Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Some Progressive Thoughts for the Day After


Friends, I find many of the following perspectives to be quite helpful and even hopeful in the wake of last night's midterm congressional election results. Perhaps you will too.


The bottom line is that progressives went to bed last night fighting a right wing that’s lost its collective mind, in a broken political system, with a centrist, Wall Street-friendly party that can’t sell its successes, and we wake up in pretty much the same situation. In other words, yes, we now face the disheartening fact that Rand Paul is a member of the United States Senate, the “greatest deliberative body in the world.” But remember, we already had James Inhofe.

But despite all of that, the long-term winds that devastated the GOP in two consecutive “wave elections” and propelled a black man with a funny name into the White House are still at our backs.

. . . [T]here’s one thing you can count on: the pundits’ chatter is likely to coalesce around the idea that the Democrats received an epic spanking because they over-reached – because they moved too far toward the left in what the Beltway media has long been convinced is a “center-right country.” But that narrative, however inevitable, bears no relationship to the evidence at hand.

Exit polls demonstrate that, far from a surge of popular support for the Republicans, the outcome was determined by a collapse in the vote among those who voted most heavily for Obama and the Democrats in 2006 and 2008. While young voters, those 18 to 29, comprised 18 percent of the vote in 2008, they made up only 10 percent of those who turned out at the polls on Tuesday. Those over 65 comprised 15 percent of the vote in 2008, but 24 percent of the vote in 2010.

The elderly shifted sharply against the Democratic Party in large measure because of the reactionary character of the Obama health care “reform.” Far from being a progressive measure to extend health care to the uninsured, the Obama plan was primarily a cost-cutting measure that many of the elderly regarded, quite correctly, as a threat to Medicare benefits. While 48 percent of the elderly voted Republican in 2008, this figure jumped to 58 percent in 2010, one of the largest swings among any demographic group.

The collapse of support for the Democrats was the product of two years of betrayal of the illusions promoted in the 2008 campaign. The Democratic victories in 2006 and 2008 were fueled by popular hostility to the Bush administration’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Obama appealed to these sentiments in order to get elected, but once in office he continued the same militarist policies, even keeping on Pentagon chief Robert Gates and General David Petraeus, and pouring another 70,000 troops into Afghanistan.

– Patrick Martin
Republicans Win Sweeping Victory in US Congressional Election
World Social Web Site
November 3, 2010

. . . [V]oters have just handed Congress back to a party least likely to heed their call: the party that spent the last two years saying no to Wall Street reform, to an economic recovery package that included major tax cuts, to expanded health insurance and medical cost control, and to extension of the 2001 tax cuts for the middle class; the party that shamelessly courted lobbyists and corporate donors while claiming they were only against reform because it represented a "bailout" of these very same interests.

In exit polls, voters were asked who they blamed for the state of the economy. In order, they blamed banks, then the Bush administration, and only then the current administration. Yet those who blamed banks gave their votes by a wide margin to the GOP. Their votes have made Speaker-to-be John Boehner the second most powerful person in Washington only months after he staged an open rally for bank lobbyists, urging them to block Democrats and their “punk staffers.” The rally worked: Wall Street swung toward the Republicans, joining health insurers, big business groups, energy companies, and the rest of the GOP's new money trust.

If there is a hidden message in the election, it's one that we, in our recent book, Winner-Take-All Politics, call the “dirty little secret” of political science: most voters pay little attention to what happens in Washington and have only the vaguest sense of what is happening there. Most are completely unaware of how the filibuster has been used relentlessly to block action on the economy, and a majority mistakenly believes that the astonishingly unpopular TARP legislation passed under Obama, when in fact in was signed by George W. Bush.

We are taught to believe that voters call the shots. And they often do. Yet the vote is a blunt, heavy weapon -- one that voters barraged with negative ads and misleading messages, without strong guidance from grassroots organizations, often wield with little awareness of or regard for the collateral damage that will result. In this case, the damage is likely to be the crippling of goals and policies that most Americans continue to support.

– Jacob S. Hacker and Paul Pierson
Giving the Keys Back to the Folks Who Crashed the Car
The Huffington Post
November 3, 2010

[This] morning, President Obama is going to hold a press conference, and he’s going to take the wrong path. He’s going to say what we really need now is more bipartisanship and more kumbaya. [But] the other side wants none of that. And I don’t know how much you have to be battered and bruised to understand when the abuser is not going to stop abusing.

[F]or slothful pundits who want to derive sweeping meaning from individual races in order to blame the Left and claim that last night was a repudiation of liberalism, the far more rational conclusion – given the eradication of 50% of the Blue Dog caucus – is that the worst possible choice Democrats can make is to run as GOP-replicating corporatists devoted above all else to serving corporate interests in order to perpetuate their own power: what Washington calls “centrists” and “conservative Democrats.” That is who bore the bulk of the brunt of last night’s Democratic bloodbath – not liberals.

– Glenn Greenwald
Pundit Sloth: Blaming the Left
November 3, 2010

Drunk with their capture of the House of Representatives, the Republicans thunder that the verdict of ballot boxes from Maine to Hawai’i is clarion-clear: the ultimate evil in America is government, specifically government as led by President Barack Obama. But when exit pollsters questioned voters on their way to those same ballot boxes, as to who should take the blame for the country’s economic problems, 35 per cent said Wall Street, 30 per cent said Bush and 23 per cent Obama. The American people want a government that mustn’t govern, a budget that must simultaneously balance and create jobs, cut spending across the board and leave the Defense budget intact. Collectively, the election makes clear, they haven't a clue which way to march.

. . . What lies ahead is a war of maneuver, between the White House and the Republican leadership. Obama has been weakened -- deservedly so, because a large part of Tuesday’s disaster for his party can be laid at his door. He laid down no convincing political theme, mounted no effective offense, relied on a team of advisors of dubious competence, which had run out of steam. He himself tried to run for and against an effective role for government, made the same childish equations of domestic and federal budgets, sent out mixed messages, lost the confidence of the young and of a vital slice of the independents.

All the same, after two years, the polls show Obama is no more unpopular than was Clinton in 1994. By 1996 Clinton had outmaneuvered the Republican leadership and won reelection in 1996. Today the economic situation is far worse than it was in 1994. No effective political and economic strategy for recovery is on the cards in the current atmosphere. As always, these days in America, our last best friend will be gridlock.

– Alexander Cockburn
America the Clueless
November 3, 2010

The tea party revolt, ragged as it is, fed on a massive populist outrage that so-called progressives had failed to respond to because of their allegiance to Obama. As a result the Democrats squandered the hopes of their base, which rewarded the party with a paltry turnout at polling stations.

But it now remains for the tea party victors to prove that they are a viable alternative, or by the next election they too will find that their base of support has evaporated. This should be of great concern to the libertarian wing of that movement, which scored a considerable victory and a much-enhanced national presence with Rand Paul’s Senate victory in Kentucky. Will he stick to his promise to hold the Federal Reserve accountable and oppose the continuing favors to Wall Street that he has blasted as “a transfer of wealth from those who have earned to those who have squandered”?

The tea party is now in the awkward position previously occupied by the Obama hope crusade of having to deliver and will suffer a similar political fate if it fails to deal with the economic crisis. In particular, the Republicans who will control the House, thanks to the tea party, must come up with proposals to solve the housing crisis or they will stand exposed as political opportunists who intend to exploit rather than deal with the economic anxiety felt not only by their base but much of the country.

– Robert Scheer
Payback at the Polls
November 3, 2010

If the tea party were serious about throwing out the “establishment,” it would be tossing its religious right allies right along with those “tyrannical” Democrats it so despises. The religious right, along with business interests, is one of the most entrenched and politically organized forces radiating from inside the beltway. The new tea partiers set to come to Washington aren't avoiding challenging the religious right just because they need it to form a coalition — they are it.

– Sarah Posner
The Tea Party Illusion
Religion Dispatches
November 3, 2010

Obama was given a mandate for change, and he squandered it.

He never mobilized the base to take on the vested interests.

Example: health care. He didn’t call people to march on Washington for universal health care, or at least Medicare for all who want it. So a few tea party hucksters were able to hijack the debate. He didn’t even push Harry Reid to give the health care bill to Senator Tom Harkin’s committee, throwing it instead into the untrustworthy arms of Max Baucus.

As a result, an inferior law came on the books with some important insurance reforms in it, but it didn’t threaten the private health care providers or the pharmaceutical companies. And it didn’t deliver the immediate relief that most Americans needed.

– Matthew Rothschild
Nov. 2: The Death Knell of Corporate Liberalism
The Progressive
November 3, 2010

The mass-media echo chamber now insists that Republicans have triumphed because President Obama was guilty of overreach. But since its first days, the administration has undermined itself – and the country – with tragic under-reach.

It's all about priorities. The Obama presidency has given low priority to reducing unemployment, stopping home foreclosures or following through with lofty pledges to make sure that Main Street recovers along with Wall Street.

Far from constraining the power of the Republican Party, the administration’s approach has fundamentally empowered it. The ostensibly shrewd political strategists in the White House have provided explosive fuel for right-wing “populism” while doing their best to tamp down progressive populism. Tweaks aside, the Obama presidency has aligned itself with the status quo – a formula for further social disintegration and political catastrophe.

The election of 2010 is now grim history. It’s time for progressives to go back to the grassroots and organize with renewed, deepened commitment to changing the direction of this country. If we believe that state power is crucial – and if we believe in government of, by and for the people – it’s not too soon to begin planning and working for change that can make progressive victories possible in future elections.

– Norman Solomon
The Tragedy of Under-Reaching
November 3, 2010

The jury is still out on Archbishop Neinstedt’s attempt to influence Minnesota’s election for Governor. Democrat Mark Dayton leads Neinstedt hero Tom Emmer by some 9,000 votes with all but four precincts reporting. That margin would trigger an automatic recount. If this one follows the same path as the Al Franken victory, it might be a while before we know whether the Knights of Columbus has to keep their ceremonial swords in their sheaths. In the meantime the State Republican party is already hinting at voter fraud, which is interesting since they took both houses of the legislature. Maybe voters only cheated on voting for governor.

Pro life politicians had a mixed result, as some stalwarts went down to defeat including VA’s Tom Perriello. GLBT politicians did much better, indicating the culture wars are not nearly as persuasive as the fact the economy is in the toilet. The message is that the rights of the pre born take a very back seat to the availability of pay checks for parents. Some of us have been trying to make that very point for a long time. Too many abortions are the result of poverty. Maybe now it will be heard.

– Colleen Kochivar-Baker
About Last Night’s Election
Enlightened Catholicism
November 3, 2010

In this election, three of the courageous justices who recognized the freedom to marry in Iowa fell victim to a perfect storm of electoral discontent and out-of-state special interest money. In addition, many of our pro-equality allies from Governor Culver to statehouse candidates lost their seats due to an anti-incumbent mood that swept the nation. We thank them for their distinguished service and we look forward to working with our newly elected legislature and Governor in the weeks and months ahead.

While the full implications of these election results remain to be seen, one thing remains the same. The freedom to marry in Iowa remains intact.

In the months and weeks ahead we can expect renewed attempts to overturn the freedom to marry and write discrimination into the Iowa Constitution. It will take a concerted and collective effort on the part of pro-equality Iowans to respond to these attacks and defend on our liberties.

– Carolyn Jenison
A Perfect Storm
November 3, 2010

Nothing is more disturbing than the ousting of three of Iowa’s Supreme Court Justices simply because they ruled (unanimously, as you my recall) in favor of marriage equality. It is incredibly petty to punish judges for doing their job (especially since it doesn’t change the state of marriage equality in Iowa), but that’s the world we live in.

– Zack Ford
Yes, That Sucked, But We Go On
November 3, 2010

A majority of Iowans, thanks to the Religious Right, apparently are illiterate when it comes to the role of the judiciary, having ousted three of the Supreme Court judges who granted same-sex couples the long overdue right to marry. The judiciary, of course, is not intended to be run by partisans, but don’t expect anything short of a preschool-level understanding of civics from groups like the National Organization for Marriage and the Family Research Council, which spent hundreds of thousands of dollars that could have been spent feeding impoverished children on hurting gay families in the state. Silver lining there, though: if you’ll remember, the Iowa Supreme Court decision was unanimous, which means that seven judges voted for it. Regardless of who gets those jobs, we still have a majority on the court.

– Evan Hurst
About Last Night
November 3, 2010

The Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund today announced that more openly LGBT candidates won election to public office in the U.S. in 2010 than in any year in America’s history.

At least 106 of the group’s record-breaking 164 endorsed candidates were winners as of Wednesday morning, including Providence, R.I., Mayor David Cicilline, who will become the fourth openly gay Member of Congress when the House convenes in January.
November 3, 2010

As the 2010 elections come to a close, the biggest winner of all remains undeclared: the broadcasters. The biggest loser: democracy. These were the most expensive midterm elections in U.S. history, costing close to $4 billion, $3 billion of which went to advertising. What if ad time were free? We hear no debate about this, because the media corporations are making such a killing by selling campaign ads. Yet the broadcasters are using public airwaves.

. . . The place where we should debate this is in the major media, where most Americans get their news. But the television and radio broadcasters have a profound conflict of interest. Their profits take precedence over our democratic process. You very likely won’t hear this discussed on the Sunday-morning talk shows.

– Amy Goodman
Rich Media, Poor Democracy
November 3, 2010

Recommended Off-site Links:
The Morning After – Michel Sean Winters (National Catholic Reporter, November 3, 2010).
Most Voters Think House GOP Likely to Disappoint by 2012 The Huffington Post (November 3, 2010).
Election Roundtable: Breaking Down the Results Democracy Now! (November 3, 2010).
The Real Winners and Losers of the 2010 Elections New York Magazine (November 3, 2010).
The Psyche of the 2010 American Voter – Jennifer Senior (New York Magazine, November 3, 2010).

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Something to Think About Before Voting Today
The Challenge for Progressives with an Obama Presidency

For previous compilations of progressive thoughts, see:
Informed and Helpful Perspectives on the “Ground Zero Mosque” Controversy
Reactions to Prop 8 Defeat
Reflections on the Life and Legacy of John Henry Newman

Image: Michael J. Bayly.


Paul said...

Not to pour salt into the wound after being gutted, but I would bet that here in Minnesota we can expect to get a Constitutional Amendment on the ballot in 2012 and, depending on the ability to override a Governor's veto (assuming Dayton wins), we may see our anti-discrimination law repealed if not gutted.

Elections have consequences and this time we got decimated.

Phillip Clark said...

Despite the monumental losses that the Democrats have suffered this election cycle I still remain hopeful and optimistic. It is my firm conviction that it was the timing - not the essence or intention behind the notion - of healthcare reform that brought down progressives this year, and perhaps rightly so.

The Democrats tried as much as they could to tie healthcare reform to economic stability but it just didn't seep through for most voters last night. And, ultimately, that analysis really does make sense.

To have watched Congress deliberate for a year over a healthcare bill while most Americans worried about finding jobs and how to pay their bills, this attitude wreaked of elitism and misunderstanding. It seemed that Obama and his advisors were to concerned on fulfilling the historic acolades of his presidency than listening and acting upon the issues that most Americans were deeply concerned about.

Even his mismanagement of the DADT repeal - and the fact that polls showed firmly that all Americans, liberal and conservative, were firmly united against this discriminatory policy despite what some old fuddy duddies in Congress might have believed - showed again that Barack Obama has a problem when it comes to listening to what the American people want and delivering on substantive issues.

I do hope that just as it did for President Clinton - the reality of a House controlled by the GOP will only serve as an opportunity for President Obama to hone and strengthen his efforts to revitalize our nation's economy and encourage and move the leaders of both parties in Congress to make this their unceasingly-sought goal instead of the winner in the next election cycle. If the GOP puts behind its obstructionist label and truly and sincerely works with the Democrats on behalf of the American people, I think President Obama could do nothing but reap the benefits.

As Election Day has concluded, and all the dust of partisan fighting has begun to settle, we should be consoled and impelled by the fact that whatever has changed - we are all still Americans.

And yes, a Republican controlled House does spell defeat and immobility for any constructive strides in measures for gay rights to be acheived (perhaps with the exception of the repeal of DADT) yet we must remember the words of St. Paul - "In weakness I reach perfection" and hope that while legislative gains may be scarce that changing minds and hearts can still be carried out in a massive way with such forces now in control in Congress - especially campaigns like the "It Gets Better" project. Because of a GOP controlled House, I think changing Americans' hearts through education might be the one way possible fruit can be reaped for LGBT sensitivities in the next four years. Not tangible gains, but emotional ones among the American public. And these emotional gains will inevitably translate into legislative ones when the atmosphere is ripe for it.

kevin57 said...

Excellent words! I completely agree with your analysis. This election had little to nothing to do with social issues per se. We've had three "change" elections in a row. '06, '08, and now '10 the people have said to the ruling party, "Get out!" It'll keep happening until politicians stop listening to corporate interests first and listen to the people. In another admittedly small consolation, here in IL Bill Brady, the GOP nominee, looks like he was defeated DESPITE a GOP pick up in the Senate and +5 in the House. Why? He was a cro-magnon when it comes to gay rights. He wanted to constitutionally ban civil unions and remove anti-discrimnation language that protects homosexuals.

The most painful loss was the judiciary in IA. It is maddening that these brave justices were rejected. I thought Iowans to be more tolerant and socially progressive than that. I weep.

Phillip Clark said...

It is sad about what happened in Iowa. But unfortunately, the fact is that once marriage equality has been legalized - the conservative and bigoted factions of the GOP simply use it as an occasion to mobilize support against the measure - it can simply be voted down if put on the ballot, proves why it is imperative that such initiatives on behalf of LGBT rights not be put forth on ballots but - must necessetate from the judiciary. It may seem "tyranical" or "elitist" but currently, that seems to be the only branch of government that is largely sympathetic to LGBT concerns. The good news that can be found in Iowa is that it's a huge improbability - even considering the fate of those courageously progressive judges - that the marriage equality law can be done away with. If I've received all the information about it correctly.

Garth said...

Thanks Mick. Not feeling all that hopeful after reading, but certainly a very useful summary of the elections.