Guest Perspective By Ralph Nader
The mid-term 2010 Congressional elections are over and the exaggerations are front and center. “A tidal wave,” “an earthquake,” “a tsunami,” cried the Republican victors and their media acolytes.
Wait a minute! No more than 7 percent of the actual voters switched sides to create a 14 point spread. This amounts to about 3 percent of all the eligible voters who produced this “tidal wave.” That is what happens in our winner-take-all system. So when it is said that “the people have spoken,” chalk it up to 7 percent or so switcheroos. The rest voted the way they did in the previous Presidential and Congressional election (and about 28 million voters stayed home.)
Such sweeping descriptions gave incoming House Speaker, John Boehner, even more leeway than usual to play with words when he declared, without further elaboration, that “the peoples priorities and agenda are our priorities.” Mr. Boehner is the consummate corporate logo-man masquerading as a Congressman. If someone drew the logos of all the big companies that have marinated his career and put them on his suit coat, they would run into each other.
How then did the Democrats lose against the most craven Republican party in modern history—a Party that opposes again and again the fair rights of workers, consumers, investors, savers and patients.
Regarding patients, Boehner’s oft-repeated view of the modest, non-single-payer health insurance changes by Congress and Obama—“it will kill jobs, destroy the best health care system in the world and bankrupt our country.” Reporters listen to Mr. Boehner say this repeatedly and do not ask him to explain his wild rhetoric.
So, in listing some of the ways the Democrats failed to defend the country against such Republicans, put near the top not rebutting the crisp lies and abstract assertions that Republican candidates uttered while campaigning or “debating” their Democratic opponents. Listening to debate after debate on C-Span radio, I was amazed at how infrequently the Democrats demanded examples from their Republican opponents each time the words “cut spending,” “cut taxes,” “reduce the deficit,” “deregulate” and “create jobs,” were uttered.
In elections, one side is on the offensive and the other is on the defensive. The offense creates momentum unless it is countered and driven back. Since the Democrats are furiously dialing for the same corporate campaign dollars, it is difficult for them to stand for the people. That is why the Democrats are wishy-washy, reticent and reluctant to put major subjects of abusive power on the table.
Rarely did one hear Democrats state their position on corporate crime law enforcement, huge fraud on the taxpayer (Medicare), anti-collective-bargaining laws for labor, the bloated military budgets, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the flood of corporate subsidies, handouts, giveaways and bailouts, or the grotesque tax escapes for the multinational corporations and the super-wealthy.
They did not want to talk about consumer rip-offs, or the hundreds of thousands of unprotected Americans who lose their lives every year from un-regulated workplace-related diseases/traumas, medical malpractice, air, water and food contamination, or having no health insurance.
Too many Democrats are cowering candidates. Speaker Nancy Pelosi told incumbent Democrats that they could criticize her if necessary to get elected and preserve their majority in the House. Since Republicans made a practice of assailing Pelosi in almost every debate or on every occasion, many Democrats did not rebut their Republican opponents. Some Democrats stated they would not vote for Pelosi as Speaker in 2012. Unrebutted political attacks often influence voters who wonder at mixed messages from members of a Party.
A key Democratic failure was not to keep on Howard Dean, as Chairman of the Democratic National Committee. Between 2005 and 2009, Dr. Dean, with his 50 state strategy, energized both the DNC and state Democratic Committees. He knew what it took to go on the offensive against Republicans. He produced victories in 2006 and 2008 before his bête noire, Obama’s Rahm Emmanuel, pushed him out.
Dr. Dean would have challenged the Tea Party and slowed its momentum. When the Democrats saw this self-styled conservative/libertarian rebellion receive the first of its vast mass media coverage (especially by Fox News and Fox Cable) in August, 2009 when Tea Partiers loudly showed up at town meetings of incumbent Congresspersons, there should have been a Democratic response. A “Coffee Party” of progressives and deprived workers rebelling against the corporate control that 75 percent of Americans believe is excessive might have caught on.
Instead, the Tea Partiers, in all their disparate strands and wealthy right-wingers trying to take them over, became the daily feature and news of the 2010 campaign year.
Obama came out of his 2008 victory with 13 million names of donors and supporters, along with great enthusiasm from young voters. The Democrats squandered this support. This astonishing blunder happened, in no small part, because Obama turned his back on his supporters and denied their leaders White House access that he so often afforded corporate CEOs—eg. from the health insurance giants, drug companies, and banking behemoths. That’s one reason so many of his 2008 supporters stayed home in 2010 and did not vote. They felt betrayed.
With 23 Democratic Senators up in 2012, as compared with 10 Republican Senators, the Democrats may lose both Houses of Congress. Voters shouldn’t only have the barren choice of voting for the least worst of the Two Parties. Here we go again. Or as F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote: “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”