What a truly brutal election. One rare exception was the crushing of Texas Oil's Proposition 23 in California (see stoptexasoil.org), which proves that even unlimited corporate cash can be beaten back — if it is disclosed and fought by grassroots mobilization.
As someone who cares about progressive issues, there is no doubt that Tuesday's results will make for even harder times for our country. It is crazy making to realize just how extreme and misinformed much of the new Congress will be.
There is little reason to expect any useful legislation from the Tea Party-dominated House or the dysfunctional Senate. Swing votes in the Senate have really troublesome names: Lieberman, Nelson, Manchin, and Pryor. In fact, this Congress will do damage to anything even remotely progressive.
So let's take a look at what happened and what we can do now. The media, unfortunately but not surprisingly, will be of no use in making sense of Tuesday's results, and even less so in helping chart a course for the future.
There is a lot of evidence that the state of the economy, and employment in particular, drive the results of elections — and this one was no exception. As the saying goes, "If you think the economy is working, ask someone who isn't." We have an economy stuck in a deep ditch, with corporate profits and bank bonuses soaring while long-term unemployment is at near Depression levels.
The Republicans shrunk the first "stimulus" package and filled it with tax breaks, even as corporate Democrats helped them along, blocking any effort to restructure mortgages in bankruptcies, freeze foreclosures or force banks to lend money. The election outcome was partially baked in early 2009, when the White House preemptively conceded on the scale and provisions of the stimulus package and chose to coddle the banks. To watch this unfold was simply maddening.
Making matters worse were other factors. Among the most damaging were the actions of the conservative majority on the Supreme Court, which seemed energized by the new President, and took the radical step of rehearing a campaign finance case — now known forever as Citizens United. In ruling 5-4 that corporations have the right to spend unlimited amounts of money for and against candidates, the Court transformed the electoral landscape in a way potentially more profound than its 5-4 ruling that seated George W. Bush as president. As many predicted, the Citizens United ruling unleashed the greatest wave of corporate spending in history, though it's a safe bet to say that their spending in 2012 will make this year's outlay look modest.
In an astonishing turn of events, the right wing was able to kill — essentially murder in public view — the organization that registered millions of poor and working class African-American and Hispanic voters in the last six years. I am speaking of ACORN, of course. By editing video completely out of context, and using the right-wing media machine to perfection, Andrew Breitbart was able to convince the mainstream media and eventually Congress, that ACORN was an election-stealing organization that had no qualms giving advice to pimps on how to increase revenues. Fulfilling Karl Rove's wildest dreams, Congress, including most Democrats, voted to block public funding for any of ACORN's laudable and effective housing or tax assistance programs, and ACORN died a quiet death. There would be no millions of new registrants.
Traditions are important in the Senate, but almost always to the detriment of progressive change. The health care reform effort was a victim of Senate conventions. Sen. Max Baucus of Montana, who chairs the critical Senate Finance Committee solely due to his long tenure, stalled development of a health reform package for many months in order to "negotiate" with Republicans on his committee. They weren't interested in the least, and walked away from the discussions muttering bizarre comments about reforms "killing grandma" and setting up "death panels," because Sarah Palin says so. The behavior of Baucus would be laughable if it were not so utterly destructive.
No matter what one thought of FOX News in the 2008 election, Murdoch's monster went on a rampage over the past two years. Serving as both an instigator and an amplifier for the craziest and most offensive pundits, FOX News misled and misinformed the American people on every issue, and effectively became the public face of the Republican Party. Glenn Beck's show became so toxic and spewed so much venom that one of his devoted fans took it upon himself to plot the execution of key leaders of the Tides Foundation and the ACLU, who had figured prominently in Beck's rants. Fortunately, the madman (the fan, not Beck) was stopped before he accomplished his mission.
We could go on, of course, on all the missed opportunities, the cave-ins, the sell outs, and the unpopular and misguided war in Afghanistan.
But the results are in. The House of Representatives is in the hands of the most corrupt Speaker-in-waiting ever, the Tea Party is ascendant, and the U.S. Senate, however dysfunctional it has been, is poised to be much worse.
For those of us who had hopes that the Obama Administration could seize the moment and enact popular progressive changes, this is a bitter pill. And like many, we grieve at the lost opportunities.
But now we need to brush off the dust, suck it up, and plunge back into substantive fights. Politics is not fair — indeed, U.S. elections are rigged in profound ways! But walking away is not an option, and we hope you will join us in some of the actions below we think are strategic in the new political landscape:
1. Commit to Taking Down FOX News. So long as FOX News has any credibility within the Beltway, it will be a pipeline for malicious material that will poison our political culture. Join our friends at Color of Change: turnofffox.org/landing?credo.
2.Tell the Senate to pass the DISCLOSE Act during the lame duck session. We were able to defeat the Texas Oil Initiative, Prop 23 in California, in part because we knew who the enemy was — having disclosure of corporate contributions brings the enemy out in the open for us to take on and fight. The DISCLOSE Act passed the House and came within a single vote of passing the Senate. One vote. You can join this fight by taking action with Public Citizen at citizen.org/disclose-act-action.
3. Keep fighting to end the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans. This issue will get resolved during the lame duck session. Take action at act.credoaction.com/campaign/bushtaxcuts.
4. Sign up for the fight for a constitutional amendment to reverse the Citizens United decision by declaring that corporations do not have the legal rights of humans. This may take years, if not decades, but we should start now. Please join Free Speech for People: freespeechforpeople.org/.
5. Tell the FCC to use its existing authority to establish and defend net neutrality. Our friends at Free Press are leading this charge: act2.freepress.net/sign/put_up/.
6. Defend the EPA from castration by pro-coal interests in Congress. The EPA accomplished almost nothing during the Clinton years because the Gingrich-led Congress used the budget process to prohibit the agency from doing its work. This battle has already started. The Sierra Club's Beyond Coal campaign is a great way to join this fight: sierraclub.org/coal.
7. Convince the Obama administration to stop appealing progressive court rulings on matters like the Defense of Marriage Act, Don't Ask Don't Tell, and the state secrets defense against torture and wiretapping. Urge the Department of Justice to change its approach at act.credoaction.com/campaign/stop_appealing.
8. Urge Democratic senators to do away with lifetime tenure for committee chairs and open up all chair positions to majority vote elections. This will go a long way towards more progressive legislation. Take action with us at act.credoaction.com/campaign/end_seniority_system.
I suspect you are angry and exhausted at this point. I know I am. But let us not forget that the values and ideals we fight for are greater than any one election. They still endure, and so must our fight. We have a lot of work to do.
Michael Kieschnick, CEO
(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. Martin County Democratic Executive Committee has no affiliation whatsoever with the originator of this article nor is Martin County Democratic Executive Committee endorsed or sponsored by the originator.)