Sitting out the elections? Think again


Some voters on our side of the struggle are taking a powder on the elections. They claim that President Obama raised their hopes as a candidate and let them down as a president.

They expected bold action on the economic crisis, but it didn't happen. The stimulus didn't go far enough. Ditto for health care legislation. The scale and pace of change has been too slow - too many people are out of work, out of affordable health care, and out of their homes.

Meanwhile, their riff goes, bloodletting continues in Afghanistan, corporations are sitting on nearly $2 trillion of idle money, profits are up, inequality is growing, and tax cuts for the wealthy are draining our treasury and driving up the national deficit.

There is truth here, but the question is: is it enough to stay home? I say no for three reasons.

To begin with the most obvious, the elections' impact on people's lives. Even though the size of the stimulus was inadequate and a public option was missing in the new health care law, both bills bring a measure of relief to millions of people. And as a friend of mine keeps reminding me, it may make only an inch of difference, but a lot of people live on that inch.

Which brings me to next month's congressional elections. If the Republicans regain control of the House of Representatives, that inch of difference (things like unemployment insurance extensions, food stamps, relief for local and state governments, modest jobs and infrastructure programs, readjustment of tax policy in favor of working people, funding for education, a real fight over military appropriations for Afghanistan) will probably vanish - along with hope for more far-reaching measures.

Furthermore, "austerity" will become the watchword, the pressures to weaken Social Security and Medicare will grow, and the economic pain for working people is likely to get much worse.

A second reason to vote is a little less obvious, but you don't have to know higher math to understand it: A Republican victory at the polls on Nov. 2 - defined as winning a majority of seats in the House - would be the opening act of a horror show, culminating in the Republican right reclaiming full dominance of Congress and the White House in 2012.

For the far right, electoral success in the current elections and then in 2012 is the eye of the needle through which it must past in order to radically transform the country to the advantage of the most reactionary section of monopoly capital and its allies, motley and dangerous as they are.

No one on their side is going to stay home on Election Day. A "no show" is a "no-no" for them. Everyone is expected to march to the polls and bring others with them.

You won't hear of any of them scaling down the importance of the elections. Their lens is wide-angled enough to see the big picture. The claim that the two parties of capitalism are indistinguishable is a fool's notion in their world. And they see this election and the one two years from now as a crossroads in American politics whose outcome will determine the kind of nation we will become.

Finally, a Republican victory this fall will not simply weaken the president and his party, but likely demoralize and take the wind out of the sails of the loose coalition that emerged in 2008 and after a post-election hiatus is finding its stride again, as evidenced by the Oct. 2 rally in the nation's capital.

To believe otherwise is naïve at best. Millions will feel that the promise of 2008 evaporated in the voting booths in 2010. They may not be entirely right about that, but that is how they will feel, and people act on the basis of their feelings. The mobilization of people in the post-election period will become more difficult.

Of course, some people are so deeply cynical that nothing could persuade them to vote.

Then there are a few others who will sit these elections out for ideological reasons. They argue that participation in the two-party system spreads illusions about the Democratic Party, delaying the formation of an anti-capitalist alternative.

In their view, the elections are simply a contest between two parties with no differences of any importance; thus, it makes little, if any, difference who wins - Bush or Gore, Bush or Kerry, McCain or Obama, candidates of the right or candidates of the center and left of center.

Any even temporary and tactical alliance with the Democratic Party - well, it's worse than the plague, to be avoided at all costs. Support for a Democratic candidate as a "lesser evil" is tantamount to craven political bankruptcy and opportunism.

What is to be done? It's simple, say the advocates of this point of view: make a "strategic break" with the two-party system. But there is an oh-so slight hitch that serious progressive and left-thinking people can't afford to overlook.

A "strategic break" makes sense only if millions of people and their organizations are ready to march out of the Democratic Party into a labor/people-based political party, but guess what? They aren't.

Yes, many people stay home on Election Day, but it is not an expression of political acumen nor is it the majority. The most active layers of working people organize others to vote and vote themselves.

While many of them express dissatisfaction with the Democratic Party, it hasn't risen to the point where they are ready to bolt it in any near term that I can envision.

Moreover, the rise of right-wing extremism reinforces this sentiment. Broad unity, not division, not attacking people's leaders as the "super leftists" love to do (they see these leaders as the main reason that people stay put in the Democratic Party - how simple-minded) is the blood that flows through the veins of the people's movement at this moment.

Politics is a contested, complex, and impure process. There are waves and breaks - progressive and reactionary - in continuity to be sure, but in between there are longer periods in which the struggle doesn't soar to new heights or sink to new depths, but still is consequential to the breaks that do come.

In 2008, politics, economics and mass thinking became unhinged from their old moorings and a political turn, albeit partial, occurred. Since then the completion of this turn has become a more protracted and difficult process than many, including myself, thought.

The elections in less than three weeks, for good or bad, will mark a new phase in this process. No one with an iota of common sense will sit it out. Shoot yourself in the foot if you like, but don't do it on Nov. 2 because the buckshot will hit the rest of us!

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  • LAME!



    Posted by ben, 10/17/2010 10:21pm (5 years ago)

  • Democrats are not disheartened because Obama tried and failed, they are disheartened because on the central issues that he campaigned on that were the core components of our support, HE DIDN'T EVEN TRY OR DID A 180. Then, to add insult to injury, people like Emanuel and Gibbs insult the very activist base that worked harder than anyone for his election. Throwing out a healthcare public option behind closed doors before the debate even began and they offering phony support, giving lip service to gay rights and then appealing every court decision, siding with Wall Street over Main St., clinging to Bush's executive power grabs in the face of the Constitution. He broke his trust. Is the GOP much worse? Of course. But if you want to get voters to the pulls, simply being slightly less of a cretin is not much of a motivator.

    Posted by xargaw, 10/17/2010 11:28am (5 years ago)

  • There is also the matter of the Democratic party's give-a-little-ground-no-matter-what-the-issue policy. I'm all for political compromise, seeing things the way the other guy does, not cleaving to principle just for the sake of it; that's one thing. But the Democratic Party has shown itself very eager to sell out the right to choose these past few elections. A vote for them tells them that's OK. It isn't. The struggle to win reproductive rights was a hard struggle, and to see it sold out or dialed back at every turn to get bills passed tells me that the Democratic Party and I aren't on the same side any more. If they had wanted the pro-choice vote, they wouldn't be giving ground on the issue whenever it's politically convenient. I'm staying home, and now hopefully some of them know why.

    Posted by Pro Choice, 10/17/2010 10:36am (5 years ago)

  • No question that we must go all out in this election, but I agree with Jose Cruz. It's not the crazies on the left who will determine the outcome of the elections, its working people who may sit on their hands. How about convincing them instead of insulting? Let's not forget that Trumpka warned when the White House back-tracked on taxing so-called cadillac health plans that his workers may sit out the elections as they did in 1994 when Clinton abandoned his own jobs and health care plans.

    My fear about this article and many that have preceded it is that the groundwork is being laid to blame the victim if the Republicans regain control of Congress.

    The big players in this election, the candidates and the Democratic Party, need to campaign without their tails between their legs. Joe Hoeffel, a progressive candidate in the PA primary for governor recently said at an election rally I attended that the Democratic candidates need to begin to run on what has been positive over the past 20 months. He specifically was concerned that the senate and governor candidates said nothing about the positive aspects of the health care bill even after those provisions became effective. Amen.

    In spite of all the problems, we on the left are working hard for victory, but it ain't easy when fighting the Republicans and Democrats.

    It is times like this that we should be planted in the present and sowing ideas of independence for the future rather than being the naysayers. We have been silent.

    Posted by David Bell, 10/17/2010 12:15am (5 years ago)

  • Pathetic cave in to the continued domination of ruling class politics -- no wonder the working class is confused, it has no meaningful leadership from the left!

    Posted by Cameron James, 10/15/2010 8:42pm (5 years ago)

  • I think every effort we make now to turn out every voter who can be reached, is an opportunity to prepare all grassroots forces we come in contact for the necessity of a more sustained participation in politics. Helping the grassroots of contacts in difficult campaigns hang in and together in various forms lays a good groundwork for the next wave.

    The time of working people for extracurricular political activities of any kind is limited and often involves sacrificing other pressing demands -- so its got to be about something important, either money --- or very strongly held values or vision at stake. Mass political organization must be responses to real problems that reflect the common interests of majorities.

    This is an important building time within the Democratic Party. Large sections are inclined in a more militant mood -- and it is important to identify the main enemies, and not get sidetracked. Its important to advance consideration of much stronger financial reforms, and real proposals for full employment.

    On the latter issue, I have always thought that a campaign for a real Minsky-like (Big WPA style) full employment program could get serious traction if the left and the labor movement took it to heart and made it theirs. But the fact that, in order to work in a mixed economy, the WPA wages must be LESS than the private market comparable wage, has given it a skeptical history in the labor movement. Gompers supported it. Bill Green opposed. Nonetheless wage stats from 1933-37 show NO downward pressure on private wages as a result of the growth in the WPA over that time. Unfortunately, without lower wages for WPA style full employment, the scheme is inflationary and destabilizing, resulting in swings between all capitalist or all socialist models, and would make supplying necessary labor to the private market very difficult, and expensive.

    On the plus side, the WPA 'alternative to unemployment' scheme sets a national labor floor on poverty, can transform youth, sustain the elderly and retired, and significantly enhance the overall bargaining power of working people.

    In any event, I do not know of another full employment program consistent with a mixed economy besides Minksy's. Social democracies have tended to favor high unemployment benefits, and retraining opportunities, but endure a fairly high number of idle folks. Seems a waste when a more productive and humane alternative should be possible.


    Posted by John Case, 10/15/2010 10:35am (5 years ago)

  • Any talk about anyone promoting a "strategic break" with the Dems is a non-issue. The danger is that people WILL bolt the Democrats by staying at home.

    The issue is how to convince people to vote and also to protest. Calling the stay-at-home voters naive, cynical or lacking in political acumen does nothing to convince them to come out and vote.

    The task is to convince them, not to insult them.

    Posted by José A. Cruz, 10/14/2010 11:33pm (5 years ago)

  • I agree. A "strategic break" with the biggest institutional political formation is silly and self-defeating and advocates of doing so are either not very bright or are deliberately against the successes of working class movements in recent years. Gotta be smarter than a teabagger.

    Posted by Smarter-than-a-teabagger, 10/14/2010 7:01am (5 years ago)

  • Good article. The response to the "strategic break" is accurate- there is no where else to go at the moment and we can't abandon the Democratic party. The best we can hope is to push it left and get people to start asking the right questions, like "why aren't jobs a right?" I remember this was Ron Paul's strategy with the Republicans. He said he doesn't agree on most things with other Republicans, but if he can get people thinking and questioning he can succeed- and I think Ron Paul succeeded. There's always a dozen so-called "libertarians" spamming every corner of the internet with Ayn Rand quotes. Its obnoxious, but it worked.

    Posted by Calvin, 10/14/2010 6:59am (5 years ago)

  • Although many people on the Left are dissatisfied with Obama, it is unfair to accuse them of sitting out the elections and to be automatically against any support for Democrats. Too, often its the other way around, when those on the Left denouncing Greens and other third parties as spoilers. Also, Obama, isn't on the ballot in the midterm so the Democratic candidates should be judged on a case by case basis. Obama isn't making things easy for the Democrats, by saying that the Republicans will be more responsible if they take control of Congress.

    Posted by Sean Mulligan, 10/13/2010 9:42pm (5 years ago)

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