The outcome of the November presidential and Congressional elections is expected to be very close. Victory or defeat may hinge on a few million votes in some key battleground states.
The political terrain is treacherous owing to the deep economic crisis affecting millions, giving rise to great frustration, anger, disillusionment and anxiety. Republicans are shamelessly exploiting this issue.
The Republican right wing has closed ranks behind Mitt Romney, papering over fissures between conservative and extremist tea party elements. Corporate money is flooding into right-wing Super PACS waging a racist, scorched earth policy against President Barack Obama, painting him as elite, uncaring, incompetent and un-American,
The right wing is stoking paranoid fears that the nation’s first African American president is seeking to destroy the U.S. Constitution while they relentlessly attack basic democratic rights and even the concept of government — of, for and by the people.
Republican strategists know on the basis of the issues they are way out of step with the American people: Issues like Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid privatization, taxing the 1%, funding for education, health care and the social safety net, reproductive and immigrant rights, marriage equality, the list goes on.
Besides blaming Obama for the economic crisis, they are counting on two things for victory: voter suppression and racism.
Republican controlled legislatures in a host of states have passed bills that could suppress election turnout by as many as 5 million voters, including in battleground states. Voter suppression and disenfranchisement is largely based on racism and bigotry, which the Republicans are using shamelessly to sow division by winning over a section of white workers, a strategy they have employed for the past 40-plus years.
Republicans are caught in a trap of their own making. On the one hand, they concede Obama will win the overwhelming support of African American, Latino and other communities of color and youth. To court extremists, Romney conducted a racist anti-immigrant campaign. But Republicans, who have long written off the African American vote, know they must win a larger portion of Latino voters in battleground states. So Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) is offering a phony path to citizenship.
To court the extremists, Republicans have conducted a “war on women,” which has resulted in a huge “gender gap.” Recognizing they need the support of women, they are now feverishly trying to close the gap.
Which takes us back to their strategy: doubling down on the use of racism, especially anti-African American racism and bigotry. They are stepping up racist attacks on the president, while welcoming an overall increase in a racist hate atmosphere, racist acts of violence and divisiveness.
Thus no one from Romney on down has condemned the vile racist, inflammatory remarks of Ted Nugent at the NRA convention, the use of the racist slur “tar baby” remarks directed at Pres. Obama by Rep. Michelle Bachmann and the appearance of anti-Obama racist bumper stickers.
Republicans are counting on a section of white workers to fall victim to this racist demagogy and hate, to vote against their class self interests and break with their class brothers and sisters.
Republican Super PAC commercials and racist hate talk radio are aimed at disorienting millions of white workers.
Some say these workers are hopelessly lost and should be written off. But it’s hard to see how victory is possible without making a determined fight for this section of voters. And thankfully the labor unions and the Obama campaign see this as well.
What the labor movement is saying is “we refuse to allow our brothers and sisters to be exploited this way. We will not be divided.” This is the goal of putting 400,000 trade unionists on the ground in shops and neighborhoods across the country.
It’s the duty of every worker who opposes racism, as AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka showed in 2008, to reach and struggle with anyone who may be influenced by racist (and anti-immigrant, anti-women, homophobic) ideas.
Here again the experience of the labor movement is crucial. During the effort to recall Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and the repeal of SB5 in Ohio, the labor movement led the building of broad coalitions, never wrote off anyone, reached out to every part of those states, every city, suburb and rural community, even working-class Republicans.
The danger the Republican strategy poses for democracy and the future of the country can’t be overestimated. If successful, the extreme right wing and its corporate backers will shape the public debate, set the legislative agenda and pass reactionary anti-people, anti-democratic legislation affecting the country for years to come.
A loss will mean the working class and its allies will be in a weaker position to oppose the reactionary policies that are sure to follow.
In such a situation, the ability of racist, anti-labor, anti-women, anti-LGBT and anti-immigrant forces will be strengthened.
On the other hand, a united multi-racial working class and labor movement with its many allies can result in a stronger labor led people’s movement with a greater fighting capacity after the elections to elevate the fight for a people’s agenda. Maximum unity of the multiracial working class is an imperative for victory.
But victory won’t happen without a monumental fight at the grassroots, block by block, house by house, speaking with and registering every possible voter about what’s at stake and turning them out on Election Day.
This is a time for all hands on deck, for every person who cares about the future of the country to rise to the challenge.
Photo: On assignment for People’s World, photographer Marguerite Herbst captures some wonderful moments during 2010 Laborfest at the Summerfest grounds in Milwaukee, WI. Keynote speaker: Barack Obama. http://www.flickr.com/photos/peoplesworld/5556099306/