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Choice between two evils

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Issue 1727

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Choice between two evils

THE OUTCOME of the US election was still hanging in the balance as Socialist Worker went to press. The US Supreme Court was deliberating about whether or not to allow a recount in the state of Florida, well over a month after voting took place. Whoever is finally declared winner will be the most powerful man in the world. The prospect of George W Bush as president should send a chill down everyone’s spine.

Bush, as the Republican governor of Texas, has smashed all records for use of the death penalty. He sent 150 people to their deaths in six years-more than one fifth of all executions carried out in the US since the death penalty was restored in 1976. His last victim had a mental age of six.

Bush boasts that he spends as little as four minutes deciding who is to die. Bush approved the deaths of 38 people this year alone-the highest yearly total since records began in 1930. On top of this lethal record Bush ran a prison system with 147,000 inmates-more than France, Germany and Italy combined. He presided over the state with the highest rates of child poverty and malnutrition in the US.

Government spending per person in Texas is the lowest of any state in the US. Bush used the state’s budget surplus to give a $1.7 billion tax break to the rich, and he tried to hand the state’s welfare system to arms manufacturer Lockheed-Martin. Texas is also the most heavily polluted state in the US. Bush’s brother Jeb is the governor of the disputed state of Florida where there was old fashioned fraud.

Black voters in Florida-likely to vote Democrat-were harassed at the polls. Thousands of other voters, half of them black, “disappeared” from the voting rolls.

There were dodgy voting methods and dodgy counting methods. And there were results that just beggar belief. The right wing presidential candidate Pat Buchanan got a huge vote in one black area. On top of that, 400,000 former prisoners are barred from voting in Florida, as they are in 12 other US states. Those votes alone could have won the state for Gore, who nationally polled more votes than Bush.

But there is a more important reason why the vote was so close. And that comes down to Al Gore. He should have won an easy majority. He had the benefit of a booming economy. Opinion polls showed big support for Democratic policies on healthcare, social security and education. Right wing Republican leaders in Congress are unpopular.

But Gore’s campaign tried to steal the Republican’s clothes-just as Clinton and Gore stole Republican policies while in office. Clinton and Gore slashed welfare for the poorest. They scapegoated immigrants, broke their promises about healthcare and loved up to big business. They built a record number of prisons, led a racist “war on drugs”, used US forces to bomb across the world, and starved Iraqis through sanctions. Gore’s election campaign emphasised “budget balancing”, and his support for the death penalty and the 1991 Gulf War.

Bush distanced himself from the hard right Republicans. He posed as a “Washington outsider” who vaguely promised to reform education, social security and healthcare. In the end is it any surprise that two virtually indistinguishable candidates received virtually indistinguishable votes?

A child of the system

BUSH has bought his way to the top thanks to money and a famous father. George Bush senior has been president of the US, vice-president, and the director of the CIA.

Bush junior went from the elite US college Yale to make his fortune in the Texas oilfields. Bush started a business, Arbusto Energy Inc. Between 1979 and 1983 around 50 rich individuals-backers of his father and the Republicans-pumped in millions. When Bush senior became US vice-president, Bush junior cashed in by changing the company’s name to Bush Exploration.

Bush’s oil days were not very successful, and his company built up heavy losses and debts. The Harken Energy Corporation bailed him out. It made Bush a director and paid him a fortune in consulting fees and stock options. “His name was George Bush. That was worth the money,” said Harken’s founder.

Harken, small fry in the global oil industry, quickly won a major contract with the government of Bahrain. Bush junior then sold two thirds of his holdings in Harken for nearly $1 million and bought a small share of the Texas Rangers baseball club for $500,000. Bush and his business friends grabbed $200 million in public subsidies to build a new stadium, and grabbed the land surrounding the stadium at cheap prices.

The new stadium and the surrounding real estate boosted the price of the Texas Rangers so that when Bush sold his share he raked in $15 million.

As governor of Texas Bush repaid those who helped him over the years. Prestigious appointments went to Donald Evans (chief executive of the Tom Brown oil and gas company, which Bush was a director of) and Tony Sanchez (chief executive of the Sanchez-O’Brien oil and gas corporation). Another big beneficiary was Richard Rainwater, the financier behind Bush’s Texas Rangers deal.

Rainwater set up a chain of private hospitals and a real estate company which bought up cheap buildings sold off by the Texas teachers’ pension fund.

Gore’s business link

THE GORE family is mired in corporate money. Al Gore’s father was a senator. Armand Hammer, who built up Occidental Petroleum into one of the world’s biggest oil corporations, used to say he had Al Gore senior “in my back pocket”. When Gore senior retired from politics in 1970, he got a job as chairman of an Occidental subsidiary and a seat on Occidental’s board of directors.

When zinc ore was discovered on the Gore family farm in the 1960s Occidental began paying them $20,000 a year for the mineral rights to mine it. Oil-rich Now the land is leased to Union Zinc, but Gore junior still gets at least $20,000 in royalties a year.

One of Gore junior’s major achievements in the White House was to get the Energy Department to sell off the oil-rich 47,000-acre Elks Hills reserve in California.

That was something Republican presidents Nixon and Reagan failed to do. In 1997 Elks Hills was sold to Occidental Petroleum for $3.65 billion. The deal tripled Occidental’s US oil reserves at one go. Since early 1997 Gore has held monthly meetings with top executives from Silicon Valley who have given the Democrats over $1.5 million in contributions. They benefited from Gore’s plans to pay for internet access for every school in the US by a tax on telephone calls.

The Disney Corporation paid $9,000 for a Gore fancy dress party just as it was waiting for approval for its $19 billion acquisition of the American Broadcasting Company from the Justice Department-chaired by a longtime friend of Al Gore. It got it.

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