The US Democratic Party is holding its national convention in Boston, Massachusetts to formally nominate Senator John Kerry as its candidate for President not only in the midst of unprecedented security. It’s also occurring when neither Kerry nor the Republican Party’s George W. Bush seems to have gained a clear advantage in the polls.
The news agencies describe Kerry and his vice presidential candidate John Edwards as “in a dead heat” with Bush and his vice president, Dick Cheney. Bush has an approval rating below 50 percent, which should be good news for the Democrats, since the last five US presidents who were reelected had approval ratings above 50 percent four months before the elections.
Some might find the uncertainty of US voters and even the persistence of much of Bush’s support difficult to understand, and might well argue that “anyone but Bush” would be better for the US and the world. Haven’t Bush’s claims about Weapons of Mass Destruction and Iraqi links to Al Qaida been found to be hogwash? Isn’t he in the middle of a Vietnam-type quagmire in Iraq? Hasn’t his unilateralism undermined the Atlantic alliance and widened the rift between major European powers France and Germany on the one hand and the US on the other? Didn’t Bush’s cavalier regard for the Geneva Conventions lead to the abuses in the US occupation forces’ Abu Ghraib prison? Haven’t Bush’s disastrous economic policies at home cost US workers the loss of more than three million jobs since he became President in 2000?
Despite the “yes” answers to all these questions, the problem seems to be that despite the difference in the rhetoric of Bush and Kerry, there’s a perception that Kerry doesn’t really represent that much of a choice. There’s also the character issue. At least you know where Bush stands and has always stood, despite his fabled intellectual disabilities, his poor work habits, and his corporate cronies. Kerry has been characterized as flexible in his views to the point that no one knows where he stands.
The truth is that despite Bush and Kerry’s efforts to make it appear that their visions and plans are different, not only US leftists but also the mainstream press has had occasion to point out that both actually favor the same solutions to many US domestic and international problems.
The Washington Post, for example, pointed out in a report last May that behind both men’s rhetoric there’s actually “a convergence of views on many issues.” Kerry does say, for example, that he wants to end Bush’s tax cuts which mainly benefit the rich, but he also favors tax cuts for the middle class. Like Bush, he also says he doesn’t favor additional taxes. Bush describes himself as pro-business, but so does Kerry, into whose campaign chest business interests have poured hundreds of millions of dollars in contributions.
As for the critical question of what the US should do about Iraq, Kerry agrees with Bush that the United States must “finish the job,” and maintain its “leadership role in Iraq” (i.e., continue the occupation) by sending in more troops “if necessary”. Kerry also supports more UN authority in Iraq—a position Bush, after the debacle of his go- it- alone policy, now also supports.
The only areas in which the two men substantially disagree are on abortion and health care. Bush is opposed to abortion rights while Kerry supports them. In health care, Kerry favors an ambitious approach in which he would fund a program for health insurance for 27 million people over 10 years. Bush has a less ambitious plan which would cover 2.5 million people.
In fact, “many Republicans and Democrats in recent years have gradually coalesced, in broad terms, around a similar set of ideas: tax cuts instead of tax increases; global trade instead of protectionism; greater accountability in public school classrooms; internationalism instead of isolationism; and deficit reduction, at least as a spoken goal.”
Note the “internationalism” part. The Post reporter doesn’t mention that its core assumption is that the US has the right to intervene anywhere in behalf of its economic and political interests, which some US academics describe coyly via the oxymoron “liberal imperialism.” The only difference between Democrats and Republicans as far as imperial hubris is concerned is the former’s favoring fig-leafing US intervention with UN sanctions, while the latter doesn’t care too much for them, as is evident in Kerry’s emphasizing a UN role in Iraq and elsewhere, and Bush’s reluctance in accepting it.
Thus the recognition that there’s really no fundamental disagreement over policies, only on how to implement them. Why the agreement on domestic and international policies between the two parties? Primarily because those are the policies an electorate focused on its immediate interests and on getting the world to do what the US wants will support.
Historically the party of reform, the Democratic Party has edged closer and closer to the Republican Party’s conservative agenda, among other reasons because of the perception that it’s what will get it into power. Bill Clinton, for example, ran and won on basically the same policies as his Republican rivals in 1992 and 1996.
US elections are thus fought, not over issues, but over who’s the more sincere, and who can best implement his promised solutions to US problems. The Post reporter quotes a Democratic Party strategist as saying that in the coming November elections, “the issue of credibility becomes the issue, not the policy.” Deciding who’s the more credible, Kerry or Bush, could turn on who looks and sounds best in the media, as has happened in past US elections since the 1960s.
US leftists argue that US elections are no more than contests among the political and economic elite, and that the elections this November will be no different. They point out that both Bush and Kerry are from elite families, the former from Texas and the latter from Massachusetts, and that both are in fact graduates of Yale, where both were members of a secret elite society of future power brokers called Skull and Bones.
In addition to agreeing with Bush on key policy issues, they also point out, Kerry’s record doesn’t show any deviation from Bush’s past agenda. US Senator Kerry supported the Bush government’s decision to attack Iraq in 2003, for example, and Kerry also voted for the very tax cuts he now says have benefited only the rich.
If all this sounds familiar, except for certain obvious differences the US elections look like copies (or the originals) of Philippine elections, in which last May there was no visible difference in the solutions to Philippine problems proffered by either Arroyo or Poe (Poe did publish a platform, and it sounded just like Arroyo’s);“sincerity” and looking better than the other side became the issue; and appealing to the worst instincts of the electorate (for example, its celebrity mania) was the sure way to winning the elections without cheating.
But those similarities should be the least of Filipino concerns. No matter who wins in the coming battle between Bush and Kerry, it seems more than likely that basically the same US policies abroad, whether in Iraq or elsewhere, will continue. The difference could be on no more than the approaches a Kerry administration would favor. The belief is thus misplaced that a Kerry victory will mean a scaling down of US efforts to cajole, threaten, blackmail, or buy off “allies” like the Philippines in furtherance of US interests, which at this juncture are focused on consolidating its global dominance. The most Filipinos can expect is a subtler, “multilateral” approach in getting the country to go all the way with the USA.