasingly volatile and active majority and wildly
vacillates. It is this historical clash that shaped the
2010 election perhaps more clearly than any before it.
Without a doubt the Republicans and the far right won a
big victory in 2010.

Republicans and the Far Right

Since 1964 (Goldwater) and especially since 1980
(Reagan) the Republican Party has increasingly become
the party of aggressive imperialism and aggressive
racist backlash. It has dominated U.S. politics,
especially the presidency, since 1968, not only
reversing the historic civil rights movement but
cutting away at the welfare state, adopting a more
aggressive foreign economic and military posture and
shifting U.S. politics far to the right. In today’s
political spectrum the policies pursued by Richard
Nixon might make him a liberal Democrat.

Over that period the traditional pragmatic center-right
of the Republican Party has been losing power to its
ideological and hardcore racist right wing based in the
white South, Southwest and Rocky Mountain states. The
Tea Party movement is the latest incarnation of the far
right, this time with an urgency that stems from the
two trends above, spiked even more by the economic
crisis that has stoked fears about those processes even
more, and symbolized by the election of a black
president and the rise of immigration. They feel they
are “losing their country” to people of color and their
allies and to China and other uppity UnAmerican
countries. Forty percent of voters this year said they
backed the Tea Party, including 47 percent of people
over 65.

While the Tea Party got most of the headlines, the main
factions of the ruling class, feeling burned by health
care and financial reform and feeling emboldened after
having been bailed out, clearly swung back to support
the Republicans in this election after having largely
backed Obama and the Democrats in 2008 and was willing
to unite with the reactionary Tea Party to ensure a
Republican victory. Their clout was even greater than
usual after the Supreme Court cleared the way for
unlimited corporate campaign conributions. Whether they
will resume their brief flirtation with Keynesianism
and a managed move away from their superpower status or
whether they will opt for reestablishing their
supremacy through domestic social austerity and foreign
aggression is a huge question. If they do the latter,
the attack on government workers and poor folks may be
withering and foreign affairs will be fraught with the
danger of shooting and trade wars.

The victory of the Republicans, spearheaded by the Tea
Partyists and the main sectors of big capital, signals
that they have reorganized and reseized the initiative
in a major way.

The Democrats and the Left

After forty years of Republican ascendence and eight
years of a uniquely disastrous Bush presidency
including historic military, diplomatic and economic
failures, in 2008 Obama finally galvanized the center
left to victory. The main sectors of  big capital and
most of the center tilted Democratic in 2008. However,
without a dynamic or strong force to his left that
could seize the initiative for a people’s response to
the economic crisis, Obama got stuck in the vacillating
center and was over the last two years got isolated.

The forces to the left of Obama, the strongest of which
is the labor movement, failed to seize the opportunity
provided by the economic crisis to galvanize the
country in a people’s opposition to the economic
crisis, thereby providing a vacuum that the
Republicans, both ruling class forces and reactionary
populist Tea Partyists, seized. The black/brown vote
saved the Democrats in California and in a few other
races in the Southwest, but the Democrats suffered one
of the largest mid-term setbacks ever at the federal,
state and local levels. This defeat will reverberate
for many years as the Republicans are positioned to try
to institutionalize many of their gains in the
Redistricting battles that loom in the next year.

The Active Center

Since the 1990s, marked by the Reform Party of Ross
Perot, the center of U.S. politics has become active
and dynamic, and more politically defined around
pragmatic, non-ideological, non-partisan fiscal
conservatism. It is no longer the “silent majority”
that it usually is. It is important to note that the
most successful third party in U.S. history, the Reform
Party, came not from the left or right of U.S.
politics, but from the center. The Party won 20 percent
of the vote in the 1992 election and a little less than
that in 1996. The center, which had tilted Republican
since 1980, was willing to torpedo the Republican Party
(Bush I) in order to assert its political independence,
throwing the 1992 and 1996 elections to Clinton.
Although the Reform Party died once Perot withdrew his
millions, the activism and independence of the center
is still strong and is likely to continue to be so
because their politics are based in the realities of
the changed economy since 1975 in which they and most
of us are left to fend for ourselves and “take personal
responsibility.”

I believe they are about 40 percent of the electorate
and include much of the most moderate sections of both
parties as well as the growing independents.
Independents are far outgrowing both the Democratic and
Republican parties. For example they make up 40 percent
of the electorate in Massachusetts, larger than either
the Democrats or Republicans. Clearly large parts of
the center are tending to move together in elections.

In my opinion the center is primarily defined by being
pragmatic fiscal conservatives. This is why it has a
strong tendency to unite with the Republicans and even
the Tea Party which are also committed to fiscal
conservatism. However, the center is not ideological
about anything else (making it different from the far
right) and is sometimes willing to support government
spending on the economy or the environment. The center
itself has left, right and centrist wings, largely
based on what different people are willing to support
in terms of government spending and foreign policy. The
Obama victory signalled that large sections of the
center was willing to support government spending to
try to solve the economic crisis but clearly large
sections have, for now, recoiled from spending on that
and especially on health care. This is a volatile,
politically active center.

Final Thoughts

The stakes in politics are extraordinarily high and
2010 was a major flashpoint in a fight over the future
of the country and the world. The far right and its
other Republican allies are acting appropriately
alarmed at the world and national trends and are being
pretty damn clear about what is at stake and pretty
damn strategic about fighting for their politics. The
social justice left is not very alarmed when it should
be, instead often focusing on its (very real)
disappointments with Obama and the Democrats rather
than the very real threat of the Republicans and
especially its far right. Many refuse to recognize that
the Democratic Party, with all its faults, is the main
political vehicle for defeating the right in the
historic battle for the future of the country and
either remain out of the electoral fray, in third
parties, or confine their work to non-partisan
(registering voters and GOTV) field work. Labor is
certainly all out in partisan politics, but has also
diverted tremendous resources to incredibly
unproductive sectarian internal fighting.

It is my belief that the left can only grow if it shows
an ability to be a strong leader in the fight against
the right, which in its essence is a fight against the
U.S. as a bullying racist superpower and for peace. It
is a fight against the attempt to turn back the growing
power of people of color. It is a fight against social
austerity and for a more democratic, envionmentally
friendly government and economy and indeed a fight to
give space to the rest of the world to develop and
improve the qualities of their lives with less danger
and threat from the decaying superpower. It is, in
essence, a fight against a U.S. form of what in other
countries has sometimes been called fascism, but which
in the U.S. takes the unique form of an aggressive
racist, imperialist/militarist but individualist and
anti-government populist rightwing.

The labor/civil rights initiated One Nation effort with
its focus on jobs was a year and a half late but is
still a promising direction, regardless of the
immediate fate of One Nation itself. The fight for
jobs, including a fight to decrease the military budget
in order to do so, is the cutting edge of the fight
against the right and the reactionary sectors of the
ruling class at this time and has potential to cohere
and strengthen a broad progressive alliance.

The objective trends of history militate against the
Republicans and the far right: there is no staunching
the erosion of the U.S. world position nor can the
demographic trends in the U.S. be reversed. However
this does not guarantee the decline or defeat of the
right. Indeed, I think it is possible that the right
will win if the left does not play a major role as
moderates often lack the political will to wage the
kind of staunch, mass based and protracted fight
against the right that is needed. We must break out of
the left strongholds that so much of the non-profit
left confines itself to, out of the sectarian in-
fighting that is debilitating labor and organize
organize organize to build the broad, mass based front
that is needed to defeat them. We can and must win. In
the years to come, the future well being and shape of
the world is literally at stake.

___________________________________________

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