The Rightward Shift in America

Robert Brenner sees deep structural shifts in the US polity, in the New Left Review.

What are the prospects for this programme in the light of the Democrats’ recapture of Congress in 2006, and improved prospects for the Presidency in 2008? As we have seen, the Republicans retain a large, stable—if not quite majoritarian—electoral base; a substantial advantage in corporate funding; and, whatever the tactical differences over immediate moves in Iraq, a relative unity around a clearly defined pro-business agenda. The swing to the Democrats has largely registered a protest vote, and perhaps an abstention by Republican loyalists unable to stomach the sex and sleaze scandals of 2006. In the run-up to 2008 the Republicans, unlike the Democrats, may find it harder to modify their programme in search of votes, especially in view of Bush’s intransigeance on Iraq; an inflexibility that may leave them particularly vulnerable. Yet the fact remains that in 2006 the Republicans survived what one gop pollster called ‘the worst political environment for Republican candidates since Watergate’, and have some reason to hope for a significant rebound.

Seen against the background of the rise of the Republican right—and in view of the enhanced position of the dlc and Blue Dog caucuses within their new congressional majority—it seems likely that the Democrats will only accelerate their electoral strategy of moving right to secure uncommitted votes and further corporate funding, while banking on their black, labour and anti-war base to support them at any cost against the Republicans. This will mean further triangulation in domestic and foreign policy, but in a context significantly redefined to the right since the 1990s.

On Iraq, 29 of the Democrat candidates in the most fiercely contested congressional districts opposed setting a date for withdrawing us troops. This was, of course, in line with the overall strategy of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, and Rahm Emanuel in particular. Their aim is to attempt to capitalize on anti-war sentiment by doing the minimum necessary to differentiate themselves from the Republicans, while still appearing sufficiently hard-line on ‘national security’. In line with this scientific opportunism, Carl Levin, Democrat chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee, put down a motion immediately after the election demanding that Bush begin redeploying troops at some unspecified date in the not too distant future, but neglecting to specify when, if ever, withdrawal should be completed. Leaving no doubt about their determination to tergiversate, House Democrats rejected Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s candidate for House majority leader, the pro-withdrawal John Murtha, in favour of the declaredly anti-withdrawal Steny Hoyer.