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The Turning Point

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Posted on Feb 22, 2007

Steve Fraser

(Page 2)

The Beginning of the End?

Despite serious doubts about the deeper significance of the 2006 election, there is, in fact, a good case to be made that it may turn out to be one of those rare turning points, or at least a signal that one is looming on the near horizon. 

To begin with, polls indicate that the election represented an explicit repudiation of the Republican Party as a party; at least, as explicit as one could possibly expect in a midterm election.  Try as they did to argue beforehand that all elections are local, Republican leaders knew that not to be the case, not this time; indeed, that’s precisely why they traipsed around the country vociferously denying what they deeply feared was true. 

Under normal circumstances and by its very nature, in the American electoral system—monopolized by two amorphously constituted parties of little distinct ideological or programmatic identity, and with its multiple disincentives to any kind of independent party representation—it is usually excruciatingly hard to register voter sentiment on behalf of a party rather than a candidate.  But the election of 2006 was not normal in this regard.  There are indications that significant numbers of Americans voted against the Republican Party and, with less enthusiasm to be sure, for the Democratic Party.

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Perhaps most tellingly, in numerous races moderate Republicans, who remained quite popular with their constituents and had enjoyed long tenure in office—the best known case is Lincoln Chafee in Rhode Island—succumbed to Democrats who were often no more to the “left” than they were.  Notwithstanding the inherent fuzziness of what either of the parties stands for, voters seemed ready to conclude that the Republican Party and the administration of George Bush could be fairly associated with the disaster in Iraq, the shameful incompetence and callousness of the response to Hurricane Katrina, the rank and systemic corruption associated with lobbyist Jack Abramoff, and the crony capitalism of the oil companies and Halliburton.  Voting for the Democratic Party was a way of repudiating all that, even if any particular Republican candidate might be blameless. 

Then, there is the matter of the “Blue Dogs.”  It turns out that rumors of their ascendancy were not so much exaggerated as mischaracterized.  True enough, Senate candidates like William Casey in Pennsylvania and James Webb in Virginia were well-known supporters of such social conservative causes as gun ownership or the “right to life.”  But these were hardly the issues they ran on.  On the contrary, the campaigns of Webb and Casey, not to mention Sherrod Brown’s Senate campaign in Ohio and those of many fellow “Blue Dogs” running for House seats, stressed opposition to the war in Iraq and anger directed at big pharma, big oil, tax breaks for the rich, and free-trade globalization agreements like NAFTA.

Far more often than not, economic populism, not social conservatism, is what lent the Democrats, and in particular the Blue Dogs, an edge.  This same sentiment could be felt, both before and immediately after the election, in the overwhelming support for a quick congressional move to raise the minimum wage and to empower Medicare to lower prescription drug prices by bargaining with the big pharmaceuticals.  Even more remarkable, given the perilous state of the labor movement, is the emergence of a House majority in favor of the Employee Free Choice Act, a bill that would make it easier for millions of workers to join unions, a development critical to shifting the balance of political and economic power. 

It would be premature to speak of a fully formed populist/New Deal-like alternative within the Democratic Party or to suggest that people were voting for such a possibility in 2006.  Nonetheless, when the Democratic leadership anointed its opening agenda as the new governing party in Congress with the resonant phrase “the first 100 hours,” echoing FDR’s first 100 days, there was nothing accidental about it.

So, too, certain demographic and geopolitical trends that showed up in 2006 are suggestive of changes to come.  The Latino vote, which in the 2004 presidential election was relatively evenly divided between George Bush and John Kerry, went a whopping 70 percent for the Democrats this time.  And that wasn’t even the biggest percentage shift in voting behavior from the 2004 election in favor of the Democrats.  That took place among white, non-college-educated working people who, for some time, have made up the core of the conservative populist constituency of the Reagan counterrevolution.  Although all the numbers are not yet in, estimates suggest that about one-half of the shift toward the Democrats came from white working-class voters.

Regionally, the Democratic Party made significant gains in the Rocky Mountain West, while clearing away the remnant outposts of Republicanism in much of the Northeast and driving Republicans from Rustbelt outposts in Ohio and Missouri.  The logic of that trend—which doesn’t, of course, mean that it will be realized—is to regionalize the Republican Party in the South.  In this way, the southernization of national politics, which was the great accomplishment of the Reagan political order, might be replaced by the southernization of the Republican Party. 

Even the early talk about presidential candidates seems portentous.  On the Democratic side there is no one to the right of Hillary Clinton, certainly a sign of a shift in the party’s center of gravity.  But odder than that is the candidacy of Barack Obama.  It seems to signal a thirst for a messiah.  Such a quest can be symptomatic of many things, some bad, some not as bad. 

Obamaism is a real mystery.  Others have already noted that messiahs don’t normally come from the middle as he most emphatically does.  Moreover, the charisma that surrounds the prince of banality from Illinois is even harder to decipher, attached as it is to nothing tangible or providential as was Robert Kennedy’s lightning 1968 ascension before his assassination, his candidacy held aloft, rightly or wrongly, by the energies of the antiwar and civil rights upheavals. 

Something—though it’s hard to tell what—may be blowin’ in the wind. 

 


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By R. Palyu, February 25, 2007 at 5:39 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

It is reassuring to see intelligent insightful
comments here.

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By Kol Klink, February 24, 2007 at 6:58 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Tao Walker understands the nature of the real problems that face all humanity, not just America.

I believe that our consumer culture which has proped up our consumer economy and was instigated by slick ad men and tv has sent the developed and developing countries past the tipping point economically, politically and ecologically.

What happens to a consumer economy when the consumers have no more fiat money to spend? Americans now have the lowest savings rate since the depths of the great depression. Many have multiple mortgages on their homes and polls have shown that most of the money extracted from homes was spent not on luxury item but on food, taxes, insurance, and medical care. Many are now in danger of losing their homes.

If this were not bad enough we are embroiled in a couple of resource wars in the mid east and are threatening to start another.

I have heard it said by ‘experts’ that if we lose our authority in the mid east that we will become a second rate power. I would rather be a citizen of a second rate power that I am proud of than a consumer of a first rate power that I feel ashamed of because of the crimes it commits in my name.

Perhaps an economic meltdown is just what the doctor ordered! We could rid ourselves of the military/industrial monkey on our backs and begin rebuilding a country that we can be proud of. The America we had but lost while we were shopping for the latest model widget. Capitalisim with a safety net works very well for many developed democracies as long as they dont spend their gdps on war junk and unending pork barrel projects.

If we spent half of our annual defense budget on American infrastructure all Americans would have access to a job that paid a living wage. We could have high speed rail for commuters and freight, real education for all, real health care for all, a FEMA that worked, and on and on. We would still have the worlds largest military but perhaps one not large enough to arbitrarily attack anyone that the moron de jour fancied.

If we work very hard and very fast we may be able to accomplish our tasks before global warming sets off the next round of resource wars…they will be about water.

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By Carl Baydala, February 23, 2007 at 10:23 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

The author eagerly wants some kind of change to occur and is looking for clues. Perhaps he should hire George Bush and Co. as they are adept at finding things that others cannot.

What is needed in the society is some kind of revolution.  The Reagan Doctrine has simply gone on too long without being challenged in terms of its credibility. Changes should have already occurred, but they have not. The lobbyists and the media perhaps are too effective and block needed change by their methods.

The society has changed, I think,  and not for the better. Globalization and right wing policies have not been kind to the lower and middle classes.  The country accumulates more debt all the time and this is a taxpayer burden. Paying for ‘unnecessary’ war is a cruel burden to inflict on present and future generations, particularly when the main beneficiaries are the bankers and the idustrial classes.

A real revolution is most likely going to be required once the imbalances become so great between the classes. The changes the author is looking for comes when the working classes finally realize what has happened to them.  An honest media would have given them some clues by now.

This revolution is going to be required because even the politicians who are supposed to be representing the interests of ‘working people’ think like the Reagan types; they support war.

In geopolitical terms, the war is understandable, but it is not sold properly to the American public. Most likely, people like Hillary Clinton understand the real reasons for war in the Middle East and why it must continue. The problem with the whole business is of course is that the average person has to pay for it, while others benefit. And, in the process of keeping the war going the national debt spirals out of control.  It cannot go on forever. When the managers (politicians) fail to keep all of the pieces moving together and the agenda intact, then you may have your revolution.

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By Hondo, February 23, 2007 at 6:55 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I agree with Kathlyn. This was an amzingly thoughtful, insightful article that all Americans should read.

As a Christian conservative myself, I can tell you that I believe that the 2006 election was just the beginning of a tipping point. The GOP lost touch with the conservative base that sent them to Washington. They engaged in the same kind of chicanery that conservatives always expected of Democrats. Government spending spiralled out of control, as did the expansion of federal domestic programs. We saw corruption creep into the GOP congressional leadership that was a result of that leadership taking their base for granted. Outside the Beltway, where real people live, dissatisfaction was as high as I have ever seen it for the majority party, and so they were sent packing.

2008 is a vitally important election. If the GOP, from top to bottom, goes back to the basics of principled Reagan conservatism, then the voters will reward them. If they don’t, American conservatives will band together and find third party candidates to support. In the short term, that will mean big victories for the Democrats. In the long term? That depends upon how educable the GOP is!

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By Kathlyn, February 23, 2007 at 2:30 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

This is the most worthwhile and mind-stretching article I have read in a long time.  I hope it will be widely distributed to leading newspapers and journalists.

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By Rosemary Molloy, February 23, 2007 at 5:58 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

What do you mean, there’s nothing tangible about Obama?  He’s anti-Iraq war and that’s all I need to know.  Every other issue is far behind in importance for me and for, I believe, millions of other voters.  The Democrats in Congress can’t seem to grasp this—they’re craven cowards—but how is it “pundits” like you don’t, either?

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By TAO Walker, February 23, 2007 at 1:46 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Steve Fraser certainly poses a number of compelling questions here.  One he doesn’t, though, is whether the tectonic disturbances he describes in the U.S. socio/political system are themselves merely symptomatic of far larger forces promising (or threatening, if one is ruled by fear) to bring about the collapse and disintegration of this “global” civilization itself.  Yet everything he cites as potentially overturning “the old order” in America is also present worldwide….and magnified proportionately.

It seems peculiarly American, however (to this old Indian who has made a long and close study of the breed), to speculate about possible changes in the seating arrangements in the U.S.S. Corsair-of-state’s officers mess while a perfect storm (of chronic partly self-inflicted stupefaction among the domesticated peoples combining with monumental malfeasance among their ruling classes colliding with ecological blowback some are characterizing as “biblical” in scope) is already well-into its certain-to-be massively consequential sweep across the entire civilized world.  In the midst of it all even Americans (who are deservedly noted for their collossal self-centrism) might not really notice the break-up and sinking of their own mostly-make-believe-anyway paper canoe.

Another critical question nobody is asking is this.  What, exactly, is the organic function of humanity within the living body of the Earth?  There is an equally vital follow-up.  What is the organic form of humanity which gives us the integrity necessary to the fulfillment of our given function here?

These are not “trick” questions.  They have specific answers.  Anyone who doesn’t know the answers should maybe refrain from offering to “lead” anyone else through the cleansing cataclysm that is already upon us. 

Those who do know the answers know also that the no-win game of follow-the-leader is just another lethal exercise in F-U-tility.  The way through this “eye-of-the-needle” resides exclusively in our free wild human nature, not in pretending to be sheep to some media-made shepherd/messiah.

It’s okay, for those whose own human development has been artificially arrested, to look to any grown-up Two-leggeds around for examples of beneficially effective ways to respond to these necessarily trying conditions.  Better get away quick, though, from anyone who wants to tell you what to do….and even quicker from anyone who tries to make you do it.

This is not a test, brothers and sisters.  THIS IS THE ACTUAL EMERGENCY!!!!

HokaHey!

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By Bert, February 22, 2007 at 11:36 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I think the federal budget needs to be permanently reduced by about 40%, the national debt reduced and eliminated over the next 5-8 years and they need to do a lot better vetting for candidates for public office, public oversight of any and all federal spending needs to be much-improved, and hearing need to continue to be held regarding the entire Iraq ‘business’, as well as various and sundry other governmental goings-on. When the cat’s away, the mice will play, and vice-versa. Ding, ding. And, the same concept needs to be carried into corporate-land and banking as well.

The democrats currently run our Congress, for the most part, and Congress has the responsibility for fiscal oversight, as well as the authority to
regulate any spending that takes place on behalf of The People. Ergo, the task of cleaning up after the GOP falls to the Democrats. They’ve got 2 choices, and one of them is to go along with the powers-that-be, and the other is to start holding various bodies and persons to public account, and implementing necessary reforms so as to prevent wholesale and systemic defrauding of the public. That sounds like a real bitch of a job to me…but, that’s what they were hired to do, and if they don’t get it done, next election they’ll find themselves ‘outsourced’ to those more willing to get in and do it. Mark Twain said it best: Politicians, like diapers, need frequent changing, and for similar reasons…

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