Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Bulls on Parade

A Midterm Postmortem

A neighbor a few houses down from me has had two large signs posted on his lawn for the last month now. They read, "Save America: Vote Republican!"

I imagine he is quite happy with the outcome of last week's midterm elections.

Of course, the idea that either of the two corporate parties will "save America," is absurd. Both the Republicans and Democrats are beholden, first and foremost, to corporate interests, Wall Street profits, and to furthering the permanent war economy.

Indeed, how "small-government"-oriented conservatives can condone spending 20 percent ($716 billion in 2013 alone) of the federal budget on maintaining the largest military in the world seems a striking contradiction in their ideology. (But heaven forbid we spend one dime on government benefits for "welfare cheats"...)

The truth is it matters little which party controls Congress. The policies of the Democratic and Republican parties are nearly identical. Both serve to enrich the corporate state at the expense of the poor and working class.

"The divide in America is not between Republican and Democrat," Chris Hedges writes in his 2010 book, Death of the Liberal Class. "It is a divide between the corporate state and the citizen. It is a divide between capitalists and workers. And for all the failings of the communists, they got it."

Here in Maine, not only was Republican Gov. Paul LePage re-elected, but he won with a bigger margin than his razor-thin victory over independent Eliot Cutler in 2010. Meanwhile, ultra-conservative tax-evader, Bruce Poliquin sailed to victory in Maine's 2nd congressional district, and "moderate" Republican Susan Collins crushed her Democratic opponent, Shenna Bellows--though there was really never much doubt she would.

With Republicans now in control of both houses of Congress, many professional political pundits expect President Barack Obama to "tack to the right," policy-wise. My question for these people is where do they believe the president and the Democratic party have been operating from the last six years...?

Indeed, urging Democrats to "move to the center" is the corporate media's default strategy to shutdown or delegitimize progressive reforms.

While we can point to a number of factors that lead to the Democrats' trouncing (low voter turnout, lack of enthusiasm for Democratic candidates, newly-implemented voter suppression laws, the increasing role of "Dark Money," lack of youth turnout, anger at Obama, etc.), if the Dems are looking for someone to blame, they need only look in a mirror.

Given the number of controversial and highly unpopular governors on the ballot throughout the country (Wisconsin's Scott Walker, Florida's Rick Scott, Michigan's Scott Snyder, and Maine's LePage, to name a few), the Democrats should have won many of Tuesday's races, no contest.

But they did not. As usual, they blew it.

And it is not--despite what the media will tell you--because America is a "conservative country," after all. In fact, polling throughout the years has consistently shown Republicans' policy ideas are extremely unpopular with a majority of Americans. One need only look at the four states--Alaska, Arkansas, South Dakota, and Nebraska--and two California cities, San Francisco and Oakland, that passed referendums to raise the minimum wage for further evidence of this.

No, the Democrats lost big this year for the same reason they suffered similar midterm losses in 2010: The party which, ostensibly anyway, stands for working class Americans and labor, long ago ceded the populist ground to the Republicans.

Observing that this was the "fourth hard-times election in a row," author and reporter, Thomas Frank (What's the Matter With Kansas?, Pity the Billionaire) writes at Salon.com ("The GOP's poisonous double-speak...", 11/09/2014):

Lasing out blindly and in all directions against the powerful--against low wages as well as against a comfortable "class" that is amply represented in Washington--is still our political default position, some six years after the financial crisis and the Wall Street bailout. For many Americans, the recession is still on. They know that their region hasn't recovered... that their household wealth isn't coming back... that people like them no longer have a shot at the middle-class life in which they were raised.

While a great deal of it does derive from ignorance, we must understand that much of the anger that middle-class working Americans feel--even those on the right--is completely legitimate. It does not come out of nowhere. And--as the midterm elections showed--those of us on the left ignore or attempt to mock that anger at our own expense.

Indeed, the greatest tragedy of Obama's presidency is that he missed a prime opportunity to unite liberals and conservatives in their anger at Wall Street for trashing the global economy.

Readers may recall that Americans on both the left and the right unanimously opposed the 2008 Wall Street bailouts, or TARP (Troubled Assets Relief Program) by a ratio of 100 to 1. In fact, public opposition to the bailout was so great the initial vote on TARP in the then-Democratic-led House of Representatives failed. Then-Secretary of Treasury Henry Paulson literally got down on his hands and knees and begged Nancy Pelosi to hold another vote on the bill.

"This was the largest single act of class warfare in the modern history of this country," former Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich said of the bailout at the time. "It is a direct attack on the American people's ability to be able to stabilize their homes and their neighborhoods... We are back to taxation without representation, to markets that are openly rigged."

And Obama's failure to break up the "Too Big To Fail" banks--many of which top the Fortune 500 list--let alone prosecute any of their criminal CEOs, represents an even greater betrayal. By refusing to uphold the law and make an example out of the reckless Wall Street speculators who decimated the economy through fraud and manipulation, Obama has all but assured these hucksters will merely engage in the same behavior again.

Even with the understanding that the U.S. electoral system likely makes it impossible for a truly progressive--let alone radical--president to ever take office, it is nonetheless frustrating to contemplate what could have been. Obama had a once-in-a-generation mandate to enact truly populist reforms.

But he did not seize it. He rescued the banks and let "Main Street" continue to drown in debt, unemployment, low-wages, foreclosures and the bitterness of dashed dreams and unrealized expectations. My generation is the first since WWII that is expected to be worse off than our parents. "The American Dream," while always, an admittedly silly concept, is now irrefutably dead.
And the Democrats killed it.

The irony is old, angry, white men like my neighbor--the primary voting bloc in last week's elections--naively believe the Republicans are the party of working people. They foolishly believe the right-wing, scientifically-illiterate nutjobs that will now take charge of the government care any more about them than the Democrats do. And we are all going to suffer because of their ignorance.

My neighbor should change his sign so it reads more accurately: "I love corporate fascism."

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