Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Dog Days of November ... for Dems

Well, as predicted, the Senate has gone to the Republicans. But worse than predicted, the Republicans picked up enough seats in the House of Representatives to reach 250, meaning their highest majority since 1946 (WP). And on top of that, they won tight governorship races, including in the unlikeliest of places – Maryland. It was a slaughter and one that should give the Democrats pause. On the other hand, I’m afraid the party and media will misread this election and try to make it a “wave,” that signals a sea change in the political landscape of America. I believe that would be a mistake for a number of reasons (partially outlined in a post I did a few days ago). Let’s consider a few here:

1. Continuation of a Long Term Trend: While the Clinton and Obama presidencies, together with some big Democratic results in midterm elections, have done enough to block the greatest extremes of the conservative revolution, I would argue we are still in the midst of the conservative pogrom of government that started with Reagan’s inauguration in 1981. Sure, Obama did show that a truly progressive message can resonate on a national level, but that rhetoric must be backed with action, and for a variety of reasons, that only happened during the first two years of his Presidency (Pew Study on Party Affiliation Trends).

2. Partisanship Solidifying (Pew Partisan Trends 1987-2012): the reality of the country is that we are almost evenly split between conservatives and liberals, particularly when we compare the urban centers to the larger (though less populous) rural American “heartland.” There might be more registered Democrats, but that doesn’t matter when we look at gerrymandered Congressional districts and statewide Senatorial and Gubernatorial elections. This is why the momentum has swung back and forth since the 90s, with the country seemingly intent on giving neither party a full mandate to rule (though it has occurred on a few instances over the past four decades).

3. Cynicism & Lost Faith: exit polls yesterday found 54 percent of respondents claiming that the government is trying to do “too much.” A smaller percentage claimed the opposite, though it was still significant (. The great irony is that depending on how you ask the question, many actually support progressive economic ideals. Yet an uninformed and increasingly “uneducated” populace is likely to believe that whomever is in power is behind the economic malaise and thus chose the other side. That happened with Obama in 2008 (“I’m not Bush” aka “Change”), with the Republicans two years later, with Obama again in 2012 (Romney was seen as one of the elites causing the troubles) and now with Obama as the source of the failure of the recovery to actually improve the lives of the middle and working classes. Maybe most depressing, 48 percent of Americans now believe that the next generation will be worse off than this one, essentially putting one of the final nails in our adherence to the American Dream (WP). This leads to my third point …

4. Misplaced Blame: the greatest trick the devil ever played was to make us believe he didn’t exist. And while the corporations and elite are certainly part of the conversation these days, they have very effectively led the public to believe that the government is the real enemy, the ones that are causing all our problems and the last institution we should turn to to solve them. I notice this in my classes every quarter/semester, as students focus most of their ire, and blame, on the government, largely ignoring the excesses of corporations or the 1% (Salon).

5. Money & the Destruction of the Voting Rights Act: more money was spent on this election than any midterm election in history, by a long shot. Just the top 10 races in the country led to spending of $700 million (Yahoo). And while we will need time to figure out how bad voter suppression was, it appears to have turned the Florida election, as universities stopped voting on campuses among other approaches to manipulating the vote that hearken back to the 2000 election (though they are now, more or less, legal … hoorah!)

No matter the reason, the beginning of the year should be fascinating, as the GOP Congress will probably send a series of bills to Obama that are essentially against everything he stands for and everything he has done. We will probably see a push to overturn parts of Obamacare, to further undermine attempts to regulate the banking industry, further attacks on the environment (including some global warming doubter chairs for key environmentally-oriented committees) and maybe some more tax breaks for the wealthy (and certainly for corporations, as Rand Paul sets himself up for his presumed presidential run). It should be interesting, but also rather depressing to those of us who had hoped the country might actually find a way to move along a positive direction any time soon …

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