The Evil Empire Gets a President

Revolutionary Worker #1084, December 24, 2000, posted at

The empire has a president.

On Dec. 12, the U.S. Supreme Court squashed any recount in Florida--essentially appointing the Republican candidate to the White House. George W. Bush soon emerged from his Prairie Chapel ranch, with a strut that goes well with his smirk. Al Gore appeared on TV to legitimize the winner--calling on people to support the new president. The official news quickly dropped the curtain on the grim struggle over power--and switched, abruptly, to fuzzy post-election, bi-partisan talk of "honeymoon" and good wishes.

But it will hardly work--as millions and millions of people saw the whole deal go down. They saw the system caught up in an inner-ruling class fight over power--with much of its usual myth and camouflage pulled away.

When the 2000 election ended in a tie--the airwaves were filled with constant talk about "now you know how much your vote counts." But only a few weeks later, what a joke that is!

When the spotlight fell on Florida, people saw, day after day, how votes were discarded by the tens of thousands. They saw how the state machinery worked to suppress the vote in Black and immigrant communities--using the "Jeb Crow" tactics of striking people off the voter lists, "losing" ballot boxes, using cheap voting machines in poor neighborhoods that disqualified one out of four votes in some Black precincts, denying Creole interpreters to Haitian voters, and even setting up state police roadblocks to harass people. And once again the deep oppression of Black people, as a people, that marks U.S. society jumped into the headlines.

The decision for president had nothing to do with the "will of the people." All of a sudden, everyone came face-to-face with the Electoral College--an institution from the Founding Fathers designed to prevent the people from controlling politics. And then, when Florida emerged as the deciding battle ground--the decision was not made by votes, but by ruling class institutions and backrooms deals.

Each political camp tried to have the final election decision made in the institutions favorable to them--George W. relied on his brother's political machine in Florida--which controls the Florida legislature and the vote certifying bureaucracy. A secret deal was reached with the mayor of Miami to stop the vote recount in the crucial Miami-Dade County. To get a recount favorable to him, Gore sought approval from the Democrat-appointed Florida Supreme Court--while Bush ended up winning thanks to the U.S. Supreme Court. It was a game of "dueling institutions" within the ruling class--and, in the end, George W. won because his side had the main faces in high places.

Legitimacy, Legitimacy, Who Has the Legitimacy?

"To state it in a single sentence, elections are controlled by the bourgeoisie, are not the means through which basic decisions are made in any case, and are really for the primary purpose of legitimizing the system and the policies and actions of the ruling class, giving them the mantle of a 'popular mandate' and of channeling, confining, and controlling the political activity of the masses of people."

Bob Avakian, Chairman of the RCP

"Who let the dogs out?"

Chant outside Florida capitol
opposing Supreme Court ruling

This time, the election mess threatened to deny the new president the legitimacy or mandate that the election process is supposed to give. And the ruling class is worried--they need to have their actions and their leaders draped with the appearance of popular support--exactly because their class and actions are so profoundly opposed to the interests of the vast majority of people.

This problem hung over the selection process like a cloud. Powerful forces didn't want the Florida votes recounted because they feared it would not resolve the fighting within the ruling class, and because they feared that if the vote count went for Gore key institutions would plow ahead and decide for Bush, creating the problem of a new president who had publicly lost both the national popular vote and the Florida recount.

When the fight in Florida became a collision between the Florida state government and the Florida Supreme Court--the U.S. Supreme Court stepped in to settle it. And that too was revealing.

In a crude political move, a slim 5-4 majority of that court stopped any recounts in Florida and ended the vote. The court was not just split along partisan lines--the dissenting opinion of the Democratic judges was bitter, and openly disrespectful.

And it was openly political--since the conservatives who formed that majority disregarded all their own most public "principles."

The conservatives who form the U.S. Supreme Court pride themselves on being "strict constitutionalists"--and being supporters of the rights of states and legislatures over "judicial activism." And so it is revealing that they chose to do exactly what they claim their principles oppose. They overruled the attempts of the state of Florida to settle this themselves. They overruled the U.S. Constitution (which said a dispute at the state level over electors should go to the U.S. Congress). They did exactly what they told the Florida State Supreme Court not to do: make up new standards to replace the election laws and procedures the Florida state legislature put in place.

And the reason had to do with the crisis of legitimacy--the alternative to this crude and partisan decision of the court was sending the decision to Congress, where the Republican majority is known for being even more crude and partisan. It was the "nightmare scenario" for many in the ruling class--because Congress itself has little legitimacy, and because the Republican majority in the House is hated widely for being extreme and extremely harsh.

A Republican president--rescued by suppressing vote counts and installed by the Republican hit squad of Congress--would have been a scandal. So the Supreme Court conservatives decided to act, to end the contest in a courtroom, not in a congressional foodfight--to wrap whatever legitimacy they had over the proceedings and over the new president.

And they did this at great cost to their own legitimacy--to the myth that the top court rules from non-political heights over the conflicts of society. The liberal Justice Stevens expressed ruling class worries over the damage this would do the Supreme Court as an institution--when he wrote: "Although we may never know with complete certainty the identity of the winner of this year's presidential election, the identity of the loser is perfectly clear. It is the nation's confidence in the judge as an impartial guardian of the rule of law."

Stevens was deeply worried that this act would tarnish the whole capitalist legal system: "The endorsement of [the Bush] position by the majority of this court can only lend credence to the most cynical appraisal of the work of the judges throughout the land."

Pulling Back the Curtain

What institution was not revealed in this whole election mess? The sham of the vote? The electoral slavishness of the media? The election machinery of Florida "delivering" the votes to the governor's brother? The braying legislators in Florida overruling the votes? And the courts, giving lip service to rule of law, while they crudely tried to rescue legitimacy for this system and promote their particular partisan favorites?

As Bush was finally picked, one TV show interviewed a woman who had served as a U.S. election monitor in the Third World, and she bluntly remarked, "We would never have certified this election if it was held anywhere else." The whole thing was and is obviously corrupt and rotten.

From the beginning these candidates were picked, and pre-tested, by the ruling class. They were funded with $200 million each--to indoctrinate the population, to decide which "issues" would be discussed and which would not. In a world sharply divided between rich and poor, between imperialist countries and oppressed countries, between bourgeois and proletarian--the system debated "tax cuts" (i.e., cutting social programs) and privatizing social security. And which candidate would give more to the military. And which one was tougher on testing school kids. A tightly controlled bourgeois debate.

Meanwhile, the intolerable conditions of the oppressed people (here and around the world) were almost completely ruled out of order--no talk of ending poverty, no official debate over ending the prison lockup of millions in the "war on drugs," or ending the border militarization that has left hundreds of immigrants dead. Certainly no talk about real change--and what it would take. The TV debates were so tightly controlled that even the not-so-radical reform ideas of Ralph Nader were considered "not ready for prime time." The ruling class and its political machinery decided who ran, what they said, who got to hear it, and then when there was a stalemate, their state machinery picked the winner--by suppressing the vote count in a court decision!

And at the end of all that, the ruling class has finally decided to hand over their central institutions of government to the control of the Republican Party--at least for now. The White House and the Congress are under overall Republican control for the first time since the 1952 McCarthy period. After months of laying low, the hitmen of the Republican Right are showing themselves--with the creepy Rep. Tom DeLay crowing that the system's agenda for the future is now under unified control.

No wonder millions feel a sense of disgust and disillusionment, and are bracing themselves for whatever comes next.

The Class Politics of "Healing"

"For the sake of our unity and the strength of our democracy, I offer my concession."

Albert Gore

Whose unity? After all this, people are told to embrace the new president, and hope for his "success."

One purpose of elections is "channeling, confining, and controlling the political activity of the masses of people." And that is exactly what the traditional "concession speech" of bourgeois politics is designed to do.

It is a sign that the ruling class (who intend to keep fighting amongst themselves) need to preserve the legitimacy of their common institutions. They insist on respect for the presidency, if not the specific president. And a period will now be set aside to drive home that point among the masses of people. The New York Times said the people needed "a sense of completeness, stability and rightness."

It shows the class nature of Gore and the Democrats--and how little, fundamentally, separates them from the Republicans. Their struggle has been over the pace and form of implementing a common reactionary program--what has been called "the politics of cruelty"--while the whole political agenda has been moved steadily to the right.

That struggle--which broke out in the impeachment fight and in the unrelenting attacks on Clinton--is likely to be very sharp in the months ahead. And as we have analyzed during the impeachment struggle, while the Clinton democrats have played an important role in terms of getting over with this "politics of cruelty," in this time of "major transitions" for the U.S. ruling class, the Republicans have had more initiative, and have been willing to push their reactionary cause in an aggressive "take no quarter" kind of way. And in particular the "hard-core right" seems to have more motivation at this point to step outside conventional "norms" and some established bourgeois tradition--and to be very dogged in doing so. This has been true in their basically uninterrupted attack on Clinton and the Clinton presidency from the very beginning--with an intensity that the Democrats did not have when dealing with Republicans (and recent Republican presidents).

It seems that, to a large extent, the Democrats' preferred method of carrying out their "mission" (and for waging their side of the inner-ruling class struggle) is to position themselves as upholders of the "center"--both in terms of the political spectrum and in terms of "the center holding" (that is: giving extra emphasis to being the upholders of the law, the Constitution, etc.). And while they are certainly carrying on their own kind of struggle with the Republicans, the Democrats do not want to, and do not think they have a basis to, confront the "conservatives" by stepping outside the framework of that "center"--because they do not have support in the ruling class itself to do this. And this has played itself out during the election. And will continue to play itself out in the coming months as the Democrats attempt to position themselves to "fight another day."

Resistance is the Order of the Day

The U.S. ruling class now has a president who lost the popular vote, got the White House with the vote of one Supreme Court Judge, heads a bitterly divided ruling class and Congress, and has an intensely hostile and anti-people program to carry out in a world where he is already hated and distrusted. As workmen hammered together reviewing stands outside the Capitol, comedians on TV asked whether these were for the inauguration or gallows for the new President's next wave of executions.

The ruling class attempted to paper over their contradictions during the election, but they erupted again and came into view--and with this struggle came the chance for millions of people to open their eyes and see how the system really works. But the people have to be hip enough to recognize what the system has revealed--no matter how many Black faces they put in high places.

After this election, who can seriously say that this is a system or a process that will get rid of racism, poverty, or meet the real needs of the people?

As the system inaugurates its new leader, the people need to step up our resistance to the politics of cruelty that will intensify in the new year. And as we take it to the streets for the inauguration, we need to have our sights on building a real revolutionary movement that can take this system down and implement a real revolutionary programme.

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