Jerry White, the Socialist Equality Party candidate for president, spoke at an election meeting at a coffee shop in downtown Rock Island, Illinois, Tuesday night.
This was the first SEP election meeting in the Quad Cities, which is located on the Iowa and Illinois banks of the Mississippi River. Supporters of the SEP campaigned for the meeting over the preceding weeks and spoke to many workers and youth who expressed sympathy for the SEP's election program.
The meeting was attended by about 15 students and workers from around the area. White's comments were followed by a question and answer period, and several attendees stayed afterwards for further discussion. In addition, a reporter for the Rock Island Argus/Moline Dispatch, the major newspaper for the Illinois Quad Cities, interviewed White for an article following the meeting.
In his report, White began by reviewing the fundamental issues upon which the two major candidates agree. "Both big business candidates—President Obama and his Republican challenger Mitt Romney—are committed to a program of savage austerity. Their already worked out plans involve historic cuts in Medicare, Medicaid and other essential programs that will drive millions more into destitution and magnify the level of social suffering that already exists.
"For the working class there are no fundamental differences. While millions voted for Obama in 2008 to end war, the attack on democratic rights and the decades-long growth of social inequality, on every score the Obama administration has not only continued the reactionary policies of his Republican predecessor, but has in fact gone much further."
White referred to Obama's Memorial Day speech, in which the president went out of his way to rehabilitate and legitimize the Vietnam War. Obama proclaimed that the treatment of returning veterans was a "national shame" that would not be repeated: "You came home and sometimes were denigrated, when you should have been celebrated. It was a national shame, a disgrace that should have never happened. And that's why here today we resolve that it will not happen again."
In response, White stated, "According to President Obama it was not the criminal war which was a national shame. It was the mass protests against the war! In fact, it was not the anti-war protesters who provided returning soldiers with a miserable welcome but instead the US government, which spent decades blocking them from receiving medical benefits for Agent Orange, PTSD and other war related disabilities. After using the soldiers, they threw them overboard."
White said that the working class should take as a warning Obama's insistence that the "national shame" of anti-war protests would not be repeated. "Obama's argument has long been advanced by the most right-wing political forces, who insisted that the war was lost because disloyal protesters undermined the war effort and stabbed the country in the back. When the president resolves that 'this will never happen again,' he means that any future opposition to war and attacks on democratic rights will not be tolerated and will be met with violent repression."
White also explained the Obama administration's utilization of the economic crisis, caused by Wall Street speculation and financial parasitism, in order to ramp up attacks on workers' living standards.
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