The Next Four Years

Against the Current, No. 161, November/December 2012

The Editors

NASTY, BRUTISH AND long, the U.S. election will reach its conclusion on November 6, 2012, to the general relief of an exhausted population — unless the process is dragged into the courts over voter suppression and ballot machine fraud. This issue of Against the Current goes to press before Election Day, but will reach our readers afterward. What matters most in any case is the prospect for the next four years, whatever the election outcome.

No strong, sustained economic recovery — in the United States or Europe — is anywhere on the horizon. After all the political blather about “the middle class,” downward pressure on workers’ standards of living and assaults on unions will most certainly intensify. Inequality and poverty will grow, particularly along racial lines. Public education will be under sharper attacks on national, state and local levels, especially teachers, whose jobs and futures will be subject to ”evaluation” not by educators but by data-driven dummies.

These will be realities of class struggle in the United States, whether under the conservative governance of a second term for president Obama or the radical reactionary politics of a Romney-Ryan administration. But wait, there’s more.

With 100% certainty — until and unless there’s a profound transformation of popular consciousness — no action is forthcoming to reduce our fatal reliance on fossil fuels or seriously address the environmental disaster that is now unmistakably unfolding. The Great Plains and Midwestern drought may well be semi-permanent, adding to already severe threats to food security for many Americans and hundreds of millions throughout the world.

Summer Arctic ice, southern hemisphere rain forests, habitats for species large and small are disappearing, while the ranges of parasites bearing diseases like malaria and West Nile virus expand northward. “Fracking” for natural gas, expanded offshore oil drilling, and very likely the eventual approval of the Keystone pipeline for Canadian tar sands oil only bring on the disaster faster.

In the area of civil liberties, the past four years — as is usual in times of war and austerity — have been an almost total disaster, a trend that will continue with further attacks on women’s right to choose, increased racial and religious profiling and police violence,  and even possibly the overturn of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. The one decent exception has been the advance of gay and lesbian rights, with the end of official discrimination in the military and gains for same-sex marriage. However slow and far from adequate these improvements may be, they are steps forward won through hard struggle.

The marked social decline in the United States is bound to accelerate — until it’s challenged by massive movements from below. We don’t know, as these lines are written, whether these cascading crises will proceed under a centrist, thoroughly pro-corporate Obama second term, or under a president Romney, that hollowed-out political zombie taken over by the Tea Party, and his vice-president Paul Ryan designated for that post by the Koch brothers. Between those respectively uninspiring and freaky-scary alternatives, the reelection of president Obama appears a bit more likely — despite his somnolent performance in the first presidential “debate” — with the Republicans likely to retain a majority in the House of Representatives and the Senate closely contested.

The Republicans’ problem has been that ultimately, they reveal who they are. When Todd Akin of Missouri crawled out from under some rock to proclaim that women don’t get pregnant from “legitimate rape” because “their bodies can shut that whole thing down,” the Republican prospects for taking the Senate were sharply reduced. Romney’s own attempts to “show people who he really is” worked unfortunately too well with the video expressing his view of 47% of the population as parasitic moochers.

Yet aside from his ignorance of basic biology, Congressman Akin’s views on abortion — to be totally outlawed with no exceptions — are entirely in line with the Republican platform. Romney’s blatant contempt for the non-affluent, however disastrous politically, reflect exactly how his five-figure-per-plate audience thinks, and what they want to hear. And Romney’s promise to “create jobs and rising incomes” — at the very moment when workers at Sensata Technologies in Freeport, Illinois, operated by Bain Capital, were trying to block trucks moving equipment out of the plant to be shipped to China — shows what a lying fraud he really is, except that the Obama campaign won’t mention it. (

Still, despite obscene amounts of money from super-wealthy interests pouring into Romney’s Super-PACs, conservatives never trusted him because of his once-moderate record as governor of liberal-leaning Massachusetts. Indeed, Romney’s career reflects a famous statement of Marx — not Karl, but Groucho, who quipped: “These are my principles. If you don’t like them, I have others too.”

Second Term Perspectives

For those sectors of corporate capital who want cautiously conservative, don’t-rock-the-boat government, president Obama is the logical choice (and would probably be overwhelmingly favored if he were white). For those driven by pure greed, or obsessed with the possibility of destroying organized labor and Social Security in one massive stroke, Romney-Ryan look like the ticket. But since a second Obama term still appears the more likely outcome, let’s look a little more closely at that prospect.

Assuming there isn’t a new financial meltdown, there’s no reason to expect this president or congressional Democrats to wage a fight for another economic stimulus or jobs package, as desperately necessary as such a program is. More likely, the president will revert to his own version of budget-cutting, based on the supposedly “balanced” Bowles-Simpson Commission report — cutting Social Security and other social entitlements down the road, with some marginal increase in the tax rates for the very wealthy, which Republicans fiercely oppose.

Meanwhile, although unable to repeal “Obamacare,” Republicans will work to gut the Affordable Care Act by denying the funds to implement its key provisions, which they can certainly do with a Congressional majority or Senate filibusters. If the Republican strategy of the past four years was to block and sabotage the president at every turn, why change now?

In any case, the president’s nomination acceptance speech and his campaign in general have made very few commitments. Aside from health care, his signature program may be the poisoned fruit of bipartisanship known as “education reform” — turning huge chunks of public education over to a form of corporate welfare in the form of charter schools. Arrests and deportations of undocumented immigrants continue without letup — and despite the president’s suspension of deportations of “Dream-eligible” young people, they remain cut off from access to all kinds of health and educational benefits.

The party conventions pretty much summed up bourgeois politics in the United States now: The Republicans systematically lie about the Democrats and about themselves; the Democrats tell the truth about the Republicans, but lie about themselves. It’s also notable that both presidential candidates aren’t running with their party programs, but away from them. For the Romney campaign, it’s as if the far-right Republican platform never existed; president Obama is hardly even running as a Democrat but as the icon of a post-partisan political mythology.

But on one issue at the Democratic convention, at least, the president and the party leadership did make clear where they really stand. Delegates on the platform committee succeeded in removing a particularly odious clause affirming Jerusalem as the undivided capital of Israel — a position supported by no government in the world, including the United States, because this would ratify the 1967 Israeli military occupation and annexation of East Jerusalem. But the president and his political heavies immediately intervened, ordering that the clause be restored to the platform, blatantly pandering to the Israel Lobby. When the issue came to the floor — requiring a two-thirds vote to reverse the platform committee report — the chair, LA mayor Villaraigosa, took three voice votes and declared it approved despite obvious evidence to the contrary.

So much for democracy inside a party of imperialism — but more importantly, this little episode serves to confirm this administration’s complete moral and political collapse on Palestine. President Obama and his team have agreed to accept every Israeli act of savagery in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, and to block every international initiative by the Palestinian Authority, in return for Israel holding back from attacking Iran against U.S. wishes.

At the same time, Obama’s is now clearly defined as a war presidency. While sort-of ending the overt U.S. occupation of Iraq and slowly pulling back from what he called “the right war” in Afghanistan — which is ending about as badly as George W. Bush’s Iraq disaster did — he has embarked on the obscenity of covert drone warfare in multiple countries, blatantly lying about large-scale civilian deaths, broken his promise to close Guantanamo prison, and promoted a coup government in Honduras in a reversion to the worst years of U.S. backing for death-squad Central American regimes. Most dangerously, this administration slides ever closer to its own confrontation with Iran — even while it holds back Israel from pushing the pace too fast to suit U.S. interests.

As ignorant and hare-brained as Mitt Romney’s pronouncements that the United States “should be shaping events” in the Arab world may sound — as if the last such attempts worked out so well — there has been nothing progressive to show for president Obama’s early and now-faded rhetorical flights. Nor is there any reason to expect differently in a second term.

Resistance and the Left

Let’s not fool ourselves: The U.S. left, such as it is, has no influence on the outcome of this bourgeois election and no decent reason to support either capitalist party.

We have no electoral counterpart of the NPA in France or Syriza in Greece, nor even the equivalent of the traditional European parties of social democracy or the far left. Voting for the Green Party, the Socialist Party or (in California) the Peace and Freedom Party is a useful statement in support of a necessary progressive alternative, but we fully recognize that even a few-percent vote for these parties put together would be a huge achievement. At best, perhaps, well-positioned activists can influence the outcome of some important state and local ballot initiatives.

The left belongs first and foremost, as always, in the social struggles. Let’s step back and look at the rather impressive outbreaks of resistance over the past few years:  There was the Wisconsin Uprising, and the successful Ohio fight against the abolition of public sector collective bargaining. There were the magnificent and heroic mobilizations of immigrant youth standing “Undocumented and Unafraid.” Coming on top of all this, of course, the fantastic Occupy movement of 2011-12 changed the political discourse in this country. Even though the visible encampments are gone, Occupy has strengthened all kinds of lesser-known fights around home foreclosures and predatory bankstering, environmental justice, police abuse and numerous other community issues.

These upsurges have tended to be powerful but difficult to sustain and somewhat episodic, due fundamentally to the absence of strong deeply-rooted social movements (organized labor or Black Liberation in particular) capable of providing institutional support and continuity between high points of struggle. Perhaps now, a turning point has been reached in the successful strike of the Chicago Teachers Union against “Mayor 1%” Rahm Emanuel and the vicious “reform” agenda of his handpicked school board.

That fight continues in Chicago over the looming mass closures of schools and the reduction of teachers and students to cogs in the standardized-test machine, but it also needs to spread through other cities and indeed throughout unions and communities all over America. It’s up to all of us to do what we can to help make it happen — possibly the key to a renewal of hope in the generally grim realities facing working people in the next four years.

[For updated analysis and responses to the results of the election, visit our website at]

November/December 2012, ATC 161