Another Great Midterm Election
The 2010 midterm elections were great from a GOP perspective and horrible for just about everyone else. The ones we just experienced were, in most respects, even worse. The 2010 elections left the GOP with a majority of seats in the US House of Representatives, including a vocal group of uncompromising Tea Party standard bearers and governor seats in the hands of several hardline conservatives backed by staunch GOP legislative majorities as well. After the heady days following passage of the Affordable Care Act and the Dodd-Frank financial reforms, these blows would make further progress on the Obama Administration’s policy agenda and the President’s re-election more problematic, to be sure.
The 2012 election was significantly different, as turnout was up for the Presidential contest. Republicans maintained their edge in the House and made gains in the Senate, but were unable to take control of that body, thanks in no small part to the nomination of extremist Tea Party candidates unable to gain sufficient support in their states’ general elections.
In the states where the GOP took control of legislatures and governorships in 2010, many proceeded to enact legislation that would give people a taste of what would be in store for the rest of us if they ever got that kind of power over the entire country. SCOTUS helped them out,by enabling states to opt out of the Medicaid expansion included in the Affordable Care Act. This alone has left millions of people uncovered by the provisions of the law that would make health insurance affordable for them. Harsh anti-choice legislation passed in several states that made reproductive choice and women’s health care much less accessible to those most in need of it, restricting abortion as well as other health services while forcing the closure of many clinics providing such services.
SCOTUS has also played a key role in this rightward swing. The Citizens United ruling and subsequent other rulings have opened up the floodgates of campaign finances to huge influence by wealthy donors, corporations and unaccountable sums of anonymously contributed dark money and Super Political Action Committees that can skirt all manner of campaign finance laws by campaigning for issues rather than being directly connected to individual candidates. Previous campaign finance laws have become meaningless in the absurd world where Corporations are to be treated as people and money as free speech not to be curtailed. Public funding of campaigns which had been in place for decades became a thing of the past. Barack Obama himself aided in that happening in 2008 when he decided not to accept public campaign funds so his campaign would also not be subject to certain spending limits.
Anti-labor laws have passed in some states, with new limits placed on public employee bargaining rights in Wisconsin and Right-to-Work legislation passing in Michigan, for example. Voter ID laws and other laws making voting more difficult, more expensive or both have also passed in many states. SCOTUS again played a key role here when it struck down key provisions of the Voting Rights Act. Some of these laws have been struck down in the Courts, others backed by them and still others remain in limbo. Congress, as has been its way since 2011. has chosen not to tackle legislation to regulate campaign finance or strengthen voting rights since these Supreme Court decisions were handed down.
For its part, the divided Congress has been under de facto control of the Republicans since they took the House after the 2010 elections. While not having a majority in the Senate, legislation and confirmation of administrative nominees has been stymied to the greatest degree ever by abuse of Senate rules (filibusters and holds) that make passage of anything with fewer than 60 votes almost impossible. Democrats haven’t had 60 senators since the 2010 election, either. Crossover votes were rare before the passage of the ACA and appear to have been extinguished ever since. A significant backlog exists in judicial appointment, ambassadorships ,regulatory bodies and just about any category of nomination requiring Senate confirmation. Lest some think these are trivial, consider the fact we have no ambassador to Russia during the current Ukraine crisis and no Surgeon General to deal with the ebola crisis. It took two years to fill the post of Director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and longer than that to fill vacancies in the NLRB that made it totally ineffectual.
Routine functioning of Congress, like passing a budget and paying bills, have become exercises in crisis management. A shutdown last year and a threat to default on the National Debt by failing to raise the debt limit are but two examples of Congressional refusal to perform satisfactorily under the current gridlock conditions. Budget cuts to key government agencies have curtailed safety net programs combatting poverty in all its forms while simultaneously maintaining giveaways to certain corporations and wealthy individuals and carrying on two ill-conceived wars have helped to contribute to an overall economic malaise that has persisted even throughout the purported recovery from the economic crisis that met Obama upon his election in 2008.
The fact that people are still suffering from the effects of that crisis even six years after its inception did not help Democrats in either midterm election. What puzzles many is why, when so much of the political disconnect and lack of progress in fixing these problems can be placed squarely at the feet of Republican governors and legislatures at the state level and obstructionist Republicans in Congress, Democrats have been unable to make inroads in subsequent elections. Tuesday was, if anything, even worse than November 2010 when it comes to the election of people to office at the state and national level who will work to meet the needs and solve the problems faced by everyday working people in this country.
Opinion polls showed many close races leading up to Tuesday’s voting. Most erred significantly in showing more support for Democrats than they ultimately received at the polls. Only one of the Tea Party class of conservative governors who sought re-election on Tuesday was actually defeated. Tom Wolf beat Tom Corbett in PA, but his popularity was so low just about anybody on the Democratic line would’ve beaten him. Other embattled governors, such as Brownback in KS, Walker in WI, Snyder in MI and Scott in FL all kept their jobs. Walker has won three elections in four years including a recall, despite his attacks on workers rights and horrible record on job creation.
Losing the Senate was easier to explain – most of the states incumbent Democrats lost in were red states which voted for Romney and/or McCain and have been predominantly Republican for decades. Losing the governor races in MA, MD and IL – heavily Democratic states – is tougher to understand. It is also difficult to understand why four red states voted in favor of increasing the minimum wage while simultaneously electing staunch opponents to high level state and federal government offices. Some states have the ability to pass referenda to affect such changes while others don’t. We have no similar method to affect change at the national level.
So why are people electing representatives and leaders who espouse positions that directly oppose their own stated interests? A big part of the answer is many of them don’t. I can’t explain why any individual would actually vote for a proposition and a candidate who opposed it, but public opinion polls are tricky. Many of the ideas and policies proposed by left-leaning politicians and even more moderate ones who seek to genuinely represent the majority of their constituents by improving their lives are backed by a large majority of the people eligible to vote.
So why do so many of the people who would benefit by electing people whose views match their refuse to vote for them by not voting at all? Voter suppression efforts may dissuade some of them, if they don’t make it entirely impossible for them to get vote. Some people I talked to here thought they needed an ID to vote. Two years ago, the state of PA passed a law requiring a picture ID to vote. The law was never enforced and subsequently lost a court battle and was ditched entirely. At the time of passage, the state spent a large amount of money advertising the need of the ID to vote. It never spent a cent retracting that information after the law was scrapped. Other states have other stories to tell in this regard, some of which have been published in the media.
I don’t think voter suppression is the main reason why so many people are refusing to vote, however. It may be why some close races are won or lost, but isn’t enough to explain why our government at almost every level has come to represent moneyed interests and corporations more than ordinary citizens with each passing election. Many seem to be losing faith that voting will ever positively affect how government treats them. In 2008, Democrats swept to large majorities in the House and Senate and Barack Obama was elected by a huge margin. Since then, Health Care Reform has passed, the economy has somewhat stabilized (mostly for the benefit of the top 1%) and two wars have been ebbing and flowing at decreased cost to the US (for now).
What has not changed, for the vast majority of people in this country, is their standard of living. Millions of people who did not have health care a few years ago now have it – but they have no assurance that they will have it next year, because either the government will take it away legislatively or SCOTUS will quash it like a bug. There are way too many people in both of our major parties – the ones who rule – willing to play political games with other peoples’ lives and livelihoods in order to maintain their positions of power or wealth. The rest of, the ones they are supposed to be leading, are being ruled instead of led. What good does it do to vote into office people who say they will take action to improve our lives when they end up delivering nothing but excuses for not producing those results?
President Obama has made some excellent populist and progressive State of the Union and other speeches. So have many of the progressive members of Congress and leaders on state and local levels. People who are hurting now need to be helped now, not in some distant future when it’s more convenient. We need more leaders and fewer rulers in our government. Our society needs to become more equal economically, politically and in terms of opportunity. That won’t happen as long as our politicians are more concerned with raising money to campaign to keep their jobs than they are in doing those jobs. We have term limits for President and many states have them for their governors. Maybe we need them for legislators and judges as well. They might become more interested in swimming than treading water like they are now.
We definitely need to do something about the current campaign finance system. I have never given a monetary contribution to a political campaign in my life and doubt if I ever will. That doesn’t prevent me from campaigning for people and causes I believe in. In the course of this campaign, I was receiving 50-100 emails a day begging me for money – none of them from any candidates who appeared on my ballot on election day. The current system seems to be setup so that an enormous amount of time, energy and money is spent raising more money, and very little effort is expended discussing real issues. Probably half the money that does discuss the issues is used to misinform people rather than to honestly inform them. I know the media love all this money they get during political campaigns to spew nonsense over the airwaves, but I think we could use a little more honesty from our politicians, both when they are asking for our votes and when they are serving the public after being elected. The public needs to include all of us, not just a privileged few.
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