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Issue 32, November 1998


CLINTON'S ADMISSION that he lied under oath about his sexual affair with Monica Lewinsky and the subsequent publication of special prosecutor Kenneth Starr's charges, has triggered a serious political crisis for the US president. The scandal further exposes the political corruption of the two parties of capitalism, strengthening the widely held idea that politicians and the mass media are all liars and hypocrites.

While the media have produced thousands of hours of footage and pages of titillating details of the affair, the real problems facing working people face in this country are pushed further and further into the background. Where is the outrage about the fact that tens of millions of people are without healthcare coverage, that almost a quarter of all children live in poverty, that the combined wealth of the richest 1% is greater than the wealth held by the bottom 90%, and that the average US worker now works three weeks longer than 30 years ago?

The reasons for the investigation and unprecedented grand jury dragnet of Kenneth Starr are to be found in the political war of the Republican party's Christian-right against the Democrats, and against Clinton in particular. This serves to disguise the absence of any serious policy differences between the two parties and to rally the Republican electoral troops for the mid-term elections for Congress being held this November. The Clinton scandal has now displaced the corruption scandals involving Newt Gingrich and other Republicans, who can now appear as 'respectable' politicians, defenders of 'family values', and so on.

Although Clinton has shown himself a completely reliable conservative capitalist politician (having abandoned nearly all of his promised reforms early in his first term), Christian-right Republicans continue to regard him as a draft-dodging left liberal, with friends in Hollywood. Incidentally, this shows their colossal capacity for hypocrisy since they have virtually deified Ronald Reagan, a former Hollywood B-movie actor (and an FBI informer as well). Dan Quayle, Bush's vice-president, avoided the draft by getting a nominal position in the National Guard, while the Christian right also conveniently forget the sex scandals of right-wing preachers like Reverend Jimmy Swaggart and Jimmy Baker.

The Republicans are using the Lewinsky affair to exploit the conflicting cultural, generational and regional attitudes that exist among US voters (well under half the electorate actually vote). Moralistic scandal-mongering is an everyday weapon in the scramble for the trough of political office, and also feeds the media's depraved need for sensational 'news'.

  The Lewinsky scandal is likely to turn enough voters away from the Democrats to hand a few more victories to the motivated right-wing voting base of the Republicans in the mid-term elections. At the same time, the Republicans have suffered a string of political defeats (most notably around Proposition 226 in California and fast-track authority) and they need something that will keep them going until November. The polls show that more and more people are turned off by the spectacle of mudslinging, scandals, corruption and well-funded media spin, which are portrayed as 'democracy' and politics in this country.

The challenge for the Republican political bosses is to keep the crisis simmering, without provoking either a backlash or creating the massive constitutional crisis which would result from the impeachment - criminal indictment - of a sitting president. The Republicans suffered two years ago when the government was shut down, with state employees laid off for a few days, because the Republican majority blocked Clinton's budget in Congress. Clinton successfully managed to put the blame on the 'destructive Republicans'. Successful impeachment of Clinton would only install Gore as a 'Mr Clean', handing him the advantage of fighting the 2000 election as the sitting president. This could only hamper the Republican effort to capture the White House.

The voice of big business on the situation was summed up in the comments of a New York financier who said, 'no matter what I believe, Bill Clinton has been good for Wall Street'. The last thing the big banks and Wall Street need at this time is a serious constitutional crisis and political upheaval in the face of the far-reaching economic downturn threatening world capitalism.

Clinton has presided over the largest Wall Street boom in history and initiated IMF bailouts for big business when they needed them. It is true that he alarmed the big medicine and health insurance companies by proposing a health care scheme, but quickly dropped it in the face of big business opposition. He antagonised big tobacco companies by supporting moves to force them to pay compensation for tobacco-related illnesses and deaths. But Clinton has sponsored the large-scale plunder by big business of assets like national forests and federal lands, opened the door to the privatisation of the social security (pensions) system, and supported the arms manufacturers, the banks and the Fortune 500 multinationals.

For the working class and the poor, Clinton has presided over the free trade agreement of NAFTA, stagnant wages, record household bankruptcies, the draconian Welfare Bill, the Effective Death Penalty Act, harsh anti-immigrant policies, and an expansion of state surveillance and the racist police apparatus. The real scandal is that Clinton has managed to do all these things with hardly any resistance from the unions or the civil rights or women's organizations. Instead, the leaders of these organisations have continued to prop up and support Clinton and the rotten Democratic party. The US workers desperately need their own political voice.

Alan Jones

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