Sunday, November 21, 2004
Now, for my own European cynical bastard perspective on the US elections... I have been hesitant to write is since I dislike the mainstream European response to the US election outcome - it has been either unbearably arrogant, like this Daily Mirror cover (I would be inclined to remind our limey friends that they have elected a Prime Minister which much the same evangelical messianism and much the same Iraq policy as the Americans) - or extremely unhelpful, like the Guardian's misconceived tell-an-American-to-vote-for-Kerry letter campaign. So, at first I thought it wiser to shut up. I changed my mind.
In 2000, I found myself rooting for Bush, rather than Gore. The main reason was that I intensely disliked the Clinton/Albright school of foreign policy, turning Bosnia in a non-state surviving only by perpetual foreign supervision, turning Kosovo in a mono-ethnic non-state after an intervention purportedly to preserve multiethnicism in Kosovo, and continuing a stranglehold with regular bombings in Iraq. Let's get one thing straight here: Bush's policies in Iraq may have turned it into an anarchic haven for homegrown guerillas and foreign terrorists to have target practice at real life Americans, and may have caused tens of thousands of civilian deaths - but the death toll of UN-sanctions in Iraq is thought to be well in the hundreds of thousands, while at the same time perpetuating Saddam Hussein's barbaric regime. Misconceived as the 2003 invasion of Iraq and the neo-conservative ideology of worldwide wallmartization behind is may have been - at least the US are now taking responsibility for the mess there (whether they want it or not).
Anyway, I expected a Bush administration to be much more reserved and cautious in its foreign policy, with possibly even a US withdrawal or at least significant downsizing in the Balkans. That was, of course, before nineteen men in three airplanes decided to hand Bush the global mission that he, fortunately, lacked before.
Were I an American, I might well have voted for Kerry holding my nose. But I'm not that surprised by his election defeat. In response to an administration that passed the Patriot Act and went into a, thus far, pretty disastrous war in Iraq, the Democrats decided to field a candidate who supported the Patriot Act and the war in Iraq - promising to get European allies in to take some of the casualties (a pretty desperate wish). In the Dec. 2003 issue of Playboy (the one with Shannen Doherty), when it still looked like Dean (who actually, unlike Kerry, could have made a credible anti-war stance) might have a chance, there's a very interesting and prophetic analysis by 1972 Dem. candidate George McGovern:
"In terms of stage presence and audience reaction at this one event, I would have to give the nod to Senator John Kerry. But Dean also came across well. When he finished, Dean asked me to meet with him privately. He plied me with questions about how I thought he was doing. I told him he seemed to be doing fine and offered him only one real bit of advice: Beware of excessive fatigue. That's sometimes the cause of political gaffes. (...) If I had felt qualified to advise Governor Dean, I would have urged him to stay with his current strategy: The way to beat George Bush is not to be like him."
And then the Democrats went with a candidate who was, politically, a milder version of George W. Bush. I have to qualify that: who was a politically milder version of George W. Bush able to read, write and speak well. If I had been an American and push had come to shove, Kerry's appearance of basic sanity and Bush's disconcerting lack of it would have probably caused me to vote Kerry - while holding my nose.
Sometime ago, during the British elections, a lefist Labour candidate from Scotland was interviewed on television. At that time, Labour already was New Labour, replacing old-fashioned socialism with a disturbing mix of neoliberalism and nanny-statism. The interviewer asked the man (whose name I don't recall) why he was still running with Labour, and not with one of the leftist alternatives that had already sprung up by then. He basically answered that for people in his constituency, the difference between a Tory administration and a Labour administration - even a New Labour one - was a matter of survival. And there's the whole problem I think the Americans are dealing with: the slight nuances of a Democratic administration as opposed to a Bush administration are extremely important if you're on the brink of survival or famine. Similarly, the different attitudes towards, say, abortion are extremely important if you happen to be a woman.
Split the party, and, ostensively, the Republicans will carry the day for a while. There goes the Supreme Court, there goes Roe vs. Wade.
Yet I am not sure whether there is a choice here. If anything, this election revealed the impotence of the Democratic Party towards a Republican one which actually has a base. A base, ironically, in the white working class and underclass that gets screwed over by any Republican administration. Facing that, the Democrats could not do better than to field a candidate who agrees on most burning issues of policy with Bush, and to ward off any third-party intervention on the left (Nader) by court challenges.
The biggest difference between European politics and US ones is of course the presence of a well-entrenched social democracy in Europe (even if it seems on the wane for now). I'm not sure whether an European-style workers' party could take root in the US - it'd probably have to be a different kind of party.
Anyway, the good side of this election result is probably that Bush will now have to take the responsibility for the mess created in Iraq the past four years - the Republicans will have four more years to dig their own graves. But I think that if this election result should teach the American left anything - it's that they should stop fielding centrist candidates looking like Republicans with an education, they should stop trying to suffocate third-party alternatives like Nader's with court challenged, and they should perhaps stop to look to the Democratic Party alltogether.
My take on this would be that the left's best chances lie with the rural, non-unionized working class and middle classes, with the small shopkeepers who have been pushed out of business by Walmart and with the people working there, with people living in trailers rather than houses; not with the educated, urban liberals. With Michael Moore rather than Noam Chomsky.