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Midterm Exam 

I really wanted to light an optimistic candle in the gloomy darkness of the midterm election predictions. In case you haven’t been watching TV, listening to radio, or reading a newspaper, they are that the Democrats will lose the House—30 seats will do the trick—and barely hang on to a two-seat majority in the Senate.

I wanted to tell you that the Democrats still have a chance to turn it around.

The Republicans have been busy attacking for a year and a half. Flummoxed during the presidential campaign about how to deal with Obama’s color, they’ve finally come up with new code words to embody their rage at having a black president.

Now that the primaries are over and it’s campaign season for real, the Democrats who have been struggling to govern can enter the fray and make their case.

Besides, congressional and senatorial elections are not national. House seats, in particular, are local, and Senate campaigns are, often, about the specific candidates defying party affiliation. Many of the Republican senatorial candidates are loons. They are against social security, unemployment insurance, direct election of senators, and abortion. They are for more tax cuts, less regulation, and more power, more rights, and less accountability for corporations.

Furthermore, it’s who does the best job getting out the vote that wins in swing states.
But the more I looked at the data—Gallup, Intrade, Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball, Real Clear Politics, Rasmussen, Cook, Electoral Vote, the Swing State Project—the more set in stone a Republican rout looks.

Here’s the basic problem: An excessive probusiness ideology got us in the economic and political mess we’re in. We were headed for a crash like 1929 and a new Great Depression. Republicans, joined by Democrats, stepped in to save the banks and the markets. Then the Obama Administration cushioned the fall. Saving, among other things, General Motors and Chrysler and all the businesses that supply and depend on them.

Those are good things. A total collapse of the banking system and 33 percent unemployment are the kinds of events best avoided.

However, it meant that there was no clear ideological break. The certainties that business does everything better, government does everything worse, and less regulation and lower taxes pave the path to paradise, may have staggered for a moment, but never went down. There are plenty of Republicans out there who are happy to say that the real failure was the government’s. We would have been better off if we’d let the banks and General Motors fail.

From a leftist ideological perspective, they’re quite right. Provided the timing had worked. If there had been no bailout, no industrial rescue, no Democratic stimulus package, and the full crash had come with Republicans at the helm. Then with people selling Apples on the street—their iPods and iPads this time, for pennies on the dollar—a new view of capitalism would have emerged. Not that it’s bad, but that, like our children, it has serious flaws that need education, discipline, correction, and supervision by adults.

Obama walked into this muddled, crash-coulda-happened world. He had a muddled let’s-work-with-big-business-and-their-political-stooges (the Republicans) nonideology. He thought reason and cooperation would promote sound and sensible solutions.

What he got instead was resolute resistance. The Republicans united to make his every initiative fail, insofar at they could. If the results of the mid-terms are as predicted, then that will turn out to have been a successful political strategy.

What he needed was a clear, clarion-call ideology that declared: “Capitalism is good for making consumer goods and some people rich. It cares nothing for America, or the American people, except by accident. Government is good for making us healthy and strong; for providing justice and building a place where hard work can make you rich and misfortune won’t destroy you.”

I don’t think the failures were Obama’s. They rest on the fact that the crash didn’t happen, the system did not quite break, and the neo-free market ideologies were not replaced. Nonetheless, as a result, his solutions had far too much input from big money and too many compromises. So they were half-assed. And what was good about them was undersold or wrongly sold.

In fact, in the real world, we are far better off for his halfway solution and his compromises than we would have been without them. Muddling through is less painful than collapse. He saved the automobile industry. And face it, a country without its own automobile industry is a third world country.

Obama also passed a health-care package to cover the 40 million uninsured. Unfortunately, the Democrats sold it on “fairness.” “Fairness” is a dirty word in Tea Party America. It’s code for “transfer of wealth,” which means taking money from hard-working white people and giving it to dark people driving welfare Cadillacs and illegal darkish immigrants who have come here to use our emergency rooms and drop anchor babies.

The only way to get health care reform passed was to bring some of the corporate bloodsuckers into the tent. So it got done in a hodgepodge, over-complicated, back-room way. As a campaign issue, it’s easier to be against it than call it a triumph.

Obama passed a major stimulus package. Unfortunately, due to our ideological dysfunctions, too much of it is in tax cuts. Which don’t work. But a lot of it is in infrastructure, which has just begun to kick in. He is trying to address the fact that we have become a consumption economy, spending more than we produce.

There is absolutely no reason, no incentive, and no likelihood that businesses or business interests will change that. Many businesspeople may feel patriotic in their hearts. They may hang flags on poles and wear them on their lapels. They may hate the president for not being American enough. They may cheer the troops. But no businessperson or manager will keep their factories here or hire American workers if they can get the job done cheaper in Cambodia.

Only government can change that direction.

Things are far from perfect. But they’re far better than they would have been under McCain/Palin and Republicans in control of the legislature, committed to destroying government—except for the military-industrial complex and a legal system that favors wealth and corporations.

So even though it’s hopeless, and every poll says they’re going to win, light a candle, or a flashlight, send 10 bucks to someone good, and work a few hours on a phone bank.

click to enlarge DION OGUST
  • Dion Ogust

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  • Larry Beinhart discusses the Democrats chances in the midterm elections.


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