For much of the eight years of George W. Bush’s administration, the Democrats have tried to distance themselves from it, occasionally criticizing some of its policies. But despite their criticisms, the Democrats have on the whole supported and helped approve many of the policies they pretend to oppose.
September 11th, 2001: The PATRIOT Act
Shortly after September 11th, the USA PATRIOT Act was introduced as a bill into Congress and passed by a nearly unanimous vote (only one Senator voted against it). Once it was signed into law, the Patriot Act laid the foundation for extending the powers of law enforcement and greatly restricting civil liberties. The Patriot Act was an extension of the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act which was passed under Bill Clinton in 1996. The Patriot Act virtually eliminated habeas corpus for anyone the U.S. government deems a terrorist suspect. Habeas corpus is a person’s right to a trial with the evidence presented before a judge to defend their innocence. But under the Patriot Act, the government can hold people as terrorist suspects indefinitely without any trial, and often without any access to a lawyer, or even their families. It also allows for terrorist suspects to be deported, often to a country the U.S. chooses. The Patriot Act also makes it easier for law enforcement to place wiretaps, search houses, read emails, personal mail, banking records, and so on. Under the Patriot Act, law enforcement is granted permission to arrest, detain, interrogate, spy on, and search practically any person law enforcement deems a terrorist suspect, or any person who they think could be useful to a terrorist investigation.
The term “terrorist” is intentionally defined very loosely to include broad groups of people, allowing the U.S. government to pin the charge of terrorist suspect on nearly anyone they wish. The definition includes such vague statements as any person who “intends to intimidate or coerce a civilian population”; or “influence the policy of the government by intimidation or coercion”; or “the use of a dangerous device with the intent to endanger, directly or indirectly, the safety of one or more individuals or to cause substantial damage to property.” These descriptions might just as easily apply to a well-organized strike of workers outside their workplace, or to a mass demonstration of people against a war.
Already in 2003, human rights groups estimated that approximately 15,000 people were arrested and detained by the U.S. government under the Patriot Act. And at least 3,208 of them were deported. Since then the numbers have approximately doubled. In a majority of these cases, evidence against the individuals was not presented. People were often detained for months while their families had no idea what happened to them. And those who were deported sometimes saw their families only hours before they were sent away on a plane.
The Patriot Act was initially passed in October 2001 and was supposed to expire in 2006. But Congress introduced a bill in March 2006 making the Patriot Act permanent. This passed with virtual unanimous support from both Democrats and Republicans. And in 2007, the Democratic-controlled Congress passed HR 1955 (Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act) by a landslide. This bill extends the ability of the U.S. government to label groups of U.S. citizens as terrorists and imprison them.
The Invasion of Afghanistan: “Operation Enduring Freedom”
Less than a month after the September 11th attacks, the U.S. military began its invasion and occupation of Afghanistan on October 7, 2001. Both Democrats and Republicans unanimously supported the invasion from the beginning. The day the bombing began, Congress issued a bipartisan statement declaring that they “strongly support the operation President Bush ordered our military forces to carry out today.”
The pretext for the invasion was that the supposed mastermind behind the September 11th attacks, Osama Bin Laden, and his terrorist organization, Al Qaeda, were in Afghanistan. The brutal Taliban regime, which ruled Afghanistan at that time, was accused by the U.S. of protecting Al Qaeda. The U.S. military issued the Taliban an ultimatum that they either surrender Osama Bin Laden or face a U.S. attack. The Taliban responded to the ultimatum by requesting negotiations and actual evidence that Osama Bin Laden was responsible for the attacks. The U.S. began the attacks anyway.
The impact of the bombing and the occupation that has followed has been horrendous. Within one year of the invasion, the estimated death toll of Afghan civilians was over 3,700 people. The U.S. repeatedly bombed villages, killing entire families. At least twice the U.S. bombed Red Cross food distribution centers.
Soon after the invasion, the Taliban lost power and retreated to Pakistan. The country was ruled by the U.S. military and a puppet government headed by Hamid Karzai, a former Unocal oil company consultant. Karzai was assisting the U.S. in its negotiation with the Taliban in 1999 to construct an oil pipeline to the Caspian Sea.
The alleged reasons for this war were to capture Osama Bin Laden, remove the Taliban regime, and build a better life for the people of Afghanistan. None of this has been accomplished, and life for most Afghanis has only gotten worse. Over 50,000 NATO troops (most from the U.S.) occupy the country. More civilians have been killed by U.S./NATO troops than were ever killed by the Taliban. So far the civilian death toll is close to 20,000. The U.S.-backed puppet government of Hamid Karzai has virtually broken down. Rival groups of brutal warlords, including the reorganized Taliban, control about 75 percent of the country. Women in Afghanistan live in constant fear of kidnapping and rape. Out of 177 countries surveyed (in the Human Poverty Index), Afghanistan came in second to last for standard of living. Over 6.5 million people risk starvation. At least 40 percent of the population is jobless and without an income. Life in Afghanistan is a disaster.
As of July 2008, Democrats and Republicans continue to give full support for war funding and troop increases for the occupation of Afghanistan because they claim it is a crucial battle in the so-called “war on terror.” But the real interests of the U.S. in Afghanistan have nothing to do with the war on terror. The occupation of Afghanistan, along with U.S. military bases in countries to the north, position the U.S. in a key region in Central Asia, which was formerly controlled by the Soviet Union and is expected to become the world’s third largest producer of oil and natural gas by 2010.
The Invasion of Iraq
The Bush administration tried to build support for a war against Iraq based on the three main ideas:
1) That Saddam Hussein was linked to the attacks of September 11th.
2) That Saddam Hussein must be removed from power because his regime possessed weapons of mass destruction, which posed a severe threat to the U.S.
3) To establish a democratic society in Iraq.
The connection between Saddam Hussein and the attacks on September 11th proved to be ridiculous, now exposed as a fabricated lie. For decades, Saddam Hussein and his ruling secular Ba’ath party brutally repressed Islamic militants inside Iraq. Saddam Hussein and Osama Bin Laden’s only relationship was an antagonistic one.
The claims of weapons of mass destruction have subsequently been proven not only false but to be based on evidence fabricated by the Bush administration. No such weapons were ever found in Iraq. UN chief weapons inspectors testified that all of the weapons were destroyed during the 1990s. Many of the documents the Bush administration used to build its case for war have since been proven to be forgeries. Several Pentagon employees and Bush administration insiders have since spoken out about how the case for war was built upon fabricated evidence and outright lies.
And the claim about building democracy in Iraq, though it was a lie from the beginning, has been proved completely false since the day the occupation began.
Despite massive opposition around the world and in the U.S. to the war before it began, coupled with powerful arguments against the Bush administration’s case for going to war, Congress still voted to authorize President Bush to wage war on Iraq. Eighty six Democrats voted in favor of the resolution and 126 voted against it. Many of those who voted against the resolution were not against a military attack, but wanted to go through more diplomacy first. The Democrats strong support for the war was shown most clearly through their continual approval of funding for the war and for troop increases in Iraq ever since.
Today, over five years since the invasion began, daily life in Iraq remains unlivable for most people. Unemployment is as high as 70 percent. The average wage for those with jobs is $150 per month. Consumer goods have doubled in price since the occupation began. Only 37 percent of Iraqi homes are connected to sewer systems. One quarter of Iraqi children suffer from chronic malnutrition. Seventy percent of all childhood deaths result from simple diarrhea and respiratory illness. Ninety percent of hospitals lack essential resources. Estimates of the death toll of Iraqis range as high as over one million. According to the U.N., 100,000 people are fleeing the country each month, with the number of Iraqis now living in other Arab countries estimated at over two million. An estimated 2.5 million are refugees displaced within Iraq. Death squads and militias carry out regular suicide-bombings, creating an estimated daily death toll of 100 Iraqis.
Despite discussions of troop withdrawal, the U.S. shows no intention to ever leave Iraq. Currently, the U.S. has over 15 massive military bases. It is finishing construction of an over 740 million dollar embassy. The embassy includes 21 buildings, its own water source and purification plant, a power plant, and its own bus system. In addition to these bases, the U.S. has been unsuccessfully trying to get the Iraqi parliament to pass a law to hand over Iraq’s oil to U.S. corporations for future decades.
2006 Midterm Congressional Elections
Voters did not elect a Democrat for President in the 2004 presidential election. John Kerry was the Democratic Party candidate. But the differences between him and Bush were difficult for people to identify. Kerry voted in favor of the PATRIOT Act and the invasion of Iraq. He was a firm supporter of the war in Afghanistan. Throughout Kerry’s campaign he made a point to appear to have an equally if not more aggressive foreign policy than George Bush’s.
However, for the election for Congress in 2006, the Democratic Party candidates tried a different strategy. Many candidates campaigned as being harshly anti-Bush and anti-war. Overwhelmingly the public voted in favor of electing Democrats to Congress. The Democrats took 29 seats in the House of Representatives, six seats in the Senate, and took away six governorships from the Republicans. The election gave the Democrats a majority in both houses of Congress, with 51 Democrats to 49 Republicans in the Senate, and 233 Democrats to 202 Republicans in the House. Many people voted for a Democrat because they viewed their vote as a way to stop the war and possibly impeach the Bush administration. Some important Democrats were arguing strongly for impeachment before the elections. Once the Democrats were seated as the majority in Congress, however, their aggressive anti-war rally calls disappeared. Very quickly, Nancy Pelosi, the newly-elected Speaker of the House, announced that impeachment was off the table. And every chance the Democrats got to vote, they actually voted to continue the war. Every war appropriations bill proposed by the Bush administration was passed by the Democratic controlled Congress. That means the majority of the Democrats voted in favor of it. Every new Bush administration appointment was approved by Congress. Just four months after the Democrats were elected to Congress, they voted for an additional $150 billion for war costs in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The Democratic Primaries and the 2008 Presidential Election
The Democratic primary started off with several candidates who had few differences between them. Taking their strategies from the Congressional elections two years earlier, the candidates all campaigned on anti-war and anti-Bush messages. After the first round of primaries the race narrowed down to two candidates, Barack Obama and Hilary Clinton.
Many people became swept up with their campaigns because both candidates offered something new on the surface: the potential of Barack Obama as the first African American President, and Hilary Clinton as the first woman President. But these candidates differed little from each other, and from the Bush administration.
When it comes to the so-called war on terror, both Obama and Clinton have been firm supporters of the Patriot Act, the occupation of Afghanistan, and the occupation of Iraq. They both voted to renew the Patriot Act. Obama and Clinton campaigned behind the idea of increasing the troops and the spending on the occupation of Afghanistan. Though Clinton voted in favor of the resolution that approved the invasion of Iraq, she campaigned on the claim that had she known then what she knows now, she would have never voted in favor of the resolution. Obama was not a Senator at the time of the vote and he campaigned on the claim that he was opposed to the war on Iraq from the beginning. Their voting records in Congress, however, don’t support their campaigns speeches. They both continually voted in favor of bills before Congress that increased the funding for the occupation and sent more troops to Iraq.
Both candidates promised strong support for the policies of the government of Israel, which has carried out a brutal occupation of Palestine for over 50 years.
Both candidates supported the charges of the Bush administration that Iran poses a serious threat to the U.S. They claimed that the threat was great enough to possibly require U.S. military strikes against Iran.
Obama and Clinton’s proposals around health care, have given many people some hope. Both of them campaigned on the promise to bring health care to every citizen in this country. But their health care plans, if enacted, would try to make health care similar to auto insurance. Purchasing health insurance would be required by law, and citizens could even receive fines for not purchasing it. Their plans don’t actually address the underlying problem behind health care, which is its enormous costs, making it unaffordable for millions of people. Requiring health care doesn’t mean that people will magically be able to pay for it. Their proposals offer vague recommendations for allocating some funds to assist those who have low-incomes but these details are not at all clear. Though they may provide small numbers of people with minor assistance in affording health care, their proposals do little more than funnel people’s money into the hands of super-rich insurance companies.
The campaigns of Obama and Clinton looked a lot like the campaigns of previous Democrats. Obama and Clinton tried very hard to appear to represent a real hope for change, but in reality they plan to carry out the same or very similar policies to those carried out by Democrats in the past. Their true colors show when we can see the confidence that the corporate elite have in them. Major contributors to their campaigns are weapons manufacturers, huge banks and financial institutions, media corporations, and other large corporations. The list includes Goldman Sachs, Citigroup, JP Morgan Chase, Lockhead Martin, Boeing, Time Warner. To run a traditional campaign requires the backing of the big corporations and banks. Federal Election Commission Chairman Michael Toner estimated that to be taken seriously, a candidate needed to raise at least $100 million by the end of 2007 and projected that the 2008 campaigns will spend at least one billion dollars.
A Closer Look at Barack Obama’s Campaign for President
It is no surprise that many workers are excited to vote for Barack Obama. For many, it is their way of expressing their outrage against the government’s policies for the last several years. Some see it as a way to vote against the Bush administration and the Republican Party, which Senator McCain represents. When racism remains a powerful division in the U.S., it is understandable why a large percentage of African Americans want to vote for Obama. An African American president is seen by many as the symbol of an end to the racist barriers that have limited opportunities of African Americans for so long. Many have also become attracted to Obama’s message of change. Obama often speaks about bringing change to Washington and about standing up to corporate fat cats. For most working people, struggling just to make ends meet, change is what we need. But as much as Obama may change the face of the President in Washington, he will not change the interests which Washington defends.
Obama’s record in politics shows his priorities far better than any of his campaign speeches. As mentioned, Obama has voted to support the Patriot Act at every opportunity. He has voted to approve hundreds of billions of dollars for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. He plans to increase the number of troops in Afghanistan.
As Senator, Obama has voted for legislation which makes it more difficult for working people to file lawsuits against corporations. In 2005, he voted to pass the Class Action Fairness Act which took away the right to file class action lawsuits in state courts. Now, they can only be filed in federal courts, which hears far fewer of them, and rules in favor of corporations far more often. Obama voted against legislation that would have put a limit to the interest rates credit card companies can charge customers. He also voted in favor of legislation which allowed health care companies to issue apologies instead of payments in cases of malpractice. He supported legislation that allowed mining companies to buy up public land for extremely reduced rates and avoid paying back the cities and states they mine in. As Senator of Illinois, Obama passed legislation restricting pollution by large corporations, winning the support of environmentalists. Obama claims to support alternatives to oil, suggesting ethanol as a clean energy source, as it comes primarily from corn. A leader of the ethanol industry is Archer Daniels Midland, an Illinois based agriculture company, and a major contributor to Obama’s campaigns. The process of converting corn into ethanol, combined with the increased amounts of ethanol needed to fuel engines, makes ethanol a greater polluter than gasoline. The agriculture industry has contributed more than one million dollars to Obama’s campaign.
The largest contributors to Obama’s campaign come from multinational banks, powerful corporate law firms, polluting energy companies, and huge media conglomerates. At the top of this list is Goldman Sachs, which has provided over $500,000 to Obama’s campaigns. Goldman Sachs is one of the largest investment banks in the world. Its board of directors head up corporations such as: General Motors, Pfizer (the world’s largest pharmaceutical company), KB Home (one of the largest construction companies in the U.S.), United Health Group (one of the largest health insurance companies in the U.S.), Temple Inland (a gigantic lumber company and world leader in deforestation), BankOne Corp (a massive banking firm and leader in the credit industry). These firms are connected to corporations like McDonalds, General Electric, and other leading corporations in just about every major industry.
Obama has selected Joe Biden as his Vice Presidential running mate. Biden has been a longtime Washington insider, with over 35 years experience as a defender of the ruling elite of this country.
Biden, unlike Obama, was in the Senate when the vote to authorize the war on Iraq took place. He voted in favor of it. He argued at the time that a war on Iraq would be a “march to peace and security.” Biden has also voted to approve every bill to fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Biden even outdid the Bush administration when he introduced legislation to increase the war appropriations by $13 billion, most of this money going to weapons manufacturers. Biden supports the plan of sending more soldiers to Afghanistan. Biden is also a strong supporter of Israel’s brutal occupation of Palestine. He has accepted tens of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from various Israeli lobbying groups. Biden also voted to pass and renew the Patriot Act.
In 2005, Biden helped pass legislation that severely reduced the ability for workers to file for bankruptcy protection. It was a clear attack on workers and a gift to credit card companies. It makes it easier for landlords to evict a bankrupt tenant. It even allows creditors to take child-support payments away from parents to repay debts. It protects the rich by allowing them to safeguard an unlimited amount of funds as equity in their homes. It even allows creditors to give misleading information about credit card contracts. The credit card companies had been trying to pass this legislation for years. When it was finally passed in 2005, these companies had spent $34 million on lobbying and campaign contributions in the previous nine years. The credit company MBNA is from Biden’s congressional state of Delaware. They contributed tens of thousands of dollars to his senatorial campaign. They were even involved in a scandal in which an executive from MBNA paid top dollar to buy Biden’s house. To everyone, it looked like nothing more than a strategy to funnel more money into Biden’s pockets.
Biden also played a major role in attacking the poor and working class in the 90s. Biden helped pass legislation introduced by the Clinton administration to kick millions of people off of welfare. Obama supported the legislation as well. The legislation reduced food stamps, medical assistance and all around assistance to those most who needed it most.
Today, with wages down, prices up, corporations getting richer, and life for most working people seeming to only be getting more difficult, workers are right to want a change. But make no mistake about it – we need to see more than symbolic change. The change we want to see is not going to come from an Obama/Biden presidency, or the Democrat Party they represent.
At a time when the majority of the population is fed up with the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq; with an economic crisis threatening their lives and livelihood; with escalating gas and food prices; with rising unemployment, mortgage foreclosures, lack of health care and increasing crime, there is a great need and potential for new social struggles in the U.S. today.
When the approval ratings for both the Bush administration and the Democratic majority Congress are in the low twentieth percentiles, there is obviously great disillusionment and unhappiness with the current political situation and the two major parties who control the government. There is certainly every reason for people to be looking for a change coming from outside of the “politics as usual” of presidential elections and the selling of new presidential candidates.
This is not a time to repeat the mistakes of the past and put new hopes in the Democrats and elections. If people take the 15 minutes it takes to vote because they feel they have to simply register their disapproval of the policies of the last eight years of Bush, that is understandable. But there should be no illusions that anything of significance will come from the vote.
Much more important than this election is what people are prepared to do. Our future does not rest with electoral choices. As this pamphlet has attempted to show by examining the betrayals of the Democrats throughout the past, the Democrats are masters of trickery and deceit. Our hope for change cannot be placed in the passive act of voting for one of two major capitalist parties and their pre-approved and pre-selected candidates, packaged by the media for our consumption as if we were shopping at the mall.
The future will be determined by what the masses of people in the U.S. decide to do today and in the future. It will be decided in the workplaces, neighborhoods and the streets of this country. It will depend on how strongly people mobilize themselves and depend on their own forces and their own struggles. It is a question of choosing our own leaders, based on seeing what they do, so that we know whom we can trust and who is not trustworthy.
The U.S. ruling class has the two main parties of this country at its complete disposal and service. To have a real alternative means to have organizations that really serve and represent the working class and the oppressed layers of the population, the vast majority.
To build a working class party is the objective of Speak Out Now. We know, of course, we are not going to do it by ourselves. But we know also that it is in the interest of the majority of the population and there are many activists and groups who share this objective, and even more people who could support it. It’s why we invite all those interested in that goal to join us in order to help organize workers and youth, students and young workers, all who are ready to fight against capitalist society and turn their backs on all the capitalist parties and politicians, whether they present themselves as liberal or conservative, Republicans or Democrats.
The Democratic Party is just recycling the same old strategy. We need a real alternative, an alternative based on our own interests, our own forces, our own energy and our own efforts.
Those who don’t learn from history are destined to repeat the mistakes of the past. Those who study history at least have a chance to learn from the struggles and to see the traps that have been laid. This hopefully can help us to take a different path in the future.