Washington, D.C—To much of the world, the United States is an out-of-control empire that must be carefully talked back down off the ledge before it drags everyone over the edge.
This situation is made all the more tricky because it is accompanied by unsettling suspicions that the empire—facing insurgencies around the world, its military stretched thin—is losing power. Things don’t look good. The standard of living appears to be declining, trade is in dangerous straits, the dollar is losing to the euro.
At a time when most of the rest of the world hopes we will rejoin the international community, Bush is sounding more aggressive and militaristic than ever. When everyone else thinks we made a bad move in the Middle East and are facing disaster, the Republicans shrug off the facts and call it victory: “Today, because America has acted, and because America has led, the forces of terror and tyranny have suffered defeat after defeat, and America and the world are safer,” proclaims the party platform.
Cheney says we are winning the war on terror from a podium in Madison Square Garden, where $50 million was spent last week to protect the victorious Republican officialdom from the defeated Al Qaeda.
News from the liberated colonies is grim. American troops are killed in ones and twos in Iraq day after day and are coming under increasing fire in Afghanistan—the two nations we liberated. Our commander in chief and his staff sat on their hands all during the first half of 2001, receiving warning after warning that an attack was coming, and never told us.
With its neoconservative foreign policy, the Bush administration continues its strategy of ridiculing and dissing international diplomacy through the U.N. and other institutions and, instead, pushes ahead with regime change by unilateral military force. “We are going after terrorists wherever they plot and plan and hide, changing the old course of pinprick strikes that did little to get at the root of terrorism,” the platform states. “We eliminated many of Al Qaeda’s key leaders and put the world on notice that nations that train, harbor, or finance terrorists are just as guilty as the terrorists themselves.”
Last week at the convention, both Zell Miller, the Southern Democrat keynoter, and Cheney, in back-to-back speeches, ridiculed the very idea of international negotiations:
Miller: “He would let Paris decide when America needs defending. I want Bush to decide.”
Cheney: “Senator Kerry has made it clear that he would use military force only if approved by the United Nations.”
And Cheney laid it on the line: “And on the question of America’s role in the world, the differences between Senator Kerry and President Bush are the sharpest, and the stakes for the country are the highest. History has shown that a strong and purposeful America is vital to preserving freedom and keeping us safe, yet time and again Senator Kerry has made the wrong call on national security.”
Besides national security, the GOP’s propaganda this election is aimed at taxes and sex.
Although the nation’s deficit is growing at an alarming rate, thanks at least in part to reduced revenues caused by Bush’s various tax cuts, the president wants more cuts.
This drive is to be accompanied by “reform” that eventually entails getting rid of the income tax and the hated IRS, two longtime conservative goals.
The Republicans, always alert to opportunities to shift the focus of power from federal to state and local governments, would cite reduced revenues as a rationale for defunding Social Security, thereby weakening the system and bringing on eventual ruin. When Social Security has been broken, then it will be more susceptible to privatization. The platform sets out the program: “Personal retirement accounts must be the cornerstone of strengthening and enhancing Social Security. . . . Today’s financial markets offer a variety of investment options, including some that guarantee a rate of return higher than the current Social Security system with no risk to the investor.” As the holders of 401(k)’s found out.
At home, sex is the determining factor in today’s Republican Party. For social conservatives, men are the thinkers and doers, and women the loving helpmates. A woman’s body, as some leftists would argue, has been exploited like a 19th-century colony: a source of sturdy, willing labor and a factory for more children, to create an ever burgeoning surplus labor force. Through her consumer spending habits (organized by men), the little woman provides a booming economic marketplace. And of course, sex is used to keep her in line. She’s on the receiving end of the power arrangement. Abortion threatens this arrangement.
The key to organizing women is the nuclear family with its “traditional values,” which are enforced by a social policy organized around sex roles, so that you qualify for things like welfare, tax breaks, unemployment insurance, and health care based on where you do it, how you do it, when you do it, and of course, with whom you do it. Under Bush, this role has been held in place by such well-known programs as tax incentives for married couples with children, intimidating anti-abortion regulations and laws, and strictures on welfare programs. As for the nuclear family, the Republicans are clear: “We strongly support President Bush’s call for a constitutional amendment that fully protects marriage, and we believe that neither federal nor state judges nor bureaucrats should force states to recognize other living arrangements as equivalent to marriage. . . . President Bush will also vigorously defend the Defense of Marriage Act.”
These are the three key elements of Republican belief and election strategy. Bush wants to expand the military into the major instrument in foreign policy. When you come right down to it, there probably is not that much difference between Kerry and Bush on Iraq. Because of tradition, Democrats ought to be able to take the initiative on jobs, but this is difficult because Clinton-Gore basically dissed what’s left of the rank-and-file labor movement and scorned the assorted mix of liberals and leftists because they were, as the Democratic Leadership Council never fails to point out, a bunch of sorehead losers who caused the party to crumble during the 1980s. Instead of instituting bold programs to revive manufacturing and directly seeking to stop outsourcing, Clinton introduced a tax write-off here and there.
Women, on the other hand, hold out real promise for Kerry in the election. In recognition of their importance, the Bush strategists at last week’s convention in New York went out of their way to offer a smidgeon of enticement to women, allowing that there was room to discuss abortion within the party and offering up their admiring support for a parade of the plutocratic women of the Bush family at a reception at the Waldorf-Astoria. Laura Bush came forward to explain what a vulnerable guy her husband really is and how much he cares. The press took this as a gesture to married women—who might be wavering because of the war—to see just what a terribly conflicted man her husband has been on this subject.
In the 2000 election, women represented 52 percent of the total electorate, but the Kerry campaign says 22 million unmarried women didn’t vote. The Democratic campaign claims that nearly three-quarters of this group of nonvoters are for Kerry this time around. A survey of Gallup polls over the first half of 2004 shows that registered women voters are pretty much split between Kerry and Bush, with married women tending to favor the president and unmarried women going for Kerry.
On the face of it, women ought to be fed up with Bush, in part because of his attacks on abortion and stem cell research and his continuing assault on women who don’t fit into the social-policy niche of the nuclear family—on all aspects of choices for women, including health care issues and the problem of poverty and ill health among elderly women. In this jobless “recovery,” more women than men are unemployed and stay unemployed longer than men. Perhaps the most insidious attacks on women have come from Bush’s clever manipulation of government reports, which on issues such as health care simply have cut women out of the loop. Information that might help them figure out matters relating to health has disappeared from federal websites.
This is one area where Kerry appears to be consistent and focused, and where the DLC, the center left, minorities, and labor—the party’s foundations—seem to be united.
Additional reporting: Laurie Anne Agnese