Amidst GOP tsunami in southwest Ohio, some stone-cold hope

The reactionaries in southwest Ohio have ridden a tsunami of cash to national power.

Rep. John Boehner will be speaker of the House. Joining him in his work of making ultra-right mayhem in the House of Representatives will be Jean Schmidt in partnership with Steve Chabot. Chabot is returning to Congress after defeating Democrat Steve Driehaus, who had unseated Chabot in 2008.

The wealthy, handsome ultra-right presidential hopeful Rob Portman, also from southwest Ohio, easily trounced his Democratic opponent for the vacant U.S. Senate seat, leading an across-the-board ultra-right victory in Ohio statewide races.

Yet, after more than 30 years of being a union activist in southwest Ohio and fighting tooth and nail against strong ultra-right ideas in my union local and my community, I have a sliver of “stone cold” clear-eyed hope in the face of this electoral defeat.

Hope begins with the numbers. In 2008, Democrat Steve Driehaus defeated Republican Steve Chabot, 151,913 to 151,226. In 2010, Republican Steve Chabot defeated Democrat Steve Driehaus 94,502 to 84,450. It’s difficult to be sure under all circumstances but the numbers reinforce the old saying, “It’s all about turnout.” Even in this defeat, in the heart of ultra-right power in Ohio, there is a large potential untapped anti-Republican vote. The key question is, how can we, starting now, begin to tap the power necessary to throw out the ever-friendly, totally reactionary, Republican Rep. Steve Chabot and his pals in 2012?

From my sometimes successful experience campaigning for local union office in a relatively conservative union with many staunch Republican members, I see a strong class struggle approach as the way to victory.

On the question of jobs, for example, there is overwhelming evidence that large sectors of big business actually want high unemployment. They clearly want a fearful, dependent labor pool – a labor market “where supply outstrips demand thus driving down labor costs.”

The Democrats who want a second stimulus bill to create jobs (now dead in the water with Mr. Boehner in charge of the House) never touched on the real issue. Democratic Rep. Driehaus never hammered Republican Chabot showing that opposition to a second big stimulus package is a vote for high unemployment, on purpose! Rep. Driehaus could not easily argue this because many forces in his own party opposed an effective second stimulus package.

In our two-party electoral system we need unity at the ballot box to win a people’s agenda. When it comes to mobilizing workers to vote, we in the labor movement need to work on using a stronger class-based toolkit that is effective, in a thoughtful way, in fighting back against the relentless attacks of the ultra-right. Democratic Rep. Driehaus spent too much of his campaign arguing that he could cut taxes on business “more responsibly” than his Republican opponent in order to create jobs. He missed the truth, that business tax cuts have a weak job creation record and opposition to a second stimulus is a vote for high unemployment.

In my experience, many workers respond well to carefully thought-out truthful analysis that reflects the class realities of their life more directly than Democratic Party rhetoric. This tough, thoughtful, class-based approach is often the only approach strong enough to beat the ultra-right. Let’s get our toolkit ready, take a little rest, then work for victory in 2012. It’s just up the road a-piece.

Photo: A couple votes in Ohio, Nov. 2. (AP/Amy Sancetta)