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Chomsky, Noam  (2004) 2004 Elections. Zmag : -.

The elections of November 2004 have received a great deal of
discussion, with exultation in some quarters, despair in others, and
general lamentation about a "divided nation." They are likely to have
policy consequences, particularly harmful to the public in the
domestic arena, and to the world with regard to the "transformation
of the military," which has led some prominent strategic analysts to
warn of "ultimate doom" and to hope that US militarism and
aggressiveness will be countered by a coalition of peace-loving
states, led by - China! (John Steinbruner and Nancy Gallagher,
Daedalus). We have come to a pretty pass when such words are
expressed in the most respectable and sober journals. It is also
worth noting how deep is the despair of the authors over the state of
American democracy. Whether or not the assessment is merited is for
activists to determine.

Though significant in their consequences, the elections tell us very
little about the state of the country, or the popular mood. There
are, however, other sources from which we can learn a great deal that
carries important lessons. Public opinion in the US is intensively
monitored, and while caution and care in interpretation are always
necessary, these studies are valuable resources. We can also see why
the results, though public, are kept under wraps by the doctrinal
institutions. That is true of major and highly informative studies of
public opinion released right before the election, notably by the
Chicago Council on Foreign Relations (CCFR) and the Program on
International Policy Attitudes at the U. of Maryland (PIPA), to which
I will return.

One conclusion is that the elections conferred no mandate for
anything, in fact, barely took place, in any serious sense of the
term "election." That is by no means a novel conclusion. Reagan's
victory in 1980 reflected "the decay of organized party structures,
and the vast mobilization of God and cash in the successful candidacy
of a figure once marginal to the `vital center' of American political
life," representing "the continued disintegration of those political
coalitions and economic structures that have given party politics
some stability and definition during the past generation" (Thomas
Ferguson and Joel Rogers, Hidden Election, 1981). In the same
valuable collection of essays, Walter Dean Burnham described the
election as further evidence of a "crucial comparative peculiarity of
the American political system: the total absence of a socialist or
laborite mass party as an organized competitor in the electoral
market," accounting for much of the "class-skewed abstention rates"
and the minimal significance of issues. Thus of the 28% of the
electorate who voted for Reagan, 11% gave as their primary reason
"he's a real conservative." In Reagan's "landslide victory" of 1984,
with just under 30% of the electorate, the percentage dropped to 4%
and a majority of voters hoped that his legislative program would not
be enacted.

What these prominent political scientists describe is part of the
powerful backlash against the terrifying "crisis of democracy" of the
1960s, which threatened to democratize the society, and, despite
enormous efforts to crush this threat to order and discipline, has
had far-reaching effects on consciousness and social practices. The
post-1960s era has been marked by substantial growth of popular
movements dedicated to greater justice and freedom, and unwillingness
to tolerate the brutal aggression and violence that had previously
been granted free rein. The Vietnam war is a dramatic illustration,
naturally suppressed because of the lessons it teaches about the
civilizing impact of popular mobilization. The war against South
Vietnam launched by JFK in 1962, after years of US-backed state
terror that had killed tens of thousands of people, was brutal and
barbaric from the outset: bombing, chemical warfare to destroy food
crops so as to starve out the civilian support for the indigenous
resistance, programs to drive millions of people to virtual
concentration camps or urban slums to eliminate its popular base. By
the time protests reached a substantial scale, the highly respected
and quite hawkish Vietnam specialist and military historian Bernard
Fall wondered whether "Viet-Nam as a cultural and historic entity"
would escape "extinction" as "the countryside literally dies under
the blows of the largest military machine ever unleashed on an area
of this size" - particularly South Vietnam, always the main target of
the US assault. And when protest did finally develop, many years too
late, it was mostly directed against the peripheral crimes: the
extension of the war against the South to the rest of Indochina -
terrible crimes, but secondary ones.

* State managers are well aware that they no longer have that
freedom. Wars against "much weaker enemies" - the only acceptable
targets -- must be won "decisively and rapidly," Bush I's
intelligence services advised. Delay might "undercut political
support," recognized to be thin, a great change since the
Kennedy-Johnson period when the attack on Indochina, while never
popular, aroused little reaction for many years. Those conclusions
hold despite the hideous war crimes in Falluja, replicating the
Russian destruction of Grozny ten years earlier, including crimes
displayed on the front pages for which the civilian leadership is
subject to the death penalty under the War Crimes Act passed by the
Republican Congress in 1996 - and also one of the more disgraceful
episodes in the annals of American journalism.

The world is pretty awful today, but it is far better than yesterday,
not only with regard to unwillingness to tolerate aggression, but
also in many other ways, which we now tend to take for granted. There
are very important lessons here, which should always be uppermost in
our minds - for the same reason they are suppressed in the elite
culture. Returning to the elections, in 2004 Bush received the votes
of just over 30% of the electorate, Kerry a bit less. Voting patterns
resembled 2000, with virtually the same pattern of "red" and "blue"
states (whatever significance that may have). A small change in voter
preference would have put Kerry in the White House, also telling us
very little about the country and public concerns.

As usual, the electoral campaigns were run by the PR industry, which
in its regular vocation sells toothpaste, life-style drugs,
automobiles, and other commodities. Its guiding principle is deceit.
Its task is to undermine the "free markets" we are taught to revere:
mythical entities in which informed consumers make rational choices.
In such scarcely imaginable systems, businesses would provide
information about their products: cheap, easy, simple. But it is
hardly a secret that they do nothing of the sort. Rather, they seek
to delude consumers to choose their product over some virtually
identical one. GM does not simply make public the characteristics of
next year's models. Rather, it devotes huge sums to creating images
to deceive consumers, featuring sports stars, sexy models, cars
climbing sheer cliffs to a heavenly future, and so on. The business
world does not spend hundreds of billions of dollars a year to
provide information. The famed "entrepreneurial initiative" and "free
trade" are about as realistic as informed consumer choice. The last
thing those who dominate the society want is the fanciful market of
doctrine and economic theory. All of this should be too familiar to
merit much discussion.

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