President Obama probably didn’t change many votes with his announcement that he had completed his evolution on gay marriage, but it was the right thing to do.
Coming a few days after North Carolina voters approved a state constitutional amendment that not only bans gay marriages, but also prohibits civil unions and benefits for unmarried heterosexual partners, Obama’s announcement that he supports gay marriage boosted morale for one of the last minorities it is still socially acceptable in many communities to discriminate against.
But the presidential election won’t turn on Obama’s new support for gay marriage — which is largely moot because states are responsible for marriage laws. Instead the election will turn on the support of workers who want to see Obama and the Democrats take more forceful action to get businesses as well as state and local governments to rehire the 12.5 million Americans who remain unemployed. They also would like the government to protect the jobs that are threatened by profiteering corporate executives who are willing to take advantage of “free trade” laws to relocate factories overseas in their constant search for increased quarterly dividends. And it would be nice if Democrats would stand up for labor’s right to collective bargaining, which is under attack across the country.
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Republicans have been very successful in getting working-class people to vote against their economic interests and instead support socially conservative Republicans who have run on “God, guns and gays” as a cover for dismantling the New Deal during the past generation. Too many Democrats have decided that the best way to fight the Republicans is to move to the center and “put everything on the table” in the hopes of winning points among independents as the “reasonable” party. Instead, independent voters see one party that believes in conservative principles, which, however reactionary, have become orthodoxy by repetition in the mainstream corporate-controlled media, and they see another party that is willing to compromise its progressive principles. That leaves progressives and centrists wondering why they should even get out to vote for candidates who appear to be “the lesser of two evils.”
But when progressives who were disappointed with the Democrats stayed home in 2010, Republicans seized their opportunity and took control of the legislatures in a dozen states, the US House and enough of the Senate to block progressive initiatives. They showed how evil right-wing ideologues can become. Republicans have attacked public schools, teachers, public employee unions, the Postal Service, Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and they have passed voter suppression laws to exclude the millions of low-income workers and senior citizens who don’t have drivers’ licenses (and tend to vote Democratic) from the polls.
Wisconsin voters will have a chance to reclaim their democracy June 5 when they vote to recall Gov. Scott Walker (R) and four Republican senators after a year and a half of radical Republican union busting and implementation of right-wing initiatives ordered by the billionaire Koch Brothers and the corporate-funded American Legislative Exchange Council. Wisconsin Democrats and labor unions collected nearly a million signatures to set up the special election, and Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett is challenging Walker and other Democrats are challenging four Republican senators who rammed the union-busting bill through the Legislature. Republicans then held a 19-14 majority, but lost two seats in recall elections last year.
There is plenty of damning evidence against Gov. Walker, who never mentioned in his campaign that he would be targeting unions. But after the “perfect storm” in 2010 swept him and Republican legislators into power, Walker claimed that fiscal necessity required him to strip collective bargaining rights from public employees.
That claim was called into question in May by the release of a videotape from January 2011 that shows Walker discussing with a wealthy campaign donor strategies to weaken public sector unions and then go after all labor organizations to make Wisconsin “a completely red state,” John Nichols noted in The Nation (June 4). “The tape confirmed the worst suspicions of grassroots activists, who have demanded that Walker, his cronies and their crude fiscal and political intrigues be held to account,” Nichols wrote. “If Walker and his allies are removed from office, the results will be seen across the country as a rejection of the false premise that cutting taxes for the rich while attacking unions and slashing services will somehow spur job growth. Walker promised that his policies would create 250,000 jobs. Instead of growth, the governor’s austerity agenda has brought about what the Bureau of Labor Statistics identifies as the worst pattern of job losses in the nation.”
Barrett, a progressive former congressman who lost to Walker by 5 points in 2010, argues that the governor abandoned fiscal common sense and “created an ideological civil war … in the State of Wisconsin.”
Some in Wisconsin are complaining that they aren’t getting enough financial support from the White House or the Democratic National Committee, while Walker can draw all the financial support he needs from his billionaire benefactors. Walker has raised more than $25 million to fight the recall while Barrett has raised $1 million. Walker supporters have spent millions more on “independent” ads. The DNC told the Associated Press it has sent $1.4 million to Wisconsin in this election cycle and plans more fundraisers, but Democrats will not be able to match the Republicans in the broadcast air war, so their hopes rest on the organizations that are working door to door to get out the vote.
In the 19th century, the People’s Party grew with a grassroots communications structure that included local Populist clubs, pamphlets, speakers at camp meetings and 100 Populist newspapers in Texas in the 1890s and they forced reforms that included regulation of corporations, progressive taxes, women’s suffrage and popular election of US senators. Today we still have newspapers (such as The Progressive Populist — see page 24 for gift subscriptions to friends) and other magazines that spread the progressive point of view but the real energy is on the World Wide Web, where anybody with an Internet connection can start a blog and occasionally they grow into behemoths such as DailyKos.com. But the Big Money that controls the mainstream press and broadcast media is trying to figure out how to put a gate on the Web. Obama’s appointees to the Federal Communications Commission have adopted “net neutrality” protections for wired Internet users that are weaker than free speech advocates would like, but even those modest rules are being challenged in court by Verizon and other telecoms.
Jeffrey Toobin chronicles the corporate takeover of the political process in “Money Unlimited: How Chief Justice John Roberts Orchestrated the Citizens United Decision” in The New Yorker (May 21).
Toobin follows the fight over limiting corporate spending in elections that goes back over a century. That fight took the hard-right turn when right-winger Samuel Alito Jr. took the seat given up by moderate conservative Sandra Day O’Connor in 2006. Anthony Kennedy took the balance of power and, seeing the restriction on corporate spending in elections as unconstitutional censorship, wrote the 2010 opinion for Roberts that protects the right of corporations to spend freely to advise voters. Toobin concludes, “The Roberts Court, it appears, will guarantee moneyed interests the freedom to raise and spend any amount, from any source, at any time, in order to win elections.”
The Wisconsin recall will be a test of whether a grassroots populist uprising can overcome the millions of dollars pumped in by Organized Money. The stakes are as high as ever and progressives cannot afford to sit out the Wisconsin recall or the general election in the fall. We can’t let John Roberts get any more reinforcements on the Supreme Court.
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