There were local and geographical peculiarities, but when an election was as uniformly one-sided as this one was, deeper explanations are required. In the most general sense it can be said that the electorate does not yet recognize or understand that the enemy they face is right wing extremism; that this is the fundamental source of the insecurity they feel as their living standards and democratic rights are besieged. It is the Republicans, not the Democrats, who have blocked programs to create jobs, raise wages, strengthen unions, who have cut taxes on the rich and shifted the burden to working people, who have slashed funds for education, health care and local government services, who have launched an unprecedented assault on the right to vote, on the rights of women, on equality for gay people, on immigration reform and on defending humanity from a climate catastrophe.
All this begs the question as to why the people were not able perceive the mortal danger from the right. The answer to this, I believe, was the ability of the right to unleash unprecedented resources to roll out a dense fog, as thick as pea soup that covered the South, blanketed the Midwest and reached even into the far recesses of New England, a fog that terrified, blinded and paralyzed the Democrats and had them running for cover. It was the fog of racism.
The demonization of President Barack Obama and, by extension, the Democrats who “voted with him,” has been building for years in the nether world of right wing hate talk radio and Fox News and was unleashed full force in this election. Since it is forbidden to mention racism in polite company, the corporate media referred to the GOP strategy as the “nationalization” of the election. Tom Cotton, GOP candidate for senator in Arkansas, avoided state issues but used Obama’s name 79 times in his televised debate with Democratic incumbent Mark Pryor.
The most notorious use of this tactic, as well as the classic capitulation of the liberal Democrats was in Kentucky where Allison Lundergan Grimes responded to Mitch McConnell’s relentless race baiting by first saying she was a “Clinton” (i.e. not an Obama) Democrat,” then by protesting in a debate that “Obama is not on the ballot” and finally by refusing to say whether she had voted for Obama in the presidential election. How different it would have been if, from the beginning she had confronted the issue head on, denounced McConnell’s shameful racist campaign as an insult to the democratic values of the voters and had driven home that it was only because of the Obama health care reform that millions of Kentuckians now had for the first time their very popular health coverage program. It would have been McConnell, not Grimes, who would have been on the defensive and a powerful anti-fogging agent would have been released
But Grimes and Pryor believed the racist fog was unbeatable and, along with Kay Hagan in North Carolina, had prevailed on the President to delay his planned immigration initiatives until after the election, and, of course, to stay as far away from their states as possible. As reward for their cowardice, they all went down to defeat. There was one example in this election demonstrating that the voters are actually better than Grimes, Hagen and Pryor believed. That was in Pennsylvania where Gov. Tom Corbett was unseated after he and the Republicans admitted their election restrictions were an attempt to suppress minority votes and their massive cuts to public education were also directed at urban African Americans. These actions were blasted by victorious gubernatorial Democratic candidate Tom Wolf, and voter participation by minorities and white allies actually increased.
The lesson of this election is clear. Racism is at the core of right wing ideology. The attacks on “government,” Social Security, Medicare, public education, the minimum wage, public employee unions are directed first and foremost at people of color, as the right seeks to convince the white majority that democratic rights and institutions exist primarily to serve minority populations at the expense of the majority. They hope this will carry them to victory in the 2016 presidential election.
In their arrogant statements after the election McConnell and House Speaker John Boehner made clear their war on President Obama would continue unabated. They think they have a good thing going and plan to keep milking it for all it is worth. It is the responsibility of all progressives, of labor and all its grassroots allies to expose and reject these divisive tactics and build a united democratic movement to defeat right-wing extremism.
Photo: A Get Out the Vote rally for Democrat Tom Wolf, who won the governor’s race in Pennsylvania. (CC)