Progressives say election may bolster social safety net

The increasingly likely win this November by President Obama will amount, progressives say, to a mandate to preserve, if not extend, the social safety net and the social insurance programs.

They reject the idea that Obama’s reelection and the continued presence of many Republicans in Washington would signal the need for “compromise” along the lines of Simpson-Bowles style austerity.

“Simpson-Bowles was put together in a political environment in which progressives, and even supporters of the safety net as we know it, were very much on the defensive,” wrote the economist Paul Krugman in the New York Times yesterday. “It was an environment in which conservatives were presumed to be in the ascendant, and in which bipartisanship was effectively defined as the effort to broker deals between the center-right and the hard right.

“Barring an upset, however, that environment will come to an end on Nov. 6. This election is shaping up as a referendum on our social insurance system, and it looks as if Mr. Obama will emerge with a clear mandate for preserving and extending that system.”

Developments in some of the key Senate races lend credence to the belief that perhaps the entire progressive mandate may be bolstered – both in terms of support for the social safety net and the direction voters want to take when it comes to the economy overall.

Politico said today that in Ohio, Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown, who it described as an “unabashed liberal,” is “poised to win re-election.” Politico attributed Brown’s strong position to his support for the auto bailout, which has resulted in a lower official unemployment rate in Ohio than almost everywhere else in the country.

Explaining it in his own terns, Brown said, “Fundamentally, the voters don’t see left to right, liberal or conservative, but they want to know if you are on their side. When it comes to the auto rescue, when it comes to China currency manipulation, when it comes to a health care plan, people understand I am on their side.”

In some states Senate races, progressives say, may result in more than just a strengthening of the progressive mandate in Washington. In a state like Virginia, they note, the Senate race could also result in breaking apart the Republican coalition itself.

“The Senate race here has become a testing ground for how far social conservatives can push their agenda – and continue to win elections -in a rapidly changing southern state with a burgeoning population of college-educated voters as well as many more ethnically diverse voters,” wrote Tom Edsall, also in the New York Times. “The political costs to the Republican Party of rewarding social conservatives are beginning to outweigh the benefits in a state that is undergoing dramatic demographic transformation.”

Photo: Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio   Chris Baker/Flickr


John Wojcik
John Wojcik

John Wojcik is editor in chief at He started as labor editor of the People's World in May, 2007 after working as a union meat cutter in northern New Jersey. There he served as a shop steward, as a member of a UFCW contract negotiating committee, and as an activist in the union's campaign to win public support for Wal-Mart workers. In the 1970s and '80s he was a political action reporter for the Daily World, this newspaper's predecessor, and active in electoral politics in Brooklyn, New York.