Downloading PDF. Please wait... Issue 2099

US presidential elections won’t solve rising discontent

This article is over 16 years, 1 months old
The race for the US presidency reflects a deeper crisis facing the two main parties in the world's most powerful country, writes Abbie Bakan
Issue 2099

The US election is scheduled for 4 November. While it is still not decided whether the Democratic Party candidate will be Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton, John McCain was declared to be the Republican candidate early on in the race.

The prospect of a black or female US president has generated an unprecedented level of excitement about the Democratic Party primaries. But when election day arrives, McCain remains a contender.

But who exactly is this guy? Well, he isn’t George Bush. In fact, McCain challenged Bush for the Republican presidential nomination in 2000 and 2004.

In 2000 McCain announced his presidential bid promising to ‘take our government back from the power brokers and special interests, and return it to the people and the noble cause of freedom it was created to serve’.

McCain has challenged the Bush administration over the torture of prisoners, not least because McCain survived five and a half years of recurring torture as a captured soldier during the Vietnam War.

In October 2005 McCain led a team of 90 representatives in the US Senate – including 46 Republicans, 43 Democrats and one independent – to pass an amendment to the Defense Appropriations Bill to prohibit the use of ‘cruel, inhuman or degrading’ punishment of anyone being held in custody by the US government.


The amendment signified an ongoing debate between Bush and McCain regarding the rights of political prisoners and the legitimacy of torture on both ethical and pragmatic grounds.

The current election race is marked by a lack of political differentiation among the candidates of the two main parties on a number of issues. There is no debate over the war on Afghanistan, threatened intervention in Iran, or the US backing of Israel.

The one contested issue is Iraq, where the US ruling class is deeply divided over the continuation of the war. And McCain is unambiguously in favour of the prolonged – even unlimited – US military intervention.

Right wing pundit Zbigniew Brzezinski expresses the terrain of debate. Writing in the Washington Post, Brzezinski, who backs Barack Obama, bluntly states, ‘Both Democratic presidential candidates agree that the US should end its combat mission in Iraq within 12-16 months of their possible inauguration.

‘The Republican candidate has spoken of continuing the war, even for a hundred years, until ‘victory’. The core issue of this campaign is thus a basic disagreement over the merits of the war and the benefits and costs of continuing it.’

McCain represents one wing of the US corporate elite. But the apparent uniformity among Republicans behind McCain belies a deeper malaise.

In reality the Republican Party is in some disarray. The coalition led by evangelical social conservatives that seemed unstoppable in the first administration of George Bush is no longer in charge.

The religious right do not trust the McCain style of Republicanism – but know that no other candidate could hold a lead in the primaries.

McCain’s election strategy of trading largely on his personal history and distancing himself from the record of Bush’s administration and the Republican Party is, to say the least, a high risk strategy.

Both party leadership contests indicate different expressions of more profound changes in public opinion as the 2008 election approaches. The voting population is showing signs of discontent with everything associated with the Bush administration, including the ‘war on terror’ and the decades of neoliberalism.

According to a survey of Trends in Political Values and Core Attitudes from 1987 to 2007 conducted by the Pew Research Centre:

‘Increased public support for the social safety net, signs of growing public concern about income inequality, and a diminished appetite for assertive national security policies have improved the political landscape for the Democrats as the 2008 presidential campaign gets underway.’

Whatever the outcome in the elections, this sentiment will need to find expression beyond the big party machines, and beyond the White House, to see real and substantive changes in the US.


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