Letter From America from the July 1978 issue of the Socialist Standard
The ebb and flow of popularity “out there”, where it counts, is a matter of grave and continuing concern to political leaders. Whether it be a totalitarian regime, such as exist in the “Communist” nations or the limited parliamentary democracy as we have in the West, the ruling clique must keep its collective ear to the ground at all times if it would keep its collective head on its shoulders.
In the United States of America, where Presidential power is now constitutionally limited to an 8-year maximum (two terms), it is no less true. The popular surge that sweeps one group to control of the White House can dissipate quickly in the wake of adverse events that are beyond the control of whoever may be, supposedly, at the helm. Not much more than a year after taking office, a great many of his erstwhile supporters have all but ditched Mr. Carter and are casting their lines for a substitute to challenge him in the next Democratic Party Primary elections in 1980. They are already gambling that their Jimmy, their latest Man on the White Horse, has had it. And President Carter, in the prescribed manner, has been compelled to return to campaigning and waving a big stick (“jawboning” as they call it) at Big Business, Big Labor, the American Bar Association and the American Medical Association, all of which is calculated to endear him to many millions of voters and to shore up his sagging popularity.
It is, to be sure, early and “our” Jimmy could, conceivably, be pulled out of his current tailspin by some political “victory” in Congress, by an apparent sharp improvement in inflation and/or unemployment figures, or even by escalations and outbreaks in the Middle East, Africa, or elsewhere that might rally the majority around their current leaders. But for those whose careers are intertwined with the politics of Presidential aspirants, it not too soon to seek a new bandwagon. Their eyes are fixed upon the opinion polls and they seem to see the handwriting on the wall: a significant majority of the voters, according to the polls, feel that President Carter is “not doing a good job”; over 65 per cent of “influential” Americans believe that Carter is doing “somewhat worse” or “much worse” than expectations; and Senator Edward Kennedy, by a whopping majority, leads Jimmy Carter as an acceptable candidate in the 1980 elections (even though Kennedy has stated, with apparent firmness, that he will not run for the office and will support Carter).
At this point, it should be noted that there are certain more imminent dangers facing the Democrats in the wake of their current leader’s plummeting popularity and credibility. In the Congressional (“off-year”) elections scheduled for next November, there will be about twice the usual number of House seats up for grabs because some 40 Congressmen are calling it quits — not contesting. Normally, the party in power loses seats in the “off-year” races but this time, Republicans are drooling at the opportunity to make big gains because of a Democratic President who is widely regarded as inept.
Now that, in substance, is the situation in US politics today and no more need be stated here. Public opinion polls — and elections — are political barometers and everyone reads them in their own way. It does not matter a tinker’s damn which clique captures power in Washington; whether the Man (or perhaps, someday, a Woman) is good looking or ugly; white, black, or “other”; “straight” or “gay”; religious — of whatsoever variety — or atheist; liberal, conservative or radical (right or left). If the mandate is one of continuing a society based upon wage labor and capital; buying and selling; private or state ownership of the means and instruments for producing wealth; the politicians’ performance is going to be, basically, the same. The brand name is of no importance, it is the generic name that counts. Wage labor and capital, whatever it might be called, means capitalism and while capitalism may be manipulated, in one way or another, by one variety or another of political and economic theorist it cannot be controlled.
So let us read America’s political barometer as it registers today, disregarding the particular, preferential indications and concentrating upon the general ones. The polls tell us that there is no discernible opposition in America to the present Capitalist society. The very fact that Carter has lost credibility and popularity among masses of the population and that these disappointed and disgruntled ethnics, blue collars, white collars, and whatever, are searching for a new champion to lead them proves the point. True, neither Gallup nor Harris nor any other polling organisation has ever put the one, important, question to a test: do you favour the outright abolition of the system of production for sale on a market with view to profit and the immediate introduction of a society based upon production for use, free right of access by all mankind to all that is in and on the earth? Do you favour capitalism or socialism? Such a question, at this stage, would cost the pollsters, themselves, credibility.
And yet that is the only question worth asking the electorate. We will continue to watch the political barometers for signs of meaningful change and do whatever is possible to spread the word. What else can one do that makes sense in a world of so much nonsense and confusion?