It’s no news at this point that this party is in real trouble and heading for disaster come election time. The left side of this party has been raising a hue and cry for over a year and the right side of this party keeps trying to shut them down.
Don’t kill the messenger, listen to the message. In past three by-elections - MA, NJ and VA - around three million former Obama supporters stayed home. This happened last year. How many have returned since then?
Now multiply that by the other 47 states that haven’t had a chance to make their feelings known and the magnitude of the disaster should be apparent to everyone. The left side of this party didn’t create this mess, those in command are responsible.
But we all will be screwed if the ship goes down, so do the math and pay attention, because this party has two months to save itself. Staying the course is the road to disaster.
Please read on . . .
Understand the Problem
You can’t solve the problem if you don’t understand it. So first get a grip on the problem, its roots and its depth.
This is the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression and we are still in the middle of it. The pain experienced by this crisis is felt most intensely by 25 to 40% of the population. The poorer and more economically vulnerable people were before the collapse, the more devastating this crisis is felt by them. That crisis rippled through industries, communities and families, so there is an enormous knock-on effect here.
Those who were most responsible for this disaster have also been the greatest beneficiaries of government intervention. Those in greatest danger are the most like to have been ignored and abandoned to their fate in a predator's paradise.
Now here’s the hard part: this crisis is the direct consequence of more than thirty years of neoliberal and neoconservative, free trade economics that has led to an orgy of downsizing, outsourcing, reckless automation - including the ridiculous replacement of teachers with computerized education - privatization, mergers and the cynically described ‘economies of scale’ and the radical shift to low-wage, part-time and contingent labor practices. The sum of this effort has wiped out our pool of living wage jobs and many of the industries that were the fruit of that labor.
This bears repeating: free trade, supply-side economics destroyed out living wage pool, much of it before the economic crisis. The collapse of our economy simply exposed the sinkhole of economic destruction that began with seamstresses, then steel workers, manufacturing, clerical staff until the tidal wave of greed wiped out the job markets for college professors, IT researchers, journalists, editors and other highly skilled professionals.
Both political parties signed up enthusiastically to these ‘bipartisan’ economic policies, agendas and agreements, heavily financed by campaign contributions. Everyone affected and everyone who participated in this madness knows the truth, so don’t waste people’s time pretending it was just the "Republican’s fault." Obama’s economic team is full of people responsible for this disaster and they have shown no interest in any other agenda than the furtherance of this spiraling ‘status quo’.
Because the pain inflicted by the economic collapse was experienced almost entirely by the poor, the working class and the economically endangered, their patience for incrementalism is nonexistent. As is their respect for those who perpetuate those policies.
They voted for Obama and the Democrats because they were asked to hope for a better and more equitable America that included their needs in the greater political calculus. They voted for immediate triage and long-term policies that addressed the damage caused by bipartisan economic agreement and the policies that came out of that consensus. In the midst of devastating economic crisis, they voted for the party that gave them the ‘New Deal.’
But this is not what they got. The first utterance of the word ‘bipartisan’ sent up a collective groan from those who were endangered. Their despair turned to anger as they watched the government save the banks, Wall Street, the war machine and their bloody wars, the auto industry and the health care insurance industry - adding a new mandated expense to their already devastated incomes - and never once seeing anything that made a material difference in their lives.
Do the Math:
Because they were and remain in desperate economic danger, they required immediate economic action. Thus, their reaction to yet another sad example of neoliberal betrayal was swift and angry. They stayed home in droves in the by-elections in Massachusetts, Virginia and New Jersey.
850,000 Obama votes were lost in Massachusetts Senate race, when Coakley ran on a DNC position sheet and a plan for economic development that read like Boston investment bankers’ wish list. Brown won with only 64,000 more votes than McCain got the year before. The voters didn’t switch parties, they just stayed home. A 44% decline
Another 1,130,000 lost in the NJ governor's election, lowest turnout in NJ governor race history. As if a former investment banker was a good standard bearer after the worst economic collapse since 1929, in a state heavily hammered by those losses. More Obama voters stayed home than showed up for Corzine. A 60% decline.
1,140,000 lost in the VA governor's race, led by African Americans, who just stayed home. The candidate, Deeds, only got 818,000 votes, so most of the people who voted for Obama stayed home instead of voting for Deeds. A 58% decline.
Yes, these are by-elections, which usually have lower voter turnouts. But while the Republicans suffered a 24% voter decline in these three elections. Democrats suffered a 52% voter decline overall.
Now look where the missing votes were: every poor and working class neighborhood in those states, a trend even more pronounced when those communities included people of color.
For those out there still clinging to the fantasy that ‘centrists’ delivered them to victory, here’s another bit of basic math to add your political calculus: Obama won by 9.5 million votes. 9 million of which were new voters, most of them poor, working class and people of color, many - if not most - of them in immediate economic danger. Centrists didn’t deliver the greatest political mandate this party has seen since the 1970's, poor and working class voters did.
Never underestimate poor and working class alienation from mainstream political discourse, or their anger with the status quo, before the economic collapse. They have been the main victims of thirty plus years of supply-side, free trade economics.
Now consider their anger in the aftermath.
Calculate how many people may be angry: 15-25 million people more are unemployed or underemployed. The numbers would be much higher if we counted them European-style. Millions more have homes on the edge of foreclosure. Another 40-60 million are living in permanent poverty. Again, tens of millions more would be considered ‘poor’ if our measure of poverty wasn't based on a ridiculously defined 'three times a thrifty basket of food'. Lots of overlap, but clearly at least 60 to over a 100 million Americans are in economic trouble, many for the entirety of their lives.
These people didn’t switch sides, they just stayed home. And the Democratic party voting totals were cut in half. It was a spontaneous, unorganized political protest by the Democratic Party electoral base, who voted with their feet to deliver the riot act to the leadership. Nobody organized them, they just reacted with mass disgust toward a party that asked them to hope, that raised their expectations with the ghosts of Roosevelt, Kennedy and - because we had a Black man as our standard bearer - Martin Luther King, Jr. This party raised their expectations that they were returning to the New Deal/Great Society roots, after abandoning them for 30 years. They heard the clear promises regenerate this economy and rebuild our society from the bottom up, only to watch this party go right back to its neoliberal ways. This is the heart of the bait-and-switch charge.
When Obama finally started addressing the joblessness crisis, he repeatedly said that jobs were gone and wouldn’t be back for years. And then did nothing more about it. What was he thinking? That the unemployed and economically endangered would just sit quietly, in full confidence that all would be right in the end, many years down the line? When you tell people that jobs are gone and won’t be back for years - and then do nothing - you are really saying, "jobs are gone and they are never coming back for you, because you don’t matter to us."
All that was offered to the unemployed, many from industries destroyed by national and international economic policy, was unemployment insurance ad infinitum. Leaving the unemployed in limbo for two years, while occasionally using that flimsy safety net called unemployment insurance as a political football to win up the cheap seats in opposing camps did not convince the unemployed that this party ‘had their back’, it showed quite clearly how little this party cared about their fate.
What do you think happens when you leave the economically endangered to rot in unemployment land? Some of them watch too much Fox News and turn into teabaggers. All of them learn to hate your guts and regret ever believing you, whether they buy a Republican analysis of the problem or not.
Left to drown in this situation, these people and their communities walked away from this party, last year, in an angry effort to read the riot act to Washington elites, by withholding their vote in by-elections.
But nobody in the White House or the Senate listened. Obama simply repackaged his infrastructure and tax credit proposals as a ‘jobs creation’ and kept this economy on the neoliberal road. Geithner, Bernanke and Summer trotted out reports declaring millions of jobs created to a disbelieving public. It didn’t help that Geithner and Bernanke had given us a bank bailout that read like a sellout to that industry. Nor did it help that these two, plus Summers were responsible for creating the economic conditions that led to the collapse.
The Senate continued to act like fools lost in a campaign contribution wonderland and ignored the economic realities of those who elected them. As the details became clearer, the President’s Commission on Social Security became rebranded by the party’s activist base as the ‘catfood commission’ and that nasty, sick feeling in the pit of everyone who needed or would one day need social security washed over them, that yet another bait-and-switch was in the offing.
Thus, while President Obama assures us all that he will protect Social Security, activists are increasingly asking why he stuffed his commission with people who want to cut Social Security or pour it into the stock market? Did they not see what happened to Bush when he tried that? Even the right-wing Christians rebelled.
At a baseline level of political calculus: what do you think that army of angry grandmothers are going to do, if they think this commission is a set-up to cut their benefits? Or deny their children the same safety net they enjoyed?
Throw in a never-ending, but ever-widening and always bankrupting war in the Mideast, and the failure to honor campaign pledges to various constituent groups and this party is a train that has completely gone off the tracks and is crashing into the town square at lunch time. Worse, still the credibility of its political leadership is gone and everyone now looks for the double-cross when they hear Democrats talk about the issues that matter to them.
So what can the party do?
While there’s no way to avoid loses at election time, whether this is a truly historic wipeout or not will depend on doing how substantially, honestly and ethusiastically this government deals with joblessness.
We need a massive public employment program - creatively designed to cover a very wide range of skills, talents and needs - and we need it pushed through Congress before the next election. Anything less than that and this party’s goose is cooked. So burn any Democrat who blocks the shot and be prepared to play really hard ball with Republicans in hard hit communities. If all else fails, die on that hill keeping the bill clean of corruption or meanspirited compomise.
We need a moratorium on primary home foreclosures. If this economy isn’t coming back for years, then we need to keep people in their homes until it does.
Obama needs to address the nation and directly confront the issue of joblessness and the economy. He needs to embrace New Deal Democratic economic policies and publicly disown neoliberalism. He needs to back that up by firing as many of his political and economic advisors - including all his Goldman Sachs alumni - as is possible, with special attention to those who are proven vote killers like Geithner, Emmanuel, Duncan and others. He has too many advisors and cabinet members who are held in near-universal contempt by both his party’s activist base and its electoral base and virtually nobody with any respect among the activist or electoral base.
This is just the downpayment on the really hard work that must follow, triaging the damage in people's lives. It will take years to correct 30 years of bipartisan betrayal of working class and poor Americans. And there are a host of promises made to a variety of constituencies that remain unhonored. Attending to their economic needs will give time to address their political concerns. And by dealing with joblessness - in the short and the long term - it will be politically easier to inclusively deal with immigration reform, if the unemployed do not feel they are being passed over again for another constituency. The last thing anyone should want is for Republicans to be able to exploit working class antagonism toward immigrants. Taking care of the jobless will go a long way to improve the political climate for inclusive immigration reform.
Once confidence has been rebuilt, it will be easier to attend to economic subtleties, without it looking suspiciously like a campaign contributor payback, or a cesspool of potential corruption. And with economic activity restarted on the ground, the multiplier effects of economic activity will should spread upwards through the food chain.
Crucially, Obama needs to put as much clear blue water between the failed policies of neoliberalism - including his own - and convince the public he is committed to the policies that the electoral base thought they were voting for. He needs to bring in people who still have credibility with the base and give them a free reign to take his economic policies in a radically different direction. Forget Wall Street, take care of Main Street and don’t forget for a single minute the thousands of ghettos in this country. Because that’s where the margin of victory will be found.
Rolling heads and making speeches are the easiest of tasks, but without substantial attention to bread and butter issues, it will just look like spin, smoke and mirrors. Tricky or subtle actions that require translation are a waste of time at this moment because nobody believes a word anyone in the political realm says, particularly those who might vote Democratic. So play it strong, keep it clean, make it big and do it fast.
A public employment program can be done quickly, but it cannot be done cheap. You can control overhead costs by running hiring through General Services and assigning hired workers to existing programs and departments, developing them as you go.
Under no circumstances should the private sector get a dime of this money. Privatized infrastructure development produces very few jobs in the era of automation and outsourcing. And even if jobs are created, there is no guarantee they will be created in this country as previous stimulus efforts have shown. Moreover, government contractors have a near unbroken record of gouging the public coffers and doing little to create jobs, let alone living wage jobs in this country. (see previous diary ‘Audacity of Hope and the Betrayal of Unemployed America’ for examples).
With public confidence at such low ebb and the cynical belief that anything this government does is solely for the benefit of their corporate campaign contributors - no matter what line of shit they hand us - is widespread. Letting the private sector into a public employment program threatens to turn it into a festival of graft and corruption and - once again - the money will never make it to the streets.
The Take Away
No amount of messaging can cover the arrogant neglect of this party’s electoral base or economic reality at the ever-widening bottom of our social economy. Symbolism will be received with heavy doses of cynicism. Empty gestures will be understood as such.
All of this should have been started in January 2009, not September 2010, so cynicism will not be washed away simply by engaging in these three actions. All political action will need to be brutally strong and completely straightforward, because for the past 20 months Washington Democrats responses have been pathetically weak, and dishonestly slippery.
But however belated, last minute, cynical or reactionary these actions may be seen to be, this party needs to mark in time and space the moment when it fundamentally rejected neoliberalism and embrace its New Deal/Great Society legacy. And every step forward from that moment needs to be treated seriously to rebuild trust between the political leadership and an economically and politically battered electoral base within this party and the wider society.
Anything less, and the problem will grow worse with each passing day. And we still have two more months to fall before election time. All we have to show for two years of neoliberal, Republican-lite economic policies was a jobless, non-recovery that benefitted only the privileged and those who were ‘too big to fail.’ Neoliberalism has become a cancer that is killing this party and we need to cut it out.
The electoral base has already shown its disgust, but we still see no evidence that our political leadership - particularly in the White House and the Senate - shows any understanding of just how badly it has blown its political mandate or any evidence that it even hears the alternatives its activists have been articulating since the first wrong moves were made back in January and February 2009.
Two months to election time. If nothing is done, this will be the bloodbath everyone fears. But it doesn’t need to be. Clearly neoliberalism isn’t working, it is bankrupting this party faster than the wars are emptying the treasury. Its time to return to New Deal political solutions.
If not, this party will richly deserve what happens next.