Last Tuesday citizens of the bellwether state of Ohio handed Republican John Kasich a crushing defeat as they voted overwhelmingly to repeal Senate Bill 5 that would have undermined collective bargaining rights for public sector workers. This and other Republican losses across the country last week has excited many Democrats who are hoping these elections are a signal that the Tea Party wave has crested and the gloomy horizon for President Obama and his party may be brightening.
As the New York Times reported, Brad Woodhouse, a spokesman for the Democratic National Committee, claimed that, “Republicans were rebuked for their partisan overreach and their anti-worker, anti-middle class, anti-immigrant and anti-women policies.” The same article then noted, “For more than a year, Democrats have been wringing their hands about the prospect that their voters are weary and lack enthusiasm. Party leaders have wondered: Can they be fired up again? And if so, how? . . . The Ohio vote could spell good news in that respect. A huge effort by national labor unions to fire up their workers was joined by a largely unnoticed push by Mr. Obama’s campaign to organize his supporters in the state. The result, Democrats said Wednesday, was proof that Mr. Obama’s supporters can be revved up and turned out.”
The problem with this line of thinking is that it assumes that Ohio’s overwhelmingly pro-union vote is evidence of a renewed enthusiasm for Obama and a Democratic Party that has been taking working and middle class voters for granted for far too long.
This is also true of much of the mainstream media analysis of Occupy Wall Street, a movement that might seem to be good for Democrats, but one that should also make the corporate donkeys uncomfortable since OWS is driven by anger at BOTH parties because of their subservience to Wall Street, corporate interests, and the rich.
Perhaps the folks in Democratic Party Headquarters ought to stop talking about the need for voters to get “revved up” and think instead about how they might actually start standing for something other than austerity-lite.
In a recent Harpers piece about the need for a 21st century WPA, Thomas Frank adeptly diagnoses what ails the Democrats, noting that his list of populist economic programs like those implemented by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt is not “not radical or complicated”:
They are, however, extremely unlikely to be enacted. Even among Democrats, there is little agreement on the desirability of federal jobs programs, for the most part, the party long ago accepted the small-government ideal of the G.O.P., outsourcing, downsizing, and deregulating with relish when it was their turn to rule in the 1990s. Over the past two years, they have tried to bring about recovery with tax breaks, bailouts, and big paydays for private contractors. Even the president’s Council on Jobs is filled with CEOs.
…the choice between shitty and catastrophic fails to inspire the masses.
Indeed, across the country we see Democrats as well as Republicans attacking unions, imposing austerity budgets, and then flinching when it comes to challenging corporations and the rich to be held accountable or pay their fair share in taxes. Encouraged by the Obama Administration, Democrats and Republicans in Congress just voted for a new slate of crappy trade deals that will only help speed the race to the bottom for workers while further enhancing capital flight and corporate profits. The president wants workers to head to the phone banks to wage war for him, but his response to Governor Walker’s war against unions in Wisconsin was tepid at best. Democrats have put Social Security and Medicare cuts “on the table” in the super committee negotiations. The list goes on . . .
What the Democrats saw in Ohio and elsewhere last week was the beginning of a wave. And if they want to ride that wave, they are going to have to abandon the course they have been on since they threw labor (and much of non-union working America) under the bus in the nineties and embraced neoliberal economic policies. They need less Bill Clinton and more FDR.
And while I am aware that there are still many solid progressives in the Democratic Party, they desperately need to take it back from the corporate interests that now dominate it. Otherwise, more and more Americans will be legitimately skeptical about whether there is much difference between the parties on economic matters.
Of course there are important differences between how the two parties are proposing to cut budgets at all levels, but the Democrats have ceded more and more ground to the Republicans. Hence the whole game is being played on the turf of the Right. People start to wonder whether the Democrats stand for anything at all anymore. Bluntly put: the choice between shitty and catastrophic fails to inspire the masses.
Thus what the election in Ohio vote signifies is not so much a swing back to the Democrats as it is a vote in favor of the rights of workers. It is a huge victory for unions in the face of an unprecedented corporate-funded national assault. If anything, it is big victory for the 99% against the interests of the 1%. It is a recognition that, in America’s bellwether state, people would rather stand with unions than plutocracy. So, from here deep in the Wisconsin of the West, I say: way to go, Ohio!