Is the Left Up to the Challenge?
Okay, the etch-a-sketch vulture capitalist who would have given us four years of that smarmy missionionary-at-your-door smile, was thankfully sent packing by the voters, and Barack Obama gets four more years in the White House.
It was less an election than a contest between two hugely financed products. There was no “movement” for either candidate (though Romney actually claimed to be heading one) — the president made only one televised ad endorsing a member of his party running for Congress — a last minute promo for Chris Murphy, the representative in Connecticut who ultimately defeated wrestling magnate Linda McMahon for the seat of retiring former Democrat Joe Lieberman.
In the end, after both parties spent a combined record of over $2 billion in the presidential race, and another $4 billion on the Congressional races, we have ended up more or less with the same balance of power between the two corporatist parties, with the House having a few more Democrats in the minority and the Republicans still in control, the Senate with the Democratic caucus picking up perhaps two seats, and the president back in the White House.
So in a sense nothing has changed, but then actually, there are a lot of things that have changed. Let’s look at some of the implications of this election:
* Most of that staggering $6 billion came from corporate funders and rich people, and those donations came with the expectation of a payback. Starting today, we citizens, and those of us who are still journalists, will have to watch and ferret out who’s looking for a favor, and what those paybacks are, and we’ll have to fight to prevent them.
* The people, mostly on the left, who keep claiming that elections are a fraud and that they will be stolen by a secret cabal of Republican operatives and the corporate crooks who own and run the makers of the computerized voting machines, have a lot of explaining to do, since this incredibly close election, in which winning margins in states like Ohio, Florida, Virginia and other jurisdictions were decided by one or two percentage points, were ideal places for electronic voter theft to have occurred. It did not happen. I’m not saying there should not be major reforms to guard against electronic voter fraud. This has to be done. It’s only common sense. But going from saying computers can be hacked to saying they will be hacked is a big jump, and telling people that elections are a joke is a terrible way of discouraging voters from voting, including third party voters. I wonder how many more votes the Green and Libertarian parties would have gotten this election if there had not been so many shrill voices on the left and the right claiming that the elections would be stolen?
* Which brings up third parties. Here in what was at least thought yesterday to be a possible swing state, I voted enthusiastically for Jill Stein and the Green ticket. Jill was a good candidate, and was right on all the key issues, but she bombed, winning only 0.3% of the national vote. Libertarian Gary Johnson, the former governor of New Mexico, also a good candidate, did only slightly better, pulling about 1% of the vote. Taken altogether, Stein, Johnson and the rest of the third party candidates didn’t even manage to get 2% of the national vote. We all know that a big reason is the role of money and advertising, and what big corporate funder is going to give money to candidates who are committed to taking away their corporate welfare checks? But that doesn’t mean that third party advocates don’t have to face the reality that these disparate parties have not connected with the broad mass of working people, and unless we figure out how to do that, the idea of creating a third party alternative to the pro-corporate, pro-war party duopoly controlling American politics is a pipe dream.
* The Republican Party is committing suicide. There are three parts to this:
A. The Romney campaign was based upon subtly, and on issues like immigration not so subtly, appealing to the racist fears of white people — especially white men. And white men are a group that is declining inexorably as a demographic cohort and as a political force in the United States (for the first time white males will be a minority of the US Senate Democratic caucus in 2012). The latino vote — Puerto Ricans, Latin Americans and especially Mexican Americans — are growing in size and political power year on year, heading for majority status in Republican bastions like Texas, Arizona, Florida and even states like North Carolina, Georgia, and Utah. Colorado, New Mexico and Nevada have already tipped, with the Latino vote helping a coalition of women, other minorities and non-racist white men to swamp the racist white vote for the second time in a row.
B. Women are not second-class voters, but Republicans think they are. This election showed that women cannot be condescended to by pretending that they are primarily mothers and homemakers. Single women reportedly comprised more than a quarter of all voters according to exit polling. Romney and the Republican Party tried to tell women that those of them who are of child-bearing age are basically still “vessels” for bearing and raising children, and that the state needs to prevent them from controlling their own bodies. They were also told by Republicans that they cannot complain about being paid less for doing the same job as men (Mitt Romney said he would not have signed the Lilly Ledbetter Law, and praised as his model Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia, the sexist who has said he does not believe that the Constitution guarantees equal rights for women.) These views were alienating not just to young women, but to all women, and to all the men who care about the women in their lives and in their families.
C. Voter suppression of minorities, the elderly and the poor, which the Republicans engaged in on a national basis through “model” laws promoted through the right-wing organization ALEC, the so-called American Legislative Exchange Council, might work on the margin, but in the long haul, and even in the moment in states like Florida and Ohio and Pennsylvania, it appears that they have backfired, serving only to piss off and energize those whom the Republicans were trying to disenfranchise. Especially since one big group that Republicans were trying to harass and keep from the polls are Latinos, who are a rapidly growing demographic, any further blatant efforts by Republicans to try to limit the right to vote will likely be catastrophic for that party. (One strategy that is still working is the widespread barring of the vote for convicted felons — a common strategy that is keeping some five million people, mostly men of color, from being able to vote.)
* Finally, the left needs to turn its focus away from an obsession with electoral politics, which is clearly a dead end, at least on the national level, and most importantly, needs to reject the Democratic Party as a vehicle for progressive change. The Democratic Party and its elected candidates are clearly in the pocket of the people who buy their elections for them. The only real way to make real change, as the late Howard Zinn said (demonstrated through his own actions over and over), is through mass movements. Democratic election campaigns are a dangerous diversion and only co-opt those movements.
The second term of Barack Obama presents the left with a number of challenges, all of which need to be addressed through building a broad protest movement. Number one is defending important programs like Social Security and Medicare from what Obama and the Democrats in Congress are calling, euphemistically, a “Grand Bargain” on cutting the federal budget. Linked to that is demanding a major cut in the military budget, which, because it consumes over 50% each federal tax dollar collected, and accounts for most federal borrowing and most of the existing federal debt, is the real reason the US has a budget deficit. Green Party candidate Stein was calling for a 50% cut. That would be a good starting point to push for. The potential for a huge “No Cuts in Social Programs, Yes Cuts for the Military” mass movement is enormous.
Number two is demanding action to combat worsening climate change. The public is ready for this. Hurricane Sandy (short for Cassandra!) was a warning that most people got even though the corporate media and the political class for the most part tried to downplay it. Scientists are warning that if nothing is done to dramatically curb the burning of fossil fuels the earth is headed for a catastrophic 12-degree rise in average temperature by the next century. That is an astonishing, terrifying mass-extinction number. No eco-system, and no living organism, humankind included, and no socio-political system, can hope to survive such a rapid change in the environment in which it evolved. While he didn’t mention climate during the entire campaign, Obama alluded to it directly in his acceptance speech last night. Like President Kennedy looking out at the radioactive rain falling outside the Oval Office when he made the decision to push for an end to open-air nuclear testing, this president is smart enough to know that even his own daughters have no future if there is no action on carbon emissions. It is time for the public to give him and the rest of the government a huge push for real action.
Number three — the left needs to work hard to demand a new deal for workers. It’s not jobs that America needs. It’s good unionized jobs. Only with a revitalized union movement, and a lot more workers earning good wages and benefits, can the whole working population hope to escape the current downward spiral of an ever richer upper class and an increasingly impoverished working class. Four years ago, this president promised to reverse the laws that have eviscerated the right to unionize and to bargain collectively with management. We need to hold him to that promise now.
None of these things, or any of the other urgent issues that need action, like replacing the grossly defective Obamacare with a Canadian-style single-payer Medicare for All health care system, can be accomplished at the ballot box. Nor can they be accomplished by signing internet petitions to the president and members of Congress. They require mass action, and bodies in the street.
That is our challenge.
Dave Lindorff is a founder of This Can’t Be Happening and a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, published by AK Press. Hopeless is also available in a Kindle edition. He lives in Philadelphia.