If something is better than nothing, then Palin’s nomination gives Americans just that choice and so another chance for the Republicans.
For the last 30 years, Republicans systematically aided capital in keeping real wages flat while raising productivity. That combination yielded exploding profits and exploding incomes for those who got their hands on those profits. The Republicans actively altered government taxing and spending patterns to further boost corporate profits while squeezing the workers (via reduced state services and jobs, etc.). The Democratic Party could or would not stop this process, often supported it, and only sometimes slowed it.
In the absence of any significant political party or movement of the working classes, the results of these 30 years include: (1) US workers responded to flat wages per hour by sending more family workers into the paid labor force and averaging 20 per cent more labor hours per year than they did in 1975, (2) working families borrowed vast sums to land more deeply in debt than ever before in US history, (3) work exhaustion and debt anxiety produced extreme levels of stress reflected in divorce, family breakdown, loneliness, legal and illegal drug dependencies, etc. Dissolving American families also confront the ever-wider divide between themselves and the rich top tenth. Walmart and Costco welcome (but also humiliate) families falling ever further behind the levels of consumption that define success and self-worth in our culture.
The Republicans long ago grasped their political vulnerability to being blamed for facilitating this state of affairs. To avoid that blame — and the resulting electoral losses — they spent their money to craft the image of Republicans as champions of a return to the “good old days” of US working families. Then, “family values” prevailed: married couples stayed together; they had the time and space to raise nice children, go proudly to church, cheer our troops as they spread freedom, and do fun leisure activities together. Then, they could afford “the suburban middle class lifestyle” and so on. A vote for the Republicans would somehow bring us all back to those times; at least the Republicans would try to do that.
The Democrats split. One part, seeing the power of the Republicans’ image, wanted to mimic it. They never figured out how to do that without appearing to be a poor, less believable copy. The other part of the Democratic Party saw through the crude Republican manipulation, scoffed at their image as phony and pandering, and tried instead to expose the Republicans’ complicity in the workers’ problems, to blame them in politically advantageous ways. This part — the more “liberal” or even “leftist” Democrats — could never go very far along these lines because the Democratic Party also needed the money and support of capital to pay the huge costs of political campaigns. The Democratic Party fears that alienating capital would assure Republican victories. So the Democratic Party usually presents policies and politicians that try to keep its two parts from breaking apart (since that would also, they fear, assure Republican dominance).
Therefore, the Democratic Party has basically offered the mass of US workers nothing real or concrete to significantly change their deteriorating social and personal situations. At best, Democratic Party rhetoric empathizes with their problems and more or less believably commits to improve things a bit. But nothing is likely from the Democrats that could alter the basic components of the workers’ deepening crises — their wage and job prospects, the extent of state programs and supports they can obtain, their collapsing families and personal relationships, their dwindling self-confidence and frightening loneliness.
The problem for the Republicans in 2008 was that Bush had stretched popular credulity in their carefully crafted images to the breaking point. The Republican Party had not returned America to those good old days which seemed further away than ever. Workers wanted change even if championed by an African-American who offered no more than another standard — and well worded — version of the kind of Democratic Party position that tries to keep its two parts together. Nor could McCain plausibly represent, let alone renew and revive, the Republicans’ self-presentation as “champion of home town family values.”
Hence the Palin choice. One more Republican shot at repeating what worked so well, but now needs to be done more aggressively than before because Bush and Cheney wore the image thin. Palin, as packaged, is the concretized fantasy of “home town family values” carefully combined with “personal flaws” to be identified with, enthusiastic patriotism, aggressive celebration of capital’s agenda, and status as maligned victim of elite and media hostility. By naming her, the Republicans aim yet again and more dramatically to be seen as the best hope American working people have that something, rather than nothing, may possibly be done for them in this time of looming economic catastrophe. Even something that is a long shot and a rerun of a fantasy not realized before is better than nothing. Hope, however far-fetched, is often chosen over resignation.
Rick Wolff is Professor of Economics at University of Massachusetts at Amherst. He is the author of many books and articles, including (with Stephen Resnick) Class Theory and History: Capitalism and Communism in the U.S.S.R. (Routledge, 2002) and (with Stephen Resnick) New Departures in Marxian Theory (Routledge, 2006).