Democrats and Republicans playing the same game

Sarah Blaskey & Kate Palmer, Staff Writers

We’ve heard it over and over: there are huge differences between the Republicans and Democrats, but what about the many similarities? Stepping outside the narrow framework of two-party, mainstream politics, Republicans and Democrats start to look remarkably similar. Both parties are pro-war. Both parties are in favor of privatization, union busting and a general profit-over-people approach.

In some cases, the Democrats are actually more successful than Republicans at pushing this corporate agenda. Just look the rapidly increasing numbers of drone strikes under the Obama administration. Add to that, Obama’s attacks on civil liberties, culminating in a recent ACLU report that warrantless wiretapping has nearly quadrupled since 2008. Nothing could be a better example of the true intentions of the Democratic Party than the recent labor showdown in Chicago over the future of education.

Chicago’s Democratic mayor Rahm Emanuel, Obama’s former Chief of Staff, led a teacher-blaming offensive over the past year that included backing oppressive legislation, IL SB7, aimed at severely limiting teachers strikes and weakening the teachers union.

Emanuel’s vision for education includes closing public schools in favor of semi-private charters and eliminating teacher tenure in favor of merit pay. This is a perfect example of what Obama’s own “Race to the Top” program looks like, which is being implemented around the country by Republicans and Democrats alike.

Why is there such a strong consensus between our two supposedly polarized parties on such a wide array of policies, especially when much of the American public does not agree on these issues? It’s a matter of who is actually controlling politics.

Corporations like General Atomics make millions manufacturing drones for our government. Meanwhile, private equity firms profit from buying up failing public schools and leasing the buildings to charters. It’s not just that these corporations benefit from policy decisions, it’s that they often influence the politicians’ decisions with almost unlimited cash and lobbying. For example, Goldman Sachs donated over a million dollars to Obama’s first campaign and came away with the Wall Street bailout, which benefited banks but not homeowners.

It goes beyond campaign finance. Corporate donors hold politician’s hands from the moment they enter even a state or local office. The best example of corporate tutelage is the education and model legislation sponsored by a series of nonprofits, the best known being the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). In these corporate-sponsored organizations, politicians on both sides of the aisle are taught public policy by the same businesses that benefit from it. In other words, it is not uncommon to hear of Exxon Mobil hosting energy and environment “education seminars” for our elected officials, and then schmoozing them at dinner afterward.

All of this points to a structural problem, not just a problem of individual shortcomings. As socialists, we believe that capitalism must be changed from the bottom up and from outside the electoral system. The Chicago Teachers’ Union (CTU) provides a helpful example. Union and community members weren’t interested in spending time and resources on yet another election. Instead, they poured those resources into building a movement that is now changing the national discussion about education reform into one that isn’t about privatization, but actually about what children need. CTU made a more positive impact on education than Obama ever has.

So when the polls open, here are two main ideas to keep in mind: First, we cannot vote for the two main candidates and expect the people’s interests to win. Both support the interests of corporations. Second, if you really want positive change, vote knowing that you must also participate in building a movement that will push for change from below and hold your elected officials accountable.

When we endorse the status quo, we give corporations permission to act in the sole interest of profit. If we want progress, we must stand up and make our collective voice heard. Democracy is not a spectator sport. It doesn’t just happen at the polls. It happens in our lives every day.