I’m finding it difficult to believe that the following reminders are even needed but, given the volatile electoral situation we’re facing in November, better to err on the side of common-sense. So here goes:
The Republicans are energized by their Tea Party base, which surveys have shown is composed mostly of veteran GOP ideologues of the FarRight, old John Birchers, nativists, militiamen, racists and voluntarily ignorant Know-Nothings. Thanks largely to the mainstream media’s hyping of this “be-very-frightened” extreme-right coagulation — led, as always, by the Republican network Fox, and some radio talk-show bloviators — a small but significant number of otherwise unaffiliated but frustrated and angry citizens have been attracted to candidates backed by this Beck/Palin/Limbaugh-influenced movement.
The Tea Partiers have been able to boost a number of Republican primary candidates into victory: Rand Paul in Kentucky, Christine O’Donnell in Delaware, Sharron Angle in Nevada, Carl Paladino in New York, Joe Miller in Alaska, Marco Rubio in Florida, et al. But the real question is how those extremist candidates will do when outside the safe Republican box, facing ordinary, presumably more reflective voters in the November balloting.
The Democratic Party, per usual, is dazed and confused and overly timid. Whimpering, whining, and weak. Some Democrats are even urging their candidates to move rightward to try to capture some of the supposed Tea Party magic.
A number of key Democrats have professed glee to see the way-out-there, clearly deficient candidates put forth by the Republicans, aided by their Tea Party base. We’ll walk all over them, these Dems suggest, since the traditional numbers are on our side and the voters, even if they’re angry, aren’t foolish enough to give George W. Bush and Dick Cheney a third term by sending the GOP back in charge of Congress. Especially not with candidates clearly afflicted with a bad case of The Crazy.
The Enthusiasm Gap
Polls have suggested for many months now that the Republicans, smelling victory, are highly energized and will bring their troops to the polls in huge numbers in November. The progressive Democrats, suffering from disappointment in their party’s leaders (especially in President Obama), are dispirited and may well keep their wallets in their pockets when it comes to political donations and may not even vote in November.
I share the disappointment, depression and rage at Obama and leading Democrats and the way they’ve wasted so many months of momentum while getting their act somewhat together. Yes, I fully realize that the previous administration handed Obama and the Democrats a stinking pile of crap to deal with as they headed out the White House door. Moreover, the Republicans have been thoroughly obstructionist from the git-go, which Obama pretended wasn’t really happening for far too long. For sure, none of this made the Democrats’ job any easier. But even keeping all this in mind, the Democrats, as usual, proved themselves to be easy to roll and impede, largely because they refused to stand up and fight for their principles.
So, if I’m so angry with and disappointed by the Democrats, what’s the point of this little essay? Why not just sit on my hands on Election Day in November and thus help the Democratic Party leaders learn a painful lesson? Namely, that if they abandon their campaign promises, their ideals and their voting base, they will do so at their peril; write off the progressive left, as Obama and Co. have done on too many occasions, and they will suffer the consequences.
Alice in Political Wonderland
But as much as part of me would love to see that lesson delivered, my common-sense side chimes in with a mighty chorus: When Rand Paul and Christine O’Donnell and Carl Paladino and Sharron Angle and the others are the new faces of the Republican Party, American democracy has fallen down Alice’s rabbit-hole for real. For Democrats, for progressives, for anyone who cares about the viability of the centuries-old experiment that is our democratic republic, this is survival time.
If the Republicans take the House and Senate in November, or even just the House, the Dems are finished as an initiating force for the next several years, and the HardRight Republicans, who got us into much of this mess to begin with, will control the agenda. That agenda will not be pretty. Traditional conservative Republicans understand this, even BushCheney-type Republicans understand this. When Karl Rove and Alphonse d’Amato and Haley Barbour and Charles Krauthammer are the “voices of reason” here, you know we’re in Alice’s universe of strangeness.
Angry Democrats, moderate Republicans and independents: Please seriously consider the ramifications of what would happen if you enable the Republicans back into power. Do you want theocratic Neanderthals in charge of our moral laws and school textbooks? You want unregulated greed-is-good industries and banks and insurance companies in charge of the economy and writing pollution legislation? You want nothing done on climate-change? You want creationism taught as science in schools? You want more and bigger wars? You want the New Deal and Great Society reforms eliminated? You want no more Social Security and Medicare? Etc. This would be the future for the next two or four or eight years if the Republicans were to take over Congress and, perhaps, the White House two years later. Remember, this is not the relatively “restrained” party of 2008 (I did say “relatively”!) but the extremist, reckless party of 2010.
What is at Stake?
So, as sympathetic as I am to the anger and frustration from the left, I don’t want to hear serious talk about not caring who wins in November, that there’s “not a dime’s worth of difference” between the Democrats and Republicans. On some meta-level about D.C. politics in general, maybe that’s true, but in the real world in which most folks live every day, the metaphorical dime can make a HUGE difference in so many areas of civic life.
With Republicans in charge in Congress, you can kiss a whole lot of reforms and positive initiatives goodbye: no beginnings of an adequate, affordable health care system; no Social Security and no Medicare and a greatly reduced Medicaid; polluters in control of the nation’s air and water; no firm oversight of insurance companies raising rates regularly and denying care to those who need it most; an unrestrained “free-market” economy heading us further into the pit of Depression#2, with even more millions of jobs lost; our children not getting an adequate education in the humanities and arts and sciences; more unwinnable wars of occupation, costing trillion$ that could be spent on domestic needs; a continued degradation of our nation’s infrastructure and lack of adequate funds for key civic needs (water, police, firefighters, libraries, parks, etc.). And on and on.
Yes, Obama and the Democrats are a disappointment in so many ways. True, “the other guys are worse” is not a great platform for the Dems to run on, but when the Republicans have been so outfront about the damage they intend to do to the existing body politic and the mixed economy, it’s not just that they are “worse than” the Democrats but that they would be a horrific catastrophe for the nation. And, because American economic and military policies so affect other countries, for the world as well.
We can’t risk considering that a Republican victory “might not be so bad,” that once they got back into power they’d be more amenable to compromise and civil debate. The Republicans have proven time and time again in the past 20 months that they have absolutely no interest in genuine compromise or civil discourse. Their only motivating goal is to return to power (and thus to control the economic/political System) by any means necessary.
Getting Down to Work
Our job in the next six weeks is to hold our noses, if necessary, and work to defeat Republican candidates, especially the more extreme Senate and House candidates, by voting and working for Democrats.
Our moral imperative is to see to it that the Republicans don’t get the chance to take America back to the 1890s. We need to open our wallets to the candidates running against Paul, Paladino, Angle, O’Donnell and the rest of the Know-Nothings. We need to get energized and volunteer to help good Democrats, stuff envelopes, make phone calls, walk the precincts, join a vibrant get-out-the-vote campaign, drive folks to the polls on November 2, etc. etc.
We have no realistic alternative. This year, there is no viable third party from the left. If we remain listless in our opposition to the extreme politics being practiced by the GOP, and refuse to crank up our energy and commitment to the cause, the consequences will be horrendous, and we’ll kick ourselves later. By focusing on punishing the weak, centrist-leaning Democrats, we would be committing a kind of political suicide.
Right now, at this moment, we progressives and moderates are the bulwark of democracy. We have a Constitution and country to defend. We can continue working for serious reform of the Democratic Party after we keep the dangerous, reckless Republicans away from the levers of power on November 2nd.
More purity later, victory now. Onward!
Copyright 2010 by Bernard Weiner
Bernard Weiner, Ph.D. in government & international relations, worked as a writer/editor with the San Francisco Chronicle for nearly two decades, has taught at universities in California and Washington, and currently serves as co-editor of The Crisis Papers (www.crisispapers.org). To comment: firstname.lastname@example.org.