Midterm Congressional Elections: You Can’t Lose What You Ain’t Never Had

Photograph Source Senate Democrats | CC BY 2.0

The buzz is that “we” have to “take back” the House and Senate in the November midterm elections. Legendary bluesman Muddy Waters said it best: “you can’t lose what you ain’t never had.” What the Democratic National Committee (DNC) is really telling us to do is to give them Congress, which is a whole other story.

“We” Never Had Congress

Trump has an abysmal 38% approval rating. The Democratic Party in the same independent national poll is even deeper in the abyss with only a 31% approval rating…for at least a dozen reasons:

(1) The Democratic Party is consistently far to the right of its constituents. While nearly 75% of Democrats support single-payer health care, President Obama and the Democrat Congressional members didn’t even allow single-payer to get before Congress. Single-payer was rendered “off the table.”

(2) The upwelling of resistance to Trump among the American electorate is genuine and deserved. But the official Resistance, mediated by its Democratic Party handlers, is focused on Trump the man and not his politics. Democrats in Congress voted nearly two to one in favor of Trump’s unconscionable $716 billion war budget. “The Resistance,” in the words of Bruce Dixon of the Black Agenda Report,“is really the Assistance.”

(3) Despite all the divisive pyrotechnics on the surface, the two corporate parties tacitly collaborate with each other. When the smoke clears, the class unity of the duopoly on bedrock issues is revealed. Both parties support US militarism and empire abroad, while both look for opportunities to betray the electorate on social “entitlements” such as social security. Both are bullish about the ever-encroaching surveillance state, which is eroding civil liberties.

+ Obama’s Secretary of Education Arne Duncan prefigured Trump’s Betsy DeVos on charter schools and the privatization of public education.

+ If Trump ever gets to build his border wallbetween the US and Mexico, he will discover Bush and Obama had already completed 702 miles of it.

+ When peace candidate Barack became war President Obama, he continued Bush’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, retained his predecessor’s secretary of defense, and even engaged in a “surge” of his own. Trump in turn continued Obama’s warsand added his own embellishments.

+ Trump did not pioneer an immigration policy that separated children from their parents. Rather he expanded Obama’s previous practice. Ever the over-achiever Obama earned the epithet deporter-in-chieffor a practice inherited from his predecessors.

+ Republicans deny global warming. Democrats are believers but don’t combat it. Far from “keeping it in the ground,” US petroleum production nearly doubled under Obama’s energy policies, “the largest domestic oil production increaseduring any presidency in US history.”

+ Trump’s trillion-dollar-plus plan to “modernize” US nuclear weaponsby making them smaller, more precise, and thus more “usable” was initiated by Obama.

Continuity is the overarching paradigm characterizing the relationship between the Democrats and the Republicans.

(4) The Democrats in a perverse way paved the way for Trump, as Thomas Frank argued in What’s the Matter with Kansas. The Democrats’ failure to address working class issues fueled rightwing populism:

“The Democratic Leadership Council…has long been pushing the party to forget blue-collar voters and concentrate instead on recruiting affluent, white-collar professionals who are liberal on social issues. The larger interests that the DLC wants desperately to court are corporations, capable of generating campaign contributions far outweighing anything raised by organized labor.”

The DLC is no longer active, having captured the whole Democratic Party. The Democrats continue to marginalize progressive politics, promoting the neoliberal transformation of society.

(5) Now lost in the fog of Russiagate is the Wikileaks revelations that the DNC/Clintonites tried to promote Trump in the Republican primaries while rigging the Democrat primaries against the more popular of the Democrat contenders. At the end of the day, the Democratic Party is more loyal to its big money funders than its rank-and-file voters. They would rather lose a presidential election than allow someone like Bernie Sanders to run, who raised inconvenient truths about income inequality.

(6) The Democratic Party does not represent “us.” Thomas Frank, in his follow-up book Listen Liberal, points out that the Republicans are not to blame for the “Democratic Party’s failure over the last few decades to do anything really meaningful about income inequality.” Rather, he argues “the Democrats are a class party in the most basic sense of the phrase, and that the socioeconomic group whose interests they represent most enthusiastically–the satisfied and prosperous professional class–simply doesn’t care all that much about income inequality.”

That verdict is by someone trying to promote the Democrats. The Democratic Party is a class party beholden to and reflecting the interests of the finance capitalists who fund it.

(7) The Democratic Party is no more reformable than the Republican Party. Both feed from the same big money trough and both are instruments of class rule for the rich and powerful, competing for the patronage of the elites. Neither of the corporate parties are structurally capable of transforming into a traitor to its own class.

(8) Attempts to reform the Democratic Party inevitably result in either defeat or cooptation of the would-be reformists, who become apologists for the party and attack those who dare to stand for genuine change.

(9) The Democratic Party is the graveyard of social movements, not its champion. The major advances of US social movements – abolition of slavery, 8-hour workday, women’s suffrage – all came from third party initiatives and not the reigning duopoly of the time.

Obamacare passed without a single Republican vote. So the Democrats could just as well have passed single-payer healthcare had they wanted. One of the national leaders of the single-payer movement, then Congressperson Dennis Kucinich had pledged to vote against Obamacare. But Kucinich was pressured by Obama to vote yea, even though he still objected to the bill. Kucinich’s yea vote wasn’t needed, because Blue Dog Democrats were given a pass to vote nay. But getting Kucinich’s vote legitimized Obamacare and set back the single-payer movement. (BTW, Kucinich was rewarded by having his congressional district gerrymandered away from him, which he blames on the Democrats.)

Can the single-payer healthcare movement resurrect if it hitches its star to electing Democrats in the Congressional midterm elections? A cautionary answer can be seen in the Democratic one-party State of California, where single-payer is suffering a death by a thousand cuts.

(10) Voting for the Democrats has not pushed them to the left but has rewarded them for bad behavior, pushing them to the right. The unconditional support of what the Democratic Party considers its “captured constituencies,” such as blacks and labor, has allowed them to ignore their core voters and further court more conservative elements and big business.

(11) The national leadership of the Democratic Party listens to money and is seemingly deaf to the everyday concerns of ordinary voters. The lesson from Trump and his phony populism, a billionaire pretending to support working folks, should surely be to offer the voters genuine populism in the midterm elections. Instead, the Democrats obsessively flog the dead horse of Russiagate. Meanwhile polls show that the voters are interested in economic class issuesnot Putin.

(12) Instead of providing a left alternative to the reactionary Trump administration, something not hard to do, the Democratic Party has staked out a position to the right on critical issues.

The highest ranking elected Democrat, Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer, declared Trump’s tariff war with China“on the right path,” called Trump’s relocation of the US embassy in Israelto Jerusalem “long overdue,” and criticized those who protest directly against Trump officials as ”not American.”

The bromance of the top Democrat for the top Republican breaks up when the erratic Trump stumbles to the left. Schumer and other Democrat leaders are positively apoplectic about peace breaking out in the Korean Peninsula. The Democrats’ obsession over Russiagate relating to the 2016 US elections has dangerously morphed into a program of indefiniteCold War against Russia, which Russian expert Stephen Cohen warns leads to the “supremely existential and real danger of nuclear war” where nobody can win and everyone loses.

Revisionist Allegory of Tonto and the Lone Ranger

 Tonto and the Lone Ranger are riding along, when suddenly the Lone Ranger exclaims in panic, “We’re surrounded by Indians!” Tonto calmly replies, “What do you mean by we?” and rides off to join his comrades.

There’s a lesson to be learned from this allegory. The interests of the Democratic Party are not those of the vast majority of its constituency. It’s time to seek an alternative.


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Roger Harris is on the board of the Task Force on the Americas, a 32-year-old anti-imperialist human rights organization.

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