The Historic Importance of the 2008 Presidential Elections

by on March 11, 2008 · 12 comments

in Civil Rights, Election, Organizing

There are some who say that American Presidential elections are not that important, that we progressives should not spend too much of our precious time on them. Nevertheless, Presidential elections are important because they are a part of the civic process of political legitimation and validation in America’s mass-mediated democratic society. American voters get to decide which political party controls the State, and which party forms an administration that defines domestic and foreign policy.

In the United States, Presidential elections are particularly important because they involve mobilized bureaucratic political machines, the large corporations, and tens of millions of millions of Americans who vote and get involved in doing the daily work of the political parties. Because so many people perceive and act as though elections are important, they become important and real in their consequences.

In the US, the two large bureaucratic political party machines, the Democratic and Republican Parties, administer, organize, and take responsibility for the lengthy and costly voting and election process. Here the ultimate prize is political power for the next US President, its administration, and the Party that got them into power. Political organizers and strategists in both parties are paid big bucks to get results.

The powerful corporations certainly consider elections very important and spend millions to make sure that their economic interests and power are represented by both parties. The Pentagonians and the Generals also get their say on the television, making sure that whoever wins understands the need for an ever expanding defense budget to fight the “war on terror” indefinitely into the future. It will be difficult for either candidate to change very much of this. The empire must be defended.

The recent rhetorical war of words between the Obama and Clinton campaigns and their supporters are now constantly flooding the airways and streaming through our radios, newspapers, internet servers, and the mainstream media.

Like John Kerry in 2004, Hillary Clinton has pushed national security issues to the foreground suggesting that Obama is not ready to be commander in chief like she and McCain are. She says she will be “ready to act on day one,” like she was when she supported Bush and voted for the use of force in Iraq.

Obama, at least, has stated he would want more emphasis on diplomacy and a more cautious and multilateral use of American military power. He continues to criticize the “disastrous” decision to launch the Iraq war, and has begun to raise an issue of concern to progressives “the possible alternative domestic problems that could be addressed with the trillions of dollars going to Iraq. While Obama’s campaign has received support from many progressive Democrats like Tom Haden and media critic Robert Solomon who want an end to the war, he also has also received substantial support and money from elements in the ruling class and the corporate establishment who may believe that the current disastrous trajectory of the country threatens even their interests.

Why the 2008 Elections Are Historic

The 2008 American Presidential elections are already historic, and scholars and journalists will be writing dissertations and books on it for years. A Democratic Party victory of either Presidential candidate, Barrack Obama or Hillary Clinton, would be a significant historic event. Furthermore, a landslide repudiation of Bush’s war policies (and the consequent economic downturn partially generated by the dramatic increase in the price of oil), and a good electoral trouncing of John Mc Cain, would also be historically significant. It would restore hope in a war weary and divided world that wants signs of a visible change and greater rationality in American policies.

An Obama victory could undoubtedly heal some of the sensitive racial wounds that have been an undeniable ugly part of American history, although some skeptics still warn that an Obama Presidency could re-inflame them. Hillary Clintons victory would also be historic because we would have our first female President, proof that we have come a long way from the times when women could not even vote.

Both candidates have received a tremendous amount of support from the American people. Yet, the “identity politics” of race and gender that have so far played a role will likely be trumped by the bigger issues such as the economy and the two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. A joint ticket is near an impossibility given the mudslinging and personal attacks of the past week, most of it initiated by Clinton who is now demanding a costly revote in Michigan and Florida. Now many media commentators and political pundits are questioning whether there can even be a peaceful reconciliation within the Democratic Party. A bitter struggle to the end decided by the super delegates at the convention could be a disaster. and might just be enough to accomplish the impossible – another Republican victory in November by a pro war John McCain.

Let’s face it. Within the two party system, politics involves a cynical and often times ruthless struggle for power. The power to choose the next Supreme Court justices, the power to decide when and where to deploy American forces, and ultimately the power to decide when military force will be used against others is at stake. It also means the power to frame public perceptions, to alter the tax structure, to define the scope of civil liberties and human rights, and to develop specific policies regarding domestic environmental and social problems.

Third Party Candidates

Based on the historical and documentary record, we can conclude that the two political party machines do everything in their power to maintain a monopoly of legitimacy and prevent Third Party candidates from getting a serious hearing. Gaining control of the state apparatus is essential to both political machines. To do this they must monopolize political discourse and silence outsiders. This is why there has never been a successful third party candidacy for President in American history. The established social structure, the power of corporations and the mainstream media, as well as the cultural political traditions in America, are aggressively mobilized against it.

Instead, third party candidacies are invariably made into a scapegoat by the losing party. The strong historical pattern is for defeated parties to project their faults and failures onto the back of the “goat” as it is sent off into the wilderness. This is essentially what has happened to Ralph Nader since the controversial 2000 elections where the Supreme Court intervened to stop a Florida recount.

The organizational prospects of a powerful social movement for change propelling a successful third party candidate are currently weak, if not non-existent, in spite of the polls which show a majority of Americans opposed to the war. While many have raised a big stink about another Nader candidacy, it is unlikely that Nader will have any impact on the final results of the 2008 elections. All a third party candidate like Nader can hope to do at this point is gain enough legitimacy and recognition to raise public issues that are considered two controversial by the two political machines. Nader’s celebrity status will allow some of this to happen, but it is unlikely to have any substantial effect on the final election results in spite of the scary scenarios drummed up by revived Nader critics.

The American Legitimacy Crisis

Trotsky once said that “every state is founded on force.” The sociologist Max Weber agreed. However, Weber added another complicating factor, the issue of “legitimacy.” He defined the state as an institution that “monopolizes the legitimate use of violence within a given territory.” By extension, an imperial state like the United States tries to monopolize the legitimate use of violence internationally, blessing all of its military actions with the impeccable label of defense.

Voting is a powerful means of providing legitimacy for the state on the domestic front. This explains why a small number of progressives and idealists, despairing of the prospect for change within the electoral political game defined by the ruling class and its two political parties, opt out and refuse to vote or insist on voting outside of the two party duopoly.

The next American President will face an unprecedented international “legitimacy crisis” around the world regarding the “war on terror,” a possible serious economic recession and financial crisis, and the growing military burden and economic costs of the two endless counter insurgency wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Additionally, the next President will face the continued political instability and violence caused by the iron fisted Israeli military occupation of Palestinian lands and the possible collapse of peace talks. Furthermore, they will continue to face more resistance, rebellion, and change in their backyard in Central and South America. Finally, they will be faced with an environmental crisis of runaway global warming that could dwarf anything we have seen in the past.

It is a hopeful sign that most Americans say they want to see change away from the current Bush policies of torture, occupation, and war. Some of this hope is providing a higher turnout in the Democratic primaries around the country. The next election will reveal just how deep that desire for change really is. One thing is certain. We are entering a period of troubled times for the overstretched American Empire and its exhausted military. It is time to bring the troops home and seek genuine multilateral and international solutions to numerous difficult political conflicts.

{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Dave Sparling March 11, 2008 at 1:03 pm

You must be talking about elections before 2000. Now to many of us elections are nothing but a fraud. How so many Americans could have allowed the massive cheating of 2000, including involvement of the Supreme court, is something many of us will never understand. Then to show how far down our country could go, we allowed the same thing to happen in 2004. I see no reason to think 2008 will be any different.


avatar OB Joe March 11, 2008 at 1:21 pm

Even though I disagree with Nadeau some times, I think here he hit the nail on the head. This is a very important and historic election. If enough progressive potential voters opt out and not vote and McCain is in, they have produced their own scary scenario. But by the numbers of Democratic voters turning out, this probably will not happen. The big turnout signifies that, yes, the American people are disgusted with the Bush administration – and Mr. Sparling – this is a damn good thing! This massive repudiation of Bush, his wars and everything he stands for is an important element in the restoration of American democracy – if it happens. And if it does, then we should be part of the celebrations – not off in the corner, muttering about what ifs. C’mon Dave, don’t let the corporations and the mass media decide what you do for the country. Get out there, and fight!


avatar Dave Sparling March 11, 2008 at 1:59 pm

Hey Joe I am in the fight all the way. I was one of those screaming on the internet when the black caucus could not get one Senator to sign on to investigate the 2000 election. I hate to be depressing, but I saw something in 2000 that I consider different than anything I ever saw before in my life. Events since then have confirmed my worst fears. I hope I am wrong, but I believe the Bush crime family has plans for a different America than most of us want.

I see no evidence that a democrat will move the country back to the liberal side. I fear we are stuck with the crazy born more than one time religious right for several more years. Let us both hope I am wrong.


avatar OB Joe March 11, 2008 at 7:10 pm

Touche’, Dave. You’re way ahead of most Americans, unfortunately. And I have the same fears – and cannot believe we and everyone else except a bunch of bussed-in Republican activists sat on our backsides during the 2000 electoral crisis. Some say a coup happened. But we’re still here and kickin’. If any shenanigans occur this time, we and our friends and children must be ready to take to the streets.


avatar Jon Quate March 12, 2008 at 9:21 am

Perhaps 30 years ago there was a distinct difference between the parties. Unfortunately now the only real difference is in rhetoric. We have been pushed so far right, that now the middle is considered the radical left. I think we already have a one party system that’s been disguised enough to fool most Americans into believing it’s a two party system. Pessimistic no doubt, but also realist. Wait and see how long it takes to get out of Iraq even if a Dem is elected. They have capitulated every attempt at leaving or even a reduction of forces. Why would you assume now that that will change? They couldn’t even overide a veto about torture for Christ’s sake. We need to find a new way to educate and organize so we stop stumbling around on the fringes, and actually cause change. I wish I had suggestions, but admit I’m as confused as the next person as to how to go about it.


avatar Dave Sparling March 12, 2008 at 10:30 am

Jon I understand how you feel. This is just my idea of what happened. JFK was set to win in 64 by the largest vote in history. The country was moving young and liberal, ready to take the world with them. The old entrenched congress feared being shoved aside. After JFK was killed the conservative religious right began their power grab. Liberal became a dirty 7 letter word. We now have a one party government.


avatar Molly March 12, 2008 at 2:24 pm

Dave, Jon: I’m sorry guys, but it is not radical to sit out elections in America. Many of us have the same insights, fears, etc that you all have, but as Malcolm X said, by any means necessary, and that includes participating in bourgeois elections while we still have them. Millions of Americans are participating in throwing out the Bush bums, right now, as we speak (type). unless the dems muck it up by destroying the DP, we will get rid of an administration that has taken great strides in burying what’s left of constitutional democracy. If we don’t participate in burying them, actively, by involvement with our fellow citizens, then how the hell can we complain from our desktops? Well, we can’t. Again, don’t think you’re taking the realistic approach by sitting out. The fascists in this country would love it if all the progressives sat the election out. Don’t do it! Fight for every civil right we have left boys!


avatar Dave Sparling March 12, 2008 at 3:18 pm

Well Molly there is a big difference between voting in 2000 and finding out your vote didn’t count, yet still voting in 2004 even though you knew they were going to cheat again. As the old saying goes, first time shame on you, second time shame on me.

I remember Kerry and even liberal talk hosts saying by God we ain’t going to let that happen again. Then they all caved. These are such scary times.


avatar Jon Quate March 12, 2008 at 3:38 pm

I don’t recall saying I would sit out the election. I will vote just to register the distain for Shrub and the destruction of our country & constitution. However I’m not naive enough to think a Democratic president will turn it around. The Dems are just as guilty, even more so in my view, for allowing these things to occur without so much as a whimper. They apparently are so intimidated, or are in collusion with the other side, even when there is overwhelming evidence, from our own government institutions, that the Bush neocons broke all kinds of laws, they take impeachment off the table. Doesn’t that speak volumes to you? It certainly does to me. The corporations are firmly in control of both parties, ergo the country IMHO.


avatar Molly March 12, 2008 at 9:28 pm

Jon, your talk of a one party government, something I agree with upon conditions, implied that you thought it was useless to vote, so there I stand corrected.

I think there are differences between Dems and Repubs – and maybe it simply gets down to who would kill the least number of people (with their policies, wars, etc.).

Hey, I’ve really been pissed off since we sent those Dems to Congress in a vote against the war. Not able to limit the financing of the war, taking impeachment off the table, as you pointed out, and in general complying with Bush.
But lately, things are changing, it seems.with some congressional opposition – around subpoenas of aids and refusal to simply rubberstamp Bush’s ‘anti-terrorist’ bill granting immunity to the telephone companies.

If the corporations were firmly in control of the country, then there are definitions for it as Keith Obermann has said, and its fascism. Yet if it was fascism you and I Jon couldn’t be having this (cyber) conversation.


avatar Jon Quate March 13, 2008 at 9:31 am

Facism doesn’t have to come in Jackboots. Power needs to be simply threatened sufficently before that stage is neccessary, and I don’t see any real threat to the power at this time. Molly you are more optimistic than I. Perhaps when the Dems actually do something, anything, to repute Bushs policies, I will have a more positive view. I certainly don’t believe they will not capitulate over the telecom issue, they get as much money from AT&T as the Republicans. To really expose Bush they could simply send him the exact bill without including the sections he says endangers the us, but they won’t. Rewording a bill so it says the same thing as the original is really what they’re attempting. That way they can claim they stood up to Bush and make the constituants happy while actually kissing Bush’s ass. As far as I’m concerned none of them (well perhaps two or three) have the political courage to actually “tell it like it is”. They have become a class unto themselves and will always attempt to protect thier own adgenda against an outside attack from non politicans. I suggest you read or re-read some Marxist definitions of what constitutes a class, you may be quite suprised. Anyway I enjoyed our discussion, later.


avatar Frank Gormlie March 13, 2008 at 2:30 pm

Here is a quote from writer Sara Robinson from a recent article in the blog TruthOut:
“If the fight is winnable, why have we not won it? If it is not, then why are we diverting our efforts elsewhere? This struggle for America’s heart and soul and mind has gone on from the beginning, and it will never end. Being progressive means committing our entire lives to the work of promoting America’s founding Enlightenment worldview, building a thriving movement that will outlast us, and raising up people who will carry on when we’re gone. As long as conservative culture warriors are out there trying to undermine the very model of reality that defines American democracy, we’re going to need to be out there resisting their incursions and reminding the country why that foundation matters. We, too, are in this for the long haul.” Here’s the link to the entire article.


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