Friday, October 29, 2010

What to Expect After November

With a typical song-and-dance, the media is painting the elections as an epic struggle of Republican versus Democrat. This entirely distracts the American people from the real issue at stake - the fate of the working class at the hands of the two capitalist parties. Progressives and radicals need to be developing a wider vista of the political landscape. Gird yer loins and prepare yourself for the Democrats' retreat - no matter what size the gains of the Republican horde.

NPR is playing stories in which they interview candidates across the nation. The Democrat they played last night was insistent on his "independence" from the party that endorsed him, said the Republicans had some valuable ideas, and said he was prepared to receive a reach-around reach across the aisle. Even if Democrats hold or gain offices, they seem more likely than ever to be so-called "blue dogs," aka "the other Republicans."

The question among pundits is "how influential will Republicans become?" Many news stories cover the moment-by-moment bean counting of polls among likely or registered voters. And while the Dems are rallying to greater or lesser degrees in some states (Obama drew 26,000 speaking in Madison, WI recently), they're falling behind in others. It's an important question, of course - the face of the struggle will change state by state and even city by city. But unless we build broader perspectives, we as a political wing remain divided and frustrated.

(Remember the feeling of hopelessness on November 5th, 2004 - when Bush was elected to a second term? That is what happens when you don't have a contingency plan.)

My own experiences with people's political consciousness is limited to paper-selling and tabling and discussions online and at work. Still, advocating the issues that I do, you'd be extremely surprised by the uniformity of answers I receive from people. Political arguments move like memes through people's heads and it takes a lot of work to convince people that there is an alternative to our helplessness, our feelings of political and economic disenfranchisement. Perhaps there is some way to pre-empt people's response to the loss of Democrat "control" of the government (which is not to blame on human nature, alleged conservatism on the part of the American people, or the fact that right-wingers have better ideas, but rather the complete spinelessness and lack of leadership among the Democrats).

Whether or not the Republicans specifically win a certain number of gains in Congress, or gubernatorial positions, we can anticipate the Obama administration's possible responses. We can anticipate the tactics used by both parties because we know their character. We know their agendas, broadly speaking. We know the issues of this election and we know the methods the parties typically employ in the pursuit of their ends. So while many people may say, "We don't have a crystal ball, we can't know the political landscape after the election," I find it helpful to prepare.

Obama's pick for his next chief of staff has signaled, according to the media, a "low key approach" as opposed to the (relatively) proactive attitude of Emanuel. This may be an indication that Obama wants to "work with" the Republicans, even though, of course, Republicans have continually scorned him and have next to no interest in cooperating with him unless they can push his policies ridiculously far to the right. Even I admit that half the reason this poor man looks like such a bad President is because Republicans refused to meet him half way, and even turned members of his party against him. They used every word he spoke as evidence that he is unqualified to be President, even if they had to stretch the truth beyond recognition.

But he hasn't helped himself, either. Like so many Democratic politicians of the past and present, the O-man is setting himself (and his base) up for disappointment by reaching across the aisle to the almost feline-ly fickle Repubs. Government leaders, especially the Dems, like to look like coalition builders, like to look tolerant and amenable to "bipartisan" policies, even when these CONSISTENTLY disappoint Americans and undermine the position of the working class.

See the health reform bill for a now-classic example of this process, although welfare reform under Clinton is also a good example.

And in fact, the right-wing shift of the Clinton era is a good example of the swing-set election pattern the United States has developed. (It's a deceptive pattern. The more Dems concede to Repubs, the more the center moves to the right and, ironically, the more the right screams about leftist bias.)

So we can predict some attempts - mostly in Congress - in the next two years to reach out to Republicans on a number of issues. What EXACTLY these issues will be remains to be seen. One struggle we are likely to see will be over the Bush-era tax cuts, due to expire in January, as the decision has been pushed back. November and December will set the stage for the next period of political maneuvering with implications likely to color even the 2012 elections. In all likelihood, Obama, in his stern and gentlemanly manner, will acknowledge Republican wins as a new period and welcome it as an opportunity to work together. Republicans will unanimously respond with vitriol and incite their base against everything elephant.

The Democrats never respond to these things by whipping up leftist sentiment among their own base. All the talk about working across the aisles with Republicans actually proves DE-motivating, and frustrates and disappoints progressives. Dems respond to this disappointment by making excuses for their party leaders. "He's trying," they say and will say again, "it's all the Republicans' fault."

Rather than being proactive, Democrats plan poorly and drop the initiative time and again, allowing the Republicans disproportionate control over the direction of the country. Rather than rallying to end the war or push for single payer, Dems attempt not to "alienate" the right. But they needn't worry about that; the right is perfectly capable of alienating itself! If the Democrats used their positions to encourage counter-protests, for example, every tea-party rally would be scattered like leaves in the wind. A truly populist agenda is entirely possible in the United States, but the Democrats are unable to script a positive story to frame it. Instead, they let the Republicans catch the media spotlight and spout controversy about socialism and big government. Even the illusion of populist change embodied in Obama's vague '08 promises drew people to the polls in record numbers. The myth that Americans are conservative in nature actually contributes to dispirited low-voter turnout, and in turn enables Republican victory, creating a self-perpetuating cycle in this period.

It's almost like the Democrats don't even know HOW to use the power of government to help out everyday Americans. It would not have been hard to create jobs through Depression-era-style legislation (even though even Roosevelt's policies in the 1930s fell short too). Americans would have been receptive to bolder attempts to create - not just "save" - jobs. Republicans could have screamed bloody murder but if the Dems were ever willing to villainize THEM for a change, as corporate stooges, as reactionary - and CONSISTENTLY - Americans might have listened. Considering, y'know, we had just elected the Democrats FOR A GODDAM REASON.... We were sick of the Republicans.

The Democrats do not distance themselves enough from Republicans and right-wing policies, and do not attempt to paint a more positive picture of the left. Everyone accepts the premise that this is a conservative country and no one seems willing to challenge that presumption or attempt to change it, not even the people who conceivably have the most power to do that.

"Rank and file" Dems - the voters, not the politicians - do no service making up excuses for their politicians, but they inevitably will because they see Republicans as the only alternative. This is not true. Another alternative - pressuring the Democrats - exists. A third alternative is even available - breaking with the Democrats entirely. There are left-wing alternatives in many cities and states - sometimes the Greens, sometimes independents or other parties. This doesn't seem like a winning strategy in the short-term - it seems to be handing victories to Republicans by dividing the left among other parties. But nothing lights a fire under a political party like the thought of actually losing voters. That was what really gave the Tea Party such influence over the Republicans. As long as Dems can COUNT on the left to stick with them - as long as voters feel there is nowhere else to go - they have no incentive to reconsider their bad policies. If they have to work hard to compromise with their leftist base, agitating for progressive policies, they come out the gate hardened against the Republicans.

Y'all were enthusiastic about Obama, yes, but you were enthusiastic to hand over control to a politician. You wanted to rally for a superhero to fix your problems. If you're a Democrat, you need to hold your politicians accountable now. You need to go to the rallies and the fundraisers and the debates and demand actual progressive change, wave signs and chant slogans, and you can't just plop down on your couch after the elections. If you want a better country, you actually have to work for it, and that means working beyond (and inside) your job and your family and transforming your social institutions into instruments of change. You need to threaten the Democrats by voting progressively and embarrassing them in front of the opposition. You have to learn 'em, and then tell them to shape up or you'll really give them something to cry about by forming a new progressive political party.

So yes, come November people are going to be disappointed, and many of them will react in the coming months by making excuses and blaming the Republicans. But unless we start coming up with alternatives to holding our nose and voting Democrat all the time, we're going to be acting like abused spouses an awful lot. It is ALWAYS the time to challenge the people in power, even the people that we see as the better of two evils. How good are YOU if you don't challenge evil, especially the one that tells you you depend on it?


Boyle said...

It seemed to me that a strength of the Tea Party movement was that it was able to unite Libertarians and Conservatives despite their social disagreements because the focus was on fiscal agreements and not social issues.

comrade x said...

Look for the Democratic Leadership Council to blame a poor mid- term showing on those " ungratefull" progressives, further alienating their base. Yeah, they are that stupid.
We are moving in the direction of a one party state since by constantly moving to the Right, the Democrats are making themselves irrelevant.

Boyle said...

"Republicans will unanimously respond with vitriol and incite their base against everything elephant."
I think you mean against everything donkey or for everything elephant. The Republicans are the dumbos. The Democrats are the asses. ;-)

Unless you meant the republicans would go against their old ways.

Dresden Scott said...

I meant "donkey," thanks for the catch Boyle.

Also, the Tea Party does seem to contribute to the libertarian trend picking up inside the right-wing. A lot of people in their 20s and 30s now are considering themselves libertarian, although the younger they are the more disposed to distancing themselves from the Republicans they seem to be.

comrade x said...

Looking forward to 5 years of absolute deadlock.

Dresden Scott said...

Do you really think America will re-elect Barack Obama?