No matter who registered voters in the U.S. select to be the ruling class’ spokesman for a four-year term, the coming presidential election will make very little difference to the lives of most Americans — and non-Americans. Banks will continue to get bailed out, both overtly and by way of the tax code and other more covert means. Bombs will continue to be dropped on poor foreigners, be it in the name of humanitarianism or the fight against terrorism. The state will still serve the interests of the rich, and so on and so on.
That’s not to say resistance is futile; that no matter what we do, the cause of building a better world is for naught and efforts to affect positive social change would best be abandoned. That’s the caricature of the non-electoral stance one hears from partisans of the two major parties: that the rejection of voting for one of the two corporate-sponsored candidates in a presidential election is a byproduct of nihilism glossed up as radicalism; a tacit concession that, gosh, change is hard so we might as well say screw it and play some Xbox.
In fact, those of us who reject the electoral charade do so, not because we just don’t give a damn, but because we see elections as a damaging distraction, a pressure-valve that enables the average American to feel they’re Throwing the Bastards Out without risking any serious damage to the institutional bastardry that goes on in Washington.
But if who occupies the White House matters little in terms of tangible policy, does it follow that it matters not at all to the cause of furthering the social revolution that is necessary to build a more just, equitable world? In terms of awakening the public to the systemic fucking they are receiving and spurring people to direct action — lobby Congress to keep my house? No, thanks, I think me and my friends just won’t leave it — does it matter which faction of the ruling elite calls dibs on the Oval Office?
Doug Henwood, of the old state-socialist left, thinks it does. He argues that reelecting Barack Obama will be good for left-wing activists as, when his second term does not usher in a new progressive era, no longer will Democrats be able to claim Republicans have a monopoly on corporatist, war-mongering evil. That, in turn, will lead more and more people to realize the systemic nature of the American problem.
Henwood’s argument has a logic to it, but one can also imagine a different outcome: Should Obama be re-elected, he will continue to pursue the same establishment-friendly, banker-approved polices as he has in his first term. Rather than admit they had been fooled not once but twice, however, Democratic pundits and partisans will continue adhering to the tried and true formula of pointing to this month’s latest crazy Republican, arguing — as they always have — that while their guy isn’t perfect, at least he’s not the other guy. Rinse. Repeat. Hillary 2016.
Were a Republican in office, however, there would be no confusion about who is on who’s side, no clichéd anecdotes about FDR and the need to push Obama — gently, lovingly — to be the best Obama he can be. War, again, would be a bad thing; hell, their might even be an antiwar movement. Government collusion with major corporate polluters would spur nasty editorials in Mother Jones, as opposed to excuse-making lectures about Political Realities.
At the same time, though, were a Republican to win in November, it would likely revive the myth of a Democratic savior. While center-left opposition to war would, maybe, be a Thing again, it would as we saw with opposition to the Iraq war be a thing used to elect more and better Democrats. Soon enough, another Obama-type figure would be found to re-brand the nominally left-leaning establishment political faction and, god damn it, we’d back to where we started all over again.
And that’s why, friends, insofar as there is a debate over which party in power would be better for spawning a broad-based progressive social movement, it’s kind of a silly one (yes, I’ve just wasted your time). A second term for Obama won’t in and of itself awaken the public to the bipartisan, systemic nature of American plutocracy anymore than Bill Clinton’s second term did. A Republican in office might awaken the partisan left’s devotion to peace and freedom again, but only until the next Democrat is in power.
When it comes to affecting positive and systemic social change, it doesn’t much matter who wields political power. Indeed, what matters is that we, the powerless, recognize that it’s power — not those who possess it at a given moment — is the root of the problems we face. And that argument, I think, can be fairly easily made no matter whether the president is a Republican or a Democrat.