The defeat of Democrat Martha Coakley by Republican Scott Brown in yesterday's Senate contest in Massachusetts shows that voters are "frustrated at the lack of action coming from Washington," declared AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka today. "The American people are justifiably uncertain and fearful in these tough economic times," he said, warning that the election should be "a sobering reminder" to candidates running in 2010.
"The American people are urgently expecting results from Washington," Trumka said. "If elected officials want the support of working families, they need to fight to win legislation on jobs, health care and financial regulation. Americans need champions who will fight for their cause."
Andy Stern, president of the Service Employees International Union, declared, "The reason Ted Kennedy's seat is no longer controlled by a Democrat is clear. Washington has been unable to deliver the change voters demanded in November 2008. Make no mistake, political paralysis resulted in electoral failure."
Labor leaders have been careful in their reactions to the Massachusetts vote to recognize that President Obama is vulnerable to blame for an economic mess he did not create, a mess that is very difficult to clean up. Their reactions also reflect an understanding that voters are vulnerable to right-wing scare tactics about issues like the federal deficit and the role of "big government" and to right-wing appeals to racism.
Stern, in that vein, laid the primary responsibility on the GOP for the political paralysis and lack of action coming from Washington. Tuesday's vote "must be a wake-up call that now is the time for bold action," he said." Time to stand up to politics as usual. Time to stand up to Republican scare and stall tactics. And time to speak up for working families."
Across the board, labor and progressive groups are expressing hope that the wrong lessons won't be drawn from the election.
Jason Rosenbaum, writing at the Sentinel, said Coakley "ran a terrible campaign, but you can't blame this loss entirely on that ...in a blue state like Massachusetts I think you can assume the enthusiasm gap between the two parties - because of poor campaigning, a strong challenger, and a Democratic Party that doesn't know how to take advantage of its 60 votes in the Senate - played a role, like an election-changing role."
As an example of the "wrong lesson learned," Rosenbaum argued that "Rahm Emanuel (White House Chief of Staff) is already pointing fingers at the wrong people. The White House is renewing its foolish hope of bipartisanship. Joe Lieberman is pushing for 'centrism' and the conventional wisdom says the best path for health care reform is for the House to pass the Senate bill unchanged, no fixes in conference."
"I'll be happy to eat my words," Rosenbaum wrote, "if the Democrats do indeed come to realize the way to win elections and legislative battles is to rally the base and convince the middle, not pander to corporations ..."
Many progressives are rejecting reactions from Blue Dog Democrats who are calling for a "go slow" approach on health care and other reform measures. They have in mind people like Sen. Evan Bayh of Indiana, who said, "Whenever you have just the furthest left elements of the Democratic Party attempting to impose their will on the rest of the country - that's not going to work too well."
Paul Waldman at the American Prospect scoffed at both Bayh's statement and the GOP claim that the loss of one Senate seat represents a major shift in political power back in a right-wing direction.
"Republicans would like people to think that because their candidate won one race in one state, the Democratic majorities have somehow ceased to exist. Well they haven't.
"The need for health care reform is no less great than it was yesterday, and we believe no less strongly in the agenda that got us elected. Our opponents won't like it - they'd rather we surrender to them, and make believe that they're running things, like they were during the Bush years.
"Well tough luck," Waldman wrote. "Come November, the voters can judge us on what we've accomplished and what we haven't, and judge our opponents on what they say they'd like to do. Until then, we're going to keep working."
John Nichols, writing in the Nation, said the Democrats should continue the fight for health-care reform, "recognize that they must do it better and set a rapid but reasonable timetable to accomplish that goal." He also foresees the Democrats pushing for rules changes that would address the undemocratic 60-vote requirement to pass legislation in the Senate and called on the administration and the Congress to put massive resources "into a genuine jobs plan and place real regulations and taxes on banks that so far have escaped any sort of accountability moment."
Photo: AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka. (commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Richard_Trumka_2008.jpg)