Looking at the very specific combination of as yet undetonated anger against the system, the collapse of the Republic Party around its own hypocrisy and contradictions, and the very real signs that the election means a shift in consciousness and confidence among the people around us, we should be elated at the downfall of the Republicans—without any illusions in the Democrats.
There has been jubilation across the land, with no fewer than a dozen emails in my inbox expressing euphoria on the Democrats’ taking control of the House and the Senate. Outright delirium has met Rumsfeld’s resignation. Democrats are clearly the beneficiaries of mass discontent with the Bush administration: Exit polls show that 59% voters expressed anger or dissatisfaction with the Bush administration and six of ten voters said they support withdrawing troops from Iraq. 41% said corruption was extremely important to their decision.
Done in by hypocrisy, misconduct, economic inequality, and a war we are losing. Bush and his crew are on the ropes: The Wall Street Journal editorialized that the Republicans have not faced a tougher political climate since Watergate. World leaders are hoping that a chastened cowboy President will stop riding roughshod over the world. Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez: “It’s a reprisal vote against the war in Iraq, against the corruption. . . all this fills us with optimism.” In the Mideast, it is reported, leaders where glad that the U.S. president had paid the price for actions in Iraq. (One Pakistani lawaker said he had hoped for more—maybe a war crimes trial.)
While socialists generally regard Democrats as a business party—capitalism’s B team– very little different from the Republican wing of the business party (and from Clinton’s ending welfare, DOMA signing, etc. Presidency alone, there is evidence for this), this feels like a big change. We cannot act as bystanders wishing a pox on both their houses.
The point is that people’s expectations have been raised by this election. Progressives expect Democrats to withdraw troops from Iraq, make affordable health care happen, promote immigrant rights, raise the minimum wage, rebalance the disparities between haves and have-nots, and so on–but the Dems cannot follow through. Pelosi & Co already have expressed a tendency toward bipartisanship and conservatism.
We celebrate the defeat of the Republicans and the raised hopes of the working class in this country and around the world, who are looking for relief from neoliberalism and war. The widespread victory of the Democratic Party in these elections does not mean we put our hopes in them, however.
The people around us celebrating the defeat of the Republicans are our audience. Their aspirations—to end the war, to make a fair economy, improve health care, and so on—are our aspirations. We can organize on that basis knowing that if we expect the Democrats to come through on all of that, we will be disappointed. We have no illusions in the Democratic Party. But the new confidence among our allies will help to build movement organizations against the war and for social justice that can hold their feet to the fire when they, inevitably, betray us.
Compare these Democratic victories with the election of FDR in 1932—he was elected on the basis of a “new deal” (much like the “new direction” slogan dominating the rhetoric of triumphant Dems) and people’s expectations put pressure on him from below—and their near-revolutionary activity sealed the deal. It was the new hope and confidence, plus high expectations after his inauguration that made for the eruption of the closest thing we’ve had in this country to two-sided class war. There is a real opportunity in the rise in confidence and expectations in the wake of these elections. We have tremendous class inequality and a significant degree of anger at the system that has yet to erupt. So our task is to fight the right and to build the left.
So, as far as I’m concerned, it’s time for a party—in two senses—the Republican crack-up should be a cause for a hootenanny; and it is an opportunity to build a fighting alternative to both mainstream parties on the basis of the message sent in these elections about what people really want: new priorities based on human need not war and greed. My friend’s email basically sums it up: “How wonderful it was to wake up this morning to such a national landslide! In spite of the sickening racist defeat of Harold Ford in Tennessee, there’s an amazing amount to celebrate. Now the work begins!”
Now the work begins.