Venom in the Ruling Class:
The Making of a U.S. President

Revolutionary Worker #1081, December 3, 2000, posted at

As the days ticked on after the November national elections, the system's two political camps dug in. Their grim struggle for power sharpened and became even more openly hostile. This struggle was triggered by a fight for the White House--but in many ways it brought back to the surface those intense contradictions within the ruling class that produced the impeachment of President Clinton in 1998.

The Democrats say they won the national popular vote and the local Florida vote, but claim they were robbed in the first Florida vote counts. Gore's camp announced that if the State of Florida certified George W. Bush the winner on November 26--without finishing or accepting manual recounts in the main heavily Democratic counties--the Democrats intended to challenge this decision.

Meanwhile, the Republican forces are using words like "coup d'etat" and "slow motion larceny"--blatantly accusing the Democrats of stealing this election through "mischief" in the Florida recounts.

On one level, the ruling class as a whole is concerned with resolving this crisis, choosing a new President, and investing him with the traditional "legitimacy" of his office. But at the same time, the bitter hostilities within that ruling class suggest that the legitimacy of this next President may be "tainted" no matter who wins.

At the time of the Clinton impeachment struggle, we wrote: "On the part of powerful forces grouped in and around the Republican Party, there has all along been not just intense opposition but seemingly visceral animosity toward Clinton and his Presidency--and a willingness to diminish the 'stature of the Presidency' overall in order to go after the particular President--which has no parallel in contemporary U.S. history." (See "The Truth About Right-Wing Conspiracy...And Why Clinton and the Democrats Are No Answer" in RW #983 or on

This hatred and willingness to diminish the Presidency has resurfaced again in the so-called "scorched earth strategy" of the Republicans--where they are positioning to portray Gore as illegitimate even if he ultimately wins the contest. The Republicans have even charged Democrats with systematically disqualifying military absentee ballots in Florida, which (in the context of bourgeois politics) suggests that Al Gore would be unfit to command the U.S. military. Rush Limbaugh remarked, "This is the impeachment process being played out all over again."

Republican Senate leader Trent Lott remarked about New York's Senator-elect Hillary Clinton: "I'll tell you one thing, when this Hillary gets to the Senate--if she does (maybe lightning will strike and she won't )--she will be one of 100, and we won't let her forget it." The fact that such things are now said about a "First Lady" and barely raise eyebrows shows how raw these hostilities have become.

Even if this election crisis is resolved soon--meaning: even if one candidate is forced to concede, followed by some official show of "unity behind the winner"--there are many signs in this crisis that there will be bitter, ongoing infighting within the ruling class ahead no matter who gets to the White House.

A Glimpse of How Things Really Work

This U.S. political system is promoted all over the world as the model of how politics should be conducted. Whenever power changes hands in the world these days, little legions of Americans show up to tell everyone what they should be doing.

So it is eye-opening (and even fun) for people all over the world to see the U.S. elections break open into a nasty public power struggle. At the beginning of this conflict, it was in the interests of the Democrats to allow a little dirt from the elections to leak into public view--and so suddenly millions of people are getting a glimpse of just how screwed up and manipulated U.S. elections really are.

Thousands in Palm Beach County voted accidentally for the wrong candidate (in a race where the margin was in the hundreds). Missing ballot boxes were "discovered" all over the state. The Republican state government removed thousands of people from the election rolls at the last minute, accusing them (falsely) of being "felons." In Florida over 400,000 former prisoners are prevented from voting--affecting the potential vote count in poor communities. There were state police roadblocks in two Florida counties that harassed Black voters. And the world saw a snarling Republican crowd outside the Miami-Dade County election offices, banging on the doors to demand that recounts stop.

With a wink, Zimbabwe's Information Minister proposed that "Africans and others should send observers to help Americans deal with their democracy.''

All during this 2000 election crisis, there has been lots of rhetoric about "the will of the people." But, as this election hung on without a victory, it is becoming clear that the outcome will not be decided by the votes--but by how those votes get counted. And the fight over how those votes will be counted is shifting behind the closed doors of this system's top courts. The U.S. Supreme Court announced they will hear Republican arguments against manual recounts of Florida votes on December 1.

In other words, the final decision over power will not be made by "the voters," but by struggles within the ruling class. If this crisis continues on into the U.S. Supreme Court, we will all be told how an impartial "rule of law" supposedly protects us from the partisan "rule of men." But it is a lie to say that there is some "rule of law" that stands above classes and above politics. Every day, this is shown again and again in the experience of oppressed people in the U.S.

People say: "In the courtrooms and jails, there is no justice. There is just us." Meaning: The way you get treated depends on who you are.

Every day, this legal system performs one of its main jobs: working to contain and repress poor people and often in incredibly brutal and arbitrary ways. Now, this election crisis is showing this legal system serving its other main function--resolving disputes within the ruling class.

The higher courts of this system are supposed to stay removed from the partisan passions and sectoral interests within the ruling class. This is where their legitimacy comes from. And if this presidential case reaches the U.S. Supreme Court, they will attempt to pass on some legitimacy to the next president and the process that selected him.

But here too, politics--ruling class politics--is in command. High court decisions do not come from some "impartial" examination of legal passages concerning vote-counting. The top courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court, are highly political bodies assembled to consider, struggle over and decide key issues of power within the ruling class--from the point of view of the interests of that ruling class as a whole.

Or at least, that is the way it is supposed to work. In reality, various court decisions reflect the partisan pulls and loyalties of the different sections of the ruling class. In this crisis, various laws and election regulations have been blatantly "interpreted" in a partisan way by courts and "controlling legal authorities" (like the county election boards and Florida's Republican Secretary of State Harris). And this is true even with regard to what they call "that most sacred act of our democracy"--voting for President.

All sides in this dispute know this well--that is why the Democratic Party appealed to the Florida Supreme Court (filled with Democratic appointees) and the Republican Party quickly answered with a petition to the U.S. Supreme Court--with a majority of Republican appointees headed by Chief Justice William Rehnquist.

This Chief Justice Rehnquist started his political career as a Republican poll watcher in Arizona, assigned to challenge and intimidate Black and Latino people who showed up to vote. In a perverse sense, he can be considered a true bourgeois expert on many of the issues that are about to come before his court.

In one sense the Supreme Court really is detached: it is completely detached from the masses of people. When key power struggles move into the high courts, the decisions are made in secret deliberations of the ruling class. The masses of people can't even listen in, let alone speak.

Either Way, A Reactionary Program

As soon as the election was over, George W. Bush resumed executing people in Texas. Meanwhile, the Clinton administration has been preparing to carry out the first federal execution of a prisoner since 1963. This is just one of the many issues where these two ruling class parties have firm political unity.

The RW wrote in The Truth About Right-Wing Conspiracy: "In the present period and the present 'global environment,' the requirements of the capitalist economic and social system not only demand that the lords of capital be able to carry out their supreme commandment, 'let us prey,' in a more unrestrained and more 'mobile' way, on a world scale. They also demand, within American society itself, a slashing of major social programs and a heightening of the repressive powers of government, along with the fostering of a repressive social atmosphere. They demand what the organization Refuse and Resist! has called the politics of cruelty, or the politics of poverty, punishment, and patriarchy. On this, the mainstream of the bourgeois body politic is in agreement, even while they differ and at times battle sharply over some of the terms, over the pace and the specific forms, with which to implement this politics--and the extremes to which it should be carried at any given time."

There are deep disagreements over the "pace and specific forms" for carrying out the common interests of the monopoly capitalist class. We are watching a fight among our oppressors. No matter which presidential candidate wins, significant forces within the ruling class are likely to be challenging their legitimacy. And large sections of the people are likely to believe that power was stolen. There are widespread concerns within the ruling class that this can deeply affect official politics for years to come, and even open up cracks in the system that could cause major social upheavals.

None of this is bad news for people who want serious social change. There is nothing to be gained for the masses of people--no real change, no liberation, no breathing room, no hope of influence--in supporting one of these sides against the other. And there will certainly be no reason for us to "rally around the victor."

When this crisis is resolved, no matter how bitter or divisive it becomes, power will be in the hands of some representative of the ruling class. And this will always be true until, through determined struggle, people have forged a revolutionary movement that succeeds in overthrowing that ruling class. And, as part of those revolutionary preparations, there are opportunities within this current crisis to help many more people see the illegitimacy of this whole system--its completely corrupt and oppressive nature which is based in the deliberate deceit and daily exploitation of people all over the world.

This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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