Wednesday, April 25, 2007

The First Imperial Election

Forgive me if I do not shudder with expectancy as I await for the result of the 2004 US election. Contrary to what most pundits seem to believe, I do not consider this election as a milestone political event in US history. Or rather, I believe that its significance lies not in the stark set of conflicting choices it presents us with, but in the absence of any such meaningful choice altogether. It is also important in one other respect. Namely, as an illustration of the commanding heights to which the art of political engineering has progressed and of the manner in which the respectable science of political marketing has come to define the political process, mutating from a legitimate, modern-day method for the advertisement and promotion of ideas to an instrument used for the suppression of democratic debate, for mass deception and the manipulation of popular attitudes.
In the course of the last few months of the presidential campaign we bore witness to a well synchronized and concerted operation, truly magnificent in its scope, scale and effectiveness, of which the purpose was to defend the existence of an increasingly untenable power-sharing arrangement between the Republican and the Democratic Party and to use the looming crisis so as to artificially reenergize an outdated and frankly dysfunctional system of political representation. In spite of the ostensibly polarized atmosphere and the profound divisions which have split the American electorate into two opposing camps, I see the leadership of the two parties of the establishment as engaged in a collegial relationship, tacitly collaborating by means of the political message they expound, so as to fend off any challenges against their authority and to ensure the continuation of the imperial project. It is reasonable to assume that the political instincts of lifelong members of the political aristocracy like Senator Kerry, who have made a prosperous occupation out of the perpetual possession of public office, do not correspond to the aggressive grassroots sentiment that is found among their electoral base. The sharp rhetoric used by both candidates should not be interpreted as an indication of mutual antipathy among antagonistic elites. It rather represents an artful public relations stunt, a communicational attempt to placate feelings of animosity among the mass following of one party or the other, and to terrorize voting blocs into opting for one of two parties by way of exaggerating the threat which the other party represents.
The campaign for the restoration of the two-party system was completed in two separate phases. The initial phase involved the arrest and containment of the potentially centrifugal tendencies embodied in the presence of a vibrant, antiwar mass movement critical of both the Republican and Democratic position on the issue of war in Iraq. The moderate antiwar segment of the electorate had to be dissuaded from participating in the autonomous forms of political expression that had already been articulated in the protest movement milieu, as well as from possibly establishing an electoral alliance with independent recalcitrant candidates, such as Ralph Nader.
In view of the unconditional support to the war effort offered by the majority of Democratic Party delegates in both legislative chambers, it was natural that the capture of the antiwar vote should involve a sort of intra-party insurgency which was personified in the amazing rise and fall of Howard Dean. Consider the spontaneous, enthusiastic support which the Dean nomination received from a significant contingent of Democratic Party activists who were mobilized largely on account of Dean’s clear political stance and unequivocal denunciations of the war in Iraq. Now contrast this popular enthusiasm to the lukewarm, almost perfunctory, popular endorsement of Senator Kerry’s nomination. There was nothing spontaneous or random about the subsequent demise of Howard Dean’s campaign. Having performed his function as the Democratic Party vehicle through which the appropriation of the antiwar vote could be realized, Dean was cynically disposed of, finding himself at the center of an inimical public relations campaign which constantly questioned his ‘electability’ (another Orwellian term denoting the level of his commitment to the imperial project and to the role of acting as government caretaker for the corporate elite), his temperament (character assassination) and made use of carefully manipulated, as regards their timing and content, opinion polls to undermine the, hitherto surging, public faith in his campaign. His genuine popular appeal made him less controllable and not entirely dependent on big corporate capital. Let us not forget that in the initial stages of his campaign Dean made up for the absence of any substantial funding through an energetic grassroots campaign launched over the Internet, by and large organized and implemented by young party activists working voluntarily. For this reason he had to go.
The inner party coup was masterfully completed when Dean was obliged to publicly endorse Kerry’s nomination for the US Presidency, hence delivering his contingent of mild antiwar vote to the latter. Here was an antiwar candidate who in the past had consistently refused to meet with any representative or delegation of activists from the antiwar movement. Oh, the sublime oxymorons of Machiavellian politics! Alas, the spectacular last-minute upset did not bear fruit and, in the end, the nomination of the walking-talking paradox that is John Kerry, the statesman, proved to be tantamount to a political suicide for the Democrats.
The second phase of the strategy for the defense of the duopoly involved the attempt to prevent Ralph Nader’s independent candidacy from becoming any kind of factor in this election. Nader represented the real left-wing alternative for the presidency. He was an outspoken opponent of the emergency legal provisions of the Patriot Act and, were he to be elected, he had made a pledge not simply to revise certain aspects of the controversial counter-terror legislation, but to repeal it entirely. He put forward a bold program of comprehensive sociopolitical reform addressing themes such as the containment of unlimited corporate power, the reinstitution of affirmative action policies and the protection of minority civil rights. He was bold enough to publicly decry the pernicious influence of Jewish-American organizations over the formulation and implementation of US foreign policy as regards the Palestinian question and to declare his intention to review the close strategic partnership with Israel.[i] He was the only candidate to call for the immediate return of US troops stationed in Iraq and for an end to the illegal occupation. Unlike Kerry, Nader had repeatedly met with representatives of the peace movement, which had a formative impact upon the development of his positions on the issue of war, and in his official deliberations with Kerry he attempted to obtain some assurance that his concerns would be incorporated in the Democratic platform, possibly in exchange for withdrawing his candidacy from the presidential race. No such guarantee was offered by the Democratic nominee.
The contrast could not be more pronounced. Whereas Kerry positioned himself to the right wing of President Bush, projecting himself as a more capable commander in chief and a leader better equipped to achieve victory in the War on Terror, Nader absolutely refused to make any special mention to the issue of terrorism in his pre-election agenda, thereby implicitly suggesting that combating terror is a matter of conventional counter-terrorist methods, coordinated police activity and the timely collection of intelligence and does not constitute sufficient reason for declaring the country in a state of war or for maintaining the emergency legislation. Hence, Nader emerged as the counter-imperial, pro-democracy candidate par excellance by questioning the very rationale on which the establishment of the repressive imperial regime was founded.
In view of the above, it is understandable that Democrats would employ a wide array of tactics against Nader’s candidacy, ranging from defamatory attacks denouncing his ‘opportunism’ and avid private ambition, to the accusation of acting as a Republican proxy and being guilty of ‘treason’ to the Party, and the institution of formal legal measures aimed at preventing him from officially participating in the electoral process by invalidating his registration at the ballots.[ii] If not effectively controlled and managed, the Nader factor could eventually act as a catalyst for the radicalization of the electoral contest, by virtue of reinserting into the public discourse potentially combustible themes, such as the termination of the occupation in Iraq or the abolition of the Patriot Act and the newly founded Department of Homeland Security, which had been hitherto suppressed or excluded from debate, courtesy of a tacit agreement between the two major presidential candidates.
Those who claim that the Democrats were the only ones who stood to lose from the Nader candidacy, should ask themselves what was the reason for President Bush’s reluctance to admit Nader to the televised presidential debates. Was it because he was apprehensive of the possibility that Nader might not agree to a predetermined framework within which the discussion should be conducted and raise some annoying and discomforting questions to which the President was unwilling to venture a response? Apart from the obvious implications for Bush’s moral stature and political credibility, such an act should also tell us something of the quality of the Democratic opposition. The bipolar consensus was fully operative on this count, on the question of ‘managing’ the ‘Nader threat’ and obstructing him from gaining access to a mass audience on a nationwide scale.
This was essentially the first Imperial election in the sense that neither presidential candidate contested the notion of a War on Terror with its profound domestic implications, or questioned the necessity for perpetual overseas engagement and the wisdom of the military expeditions undertaken so far in Afghanistan and Iraq. In fact, the American people were faced with a choice between two competing visions of Empire. The one despotic, militarist, unilateral. The other benign, hegemonic, multilateral, but no less dependant on the occasional unfettered demonstration of US military prowess. The severing by the Democratic Party of any remaining ties to the organized labor movement and the accompanying abandonment of the traditional liberal agenda with its focus on social equality, racial equality and the redistribution of wealth, has ineluctably led to the homogenization of the political discourse which now serves as an increasingly standardized and conformist idiom of an interchangeable and closely integrated administrative elite, as opposed to a communicative device through which legitimate political concerns might be publicly expressed and debated. It is the sole responsibility of this elite technocratic group, whom I call the Party of Power (PoP), to sustain the uninterrupted function and stability the of the system, to shape, manage and refine the Imperial project and to create the necessary conditions for an orderly and peaceful transfer of political power from time to time. Through its participation in this process the PoP has acquired its own corporatist mentality and has developed a vested interest in the preservation and continuation of the status quo. That is to say, the common interest which the two Parties share in ensuring the continuation and durability of bipartisan administrative structures far exceeds their own private struggles for power and surrogate feudal antagonisms. It follows, that to be given a choice between the two constituent parts of the PoP is to be given no choice at all. For the nature of the system is such that even the necessity for a regular electoral process could be dispensed with and replaced by a dictatorship of technocrats, diligently carrying out their daily problem-solving duties, performing their secondary tasks of economic management and advancing through an ordinary succession of administrative promotions, if only for the fact that the veneer of democratic pluralism has to be upheld.

[i] See Nader’s press release to Abraham H. Foxman, the National Director of the ADL, entitled, Nader Writes to the Anti-Defamation League on the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, in
[ii] No wander that the theme of a comprehensive overhaul of the electoral system rated highly in Nader’s official political program: “Our democracy is in a descending crisis. Voter turnout is among the lowest in the western world. Redistricting ensures very few incumbents are at risk in one-party districts. Barriers to full participation of candidates proliferate making it very obstructive, for most third party and Independent candidates to run. Obstacles, and deliberate manipulations to undermine the right to vote, for which penalties are rarely imposed, are preventing voters from voting. New paperless voting machines are raising questions about whether we can trust that our votes are being counted as they are cast. Finally, money dominates expensive campaigns, mainly waged on television in sound bite format. The cost of campaigns creates a stranglehold making politics a game for only the rich or richly funded. Major electoral reforms are needed to ensure that every vote counts, all voters are represented through electoral reforms like instant run-off voting, none-of-the-above options, and proportional representation, non-major party candidates have a chance to run for office and participate in debates, and that elections are publicly financed”. See the passage Electoral Reform that Creates a Vibrant, Active, Participatory Democracy, The in

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