A recurring problematic which invites new investigations constantly is one that addresses a fundamental question concerning America's political culture: How different are the two major political parties: the Republicans and the Democrats? The fact that the United States regularly has one of the lowest voter turnout rates in all the industrial democracies is proof to some scholars that no significant choices are presented in the United States at election time.
What, then, is the significance of recent Republican electoral victories? Howard Zinn has observed that all politicians are responsive to political pressure. In the past, Republicans have implemented reforms when they felt it necessary or expedient, like President Eisenhower's sending federal troops to Little Rock, Arkansas, in 1957, to enforce an antisegragation court order, or, in 1973, when President Nixon instructed Secretary of State Kissinger to sign the historic cease-fire agreement with North Vietnam, or, in 1988, when President Reagan signed into law a bill that apologized and promised a payment of $20,000 to each surviving member of the tens of thousands Japanese-American families who had been illegally imprisoned in U.S. detention/indoctrination camps during the Second World War. [See Feeley, America's Concentration Camps, the Uses of Social Science during World War II, 1999.) Ultimately, according to Zinn, power resides with the people. However, by default, it is often seen in the hands of an elite who are pursuing their private interests at the cost of public well-being.
Presidential candidate Ralph Nader, when asked what real differences existed between the candidates of Republicans and Democrats in America, replied : Perhaps it is the velocity with which their knees hit the ground in front of corporate interests?
Historically, political pressures most often originate from ruling class alliances because their immediate interests are usually well-defined, enabling them to become effectively organized very quickly. Nevertheless, while representing the private interests of large corporations and wealthy property owners, professional politicians in America cannot afford to completely ignore public interests, such as clean air and water, public education, safety of foods and drugs, and, at employment sites, health care, disability insurance, minimum wage standards, etc., etc….
When public interests are no longer perceived as being compatible with the private interests for capital gains, protests like mass demonstrations, labor strikes, and other expressions of popular resistance occur across the nation. Such social movements sometimes reach a magnitude that effects qualitative changes in government policies, and sometimes even social structures are modified to accomodate public interests --regardless of the political affiliation of government officials at the time.
Bertell Ollman, Professor of Politics
at NYU, observes that social class struggle is not always at the level
of direct confrontation, but when confrontations do occur the win/loss
record is a mix : health care, minimum wage, unemployment insurance,
old-age pensions, disability insurance, and welfare, to take only a few
examples, were not "gifts" bestowed by a benevolent ruling class, nor,
for that matter, was the "Bill of Rights" back in 1791 (which includes,
among other things, the guarantees of free speech, free press and the right
of public assembly in America). [See Ollman, Dialectical Interventions,
In an effort to see where the ruling classes are taking us today, scholars are digging for historical analogies and explanations of how we got to this point in time, and what people in the past have done to try to protect themselves against the relentless drives for private profits, and the extreme lengths to which political leaders are willing to go in order to capture power. [See, Michael Moore's satirical but historically accurate reflections on this subject, in Atelier No.15, article nos. 26 and 27.]
Michael Lerner (of San Francisco, California), Jewish theologian and editor of Tikkun, a bimonthly Jewish critique of politics, culture & society, writes of the need to embrace a larger and more spiritual critique of American society which can provide new strategies for empowerment for social change. In a recent article, entitled The Case Against War : It's Not Good for the World, [see Nov/Dec 2002, http://www.tikkun.org ] Lerner wrote:
The great challenge facing humanity today is to overcome the ethos of selfishness
and "me-firstism" (or in the case of nation states, "we-firstism"). Once we recognize
that we are all inter-dependent, we will be able to work as one united human race to
undo the 150 years' worth of damage we and our ancestors have perpetrated on the
life-support system of the planet. To many of us, this may sound like some utopian fantasy,
but to survive on this planet, we must change the way we think. We need to do everything
we can to build a new ethos of love, recognition of our mutual inter-dependence, and a
whole new attitude toward the universe based on awe, wonder, and radical amazement
at the grandeur of creation to replace our utilitarian materialistic worldview toward nature
and each other. Every specific political decision needs to be made within the context of
whether it advances or impedes this urgent survival necessity.
At no time in history has the need for a new moral order and new ethos
of love and
generosity been more practical and more immediately needed for the well-being of
everyone. Yet never have these ideals seemed less plausible—in large part because
so many of us have given up on our highest ideals and become "realistic," adjusting
to the way things are. And it is that so-called "realism" which will destroy this planet.
Isn't being "realistic" the dynamic that has led so many Democrats to be
hearted as they have been, unable to stand up to President Bush and publicly proclaim
that the emperor has no clothes?
Lerner has written a eulogy for the
late Senator Paul Wellstone, a Democrat from Minnesota who was killed in
a plane crash on October 25. Wellstone had been the most forthright critic
in the U.S. Senate of U.S.-Israeli policy and the jingoism of the Bush
administration. His post was filled after last week's mid-term elections
by Bush-Cheney supported candidate, Norman Coleman [For more informaton;
please visit the web site: http://www.tikkun.org/magazine/index.cfm/action/tikkun/issue/tik0211/article/021111b.html>
Also, see Ruth Conniff's article on Wellstone's re-election campaign against Bush-Cheney-Coleman in
Atelier No.15, article no.25]
From another perspective, the internal contradictions of capitalist development abound. One such contradiction suggests that the ruling class is divided on the question of War. Will war bring recession? is the central subject on the business page of the November 9-10 issue of International Herald Tribune, entitled: "Wall Street hit by fears of Iraq War". [See Atelier No.1, article no.16.]
The Grenoble Center for the Advanced Study of American Institutions and Social Movements has received numerous reports on the status of transnational corporations in this "pre-war" period. Walt Disney Company has faired well, with an increase in profits this year of $1.3 billion, over $891 million last year, despite the general "theme-park slump" in America and recent fiscal losses at ABC-Television. [See Atelier No.3, article no.15.] By contrast, McDonald's Restaurant Corporation has not recovered from mad cow disease in Europe and Japan, the economic crisis in Latin America and falling sales in the U.S., which is its largest market, and employee layoffs continue. [See Atelier No.3, article no.16.]
We at the Grenoble Research Center suggest that a first principle of research of U.S. corporations today might be the old adage: Capital has no loyalty but to itself. [See Atelier No.16, article no.10.] If we can better identify the "built-in rules" which govern the system and require American policy makers (Republicans like Democrats) to take abrupt turns whenever necessary in order to follow their logic, then we might discover a predictive value, or, in the words of Professor Gabriel Kolko, we might begin to judge people by what they do, and not by what they say about themselves --a lesson that every school child evidently must re-learn when he/she becomes an adult. (A pending fiscal crisis is discussed by Eric Pfanner, in "Dollar Declines to a 3-Year Low," Atelier No.17, article no.17.)
We give the last word to our research associate, Professor Howard Zinn, who offers us an historical reminder for Bush's "war on terrorism" :
First they came for the Communists, but I was not
a Communist --so I said nothing. Then they came
for the Social Democrats, but I was not a Social
Democrat --so I did nothing. Then came the trade
unionists, but I was not a trade unionist. And they
they came for the Jews, but I was not a Jew --so
I did little. Then when they came for me, there was
no one left who could stand up for me.(*)
"It's not only the Muslims who will
be affected," warns Professor Zinn.(from his new book, War and Terrorism,
(*)Pastor Martin Niemöller's famous statement about the Nazis seizure of power in German.