Socialist Worker

Why isn’t Kerry walking it?

by Alex Callinicos
Issue No. 1925

THE US presidential election is now so close that polls suggest we might have a repeat of what happened in 2000.

Then Al Gore obtained a larger share of the popular vote, but George Bush (thanks to a dodgy Supreme Court decision about Florida) won in the electoral college that actually chooses the president.

This time round the outcome might be the reverse. Bush might win such big majorities in Republican states in the South and the West that he’s ahead in the popular vote, but John Kerry could still, thanks to victories in so called swing states such as Ohio and Pennsylvania, beat him in the electoral college.

It’s because the margin of victory is narrow that the attacks by the Kerry camp on Ralph Nader have become so vitriolic. The Guardian carried what purported to be a “profile” of Nader on Friday last week that was nothing but a crude hatchet job.

Admittedly Nader is far from perfect. After giving a political voice to the nascent anti-capitalist movement with his presidential campaign in 2000, he then vanished. And he has been making some dubious alliances to get on the ballot with right wing forces such as the Reform Party.

But the pro-Kerry camp should stop yelling and consider the following. Beating Bush in 2004 ought to be a walkover.

Take the economy. Bush is the first president of the US since Herbert Hoover, who was in the White House when the Great Depression began at the end of the 1920s, to preside over an increase in unemployment during his term of office.

There are 750,000 fewer non-farm jobs in the US than there were when Bush was elected. Hoover was swept to oblivion in the 1932 election by Franklin D Roosevelt, the greatest Democratic president.

So why isn’t Kerry about to repeat Roosevelt’s triumph? The answer is that there’s no fundamental difference between his economic policies and Bush’s. As the Financial Times more judiciously puts it, “There is a similarity between their broad macroeconomic plans.”

The Financial Times nevertheless marginally prefers Kerry to Bush because the former has surrounded himself with members of Bill Clinton’s economic team. During the 1990s the Clinton administration drove through the neo-liberal policies that helped produce the economic bust from which the US is still recovering.

The truth is that both Bush and Kerry are scions of the same East Coast establishment that has vastly enriched itself over the past 25 years thanks to neo-liberalism. The main difference between them is that Bush is able to project himself to many of the working class victims of these policies as one of them, whereas Kerry comes over as the upper class stiff he is.

And then there is Iraq. This ought to have allowed Kerry to deliver the killer punch. After all Bush, like Blair, has been exposed lying his way into a disastrous war that every day claims more Iraqi and US lives.

And the moment the election came alight was when, during the first presidential debate, Kerry laid into a scowling, tongue-tied Bush over Iraq. My guess is that if Kerry were to pledge to bring the troops home he would be a sure bet for the White House.

The trouble is that Kerry is a principled member of the US ruling class. His main pledge about Iraq has been that he will convene a summit conference to get more help from the other leading powers. Quite reasonably, Bush protested that he’s held plenty of summits and they haven’t made much difference.

After studying Kerry’s foreign policy statements, Professor Stephen Zunes of San Francisco University concluded, “Despite the ways Kerry and his supporters might want to spin it, the Democratic nominee—like President Bush—is a militarist and a unilateralist quite willing to undermine the authority of the United Nations in order to assert American hegemony” in the Middle East.

Whoever wins the election next week, there will be no real change in the White House.

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Sat 30 Oct 2004, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1925
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