||[Nov. 10th, 2010|10:45 pm]
Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio
The outcome of this election, just like the last one, was almost a foregone conclusion. In 2008 Obama succeeded marvellously at branding himself as the candidate of hope and change. He framed the messaging so eloquently that there was essentially no way for anyone to run against him. If you were against Obama, you were against hope and change, and who wants to vote against hope and change?
Then the Democratic Party proceeded to shit on its base, delivering almost none of the promised hope and change, and many of the changes delivered weren't changes anyone who voted for them actually wanted. As loathsome as Bush was, he never publicly defended the government's right to assassinate its own citizens. Obama not only has done so, but even after the election has continued to do so. This is after installing what was effectively Bill Clinton's economic team and selecting a series of D.C. insiders to continue enacting D.C. politics as usual.
Sure, we got a health care reform bill. But it's virtually identical to the reform bill proposed by the Republicans in 1994 as a counter to Bill Clinton's failed attempt at reform. Any of a number of useful addenda to the bill with large swaths of public support were thrown out even before negotiations began because, oh no, Joe Lieberman threatened to filibuster it. So no public option (55 to 70% public support), no Medicare buy-ins for people 55 and older (75% support), no government negotiation of drug prices (85% support). Are you fucking kidding?
Wall Street reform was similarly watered down, and so were any of a number of other bills that were purportedly major breakthroughs. We got no repeal of DOMA, the administration still hasn't repealed DADT, and foreign policy remains indistinguishable from that of the previous administration. The problem is simple: When you concede ground to your opponents, who have no interest in negotiating with you, even before negotiation starts, you look insincere. You're not standing up for your convictions; you're not standing up for anything, in fact. If the Republicans had actually been forced to stand up there and filibuster any of a number of points the public supported, it would have cut into their support so massively that people would be raging in town halls against them, not against Obama's health care proposals. But none of that happened, and Obama looked weak.
So the base was dispirited. And it's no surprise that turnout among Obama-leaning independents was low. Polls show that even though more independents who voted for McCain than for Obama showed up, moderates still trended towards the Dems. But the base itself was demoralised and disgruntled, and with a president who ordered the assassination of U.S. citizens badmouthing the left of this country, who could blame them for not wanting to vote for Democrats? People felt betrayed and angry. And unfortunately, the only mass movement offering any sort of outlet for that rage was the Tea Party.
That said, the media narratives about this election have been tremendously overstated. For all the hype about the Tea Party, only around 32% of its candidates won. The Tea Party almost certainly cost the Republicans Senate seats in Alaska, Delaware, Colorado, Nevada and West Virginia, and very likely diverted funding from other races that could have flipped additional seats towards the Republicans' favour.
Along similar lines, much has been noted about the loss of Russ Feingold and Alan Grayson's seats, which are certainly big losses for progressives, but only five percent of the Progressive Caucus failed to win re-election. That's as opposed to fifty-three percent of Blue Dogs who were ousted. Rather than viewing this election as a rejection of liberalism, one would perhaps be better off reading the results as suggesting that Democratic voters can only be motivated to turn up to vote for candidates who actually represent Democratic values. As a consequence, the Progressive Caucus now represents the majority of Democratic representation in the House.
Furthermore, even though voters voted for Republicans, that doesn't mean voters like Republicans. In point of fact, they didn't. Via Kos, we can take away the three following facts about the American electorate (Kos's summary):
The big lesson to be taken away here is that the Democrats failed to distance themselves from the Wall Street bailout. In fact, they failed to deliver much of any message at all. In the 2008 campaign cycle Obama was noted for being a brilliant communicator, but we've barely seen that side of him at all since he came into office. He has a mailing list of millions that he used to engage all the time during the campaign. Since then, nary a word. Obama had plenty of opportunities, and he squandered nearly them all.
- Republicans are more unpopular than Democrats, yet they still voted GOP;
- 35 percent believed Wall Street was to blame for the terrible economy, yet they still voted for the GOP. (56-42, to be exact).
- 31 percent of voters wanted the new health care law expanded, yet 14 percent of them voted Republican. 30% want the law kept the same as it is now, and 30% of them voted Republican.
Obama has a few options from here. He can try to cooperate with Republicans, but I don't think that's going to work: Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is already threatening to make the U.S. default on its debt, and has stated elsewhere that his primary goal is to make Obama a one-term president. As much as D.C. pundits love to masturbate themselves about bipartisanship, it's not going to solve anything. Grover Norquist once said, "Bipartisanship is another name for date rape." And consider the kind of nefarious bullshit that usually results from bipartisanship: illegal occupations of hapless Middle Eastern countries, assassinations of U.S. citizens, "globalisation," welfare "reform," union-busting, immunisation of corporations from prosecution for warrantless wiretapping, Social Security privatisation, list goes on and on. Fuck bipartisanship.
The other option is for him to do what he was elected to do: to fight for the values of the people who elected him. I realise that as a politician he might not actually have any values of his own left anymore, but the least he can do is try to pretend. He did a decent enough job of pretending while he was running for office. I realise it's much easier to be a liberal or a libertarian while in opposition than while in office, but from what most of us out here can see, it looks like he didn't even try. The departure of Rahm Emmanuel is a welcome sign. Maybe this time he'll choose someone with a clue.
One other bright point, already alluded to, is the unexpected defeat of Sharron Angle in Nevada. This occurred partially because Latinos turned out to vote in much larger numbers than expected, but it also occurred partially due to a resurgent union movement which organised to turn out the vote for Harry Reid. In this day of ever-increasing corporatism (after all, individuals have a cap on the amount they can donate to a political campaign, but corporations do not), the resurgence of the labour movement can only be a good thing for America.
For some more takes on the election, I recommend Noam Chomsky, Glenn Greenwald, Digby, and David Sirota.
I'll have some more optimistic news later, but I don't want to flood everyone with too much reading.