|Big splits and minor
The capitalist factions are not Absolute, with firm, unchanging boundaries, but there are clusters of interest groups that hang together....with sometimes shifting alliances based mainly on where the financial interests lie--Caspian oil, Saudi oil, Texas and Louisiana oil, Alaska oil, or regulate certain utilities versus don't regulate certain utilities, concern for the environment in some places but not others, or need for profits from selling to China, or buying from China, or needs to block Chinese imports or stop Chinese software piracy, the shifting nature of the world auto industry, still a key foundation for the whole US economy, or whether one would profit from enlarging the prison-industrial complex, or whether and where one is involved heavily in construction contracting, entertainment, gambling, illegal drugs, pharmaceuticals, all of which is mediated through groups of banks, which through their lending and investment policies generally shape the flow, but which also might have splits and shifting alliances within them.
And the factions need to have some sort of base among the general population, which means that with some conscious planning they set about creating a PUBLIC cultural aura, religious, "ethical", philosophical identity that can appeal to those they need in their base. Not surprisingly, those cultural-philosophical tendencies tend to reflect, more or less, the section of the country where their main financial interests lie and where the core of their political base among the general population lies.
The complexity and shifting nature of the alliances should not cause us to throw up our hands in confusion and say that there must be no patterns at all. It is complex. Historically, the culturally conservative factions have tended to be the most narrowly nationalist, while the cosmopolitan cultural liberals reflect their need for international commerce and banking. But Wal-Mart, allied with the cultural conservatives, is certainly quite internationalist, and Murdoch's FOX television network, allied with the cultural conservatives and more extreme nationalists engages in the worst sexually exploitative pandering of any major network. President Carter opened the door to major political interaction with fundamentalist Christians and Al Gore's wife was a national leader of the culturally conservative movement to censor music and art. Clinton was instrumental in abolishing welfare, whatever the flaws in that system were. Ultra-liberal, "hip" Gary Hart co-authored the Hart-Rudman Report much of which became the Patriot Act. Meanwhile, in their private lives, the publically conservative politicians can be quite "libertine" in their use of drugs, the number of children they father out of wedlock (Dan Burton and Henry Hyde, to name just two) and other culturally "liberal" personal behaviors.
It is an interesting and important question: How much does the political ruling class believe its own ideology? To say "Not at all--it is all a cynical ploy" risks embracing a narrow, mechanical economic determinism and disregards the obviously powerful impact that ideology can have, not just on the "masses with false consciousness" but on the ruling class itself. G.W. Bush (like perhaps Ashcroft) may well believe some of the nonsense that he has been called to fulfill the prophecy of a god...maybe he does believe some of it, maybe not. It is doubtful that Cheney belives much of it though, or Wolfowitz.
But to overemphasize the politicians' public prattlings about culture risks being misled, diverted by the outward veneer and failing to grasp the fundamental inner dynamics that drive the modern capitalist system. This is of course related to previous debates over Weber and relates to the Frankfurt School, who provide some important insights into the way culture is expressed, but often too far detach the cultural processes from the fundamental dynamics that drive the modern capitalist system.
The term "Relative Autonomy of the State" is sometimes used to critique a narrow, mechanical economic determinst analysis, and that is certainly an important project. But the term "Relative Autonomy of the State" is sometimes used to mask the reality that what is really being proposed is a near "Absolute Autonomy of the State". And this can easily lead to retreating from the project to create an egalitarian world and instead to embracing a militant sounding version of ordinary liberalism where the cultural freedom of certain strata of the population becomes of primary concern (even though the culturally liberal politicians themselves, will ally with the cultural conservatives when necessary to suppress the movement to free the working class and its allies from economic and political subjugation.) Understanding the mix of factions, of ideologies, of bases and understanding how they interact at any given point will not be solved by cheerleading the particular school of thought to which one subscribes. It requires in-depth analysis of concrete processes, but it also requires understanding how the particular is shaped by the fundamental dynamics of a capitalist profit system in a finite world.
There is currently a minor split in the ruling class, and the faction that is the wealthiest, most powerful, most in control of the state apparatus, Army, CIA, FBI, educational institutions, major media and newspapers, etc. and with the most credibility among the people of the USA, in my opinion therefore most dangerous group, is the group that is supporting Kerry. The Rockefeller-Morgan-Chase-Exxon-Mobil faction do not detest Bush; he mainly serves them as well. But they prefer Kerry, who will toss more money their way (rather than Bush's irresponsibly damaging the stability of the system by spending money on his political-economic allies), who will not so crudely alienate hundreds of millions of people not just in "Old Europe" but from Ecuador to Egypt, Moscow to Morocco to Malaysia, and who can also help convince millions of young black, Latino, and white working class youth to have loyalty to a system which is robbing and abusing them. His proposal for required Universal National Service will provide cheap labor for a government that is facing a financial crisis, as well as helping to militarize and regulate the society in a more orderly way than the greedy free-for-all that Bush has been promoting.
The Main Faction leaned towards Gore but realized that if he continued to press on after Bush stole the election, it would alienate millions from the whole capitalist electoral process. So he backed off. When Nixon got out of line, the Main Faction busted him, but only after busting his loyal servants first. Kissinger got out unscathed however. They preferred Carter to Reagan, but when Reagan captured the Republican Party nomination, they pressured him to accept reliable George H. Bush as Vice-President and George Schultz and others. When Reagan agreed to that, after practically swearing that he never would, they found him acceptable, but still had a need to reign in some of the less trustworthy members of his gang, like Oliver North, etc. Howard Dean was too much of a loose cannon---Edwards, Clark, and Kerry would be more reliable, so they pushed in that direction. They don't always get what they push for -- it is not all mechanically determined after all. The factions fight, and furthermore, the boundaries of the factions shift. But that should not lead us to assume that the factions are irrelevant and instead see the battles in terms of the public relations slogans each faction claims to support today.
There may, or may not, be much difference in the daily lives of most people in the world whether Bush or Kerry gets elected. The idea, pushed by Chomsky and others, that we are at a critical, perhaps irreversible turning point is an interesting one, but the same could be said in 1964 with Johnson/Goldwater (the Vietnam War happend anyhow) and in 1968 with Humphrey/Nixon (more civil rights legislation was passed anyhow and the Vietnam War ended and Nixon was bounced, and eventually, liberal Carter become President) and in 1980 and 1984, where the unthinkable, moronic Reagan actually captured the Presidency but eventually was replaced by eight years of Clinton. In the main, economic, political, military, and social crisis will engulf the US and the world as a result of various structural crises, and when they develop, all the major politicians including the liberals will sign on to the economic cutbacks, the wars, and the fascistic political suppression, even if that means making alliances with the dreaded "cultural conservatives". So how to build a movement that can avoid becoming politically disarmed and weakened by having trust in the politicians?
My main point is that there is a cost to supporting a ruling class politician. The cost is in telling people that "The capitalist economic and political system can be trusted". It is true; one can participate in that electoral campaign and simultaneously continue to build a movement against capitalism -- Doug Henwood and others pointed that out. But many would argue that encouraging trust in the politicians, especially the Democratic Party, does somewhat undermine the building of a movement that says that they cannot be trusted. For those who say that "just this once" the cost is worth it, the compromise is worth it -- well, many would disagree but can still respect most of the people who make that evaluation. It is only when some advocates of that position assert that there is no cost to supporting the Democrats, and that therefore, those who don't are either traitors or egotistical fools who desperately want to cling to their selfish elitist philosophy rather than wanting help "real people"....when some people put that dishonest vituperative, abusive line forward, they should not be surprised if they receive a hostile response.
Most of us want to help "real people". For some of us, helping people, including ourselves, to understand things clearly is the most important thing we can do. Not just another important thing among many, but the most important way to help "real people".