Written for the upcoming issue of Socialist Worker (Canada):
Presidential campaigns in the United States are a quadrennial farce that would qualify as great absurdist theatre if not for the fact that the political theatre destroys so many lives.
All of the candidates – and President Barack Obama – feign at least some interest in the working class while their policies and occasional public gaffes reveal their true feelings and agenda: strengthening corporate rule of the country, stealing money out of the ever-shrinking wallets of working people to give to the 1% in the form of tax breaks, committing war crimes against several Middle East nations while stoking a fear of terrorism among their own people, and continuing their crusade to crush the working class through decreased wages and austerity cuts to essential social programs.
Obama and Mitt Romney, the likely Republican nominee for President, are proud members of the 1%. Both men attained their positions of political power by catering to the 1% and everything they do is (and will be) in fealty to the 1%.
But while Romney very clearly represents his own class interests (his net worth is approximately $250 million), it's less obvious that Obama does the same. He was elected on a groundswell of opposition to war, racism, and poverty, but has demonstrated the unshakable loyalty of the Democrats to corporate America.
Obama has been successful at continuing and expanding the inhumane policies of George W. Bush. A partial list of his betrayals and crimes include supporting $23 trillion in bank and corporate bailouts, extending tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, instituting the most aggressive policy against whistleblowers in US history, beginning three additional wars of aggression against Pakistan, Yemen, and Libya, continuing the US policy of torture and illegal domestic surveillance, and authorizing the indefinite imprisonment of terrorism suspects even after they are acquitted.
Obama has touted an economic "recovery", but steadfastly refuses to note who is benefiting. According to a recent analysis of tax returns, the top 1% pocketed 93% of the economic gains in 2010, and 37% of those gains went to the top one-tenth of one percent. No one below the richest 10 percent saw any gain at all; instead, most of the bottom 90% have lost ground.
Citizens for Tax Justice reported recently that more than two dozen major corporations – including General Electric, Boeing, Mattel, and Verizon – paid no federal taxes between 2008 and 2011. Five corporations – AT&T, Boeing, Citigroup, Duke Energy and Ford – reported a total of more than $20 billion of pre-tax income in 2011, yet paid absolutely nothing in taxes. In fact, they claimed refunds of more than $1.3 billion, thanks to generous policies supported by both Republicans and Democrats.
Over the last decade, General Electric paid an effective tax rate of only 2.3% on more than $81 billion of income. Boeing's tax rate over the same period was -7.8% (that's a negative tax rate!) during this period.
In 2011, US corporations paid an effective tax rate of just 12.1%, the lowest level in forty years, according to the Congressional Budget Office. Sixty years ago, during the Eisenhower administration, corporations paid 32% of the federal government's tax receipts; in 2011, they paid 9%.
Meanwhile, as the November presidential election nears, Republicans are attempting to suppress voter turnout by any means necessary. At least thirty-three states have introduced voter ID laws this year, and it's no secret what these anti-democracy bills are designed to do. In New Hampshire, the Republican House speaker admitted the law would make it harder for "liberal" students to cast ballots. The Democratic governor of New Hampshire vetoed the bill.
Boycotts have been called against corporations that support these laws – and they are working. Coca-Cola pulled its support for one vote-suppression group only five hours after a possible boycott was announced. Additional pressure from watchdog groups, civil rights organizations, and thousands of concerned citizens has led the American Legislative Exchange Council to disband its task force responsible for pushing the Voter ID laws. Undeterred, the ALEC is now working to limit the ability of citizens to petition for referendums and constitutional changes in favour of workers, the environment, and public education.
Both parties in the US are bereft of ideas – and have no desire to come up with any ideas – when it comes to addressing what working people truly need. Indeed, they are being pushed by their corporate masters in the opposite direction. Only replacing the capitalist system through mass movements of working class people can lead to meaningful and necessary changes being made within society. Movements such as Occupy Wall Street, which was inspired by both the Arab Spring and the Wisconsin uprising, have revitalized broader movements against war, climate chaos, racism, and attacks on workers.
With the Occupy movement gaining strength, it is no surprise that Obama recently announced that the upcoming G8 conference (May 18-19) would be moved from Chicago to Camp David, the private presidential compound located about 60 miles (100 km) north of Washington. No reason was given for the move, but the switch of venue means the G8 delegates will be hidden away from the tens of thousands of protesters expected in Chicago.