As the US presidential election campaign enters its final month, the candidates of the two major parties have voiced substantial agreement on the most critical issues of domestic and foreign policy.
On Wednesday, both the Democratic candidate, Barack Obama, and his Republican opponent, John McCain, cast their votes in the US Senate for the Wall Street bailout, giving Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson nearly unlimited authority to supply at least $700 billion in federal funds to banks and other financial institutions by buying their worthless mortgage-backed securities. The bill which Obama and McCain supported also includes an additional $150 billion in tax cuts, mainly to business and the wealthy.
The bill was passed in the face of massive popular opposition, which Obama and the Democratic leadership of Congress, in particular, treated with open indifference in their rush to bail out their allies on Wall Street.
On Thursday, the Democratic vice-presidential candidate, Senator Joseph Biden, used the debate with McCain’s running mate, Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, to espouse an even more aggressive foreign policy than the Republicans. While making a spurious pledge that Obama would “end the war” in Iraq, to appease antiwar sentiment, Biden called for increased US military intervention in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and a more aggressive pro-Israeli policy than that conducted by Bush. He also defended past US military interventions in the Balkans, and suggested a new US military role in Sudan.
The same day, Obama’s top national security adviser, Richard Danzig, who was secretary of the navy in the Clinton administration, told a press gathering that an Obama administration would increase military spending over the gargantuan levels already established under Bush. He said that he did not “see defense spending declining in the first years of an Obama administration,” adding, “There are a set of demands there that are very severe, very important to our national well-being.”
Danzig went out of his way to praise the current Pentagon chief, Robert Gates, saying that many of his policies “are things that Senator Obama agrees with and I agree with.” He said that Obama recognized the need for a smooth transition between the outgoing and incoming administrations, particularly in the two war zones, Iraq and Afghanistan. Asked if this meant that Gates might be retained, Danzig replied that Gates was a good defense secretary, and “He’d be an even better one in an Obama administration.”
These developments demonstrate that whether Obama, as now appears likely, wins the election November 4, or McCain makes an unexpected comeback, the next US president will continue, in all essentials, the policies of the Bush administration. This political fact is all the more remarkable given that the same polls that show Obama pulling away give the Bush administration the lowest ratings for any US government in modern history. One study found that only 9 percent of those interviewed thought the United States was on the right track, while Bush’s approval/disapproval numbers rival those of Richard Nixon in the weeks before he was forced to resign the presidency.
From the standpoint of the US ruling elite, however, the disintegration of popular support for the Bush administration is a manageable problem, so long as popular hostility is kept within the framework of the two-party system. Thus, we have the spectacle of both the Democratic and Republican candidates running on the basis of claimed opposition to the Bush administration (McCain offering “reform” while Obama calls for “change”), while supporting policies that would largely continue those of the most unpopular president in a century.
There are clear indications that the final month of the campaign will see an increased resort to character assassination and mud-slinging. Republican vice presidential candidate Palin fired the first salvo Saturday in a speech in Colorado, in which she cited Obama’s contacts in the 1990s with former Weather Underground figure William Ayers and accused Obama of “palling around with terrorists.”
Palin’s McCarthyite-style attack suggests a sense of desperation in the McCain camp, but it also serves a broader purpose. Under conditions of a deepening economic crisis and growing popular anger directed against not only the government but the entire existing economic and political set-up, the political elite and the corporate-controlled media can allow no genuine public debate or discussion on questions of program and policy—especially since it is impossible to discern substantive differences between the two candidates. All the more reason to poison the political atmosphere and divert attention from the real issues on the minds of voters: the economic crisis, the war, the assault on democratic rights.
Within the framework of the American two-party system, mass hostility to the incumbent Republican administration has no outlet except the election of the Democrats, even though the Democratic Party has fully supported Bush’s policies, both before and after the nominal opposition party won control of Congress in the 2006 elections.
The Democrats are now widely expected to gain increased majorities in both the House and Senate, as well as capturing the White House. With only 30 days before voting is complete, media analyses and opinion polls predict a substantial Obama victory in the presidential contest. The McCain campaign signaled its crisis with the decision Thursday to pull campaign workers out of Michigan and stop running campaign commercials in that economically devastated state.
Obama’s growing lead is attributable to two main factors: the widespread popular hatred of the Bush administration and the Republican Party, heightened by the deepening economic crisis, and a shift by sections of the ruling elite who have supplied the Democratic campaign with financial resources and media backing on a far greater scale than in any recent election. (In Florida, for instance, the Obama campaign is spending $39 million, an amount that would once have been sufficient to finance a nationwide campaign.)
A significant and perhaps decisive section of the ruling class is backing Obama to give American imperialism a cosmetic change, not a real one. The election of the first African-American president would be utilized to spread illusions in American democracy, both at home and abroad, without requiring any fundamental change in policy.
An Obama administration will continue the war in Iraq, escalate the war in Afghanistan, and intervene more aggressively in other global flash points—Pakistan, Georgia, Korea, Africa, Latin America. As for its domestic policies, no government committed to a bailout of $700 billion (and likely much more) for Wall Street will have any money left to enact social reforms in areas like health care, education, jobs or combating poverty.
The defense of the interests of working people requires a break with the Democrats and the building of an independent mass political party of the working class, based on a socialist program. This is the truth about the 2008 elections, and only the World Socialist Web Site and the candidates of the Socialist Equality Party, Jerry White for president and Bill van Auken for vice president, will spell it out.