The Meaning of the 2004 Presidential Election

by Linda Thomas

Did Bush Win?

This question hardly exists as far as the mainstream media are concerned, and until now those who have raised it have generally been dismissed as sore losers and gripers. However, many left-liberals and radicals are raising the question and answering it in the negative, and they are producing convincing arguments to back their analysis. See, for example, Jim Hightower’s article in the December Hightower Lowdown and the article by Elizabeth Schulte in the November 5, 2004, Socialist Worker, weekly paper of the International Socialist Organization (ISO). In the December issue of In These Times Greg Palast also proposes that Bush stole the election. One of the most convincing articles in this vein is “Let’s Get Real” by Mark Crispin Miller—also in the December issue of In These Times. Since Miller’s article succinctly summarizes this view, I will quote from it and paraphrase it.

He says: “Bush and company’s theft of the election was a crime so obvious that it requires more effort to deny than affirm.” As evidence he cites the following: the way Bush won in 2000; the ease with which election results can be changed without a trace; the fact that Diebold, Sequoia, and ES&S, the major manufacturers of touch-screen voting machines and central tabulators, are owned and operated by Bush Republicans, who made their partisan intentions known; the tabulations of the exit polls, which turned out to be mistaken only in the swing states (exit polls have been historically accurate); the weird inflation of the Bush vote in county after county where the number of votes was higher than the number of voters; the chicanery of the Bush supporters who ran the central polling station in Ohio’s Warren County; the numerous accounts of vote fraud during early voting coast to coast in the weeks prior to the election; the fact that almost every glitch or error favored Bush; the countless uncounted or thrown-away provisional ballots; 4 million civilian votes abroad mishandled by the Pentagon, which had mysteriously taken over this job from the State Department; the many dirty tricks perpetrated on Black and other minority communities; fake voter registration drives; and machines that translated votes for Kerry into votes for Bush.

I remember watching Bush, on the eve of the 2000 elections, as he confidently and threateningly told reporters, while smirking at the television cameras, “You know something, we are gonna win Florida. Mark my words. You can write it down.” This interview later showed up in Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11 documentary.

Further in this vein, James K. Galbraith writes in his article “Democracy Inaction” in the January 1–15, 2005, issue of the Progressive Populist, “If U.S. officials who are complaining about election fraud in Ukraine applied the same standards in Ohio, then our own presidential election certainly was stolen.” Galbraith lists a chorus of people who he says are now questioning the results. This includes Secretary of State Colin Powell, Republican Senator Lugar of Indiana, former national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski, and Stephen Lee Myers of the New York Times. Galbraith points out that, like Katharine Harris, Florida’s secretary of state and chairman of Bush’s 2000 campaign in that state, the secretary of state of Ohio was also coincidentally cochairman of Bush’s Ohio campaign. He and other Republicans across Ohio systematically obstructed the vote count by holding back additional voting machines from predominantly Democratic and inner-city precincts and by harassing Black voters. Galbraith writes: “So where is the press?” Does one have to ask any more?

I had personally anticipated a healthy win for Kerry given the massive mobilization of progressive forces in the stampede to defeat Bush. While it is true that the right has learned from the Democratic progressives and studied and adopted many of their methods of grassroots organizing, I disagree with a point made by Bill Fletcher (see the Labor Standard web site for his speech at a November antiwar conference in Connecticut). I still do not think it possible that they “out-mobilized” (as Fletcher puts it) the Kerry campaign, the labor movement, and every single mass reform organization in America. Factors that did work to inflate the Bush vote were virtual Republican control of the capitalist media, the support of the Christian right, the propaganda that generated fear in people and convinced them that they would be safer with Bush as President and the limitless funding that was put at Bush’s disposal by the ruling elite. However, even with these factors I do not believe it was enough to put him over the top without significant and effective vote fraud.

It is significant that a suit has been filed in Ohio for a recount. A December 22 Internet press release by Bob Fitrakis, Steve Rosenfeld, and Harvey Wasserman, authors of a forthcoming book entitled Ohio’s Stolen Election: Voices of the Disenfranchised 2004, has this subheading: “Ohio electoral fight becomes the ‘biggest deal since Selma’ as GOP stonewalls.” They say, in part: “As Republican officials stonewall subpoenas and subvert the recount process, Rev. Jesse Jackson has pronounced Ohio’s vote fraud fiasco ‘the biggest deal since Selma’ and has called for a national rally at ‘the scene of the crime’ in Columbus [Ohio’s capital] January 3. Meanwhile, volunteer attorneys have poured into Columbus from around the US to help investigate the bitterly contested presidential vote that has allegedly given George W. Bush Ohio’s electoral votes and thus a second term. A lawsuit filed at the Ohio Supreme Court charges that a fair vote count would give the state and the presidency to John Kerry rather than Bush.”

They also report: “Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) and other members of the Congressional Black Caucus have strongly questioned Bush’s purported victory, pointing out that more than half the votes cast in Ohio and the nation were recorded on electronic voting machines owned by Republicans, with no audit trail.”

Where is the Democratic Party?

During the last two presidential elections I have gotten the distinct impression that the Democrats’ top leadership did not really care to win and that they pretty much threw the elections. It is true that they have a dearth of charismatic candidates from which to choose; also, the Democrats have abandoned major sections of their historic positions (the Roosevelt-era “New Deal” in particular), leaving no consistent reform line on anything; they flip-flop on issues all over the place; and their base in labor has been weakened due to the decline of organized labor. And they themselves are just as responsible as the Republicans for the decline of organized labor due to their own pro-corporate policies. But even after adding all these factors together, this cannot account for their losses in 2002 and in 2004 when you consider the widespread hatred of Bush among the electorate and the unprecedented mobilization of the grassroots to oust him.

I think the Bush victory required the acquiescence, if not outright collaboration, of the Democratic Party. Vote fraud on the part of the Republicans has gone uncontested and virtually unmentioned by the top Democratic Party leadership, which continues to participate in the cover-up. Both Gore in 2000 and Kerry in 2004 were in an obvious and curious rush to concede and offer their wholehearted cooperation to the Bush regime.

Michael Moore in Fahrenheit 9/11 showed us the appalling images of Gore lowering the gavel on the Black representatives attempting to get a hearing on the debacle in Florida, overruling any discussion of the question on the day the joint session of the House of Representatives and the Senate was to certify the election results. The film script says, “Al Gore in his dual role as outgoing vice president and president of the Senate, presided over the event that would officially anoint George W. Bush as the new president” of the United States, thus assuring Gore’s own exclusion from the presidency.

I am convinced that the Democratic Party has felt that it can play a far more important role in trapping dissent by staying out of office in these times when capitalist cost cutting, layoffs, and imperialist aggression have become absolutely necessary to the survival of the capitalist system. It appears that the Democrats’ top leaders prefer to let the Republicans take the heat while they skillfully use the mobilization of the anti- Bush grassroots to expand and deepen their stranglehold on movements for progressive social change in this country.

There is no question in my mind that the capitalist class is more aware than “the left” and those who favor independent political action that a Democratic Party administration that wins and is thereby forced to assume the responsibility to prosecute an unpopular war and to assume the major responsibility for more anti-labor and reactionary legislation (which, of course, the Democrats have been supporting all along) would set the stage for an unprecedented move toward independent political action and a break from the two major parties. I think that they are very aware that this country is absolutely pregnant with disgust for the Democrats and Republicans. In the September 2004 issue of the AARP magazine (America’s largest circulation magazine) it was reported that 56% of baby boomers say the country needs a strong third party and that 47% of the “Silent Generation” (those aged 58–69) agree.

I remember Peter Camejo at a meeting in Boston in the 1960s explaining that there are not two major parties in this country, only one (with two heads). To explain his contention he asserted that if the Democrats were truly a “liberal” oppositional party to the frankly pro-business Republicans, the Democrats would have expelled their conservative wing represented by and large by the Southern Democrats (or Dixiecrats), representing the white racist, Jim Crow, conservative political system that dominated in the former Confederacy until the civil rights movement won voting rights for Blacks in the South in the late 1960s. But now instead of the Dixiecrats being the conservative wing of the Democratic Party, it’s the so-called Democratic Leadership Council.

A big change occurred after the civil rights movement won voting rights for Southern Blacks. Before that, the white racist vote in the South was usually cast in a solid bloc for the Democrats, but today the former Confederacy votes for Bush. That’s because in the 1970s the Nixon and Goldwater Republicans adopted the “Southern strategy,” luring the white-racist Southern conservative Bible belt vote over to their side, the former “party of Lincoln.”

Nevertheless, forty years ago, the Democrats refused to drive out their own conservative Dixiecrat wing when given the opportunity to do so by the Mississippi Freedom Democratic delegation representing 80,000 newly registered Southern Black voters at the 1964 Democratic Party convention. Camejo explained that the conservative wing in the Democratic Party (which now and since the 1980s has been represented mainly by the Democratic Leadership Council) acts as the mechanism whereby the party can usher in reactionary legislation when necessary by merely having its conservative wing bloc with the Republicans on any issue, leaving the majority of allegedly “liberal” Democrat politicians smelling sweet as a rose, to preserve the party’s image as a supposed advocate of progressive social change and hoodwinking the populace.

This kind of mechanism is something they intend to and must keep in place. The Democrats and the Republicans could not fail to take note of the slavish support exhibited by the “progressive” wing of the Democratic Party in spite of the fact that the “progressive” were not thrown a single crumb in the way of platform concessions at the Democrats’ 2004 convention in order to maintain that loyalty. The conservative, pro-business leaders of the Democratic Party must be pleased indeed that their con game continues to work so well.

In this regard the “left-liberals” have the Bush threat all wrong. I agree with Malcolm X, who pointed out with his wolf-and-fox analogy that it is only the Democrats who are able to lull the electorate to sleep and thereby represent a greater danger to the fight for social reform than any Republican candidate ever could. As Fidel Castro, in a January 2000 interview with Federico Mayor Zaragoza, former UNESCO director general, said , “[The] United States, such a vocal advocate of multiparty systems, has two parties that  are so perfectly similar in their methods, objectives and goals that they have practically created the most perfect one-party system in the world. Over 50 % of the people in that ‘democratic country’ do not even cast a vote, and the team that manages to raise the most funds often wins, with the votes of only 25% of the electorate. The political system is undermined by disputes, vanity and personal ambition or by interest groups operating within the established economic and social model, and there is no real alternative for a change in the system.” (Quoted in a book of speeches, etc., by Fidel Castro, War, Racism, and Economic Injustice: Global Ravages of Capitalism, Ocean Press, 2002.)

Questions Vote Fraud Raises

If it is true that Bush stole yet another election—and I am convinced that is the case—then it confronts all the movements for social change in this country with a series of new issues to deal with. If it is so easy to steal votes from the other major party, what does that say for the electoral prospects of a fledgling third party effort? It raises the whole question of the legitimacy of the electoral process itself, and it places the question of a fight for fair elections on the agenda. In anticipation of making the fight for a Labor Party or for independent labor candidates a reality Labor party advocates must begin to deal with issues of electoral reform and ballot laws. The League of Women Voters (LWV), which has been a pretty consistent liberal organization that has attempted to maintain the democratic electoral process. LWV policy might be influenced to advocate ballot measures that would make it easier for third parties or independent candidates to run in elections. The League is made up of mainstream Democrats and some Republicans who believe in fair elections and who historically used to run the major candidates’ debates.

However, the presidential debates that the League used to run were dumped by the two major parties when the Democrats and Republicans moved to take over the presidential debates from them and exclude other candidates years ago. The women report at their meetings that the days are gone when the candidates would have to attend their debates. These days the major candidates don’t even bother to attend community meetings where they might be confronted with disturbing questions. The League has come out against touch screen voting machines and the Electoral College and takes positions on a whole series of issues from peace, to ethics, to human rights and urban sprawl. They are just beginning to deal with the questions raised by Florida and the 2004 elections.

In addition, we are seeing the growth of massive new Internet-driven organizations, created specifically to monitor and assure democratic elections since the debacle in 2000. Vote fraud and stolen elections are by no means new to American politics, but since the Florida debacle there is intense new interest in this issue.

According to Ralph Nader, who spoke in Connecticut on December 23, his campaign apparatus will be using the Nader/Camejo campaign experience to lay the groundwork to call for election law reforms, including the demand for one national law that establishes standard voting regulations for all states in national elections.  

Does the Election Represent a Move to the Right?

Certainly not, if you don’t believe Bush won. But as others have pointed out, nothing has really changed, and the vote certainly was a referendum for a liberal agenda in the cosmopolitan and industrial areas of the country, even though there was no major candidate campaigning for such an agenda. It is clear that “the right” is not winning in the key areas of the country that matter and that typically lead the country. Now it’s crystal clear why the capitalist class maintains the Electoral College as an effective mechanism meant to disenfranchise the working class, the Black community, and other oppressed sectors of the population, which did turn out in record numbers. The rigged structure of the Electoral College gives undue influence to the more sparsely populated, rural, and backward parts of the United States, as it was designed to do.

As David Riehle so aptly put it: “In terms of labor strategy it is crucial to realize that the working class voting pattern discussed here is only superficially a ‘Democrat’ vote—rather it is a class and trade union vote, that is, a vote that follows the recommendations of organized labor. What has diminished it in terms of exacting electoral majorities is not the weakening of the ability of organized labor to influence its constituency, but deindustrialization.” In addition, I think the votes in the so-called red states, to the extent that they are not the result of fraud, represent, along with conservative small business and other petty bourgeois elements, the unorganized and uneducated layers of the working class that are easy prey for the simplistic propaganda of demagogues, and as Bill Fletcher has pointed out, it also represents a racist vote.

More significant in any election is the approximately 50%–60% of the electorate that doesn’t vote. Many liberals berate those who don’t enact the charade at the polls on a regular basis and incorrectly conclude that they are apolitical, conservative, or ignorant. A far more realistic explanation is that they recognize that they in fact do not have a real choice and have become too cynical to participate. This does not suggest a move to the right. I believe that it is this section of the populace which constitutes the greatest potential for a voter registration drive spearheaded by a labor party or other working class party.

The Same-Sex Marriage Question

Many have correctly pointed out that large numbers of the Christian right who went to the polls were motivated by a desire to defeat the legalization of same-sex marriage. However, I do not believe this constitutes a setback on this issue or a radical turn to the right. What it represents is a very real and strong backlash against the gains that have been made by the gay and lesbian community in bringing human rights issues to the fore and consolidating them in legislation. The fact that this issue was skyrocketed into people’s consciousness almost overnight is an indication of a move to the left and not the right. Gains are seldom made without generating some form of a backlash and this case is no exception.

Significance of Women’s Voting Patterns

Ellen Hawkes in the winter 2004/2005 issue of MS magazine analyses the 2004 electorate using the exit poll results of the National Election Pool (a consortium of the major television networks and the Associated Press, a system constructed to avoid the problems in projections encountered in the 2000 election). “During election day waves of exit polls were leaked, which indicated a strong Kerry lead nationally and in both Florida and Ohio. Once the actual votes began to come in from the East and Midwest, Bush took the lead.” She notes that despite a smaller gender gap than had existed in 2000 the women’s vote was significant in this election due to the fact that women voted for Kerry 51% to 48% while men voted for Bush 55% to 44% representing a gender gap of 7 percent compared to one of 10 percentage points in 2000.

She also refers to the Lake Snell Perry Election Eve Omnibus survey of 1,000 voters in which both Democratic and Republican women felt that the candidates did not talk about women’s issues. They wanted to hear about equal pay 60%, violence against women 58%, and women’s equality under the law 60%. “Where women’s votes made the difference for Kerry gender gaps ranged from 16 points in Oregon to 5 points in Michigan,” said Ellie Smeal, president of the Feminist Majority Foundation. The fact that Kerry did not forcefully address the issues women wanted to hear about resulted in a decrease in the pro-Democrat “gender gap” from the 2000 election. The National Organization for Women and the abortion rights groups launched a massive “get out the vote campaign,” which resulted in an increase in the number of unmarried women voters from 19% to 23% of the electorate. In 2004, 7.5 million more unmarried women (who voted for Kerry 62 percent to 37 percent) and married women (who voted for Kerry 55% to 44%) took to the polls. The MS article states, “It should be noted too, that unmarried men voted for Kerry 53% to 44%, and married men voted for Bush 59% to 40%, representing a marriage gap within the gender gap.” Thus it is clear that if Kerry had campaigned vigorously on behalf of women, he would have increased his vote dramatically. But obviously there’s a reason he didn’t campaign vigorously on women’s issues. It’s because he and his party are basically committed to the status quo, not to women’s liberation.

Behavior of “Progressive” Democrats

It is clear that masses of Americans, as indicated by the AARP polls and the dissatisfaction of women and minority voters, are open to the idea of a third party movement. Yet in spite of these indications, the “progressive Democrats” in circles around In These Times, the Nation, and the Progressive, to name a few, cling more fanatically to their program of “reclaiming” the Democratic Party.

According to Bill Onasch, “More than 400 self-styled ‘progressives’ met during the final days of the Democrat convention in Boston. Howard Dean was there and apparently had a good time. So were three members of Congress: John Conyers, Dennis Kucinich, and Barbara Lee. Frank Llewellyn, National Director, Democratic Socialists of America, played a role. Other well-knowns included Tom Hayden, Medea Benjamin, and Granny D. They launched a new organization, Progressive Democrats of America.” I won’t go into the irony of this gathering taking place as antiwar demonstrators were being herded into cages in the downtown area surrounding the DP convention. Onasch discusses the contradictions of this group adequately in his article.

But I must add that this liberal elite, educated, possessed of numerous financial resources, media access, magazines, Internet influence, and talent cannot begin to contemplate breaking with the Democrats and setting up their own party, based on the program they claim to profess. In fact it is a tragi-comedy that almost the entire labor bureaucracy, the leadership of the major mass organizations for social change, the current leadership of the Black community, and most of “the left” cannot imagine independent political action. In fact they argue against it, saying that it is impossible in the richest, most educated country in the world, to do what hundreds of thousands of working people in other more impoverished areas of the globe have done historically—to launch successful political parties to represent their interests.

Why is it that these types, who could successfully lead a break from the two major parties, act impotent in the face of a ruling class assault against any independent political action, much less independent working class political action? In fact most of these elements saved their most vicious vituperation not for Kerry but for the Nader/Camejo campaign as almost every “progressive” magazine had at least one Nader-bashing article urging him not to run and predicting dire consequences if he did. While they all remained silent as Kerry called for more troops and voted for the Patriot Act they wrote scandalous articles questioning Nader/Camejo’s right to run, labeling them “spoilers” for exercising their democratic rights to participate in the elections. They remained silent as the Democratic Party took action to remove Nader’s campaign from the ballot in state after state.

I agree with Fred Feldman, who points out in his article “Bush’s Election Has Decided Nothing” (see Labor Standard web site) that there is a material basis for the loyalty of so-called “progressives” to the Democratic Party and the capitalist system that party defends. “The United States is a privileged nation in the world, as a consequence of its substantial and ongoing world hegemony. The benefits of imperialist domination do affect the whites, including workers, disproportionately. But all classes of all nationalities are affected, not just workers, and not just workers of the dominant nationality. After all, the reason why all the immigrants come here is to be in the places that imperialist super profits go rather than the places from which they are taken. They need a piece of that action, and many of them—like the rest of us—do get some.” In this sense it is the privileged layers of the working class and the middle class (small business people, professionals, etc.) in this country who make up the constituency of the Democratic Party and who defend their perceived privileges by supporting it again and again.

However, many of these so-called “leaders” are failing to notice that these historic privileges are being whittled away, making their continued support of the Democratic Party pathetic and absurd. Mark Dudzic, Labor Party national organizer, had it right in his recent article “After the Elections, What Next?”

“Labor needs its own political party. The opening lines of our Electoral Policy say it best: ‘The Labor Party is unlike any other party in the United States. We stand independent of the Democratic and Republican parties. Our overall strategy is for the majority of American people—working class people—to take political power.’ And here we must be frank: we do not have an effective Labor Party in this country because the labor movement has not met the challenge of creating and sustaining one. That is the task at hand.” Dudzic is right that a decisive sector of the trade union movement in this country has not yet risen to meet this decisive challenge.

Dudzic says further:

“The labor movement contributed massive amounts of time, energy and resources to the failed Kerry campaign. In four years, we will be expected to contribute even more to the next Democratic candidate. We need to learn from the example of right wing social activists and invest in building a real base around boldly articulated issues. If we move our activists and organizations into well-financed strategic national campaigns around issues of concern to all working people, if we declare our political independence, we can change the national political landscape.”

Role of the American Left

The continued support of the Democratic Party is even more pathetic and absurd when advocated by such leaders of the organized “left” in this country as the Communist Party (CPUSA) and the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA). This is also true of a significant section of the leadership of the Green Party. It is to the credit of the leaders and members of the Workers World Party and the International Socialist Organization that they refused to join the stampede of the Anybody But Bush advocates.

Greater collaboration is needed among the small forces around the Workers World Party, the more independent Greens, the International Socialist Organization members, the radicals around the Nader/Camejo campaign, the elements who supported the misnamed “Million Worker March,” and the Labor Party leadership and membership. It seems to me that these forces could—and ought to—join hands to launch a real third party effort based on the working class and on independence from control by corporate Big Business.

It will take young and old, Black and white, male and female, all united around a program that represents the interests of working people in this country against the ravages of corporate globalization and impoverishment. To say that this cannot be accomplished in the richest nation on the globe by the most educated working class in the history of the world is craven, pessimistic, negative thinking by those who cannot imagine standing up to the powerful rulers of the world. We must not organize “to take back the Democratic Party,” which never was ours to begin with (it was always a party controlled by the ruling class). We must organize to reclaim the powerful resources at the disposal of the working class, which are being squandered by false leaders throwing good money after bad supporting capitalist politicians.

The idea of a Labor Party is an idea whose time has come. Those visionaries who can see the full potential for such a development must step out boldly to carry out this historic task. There is no more pressing issue confronting the globe than for the movements for social change to break with the Democrats and Republicans and begin to assemble the forces who can build a party representing the interests of not just the American working class but the world working class. Without this development occurring in the near future the prospects for humanity are dim indeed.