The majority of people I have spoken to in these United States of Amerika about the political situation here have ended with an identical statement. Occasionally a word changes in the phrasing, but the meaning is the same, “I will always vote Democrat because they are better than the Republicans.” Now, someone once said that doing the same thing over and over an expecting different results is the definition of stupidity, so for those people dissatisfied with the outcome of their political system it would seem to be a less than quick witted response to the situation. That said, the people who I have met who are ready to slam both parties are those for whom the system works least, or not at all. It is probably more inviting to stick with the idea of a party of virtue, invest emotionally in the political system, and feel like you are on the ‘right’ side when either outcome leaves you comfortable, or more so than reassessing deeply felt beliefs.

So, what truth is there in the statement that the Democrats are always the lesser of the two available evils? To start with, it is important to put this in historical perspective, because it is very definitely not the case that the Democratic Party has always sat on virtues side. When people begin to form inflexible ideas, they decide that things are locked in a certain form, at that points minds close and when challenged become reactionary. I see it a lot, the normal response to questioning national myths too deeply felt to be rational any longer is to ignore the facts and argument and attack personally whoever delivered them. To guard against this, a fluid sense of character is needed, both for oneself and the world around them.

The Democratic Party was the party of the south during the American civil war. They defended, through the chicanery of courts, politics and exhortations in favour of states rights, the institution of slavery. The party changed its policies though. Taking the liberty of adding flesh to the bones of the statement under review, I think that there are two periods since then that give the Democratic party its perceived character.

The first, is the New Deal era of Roosevelt, where the party acted to alleviate the worst suffering of the great depression and in so doing they headed off any greater social unrest or revolutionary impulses. Irrespective of motives – a large internationalist, capital intensive sector of industry was favoured in the deal – this was a period of significant social progress and reform. Crucially, to my mind, the New Deal put forward the idea that in America there would be a guarantee of a decent living and dignity for all and that the government would defend this. In essence, the American dream would be inclusive. (Obviously at this stage blacks, who remain very largely cut out of affluence, were not included, if they ever have been.)

The second period came under Lyndon Johnson, whose great society programs further alleviated poverty and ended legal racism – that now exists de facto, rather than de jure. Along with this, social attitudes towards the rights of women, homosexuals, and other minorities progressed towards a more inclusive point. Obviously, the gains made in the 1960′s have been under attack for some time and remain vexing issues for some, with gay marriage and abortion rights still significant political issues. That not withstanding, the image of the Democratic party as one of defenders of a social safety net, racial equality, and cultural permissiveness persist to this day.

How does this vision of the party shape up today and how much better is the Democratic brand in practice, as opposed to rhetoric, than the Republicans? The first thing to say is that anyone who says that the Democrats are preferable are only dealing with the American reality. Vietnam is a good example of this. (To his credit, LBJ stood down as his guns and butter programs left tens of thousands of American’s dead.) By the end of the war that Kennedy started in Vietnam three million Vietnamese were dead. A further one million were dead in Laos and Cambodia. That is 4/6ths of a Nazi holocaust, not bad going for the good guys.

Vietnam is not an isolated case either. The mayans of Guatemala make no distinction between periods of party rule when they discuss the US; there is none, absolutely none. Israel gets more and more money for settlements and arms whoever is in charge and all the while Palestinians suffer, denied of their most elementary rights. Korea was started with a Democrat in the White House. Cuba was invaded under the watch of the ever so charming and handsome warmonger Kennedy. Clinton bombed Iraq, invaded Haiti, and put forward the new language of humanitarian imperialism that persists in justifying thousands upon thousands of deaths in the third world. Obomber has ruined Libya from the air, decimating the infrastructure of Africa’s most advanced and equitable nation. His bombs fall in Pakistan and Afghanistan daily. Yemen to. And Somalia. Syria may be next, possibly Iran. All bets are off and only a slathering idiot doubts he would have any compunction in attacking either. “We came, we saw, he died.” The motto of the current administration.

This phrase stands jauntily, with smug satisfaction and certainty, next to Madeline Albright’s, “we believe it is a price worth paying.” This was her response when asked for the Clinton administration’s position on the declaration of two UN overseers of the Iraqi sanctions, that after two million deaths as a direct result of western policy, half children, that they felt it was a course “akin to genocide.” As ever in foreign matters, the American politician seems blissfully unaware that they are not paying the price, the dead and their families are through tragic and ruined lives. It is worth noting that when it seems aid agencies gave up counting the dead of the shooting war in Iraq, the total stood at half that killed by the sanctions, which of course are also quite clearly and act of war. (One of Clinton’s first acts was to bomb Iraq of course.) So who is to say whether one was better than the other? Maybe Iraqi’s, but the very point I’m making is that supporters of the Democrats who say that they are preferable, or a lesser evil, have implicitly decided to ignore entirely the situation outside of their own borders. As ever, for all empires, the voice of those that are to be exploited, distressed, and abused are never to be heard; the screams are unsettling.

One of course might ask, as either party will most certainly continue in these barbarous attacks on the poor and dark skinned of the world, does it matter? I think it does, because by voting for a party you confer upon them your legitimacy. This is the nature of democracy, so if we do persist with the myth of participatory government, it must be taken seriously. If you accept that democratic government is a sham, you would never vote anyway. The idea of tactical voting, refusing to give space to third parties, taking the least worst option, means that you are willing to add what small share of right you have in the system to the weight of a group. Once done, you may dissent, but you can never say that the lawful actions they take were not ratified by you. That is a heavy burden, when, for example, tens of thousands of humans are dead under bombs with your stamp of approval, especially when you defend that on no stranger grounds than, “sorry my dear, your daughter and husband may be dead at our hands, but things could be worse, so I defend your loss.”

What about at home, are the Democrats the defenders of the American dream, equality and rights, and a good life for all? Certainly the progressive economic policies are gone. The Keynesian policies of the new deal are long dead, that coalition smashed. After LBJ Republicans sat in the White House for twenty of twenty four years. When the democrats returned they had embraced finance capitalism, economics favouring free-trade internationally and a corporate welfare support system at home. The Clinton administration also put the final nail in the coffin for American Unions, with NAFTA the dying breath. Obama, despite making a firm pledge to back the employee free choice act, has also turned his back on unions, scurrying to the feet of his corporate paymasters. Amongst many, many other broken promises.

The current democratic party is firmly committed to a balanced budget as the primary economic issue moving forward. There is no sound economic argument for this, quite the contrary, it will be a disaster. That is, if you care about the working class or those struggling to find work. The Democratic party do not, not anymore. A balanced budget is a euphemism for shrinking the public sector to allow more private profits to be made from the provision of social necessities. Where no profit is available, scraping the provision of social support for the neediest and find a way to get those dollars in private hands. It means an end to counter-cyclical policies to protect and create jobs. The Democratic part now explicitly favours wealth preservation for the most privileged over wealth creation to benefit the majority. The tax system is now so skewed that funds flow upward, so that the poor are subsidising the investments and bonuses of the wealthy. None of this is up for discussion, let alone being challenged by a President who despite his supine actions won election handily and with a majority in both houses.

Some people will say that it is the Republicans fault. Either they created this mess and now it can’t be fixed, or that they stop meaningful action through legislative wrangling. This is not true. Sixteen of the last twenty-eight years have seen a Democratic president. The Democrats are not hamstrung, a vast majority of the population have been well to their left for thirty years now, polls consistently show this. Rather, if they had any desire to come out strongly in favour of a policy reminiscent of the old, idealised version of the Democratic Party, it would surely be heavily favoured. This was the case for a single payer health system, by the far cheapest, most effective and comprehensive proposal, but it was never up for debate. It was never up for debate because it did not suit the pharmaceutical industry who made out like thieves, predictably, from the final bill. As ever, there were howls from the right, but they could scarcely have crafted a more profitable proposal and had they been in power may have effected an identical piece of legislation that guarantees a further forty million customers for the product of health.

How does the Democratic party, as opposed to the populations of it coastal strongholds, differ from the Republicans? On abortion and gay marriage there is a difference, yet ironically these cultural issues are often treated dismissively as an example of the shallow propaganda that herds the sheep to more reactionary pastures. Certainly though these are an area of difference and strongly felt on both sides. There is a rhetorical difference, but what is that worth? It is worth a lot to people who sit plump and wealthy, nourished in their privilege by a sense of national or partisan virtue. This is not to be underestimated, because it is very apparent that for a great many people, a majority, this American system works really rather well.

There may be almost fifty million people who struggle to get adequate and affordable healthcare and almost exactly the same amount who live under the poverty line, but there is probably a great overlap there. Twenty percent of people may be out of work or underemployed, (this is an election year, so the Obama administration has finagled a figure well below half that), but that means eighty percent have a job. No one is bombing the U.S. and they can continue to bomb with impunity around the world. This is profitable, murderous to, but profitable. Under these circumstances, protecting the status quo is an easy choice to make. Voting Democrat is a vote for stasis, a slow progression towards an inevitably harder future, but getting there whilst enjoying the warmth of the duvet for as long as you can before it is yanked off. It may also be conceived as a vote for the past, but that is luxury. The poor have no choice but to live in the present and worry about the future.

In fact, with the Democrats in power anyone with a left-leaning political view must worry about the future. Central issues for almost any left wing program would include: financial reform, enhanced social provision, education, job creation, wealth redistribution, progressive environmental policy, further respect for social and cultural diversity, a rationalisation of drug policy and less military spending. Economically Obama has managed to offer an adequate stimulus to finance but not the real economy where people go to work and buy goods. As with all Democrats, he is at pains to be as aggressive as possible internationally. On the environment he has been a stunning failure., notably continuing to back off-shore oil drilling and nuclear energy after catastrophic disasters and acquiescing to an oil pipeline in Alaska. His administration was widely blamed for the breakdown of international cooperation at the Copenhagen conference on global warming. Schools are horribly underfunded and budgets are shrinking still. Obama has accepted all of the hated violations of civil liberties Bush put in place and is now actually furthering them. Obama has now claimed the right to murder U.S. citizens at his discretion without trial. No republican could ever have got away with this without a huge backlash, but partisan myopia has nullified many. He has also signed a defence bill allowing the military to try U.S. citizens, cutting from the constitution the right to a fair trial. This list could go on and on.

So what is to be done then, in a two party system with a pair of shits on offer come election day? Vote with your conscience or don’t vote at all. When the divine right of kings lost its legitimacy, the ruling class turned to the people and said you shall govern, or we shall govern for you as you representatives. For fifty years in the middle of the last century the practice of that idea got out of hand. Now the ruling class – there is one, both Bush and Obama gave them trillions of dollars no strings attached as proof that on important matters bipartisan is possible – have taken control again. People are marginalised with propaganda and the system has been closed of with huge sums of money. It is a very American door policy. You can’t tell people you don’t want them in your neighbourhood, or school district, or mall, so you just price them out. Same with the government. By blindly turning up each election day and voting for a party whose policies you do not desire, like a turkey voting for christmas, you give away that little piece of voice that you have been granted and you throw it full weight behind the system and the victor.

It is dubious that a Republican could have done any worse than this. The state of civil liberties are worse than when Bush was in office. These are serious issues , especially the environment, that demand an immediate response t avoid long-term disaster. Anyone who votes Democrat is making things worse. If people would vote with their conscience and endorse policies that they actually desired the Democrats would be forced to listen to popular opinion, something that hasn’t happened in three decades. Politicians are selfish and generally care about their careers more than anything. If Obama was slung out next year it would force the party to ask why and ultimately to accept that it cannot turn it’s back on its supporters as soon as they are in office, having lied horribly to get there. It would necessitate a shift to the left, where a vast majority of American’s favour policy. This would be a real change and drive the party back to the ideas that it used to symbolise. If people persist with outdated images of the party name though, or childish partisan preferences more for a personal sense of superiority than actual results, then this money driven, corporatist, far-right version of the party can persist.

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