2010 Midterms: The Empire Strikes Back
The conservative establishment in Washington D.C. and large corporations have struck a blow against progressive change and reform during the midterm elections with substantial gains. Exploiting anger over the economy and using a flood of corporate money in the most expensive midterm election of all time, the Empire has struck back.
The conservative narrative that has been eagerly adopted by the main stream media dictates the following message: “America has rejected the far left policies of Barack Hussein Obama in a decisive election route.” There are 3 main problems with this statement.
1. This was a midterm election where turnout was only ~40% of the registered voters, which translates into less than 35 million total Republican votes in a nation of over 300 million people. 1 in 9 people do not speak for everyone in America.
In election years that do not have a Presidential candidate to vote for, turnout is typically lower, and the most energized partisan is more often than not victorious. Due to the lack of substantial progress, particularly in the economy due to an unprecedented campaign of obstruction by the conservatives, coupled with an unrestricted flood of money from corporations, this time, that was the Republicans.
2. Despite the 2008 campaign rhetoric, President Obama has never actively sought left wing policies. By the standards of any other Western nation, he would be considered center-right.
Look at health care reform, the best solution to our failed health care system would undoubtedly be a single payer system that would generate 30% saving and have universal cradle to the grave coverage like in Scandinavian countries. The Obama administration never even put it on the table, instead opting for various regulatory reforms and a public health insurance option. In the end, even this was not fought for, and not included in the final bill, and still nearly every single Republican voted against it.
The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (the Stimulus bill) is another example. Inserting nearly $300 billion in tax cuts for 95% of Americans seemed like the pragmatic thing to do despite the fact that direct spending is the best way to actually stimulate economic growth and generate jobs in troubled times. Nearly every Republican voted against the bill anyways, and angry voters don’t remember regardless.
The same pattern was witnessed over Wall St. reform, campaign finance laws, gay civil rights, and immigration reform.
3. This was hardly a route. Republicans gained seats, as the opposition party always in the first midterm election (provided there isn’t a national disaster like 911), but it is only comparable to the election of 1994 where the GOP gained 54 seats in the House and 8 in the Senate to take control of both chambers of Congress. This time, the Republicans gained more seats in the House and less in the Senate, and were only able to take control of the former.
Further, more of the Tea Party favorites on the far right lost their elections than won, including Sharron Angle in Nevada, Christine O’Donnel in Delaware, and Ken Buck in Colorado. Democrats also made surprisingly strong runs for the US Senate in Pennsylvania and many House races despite falling at the last minute.
In the aftermath of the midterms a little perspective is needed. The Republicans now control the House of Representatives and the highest courts in the land, in particular the Supreme Court which is the most ultra-conservative and activist court in the last century. The Democrats control the Senate and the Presidency. Our government is split down the middle.
In earlier eras of American history, times like these would require both sides to reach out and compromise, to give many things up to meet in the middle for the good of the country. The conservatives have not reached out in a genuinely pragmatic way over the last two years on a single thing, and they have promised that compromise is off the table for the next two years as well. What they want is nothing short of full, unconditional surrender, despite only holding half the government. Attempts to compromise from those who want to fix the problems created by domestic, foreign, and fiscal conservative policy will ultimately be nothing more than futile appeasement.
The conservatives are going to attack President Obama no matter what he does, just like they did to President Clinton. It is better for Democrats to recognize this assault and fight back than try to reach out and compromise over and over only to get stabbed in the heart. Politics is not a nice game, it is brutal and ugly and cold, and the Republicans know this only too well, which is why they are able to snag a disproportionately large election share every single time compared to their registered members. This is how the Bush/Cheney regime was able to somehow retain the White House in 2004.
The Republicans used virtually an identical playbook for the 2010 midterm elections as they did in 1994.
Step 1: Avoid responsibility for previous GOP failures (this time by hiding behind the Tea Party)
Step 2: Increase negativity to epic levels and engage in a campaign of total obstruction
Step 3: Use this negativity to attack Congress, suddenly call for term limits
Step 4: Make some nebulous contract or pledge that lacks specifics
Step 5: Retake Congress, hamstring potential reforms
To make matters worse, the movement for change and reform that was instrumental in electing Obama in 2008 was far less enthusiastic this election cycle, because they didn’t see the Democrats fighting hard enough for real change and reform. With their enthusiasm dampened, the most energized voters in the midterms were the far right, and these ultra-conservative Tea Partiers did far more to ensure their politicians would be elected.
With an uncompromising adversary, the Democrats are left with 2 options: fight back or surrender. Doubling down on the Bush policies that put our nation on the brink of an abyss are not an option. Things like putting Social Security in the stock market, adding $700 billion to the national debt by not letting the Bush tax cuts for the rich expire on time, and allowing endless overseas wars to continue with bloated military budgets. We have to accept that with an uncompromising opponent on the warpath, there has to be 2 years of inactivity in Congress. A do-nothing Congress is going to be an understatement.
The lesson to be learned from the midterm election results are not to be more timid and weak in the face of a rabid adversary, but to fight back with more tenacity. As the old proverb goes, fortune favors the bold, and the 2012 election cycle begins right now.