The Presidential Election of 2004: Democracy Defeated
"Unfortunately, you can't vote the rascals out, because you never voted them in, in the first place." – Noam Chomsky
"The most effective way to restrict democracy is to transfer decision-making from the public arena to unaccountable institutions: kings and princes, priestly castes, military juntas, party dictatorships, or modern corporations." –Noam Chomsky
Superficially, the Presidential Election of 2004 seems to be a struggle between two political parties with very different core political ideas. The Democratic and Republican planned to America in a radically different directions with each of their respective candidates. Both parties campaigned hard, rallying like minded supporters to their cause. The Election of 2004 seemed to be a unique election. The American people were equally divided, the number of votes so close that controversy rocked the final days of the elections as votes were counted and recounted. The election was also the closest reelection campaign in American history. The election took place on the 2nd of November. It was not until the next day that the winner was determined. The Election of 2004 seems like a very unusual event, but I propose that it is not. The Election of 2004 is quite usual. It is a great example, perhaps the best example, of American politics as usual, where the democratic process is impotent, the election itself is simply a spectacle, and true political power operates invisibly, unmolested by public will or opinion, behind the scenes. This is a bold statement, a statement that most American citizens will incorrectly assume relates to the controversy surrounding the vote recount situation that developed in Florida. The vote count confusion on November 2nd is simply minutia. To understand the true nature of the 2004 Election, and perhaps all American Presidential Elections in recent history, we first have to look at the position and political stance of the two opposing candidates, John Kerry and George W. Bush.
We have to start with them in their own words, describing their plans for America.
Kerry: “I’m running for President to make the country we love stronger, safer, and more secure. I am asking every American to become a Citizen Soldier committed to leaving no American Behind.”(MSNBC.com “Bush and Kerry at a Glance” P.1)
Bush: “My campaign is going to take a hopeful and optimistic message to the American people. I hope you will show your support by taking action in your community. Vice president Dick Cheney and I are focused on the nations top priorities – strengthening the economy, protecting the homeland, and winning the war on terror. We will continue to earn the confidence of the American people by working to keep this nation prosperous, strong and secure.”(MSNBC.com “Bush and Kerry at a Glance” P.1)
It is obvious that neither of these statements actually mean anything. The only way to even identify that Bush is a member of the current Republican Party is to take not of the term “homeland” and the vague euphemism “War on Terror.” It is also interesting to note that Kerry uses terms like Citizen Soldier, to try to compete with Bush’s militaristic image. Both candidates seem to be speaking without really saying anything, and this is no accident.
According to Noam Chomsky, both political parties, purposely, do not present issues, policies, agendas and so on. Instead they project an image, thus, people either vote for the image or, do to apathy, do not vote at all. The image is a creation of PR firms and usually has little or nothing to do with the actual policy of the candidate’s party.
Sometimes, the man holding the position of President knows very little about the policies being implemented by his handlers, as is the case with the Reagan Administration of the nineteen-eighties.(“The Toothpaste Election.” P.1-2)
The elections are planned and executed by a vast public relations apparatus, and this apparatus is designed to make the voter pick the man, not his stand on the issues, or the politics of his party. The voter chooses based on the candidate’s projected personality, whether he is the type of man that seems friendly, the type of man that the voter would have a drink with.
The parties do this for many reasons, but the main reason is simple: the managers of both political parties know where their funders stand, the money people behind the parties, and the interest of these funders is usually diametrically opposed to the interests of the voting public.(Chomsky. “The Toothpaste Election P.2-3) To add insult to injury, the personality presented by the media is a fabrication. How can the voter even know the real personality or character of the candidate?
To illustrate this, let’s look at the stance of John Kerry, the Democratic, supposedly “progressive” candidate. During the Presidential Debates, Kerry, after talking about health care reforms during his whole campaign, failed to bring up, or even hint at any government involvement in health care.
Again, there is a concrete reason for this.
According to polls, eighty percent of Americans want national health care, so one would think that the “populist” candidate would address this directly during the debates. There is an obvious reason that he skirted this issue. This issue has no interest or support from the people that paid for Kerry’s campaign, the insurance industry, the medical industry, the pharmacutical industry, and financial institutions have absolutely no interest in affordable health care. It would cut into their profits. (“The Toothpaste Election.” P.2)
Kerry had one image and Bush had another. Bush’s main campaign platform is homeland security and the war on terror, but it’s easy to see that, for Bush planners, the threat of terrorism is a pretty low priority.(Chomsky. “2004 Election” P.1-2)
The invasion of Iraq is the best example of this. Government intelligence agencies and independent think tanks both presented the same opinion, invading Iraq would drive the threat of terror up. This threat is understood by Bush’s handlers, but terror is not their primary concern. They don’t want terror per-se, they just don’t care.
The highest priority to the people behind the Bush administration was the chance to “establish the first secure military bases in a dependant client state that is situated at the heart of the worlds energy reserves.” (Chomsky “2004 Election” P.3) It is also important to note the terror/Jihadist infrastructure in place in the middle east, and the regime of Sadam Hussien were both implemented by the CIA as a means of popular warfare against the peoples of the middle east.
Many naysayers will state that: no oil has left Iraq and been shipped to the US, so this is proof we did not invade the country for oil, which is true, or they will state that the US gets most of its oil from Canada, Mexico, and Venezuela so we don’t “need” the oil from the middle east, which is true. What the control of the middle east area does do is provide “critical leverage” over the world oil supply and “veto power” over the economies that rival the US, Europe and China. The middle east contains two-thirds of the world hydrocarbon fuel supply, and it is very important to the Bush backers that this profit flow the in the proper direction, to US petrochemical companies. (Chomsky. “2004 Elections.” P.2)
The threat that the economies of China and Europe could free themselves from the control of US based companies is a grave one, it has been a threat to the people in power since the end of World War Two and having the hand on the spigot of most of the world’s oil will help keep rival economies in line. (Chomsky. “2004 Elections.” P.2) “You can be sure that they (Bush handlers) want the profits from the middle east to go primarily to US-based multi-nationals and back to the US Treasury, not to rivals. Not to peoples outside of the US monopolies. As you can see, there are many real reasons to invade Iraq.”(Chomsky. “On the Election, Interview with Bill Maher.” P.1)
Chomsky has been quoted as saying this: "I mean, what's the elections? You know, two guys, same background, wealth, political influence, went to the same elite university, joined the same secret society (the Skull and Bones) where you're trained to be a ruler - they both can run because they're financed by the same corporate institutions. At the Democratic Convention, Barack Obama said, 'only in this country, only in America, could someone like me appear here.' Well, in some other countries, people much poorer than him would not only talk at the convention - they'd be elected president. Take Lula. The president of Brazil is a guy with a peasant background, a union organizer, never went to school, he's the president of the second-biggest country in the hemisphere. Only in America? I mean, there they actually have elections where you can choose somebody from your own ranks. With different policies. That's inconceivable in the United States." (Chomsky. “Interview with Wallace Shawn.” P.2) This quote shows the control and repression at work in the Presidential Elections. Only a select few, the well connected and controllable, can be allowed anywhere near the Presidential position.
These fact invalidate a popular American myth, that in America, if you work hard enough, you can be President. That statement may hold some truth in Latin America, Hugo Chavez comes to mind, but it is definitely not true in regard to the United States of America. It is an outright lie. There is an important concept at work here, the concept of repeating an untruth ad nausem.
“In the 2004 Elections, the electoral campaigns were run by the PR industry, which in it usual vocation, sells toothpaste, life-style drugs, automobiles and other commodities. Its guiding principle is deceit.”(Chomsky. “2004 Elections.” P.2)
When a company sells an automobile, it doesn’t present the merits of the actual product, it creates an image using bikini models and images of success. The image has absolutely nothing to do with the product. In a true free market, informed consumers make choices about what to purchase. Prices are kept at reasonable levels by competition. The real world is not a true free market, although they call it that. Large monopolistic corporations control the means of production. These companies sell nearly identical products to the consumer and use their vast economic influence to elevate prices. The advertising campaign convinces the consumer to buy the car using an image that has nothing to do with the actual product. This economic model is not the free market, it is what destroys the free market.(Chomsky “Rogue States.” P.207-209)
This same effect which negates the free market is also at work, negating democracy. For all practical purposes, modern politics are the “shadow cast over society by big business.” (Chomsky “Rogue States” P.100) It is impossible to make informed decisions about candidates and politics when the true intentions of the ruling class are kept hidden from the people. “As in the fake markets created by the PR industry, so also in the fake democracy they run, the public is no more than an irrelevant onlooker, apart from the appeal of carefully constructed images that only have the vaguest resemblance to reality.” (Chomsky. “2004 Election.” P.4, underline mine.)
The current state of American politics, that it is nothing more than a creation of the PR industry, and that the fact that a good portion of American voter seem to know this on some instinctual level, is a primary cause of demobilization. People do not vote because they think it does not matter. Like everything about modern politics, this is no accident.
One of the biggest priorities for the richest 1% of the American population is to control the “crisis of democracy” which first reared its head in the sixties with the anti-war movement. Vietnam was initiated to control the economies in Southeast Asia. The war of aggression against the people of South Vietnam was launched in 1962 by JFK, after years of US-state backed terror against the indigenous population. (Chomsky. “Election of 2004.” P.2)
With the anti-war movement, the “peasants” of America refused to obey their plutocratic masters. After this crisis of the sixties, many measures were taken to control this. The “crisis of democracy” threatened to democratize society, and despite enormous efforts to crush this threat to order and discipline, has had far reaching effects on consciousness and social practices. (Chomsky. “2004 Elections.” P.1) The PR and “perception management” apparatus in place in America has worked long and hard to deal with this “crisis.”
One of the biggest tactics is to promote demobilization. A large portion of Americans do not vote, or even pay attention to politics. Again, this is no accident. On the eve of the 2000 election, about 75% of the electorate regarded the elections as a game played by rich contributors, party managers, and the PR industry, which trains candidates to project images and produce meaningless phrases that might win votes. The population knows this, but this is why the public paid little attention to the “stolen campaign” that greatly exercised “educated sectors.” (Chomsky. “2004 Elections.” P.3-4) The stolen election was a huge news story, but according to polls, the public expressed the idea it was just “business as usual.” If one is picking the candidate at random, like flipping a coin to pick a king, the population really does not care in the coin is biased.
These conditions promote political apathy. This apathy keeps the people from meddling in the affairs of the bourgeoisie and their state planners. And in most election, the people who do vote are slit down the middle. Presidential elections, for the most part, are about a 50-50 split, with the winner coming ahead in single digit percentages. In 2004, each candidate got 30% of the electorate, Bush with 31% and Kerry with 29%. (Chomsky. “The Toothpaste Election.” P.1) Again, this is a coin flip. State planners keep the politically active in two distinct camps that compete against each other. Note that no party ever wins a modern election in a landslide victory, only but by single-digit percentages.
The politically active members in American society have to be “atomized” into small groups that will compete with each other, not against the people who “own the country.” These two primary groups are the Democratic Party and the Republican Party. The bourgeoisie has always used this tactic, the tactic of atomizing the proletariat and the petty bourgeoisie. (Marx. P.20)
To understand this atomization, we need to understand that there is little difference between the two Major Parties. In the United States, the political system is a very marginal affair. There are two parties, so-called, but they're really factions of the same party, the Business Party. Both represent some range of business interests. In fact, they can change their positions 180 degrees, and nobody even notices. (Chomsky. “Rogue States.” P.122) The two Parties represent the interests of various investors at various times. This begs the question, why two parties instead of one. Actually this is quite easy to understand when you take into account that the smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum - even encourage the more critical and dissident views. That gives people the sense that there's free thinking going on, while all the time the presuppositions of the system are being reinforced by the limits put on the range of the debate. (Chomsky. “Rogue States.” P.50-51) This is type of nefarious control has slowly evolved within the framework of the American three branch government system, and amazingly, is a system of control that is much more stable and lasting than the “prototypical” seizure of a nations wealth and power by the business elite, the corporatist backed fascist movements of the early nineteen thirties. Perhaps this is because the current American system has to evolve slowly and pay lip service to “moral and constitutional concerns.”
This is the leading tenant in the design of Bush and Kerry’s “stance” on policy. The business press reported that there was “ecstasy” in the boardrooms on Wall Street on November 3rd, when it was made clear that Bush had won.(Chomsky. “Election of 2004.” P.2) Any person with the capacity for rational thought should be able to understand that Wall Street was not rejoicing for family values or gays not being allowed to marry. The elections, especially the election of 2004, was centered on non-issues. There's a modern perversion of conservatism and libertarianism, which has changed the meanings of words, pretty much the way George Orwell discussed in 1948. Word and slogan mean vague things, or they mean whatever in convenient at any given time.
Issues selected to be spoken about openly by the backers of the candidates come in two flavors. One type of issue is the sort of issue that has no bearing on the profit and power of invertors. These include things like gay marriage, abortion, religion, the death penalty, and most other “moral conflicts.” These type of issues are meant to do one thing, rally people to a party and keep them distracted from the larger picture. These issues do affect the lives of the people, but they really have no impact on big business.
The second type of issue selected it an issue that is of major relevance to the establishment, but an issue that can be brought into the public area safely, and by safely, it means that the issue can be talked about in a vague enough way that business interests can act in naked self-interest and justify whatever actions they take. This type of issue must be discussed in vague terms and what Ann Rand called anti-concepts, terms without real meaning. These issues include the budget, the economy, energy, education, the environment, foreign policy, health care, homeland security, immigration, social security, trade, and the war in Iraq.
For example, John Kerry, the “left-wing” candidate, was running on a platform that was far to the right popular opinion (when one observes independent polls) on every major issue in 2004. To the extent that people could even understand the programs, they did not favor it. People voting for Kerry were concerned about health issues and the economy. Does anyone think that those people who voted for Kerry could tell you what Kerry’s plans for the economy or health care were. Experts in policy can’t tell you. Scholar Noam Chomsky can’t tell you. You would have to do a research project to figure out what Kerry’s programs were really about. It’s not that voters don’t know because they are stupid, it’s because the material is not presented as something comprehensible. (Chomsky. “The Toothpaste Election.” P.1) The people voting are not supposed to understand what they are voting for. They are not supposed to know the intentions of the people behind the parties.
The real issues behind the scenes were dictated by big business. John Dewey, perhaps America’s leading social philosopher, whose worked centered of Democratic Theory, argued that democracy hold little value when the life of the country, means-of-production, commerce, and media, are controlled by private tyrannies in a system which he dubbed “Industrial Feudalism.” (Chomsky. “Rogue States.” P.208) Industrial Feudalism in a much better description of socioeconomic system than “democracy” or “the free market.”
The modern election is controlled by the US based multinational corporation. A century ago, during the early stages of corporatization of the United States, discussions (about the very nature of the corporation) was quite frank. Conservatives at this time denounced the corporation, describing the corporation as a “return to feudalism” or a “new form of communism” neither of which is an inappropriate analogy.(Chomsky. “Rogue States.” P208)
In conclusion, we can see that the Election of 2004 is not a unique event. It is like every other presidential election since the industrial revolution. The drama surrounding it, hard hitting issues and miscounted votes are really just minor details.
The Election of 2004 is the best of example of what the American national election system is, a meaningless spectacle. To the people at the bottom, the working poor and middle class, its not completely meaningless, because even though voting alone does not change the direction of the country that much, small changes in policy affect people lives.
Unfortunately, most citizens of the country and the world are trapped in “trickle down” economics model. The man on the street has to hope rich people are happy and hope some crumbs float down from the top. The small difference in a Democrats stance can make huge financial difference in people lives. When we remember that 1% of the population control upward of 90% of the countries wealth, and we note that the US, which is 6% of the global population, controls 50% of the wealth, we see that a crumb from the top can change lives. Upon analysis, the Election of 2004 is seen for what it actually is, a prime example of the triumph of aristocracy and modern feudalism over democracy.