The choices facing voters in the 2012 election season stand to shape the character of the nation for generations to come.
Conventional wisdom holds that when running for political office, candidates run against their specific opponent. They run against their opponent’s record, and present the case to the voting public why they are better suited for the job than their opponent. Opposition research becomes paramount; often campaigns try to dig up as much dirt on their opponent as possible, inevitably turning the campaign negative; they pick out specific policy positions particularly sensitive to their constituency to differentiate themselves from their opponent; and when running against an incumbent, they pick apart their record in office in order to characterize their fitness to represent their electorate.
But this year the strategic opportunities for Democrats are different. The mood of the country is different. Just over a year after the Republican surge in the 2010 mid-term elections, after being lied to by Republican candidates about their priorities should they take office, the American electorate has gotten a chance to see exactly how Republicans intend to govern, and they’re not happy with the results.
The strategy this time around, it would seem, would be not to merely run against an individual opponent, but to run against the Republican brand and what it has become since 2008, especially in the last year and a half. As Republicans are pushed further and further to the right by the TEA Party and social conservatives, they become less and less appealing to the broader electorate. And that’s where the Democrats stand to gain a lot of ground.
Congress’ current approval rating stands at 13% nationally, dipping as low as 9% in some polls, with Republicans drawing the lion’s share of the blame for the current legislative gridlock. The fact is that Democrats and Barack Obama have tried to negotiate, have tried to compromise, have tried to work with Congressional Republicans, but Republicans are having absolutely none of it, and it’s beginning to turn the tide against them. Every olive branch offered by the Democratic side has been routinely and rudely swatted out of the president’s hand.
The Republican wave of 2010 prompted a massive overreach in statehouses and governor’s mansions nationwide, emboldened the newly elected Republican majority in the House of Representatives to push the most partisan and controversial agenda in years.
The 2010 campaign mantra was “jobs, jobs, jobs.” Instead, the House opened its legislative session with several abortion ban proposals, and an agenda to denigrate and defund Planned Parenthood (accompanied by Arizona Senator Jon Kyl’s claim that “well over 90% of what Planned Parenthood does” is abortion services, which is completely, totally, unambiguously false). They gave us a proposed budget that would increase the deficit in the short run, end Medicare as we know it, further cut taxes on the wealthy (largely by permanently extending the Bush Tax cuts) at the expense of programs for low income families, and have little effect on the economy as a whole—if not make it worse. They gave us another near government shutdown. They gave us the most partisan, unyielding, unreasonable Congress in a generation.
They gave us a Congress that, it can be argued, has deliberately worked to slow down the growth of the U.S. economy in order to weaken a Democratic president so as to provide Republicans an advantage in the 2012 general elections. The goal, it seems, is to keep the economy weak, because any signs of positive growth only strengthens the Democratic argument and the Democratic president. Besides, Republicans need a weak economy so that they can use it to bludgeon the president throughout 2012.
What this Republican majority has NOT given us is a single viable jobs proposal that will do anything to dig the American economy out of the ditch Republicans dug in the first place. What they have done is vehemently oppose everything proposed by Barack Obama, despite the fact that many of the ideas were first proposed by Republicans.
Today’s Republican Party is not in tune with mainstream America. Americans have soundly rejected brazen attempts to kill workers’ rights. Republicans in Mississippi were rejected in their efforts to outlaw birth control. Eleven state legislatures across the country have sought to withhold unemployment or welfare benefits unless the recipient can successfully pass a drug test (paid for by the state). Rick Scott, Florida’s Republican Governor took it even a step further. He proposed drug tests for all welfare recipients and unemployment beneficiaries in his state, as well as all of Florida’s public workers at state expense, and he’s got just the company in mind to conduct the tests: Solantic, a company that he owned until a few days before he took office—he transferred his shares to his wife (conflict of interest much?).
Republicans insist that anyone who disagrees with them—meaning those dreaded liberals—should just “get the hell out of America.” Homeowners who are underwater on their mortgages, or facing foreclosure, who were the victims of a corrupt mortgage and banking system that got bailed out by the federal government are just plain ‘ol out of luck as far as Republicans are concerned. According to Republican Presidential frontrunner Mitt Romney, instead of trying to stop the foreclosure crisis, we need to “let it run its course.” “Let it hit rock bottom.” Republicans want the federal government to just stay out of the business of helping people stay in their homes.
Republican presidential candidates have proposed tax reforms that further cut taxes on the very wealthy, while raising the tax burden on the poor and middle class. Both the Romney and Gingrich plans, according to an analysis by the Tax Policy Center, would blow up the deficit. Lowering taxes on the rich, they say, is the only way to spur economic growth, despite all evidence to the contrary.
From Republicans we got the mantra that corporations are people. From Republicans we got Citizens United, the Supreme Court ruling that says since corporations are people, and people in the United States have the right to free speech, and that since money in politics is equal to free speech, corporations can contribute unlimited amounts of money to any political campaign or candidate. But it’s okay, because the average citizen can contribute whatever they want, too. Because after all, what’s the difference between a contribution of $10 and $10 million?
Republicans want to roll back child labor laws. Republicans wanted to see GM and Chrysler go bankrupt, costing the economy millions of jobs, instead of providing loans contingent on a restructuring plan that would save both companies. Those loans have been completely repaid, and GM is once again thriving as the #1 auto maker in the world.
Republicans across the country are pursuing legislation to effectively roll back voting rights. Michigan’s Republican governor secured for himself the power to declare financial martial law in the state. And the list goes on and on and on…….
The proliferation of the Occupy movement has supplied the perfect contrast between the two sides: Whereas one party is consumed by the wants and desires of the rich and powerful, the other places a higher priority on the needs of the many. And what it boils down to is that the 2012 election season is not about Democrats and Republicans. It is not about conservatives vs. liberals. It’s about the very soul of America and what we stand for; who we are as a people, and what we aspire to be. It will shape our democracy—for better or for worse—for generations to come. The choice is shockingly stark.
Democrats can win if they run against the Republican brand.