The myths they’ll spin about Election 2010

November 1, 2010

On the surface, Election Day 2010 couldn't be more different from Election Day 2008. Two years ago, Barack Obama was coasting to victory on a wave of enthusiasm encapsulated in his campaign slogan "Yes we can." The Democrats won big in congressional elections, achieving the biggest majorities in both houses than either party has had in a generation. This year, the Republicans are the ones who will win big, and the furthest-right reaches of their party are setting the national agenda.

The media's conventional wisdom is that this about-face represents a rightward shift in the U.S. We're told that millions of people who were willing to give Obama a chance two years ago are rejecting the Democrats' radical "big government" policies and embracing the conservative message of the Tea Party movement and the Republican candidates who speak for it.

But the reality is very different. Here,'s Lance Selfa and Alan Maass examine a few of the factors in Election 2010 and what they tell us about U.S. politics--inside the Beltway and outside it.

The enthusiasm chasm

THE MEDIA'S portrait of America shifting to the right doesn't stand up to scrutiny. It simply isn't the case that most people who voted for Obama--or even a significant minority of them--are going to vote Republican instead in 2010.

The reality is that supporters of Obama and the Democrats were energized and enthusiastic to turn out in 2008, while loyal Republicans were demoralized. This year, the tables are turned--it's the Democratic Party's "base" voters who are more likely to stay home on Election Day.

This is what commentators are talking about when they say that Republicans hold a substantial "enthusiasm gap" over Democrats. In poll after poll, it's clear that conservatives and Republicans are much more fired up about voting in the 2010 midterms.

So the electorate that's likely to turn out on Election Day will over-represent people who voted for John McCain and Republicans in 2008--and under-represent the majority who voted for Obama and the Democrats.

A CNN/Time magazine survey published a week before the election showed this dynamic starkly--in a number of races, including campaigns for U.S. Senate in Colorado, Nevada and Pennsylvania, a majority of the overall registered voters preferred the Democratic candidate, while "likely" voters preferred the Republican.

CNN coverage of Election 2010
CNN coverage of Election 2010

Some of this is "structural." Midterm elections always draw out a smaller electorate than a presidential election. The midterm electorate is disproportionately composed of wealthier, older and whiter voters--in essence, those more likely to vote Republican than Democratic.

But this tells only part of the story. It stands to reason that if groups in the Democratic base felt they had something to vote for, the Democratic Party wouldn't be having such a hard time firing them up or turning them out.

For one thing, large numbers of ideological liberals are deeply frustrated with the Obama administration and its reversals on any number of campaign promises, from closing the U.S. prison camp at Guantánamo to supporting a "public option" to private insurance in health care legislation.

Beyond this, the Democratic base is also demoralized because it's bearing the brunt of the recession.

A Project Vote study that compared self-identified Tea Party sympathizers with low-income, minority and female supporters of Barack Obama in 2008 found that two-thirds of Tea Partiers had incomes above the national median, and three-quarters reported being in good financial shape. By contrast, 60 percent of African Americans and nearly one-half of young voters had incomes below the national median.

These Obama voters aren't obsessed with the federal deficit and "out of the control" spending, as the Tea Parties are. They're disappointed because they think the federal government hasn't done enough to create jobs and to stimulate the economy.

And it isn't just low income and young voters who feel this way. Patricia Elizondo, president of a Milwaukee International Association of Machinists local, told the New York Times that the union was having trouble motivating its members to get out the vote for the Democrats.

"People have been unemployed for two years, and they're unhappy that the health care bill was not as good as they expected," Elizondo said. "Two years ago, I had many members going door-to-door to campaign. Now they're saying, 'Why should I? We supported that candidate, but he didn't follow through.'"

Anyone to vote for?

FOR WEEKS, Democrats, from the White House on down, have been sounding the alarm about the Tea Party hordes preparing to descend on Washington after the election.

There's no doubt that the Republicans and their Tea Party supporters are a scary bunch. But have the Democrats running for reelection in Congress done anything that makes them worth voting for?

Apparently, many Democrats themselves don't think so. One of the most telling features of Election 2010 has been how little Democratic candidates have done to tout their achievements in power, such as they are.

Even Obama has taken to hectoring his supporters. In an interview with Rolling Stone, Obama set up his alibi for Democratic disaster on November 2: "The idea that we've got a lack of enthusiasm in the Democratic base, that people are sitting on their hands complaining, is just irresponsible...[I]f people now want to take their ball and go home, that tells me folks weren't serious in the first place."

But there's nothing irresponsible or unserious about drawing the logical conclusion that politicians who don't keep their promises don't deserve support.

Obama began his term with sky-high approval ratings and big Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress. Yet the Democrats proceeded to squander that support because they failed to take the bold actions--like a national jobs program or a moratorium on foreclosures--that would have begun to address the economic crisis facing millions.

Instead, the administration became the face of the Wall Street bailout that the Bush administration enacted. Within Obama's first year, the Wall Street banks were back to making record profits, but unemployment was still climbing.

Even the Democrats' signature achievement of the past two years--the passage of a massive health care bill--was so hedged with concessions to the pharmaceutical, hospital and insurance industries that its costs may outweigh its benefits. About one in five people who tell pollsters they "oppose" Obama's health care reform say they think the law didn't go far enough.

As's Glenn Greenwald summarized:

The country is drowning in a severe and worsening unemployment crisis. People are losing their homes by the millions. Income inequality continues to explode while the last vestiges of middle class security continue to erode. The Obama civil liberties record has been nothing short of a disgrace, usually equaling and sometimes surpassing the worst of the Bush/Cheney abuses. We have to stand by and watch the Commander-in-Chief fire one gay service member after the next for their sexual orientation. The major bills touted by Obama supporters were the by-product of the very corporatist/lobbyist dominance which Obama the candidate repeatedly railed against.

Rather than take responsibility for any of this, they instead dismiss criticisms and objections as petulant, childish, "irresponsible whining"--signaling rather clearly that they think they're doing the right thing, and that these criticisms are fundamentally unfair.

All the Democrats have left is the argument that they represent a "lesser evil" to the Republicans. But even that isn't good enough for a lot of supporters who have heard it all before.

In 2006, voters swept the Democrats into the majority in Congress as an expression of their discontent and opposition to the U.S. war in Iraq. Yet a few months later, the Democratic majorities in Congress handed $120 billion to George W. Bush to continue the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

At the time, antiwar activists met with Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.) to voice their frustration with the cave-in. For years, the Democrats had said they were powerless to do anything about the unpopular war because the Republicans were in charge in Congress. Now the Democrats had the majority, the activists argued to Moran.

Moran responded: "I know that, but in all fairness, until we get a Democratic president, until we get a president who is committed to ending the war..."

We know how that turned out.

Race to the bottom in Nevada

THERE HAVE been a lot of low points in Election 2010, but surely the lowest of the low is the campaign for U.S. senator in Nevada, where the leading Democrat in the Senate, Harry Reid, is pitted against one of the vilest Tea Partiers, Sharron Angle.

Angle won the GOP primary to run against Reid thanks to support from the fixtures of the hard-line conservative establishment, from the anti-tax maniacs of the Club for Growth to the most of the factions of the Tea Party movement.

It's no wonder when you look at her record. Angle thinks the Department of Education should be abolished and the U.S. should pull out of the United Nations. She opposes a woman's right to abortion, even in cases of rape or incest. She supports privatization of Medicare, and believes the Social Security System should be "transitioned out." She doesn't "buy into the whole man-caused global warming, man-caused climate change mantra of the left."

Oh yeah, and she thinks unemployment insurance is a big scam. "You can make more money on unemployment than you can going down and getting one of those jobs that is an honest job, but it doesn't pay as much," Angle said in a television interview. "We've put in so much entitlement into our government that we really have spoiled our citizenry."

Among Angle's contributions to Election 2010 is one of the most grotesque ads of the season--a TV commercial called "The Wave" that depicts, in grainy black and white footage, hordes of immigrants coming across the border to join street gangs and commit violence against terrified Nevada families, every last one of which is white. A sinister voiceover claims that Reid is on "their" side, not "yours."

Only a truly useless Democratic candidate could lose to this disgusting bigot, but Harry Reid fits the bill.

He's spent 24 years in the Senate as the ultimate insider, cutting the deals that abandoned any substance in Democratic proposals at the least sign of opposition from Republicans.

Republicans criticize Reid for being too liberal, but they're as wrong about that as anything else. The "liberal" Reid is a staunch opponent of abortion rights who thinks Roe v. Wade should be overturned. He voted in support of George Bush Sr.'s assault on Iraq in 1991, and repeated the mistake in 2003 when Bush Jr. tried to finish the job. Reid was one of many Democrats who contributed to the climate of Islamophobia by criticizing plans to build an Islamic cultural center in lower Manhattan.

But voters do have an option in Nevada. State law allows them to cast a ballot for "None of These Candidates." Here's hoping none of the above wins the day in Nevada.

Putting the evil in lesser evilism

THE REPUBLICANS are likely to make gains even in Democratic strongholds like Illinois, but New York looks like it will be an exception, at least in statewide offices. Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillebrand are coasting to easy reelection to the U.S. Senate, and state Attorney General Andrew Cuomo will almost certainly be the next governor.

Any chance that the governor's race would be close evaporated last month when Carl Paladino, the Tea Party-backed Republican candidate, started spewing anti-gay venom--when, that is, he wasn't repeatedly threatening to take a baseball bat to leaders of the State Assembly.

So with victory all but assured, what was Cuomo's focus in the final weeks of the campaign? Maybe a bold pledge to make the Wall Street banksters help pay for the state's yawning budget deficit by enforcing the existing transfer tax on stock transactions? Or at least a promise to be a voice of opposition as Republicans push ahead with their proposals to slash government spending at every level?

Guess again. Cuomo used the final days of his campaign to promise, in the words of the New York Times, a "permanent 
political campaign to counter the well-financed labor unions he believes have bullied previous governors and lawmakers into making bad decisions. He will seek to transform the state's weak business lobby into a more formidable ally, believing that corporate leaders in New York have virtually surrendered the field to big labor."

As Cuomo told the Times, "We've seen the same play run for 10 years. The governor announces the budget, unions come together, put $10 
million in a bank account, run television ads against the governor. The governor's popularity drops; the governor's knees weaken; the governor falls to one knee, collapses, makes a deal."

Would Republican union-haters like Newt Gingrich, John Boehner, Michael Bloomberg or Arnold Schwarzenegger put it any differently?

As socialists have long warned, the problem with voting for the Democrats as the "lesser evil" is that you usually end up with both the lesser and the greater evil. The difference in this case is that Andrew Cuomo is promising as much before the election.

Democracy for sale

AS THE Democrats cast around for a theme to help them stave off the Republican tide, they increasingly focused on the millions of dollars in secret contributions flowing through innocuously named organizations financing attack ads against incumbents.

Barack Obama and other Democrats even blasted the U.S. Chamber of Commerce for using "foreign money"--money raised from non-U.S.-based corporations--to intervene in the campaign.

As a result of the U.S. Supreme Court's Citizens United decision earlier this year, the ability of corporations and the wealthy to spend unlimited amounts of cash--much of it channeled through non-profit political action committees (PACs) that allow their wealthy donors to hide their identities--has never been easier. A week before Election Day, spending from these PACs had already exceeded the amount such groups spent in the 2004 presidential and congressional elections combined.

U.S. elections have always been financed by a system of legalized bribery, but it's more brazen in the post-Citizens United era--nearly as openly plutocratic as it was in the Gilded Age of the 19th century, when the robber barons handed out bags of money to representatives.

But while the Democrats decried the role of special interests in the election, they're hardly the ones to talk. Going into the last month of the campaign, Democratic candidates maintained a substantial cash advantage over Republicans in the 92 most competitive House races, according to an analysis by the Center for Responsive Politics.

What's more, Citizens United also allowed unions to spent unlimited amounts of money, the vast majority of which finances Democrats. So the Wall Street Journal was delighted to report that a last-minute contribution to the Democrats from the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) actually made AFSCME--not the Chamber of Commerce--the largest contributor to the 2010 election cycle.

"We're the big dog," AFSCME's Larry Scanlon told the Journal. But this big dog has its tail between its legs. After threatening for months to punish Democrats who opposed union priorities like the Employee Free Choice Act and the "public option" in health care legislation, AFSCME is backing conservative Democratic incumbents like Ohio's Zack Space who opposed labor's agenda.

"We know he has been bad on the issues, but the point is, if you don't elect the Zack Spaces of the world, then you end up with Speaker Boehner," said Scanlon. Unfortunately for working people, the sums of money that unions throw away on Corporate America's second favorite party take away from organizing or mobilizing to win more jobs.

And we're still going to end up with Speaker Boehner.

Democrats get out the vote for...Republicans

THE BIG scandal in the final days of the campaign was the report that former President Bill Clinton asked the Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate from Florida to drop out of the race so that a moderate Republican running as an independent would have a better chance at beating a hard-line conservative.

Republican Gov. Charlie Crist was defeated for the party nomination for senator when Tea Party kingmakers like South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint determined that Crist wasn't ideologically pure enough. Crist decided to run an independent campaign for the seat, but the Tea Partiers' choice, Marco Rubio, has been ahead in the polls by a comfortable margin.

The Democrats' candidate, Rep. Kendrick Meek, was certain to be a distant third to the two feuding Republicans. Both Meek and Clinton swear that no one specifically asked Meek to drop out, but as The Atlantic's Marc Ambinder points out, "the worst-kept secret in Florida politics" was that the Democratic establishment, including the Obama White House, wanted Meek out.

Rubio is a poster child for the Christian Right--but that doesn't mean Crist is that much better. The candidate the Democratic Party leadership wants to win in Florida is a well-known law-and-order fanatic who supports bans on same-sex marriage and the right of LGBT people to adopt.

This case of strange bedfellows isn't unique. In Rhode Island, Obama is refusing to endorse the Democrats' candidate for governor in order to promote the independent campaign of one-time Republican Lincoln Chafee.

Less talked-about is an even sleazier maneuver by the Democrats--support for far-right independent candidates in the hopes that they will siphon votes from the official Republican candidate.

For example, in California's 45th congressional district, the Democratic opponent of Republican Rep. Mary Bono Mack paid for robo-calls in support of Bill Lussenheide, the candidate of the anti-immigrant, anti-abortion, anti-"big government" American Independent Party.

If this sounds familiar to readers of, it's because you're remembering the Democrats' furious denunciations of some Green Party candidates in 2004 who got help from Republican operatives in getting on the ballot--over the relentless opposition of those lovers of democracy, the Democratic Party. The Democrats couldn't express their outrage strongly enough back then.

Now the shoe's on the other foot, and it's a different matter.

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