You may have heard that our center-right nation got enthusiastic, formed a grassroots movement called a tea party, and overwhelmingly voted in a more rightwing party, sending hordes of nasty socialists packing as a result of their overly progressive performance, meaning gridlock between the righteous Congress and the infidel president for the next two years. There are some problems with this story, beginning with the fact that it’s completely false.
Let’s get a little perspective. The Democrats have the White House, where almost all power sits now. The Democrats have the Senate, which they’ve chosen not to use for two years and can choose to use now if they toss out the filibuster rule. In fact they could do that this month and pass hundreds of bills that the House has passed this year that the Senate hasn’t acted on. Gridlock is nothing new, it will just look different with Republicans writing the House bills that the Senate ignores.
And there will be no gridlock on matters that the leaderships of the two parties agree on, including wars and military spending, scheduled to go up this year to 57 percent of every tax dollar, and including the basic approach toward Wall Street, corporations, and the rest of the plutocracy. On topics that were not part of the election debates, because both parties agree on them, the new Congress will mean full steam ahead. That means more war and less jobs. And that will mean anger and frustration and disengagement on all sides in two years.
Midterms almost always go against the party of whoever is president. Elections when the economy is bad do too. But something else happened here. There was a massive influx of corporate dollars into advertising and event-staging and PR and think-tanking, including the endless contributions of the corporate media’s “coverage” in between the advertisements. This money pushed a rightwing agenda, shaped the issues, and distorted the facts. Manipulative propaganda was tried and found effective. We are going to have to work at the state level and to amend the Constitution to end corporate personhood and the equating of money with speech.
And yet in the vast majority of districts, the elections were not a contest at all. Victory was guaranteed for the party of the incumbent. Why? Because 10 years ago the states drew their gerrymandered districts to benefit one or both of the big two parties and, despite demographic shifts, that work still weighs heavily on our republic. This year the districts will be redrawn, with many more Republican state legislatures and governors in place. This means that in elections to come (with a little mitigation in some states that have sought to restrict gerrymandering — as in Florida which passed amendments to that effect on Tuesday) virtually every House seat, especially in larger states, will be guaranteed to one of the two parties.
This requires three things. First, that we work for change at the state level, such as by compelling Jerry Brown not to veto single-payer healthcare. Second, that we impose serious restrictions on partisan gerrymandering in as many states as possible. Third, that we reconsider the purpose of primaries. As we have come to place our highest value on a party rather than on peace or justice or prosperity, we have come to think of primaries as betrayals. No thought could be more anti-democratic. And now more than ever primaries will be the primary place we can have any influence on our elections at all. And we can do so relatively easily since almost nobody votes in primaries. We should be running good candidates in primaries right now for 2012, primaries against incumbents and primaries for the nomination to challenge incumbents.
But what kind of candidates? Candidates too good to win in the general elections? No, there is no such thing. As Karen Dolan blogged about immediately after Tuesday’s elections, members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus — over 80 members — lost only 3 seats. The Cut-Spending-Except-For-Killing Blue Dogs had 54 members and lost 26 of them, and those 26 were their true believers. Congress members, including one or two real progressives, didn’t lose by being progressive but by being Democrats. Alan Grayson was defeated by the largest investment of corporate money in any House race, but the obedient corporatist Democrat in the next district over lost too. And this was despite the Democratic Party funding and supporting the Blue Dogs, leaving the progressives to raise their own money.
Tea Party candidates, in contrast to progressives, did not have a successful day on Tuesday. Their nominees’ craziness cost the Republican Party control of the Senate. Yet the whole corporate-funded smoke-and-mirrors “movement” of the Tea Party pushed the Republican Party as a whole to the right, in a way that no well-funded institution has pushed the Democrats to the left or even tried to. And this is the key lesson: pushing the Democrats to the left would save them from themselves.
If the current Congress and President had come in two years ago and ended the wars, exposed the war crimes, the lawless imprisonment, the torture, and the warrantless spying, and prosecuted the criminals, if they had tossed out the filibuster rule and given us Medicare for All, the right to organize in the workplace, and a massive jobs program in green energy, while taxing pollution, taxing estates, taxing investment income, taxing billionaires, and taxing corporations, but cutting taxes on working people even while guaranteeing them employment, halting foreclosures, and putting the banksters behind bars, which side of the aisle do you think the enthusiasm would have been on?
We need a movement organized around real solutions to the problems most Americans face, not mindless and racist soundbites. We need a force that can tell the predators to get their claws off our Social Security. It is a trust. It is not a pile of cash to be looted to fund wars. If it ever really runs low, then we can make people with large incomes pay in at the same rate as people with small ones. In fact, we can do that now.
We need a movement that can tell our representatives that we want jobs and expect the government to create them, and that we know we have to choose between that effort and the wars.
We need a movement that takes the opposite trajectory of the Tea Party. Rather than being created by major media, our movement will have to create major media. We will have to develop a coalition that can pool the funding to build the Anti-Fox. The money is there. We just waste it on advertisements that fund the corporate media.
Democrats.com, which is an activist group independent of the Democratic Party, has launched an effort to develop online in a collaborative process a program to advance a truly populist agenda. It’s called the Job Party, and I encourage you to go there and be one of the first to post your thoughts on the direction we need to take: http://JobParty.us