Regime Change Starts with Bush

by Joel Wendland

July 5, 2004   


(Swans - July 5, 2004)  Notwithstanding the claims of some on the US left, most of the world, including most of the working-class and democratic movements in the U.S., understand the Bush administration to be the most dangerous US regime in its history. Bush's wars on other countries, international institutions, on workers, the environment, women, and people of color are qualitatively more brutal and detrimental than past administrations. That Bush will continue in his way is not a matter of conjecture. Unhindered by the necessities of re-electability after 2004, once wildly-imaginary scenarios will become reality. It is the responsibility of the left to organize the broadest unity to ensure that that does not happen.

Despite blather about compassionate conservatism, when the US Supreme Court selected him, Bush's true self was exposed. His supporters dismantled voting rights in Florida by disfranchising people they believed to be African American. They encouraged fraud from military voters. When Florida's election bureaucracy tried to follow its procedures for disputed elections, Republican staffers violently intimidated local precinct officials into stopping a recount.

Bush's "victory" did not secure a mandate. Rather, it sparked a wave of protest against a president not seen since Johnson was forced into hiding in 1968. Bush was on his heels. Everywhere he went and every policy decision he undertook was met with protest. Leading progressive organizations and much of the labor movement united increasingly in opposition to Bush's policies.

Opposition did not stop the extremism of the administration, however. Some of the most far-right ideologues imaginable were installed into the top levels of the military, environmental, labor, foreign policy, intelligence, and national security bureaucracies. People who openly advocated racist, sexist, homophobic, irrationally violent, and aggressively militaristic policies were placed in command of trillions of dollars in resources. They came to control the deadliest nuclear and conventional military hardware, influence US puppet regimes around the world, command the international financial machinery, manipulate large sections of the world's energy resources, and influence the most visible portions of the national and international media. Domestically, they now exercise control over national bureaucracies, events, and even private institutions from schools, roads, national parks, holidays, churches, charities, public assistance, public and private transportation, outer space, airports, health and safety organizations and bureaucracies, toxic waste facilities, job creation programs, electoral machinery, etc.

People are correct to say that September 11th dramatically changed the terrain on which political battles could be fought. The Bush administration used the terror generated to silence mounting opposition to its policies and to reinvigorate its far-right agenda. His gloves came off.

The shock, terror, and sadness provided Bush with cover to hide serious issues that otherwise would have remained on the domestic stage. Bush used phony patriotism, fears over security, anger, and even fears about the religious extremism that fueled the organizations behind the 9/11 attacks to reformulate and revive his floundering agenda. Dissenters and civil libertarians were told to "watch what they say." Bush offered the false choice of security with diminished rights or freedom with fear and terrorism. Patriotism, Bush said, required support for the ill-conceived and unjust attack on Afghanistan. It required stifling the critiques of the sinking US economy. It justified dismantling collective bargaining units.

The situation required, according to Bush, a translation of fear and sorrow into violent and unrestrained retaliation on a people who had nothing to do with 9/11. Patriotism and security required a massive redistribution of wealth to the richest people and further cuts in domestic social programs. Money for hospitals, schools and universities, transportation, and environmental cleanup dried up. Security required, Bush insisted, unrestrained scrutiny and imprisonment of immigrants. The abuse of civil rights and liberties became the order of the day. The ideal of the rule of law was discarded for rule by racial and religious profiling.

While many people in the U.S. may have temporarily agreed with this scenario, the Bush administration intended to make it permanent. The passage of the Patriot Act, unprecedented war budgets, the incarceration of thousands of African- and Asian-descended people, and the doctrines of permanent and pre-emptive war was the result. Opposition remained fragmentary and half-hidden. When the permanence of war became more than rhetoric and the Bush administration started mobilizing against Iraq, stronger opposition emerged. People who had earlier opposed Bush policies now understood the connection between permanent war and the dissolution of social programs, civil liberties, worker protections, and so on. By October 2002, millions of people in the U.S. took a stand against another war. On the eve of war, that number had grown to a majority with polls indicating that most people wanted more discussion of the question of WMDs, wanted actual evidence of an imminent threat, and so on.

It became clear that in order to prevent war, the broadest movement that had opposed Bush in the pre-9/11 days had to be reorganized and mobilized. The staunchest sections of the left alone could not prevent war. In fact, in isolation, the left provided an unintended strength for the far right. It was also clear that rebuilding a peace movement had do be done in a new context and with new tactics and objectives in mind. In order to convince people to publicly oppose the war, they had to be convinced of the connection between the war as a possible discrete event and the reasons behind it. They had to be shown the right-wing agenda Bush planned for us in the wake of war. Through this broad mobilization, millions came to use discourse on imperialism, critiques of corporate control of the foreign policy agenda, etc.

So what is the way forward? Most immediately, the way forward is to institute a regime change at home. To prevent the wars that the Bush administration has planned and the nuclear conflict cooked up in the bowels of the White House, Bush must be replaced. The course we are on today will not end or alter, if he remains in the White House.

In addition to the likelihood of more war, protections of women's rights, defense of worker rights, environmental protections, and civil rights and liberties will not be forthcoming under a re-elected Bush. Preservation of public education, environmentally friendly transportation, gay rights, freedom from Ashcroft's religion, or a livable wage will not happen either. No progressive agenda has any chance with Bush or a Republican-dominated Congress. In fact, the dismantling of Social Security, more Medicare "reform," anti-working class tax policies, a National "Right to Work" Law, far-right appointees to the federal judiciary, further erosion of civil rights and liberties, and much more are likely if Bush takes a second Oath of Office. Hoping for or calling for an alternative between now and November 2nd will not change objective reality. The removal of the administration is the starting point.

It is impossible to agree with those that think John Kerry would be no different. That is obviously inaccurate. If indeed the Republicans are the same as the Democrats, why did the Republicans steal the election in 2000? And why did they work so hard to steal elections in Texas and California and other states in the run up to this November? We can see obvious differences in various democratic questions related to voting rights, women's equality, the civil rights agenda, worker rights, trade policy, tax policy, environmental policy, the use of nuclear weapons and non-proliferation, relationships with international institutions and other countries, etc.

Having said this, it should be noted that regime change does not begin or end with the removal of Bush from office. Regime change also requires the defeat of Bushism and its agenda regardless of who spouts it. Further, calling for the defeat of Bush in 2004 requires us to regard our votes as revolutionary tools, not simplistically, as some suggest, as an expression of our true feelings about candidate Kerry. The broad left shouldn't be lulled into uncritical support for Kerry, but the struggle for regime change should be seen as a launching pad for a broader, more advanced progressive agenda.

Finally, it isn't enough to hope that Bush's worst excesses will mobilize enough voters to remove him from office. Commitment has to be made to building the broadest electoral coalition to defeat Bush in 2004. We have to be out registering voters, knocking on doors, talking in our unions and organizations, agitating anywhere and everywhere. Otherwise Bush's re-election, fueled by about $200 million form his corporate backers, will proceed unhindered.

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US Elections & Democracy on Swans


Joel Wendland is managing editor of Political Affairs, a monthly magazine of ideology, politics, and culture, and a member of UAW Local 1981 (national writers union) who has written for numerous publications. He also writes and maintains ClassWarNotes.

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Published July 5, 2004
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