Monday, November 08, 2010

Now then…

There’s an advantage in not being able to comment on the recent US elections until now: I’ve been able to see how others have reacted. Blogs and mainstream news sources have left me amused or bemused, and sometimes downright exasperated, as they wrap these elections in their own brand of spin. Now, it’s my turn.

This is one of those times when my views don’t mesh with either the right or the left: I don’t think this election was an utter disaster or the dawn of a new age of evil, nor can I see any evidence of some sort of magic shift to the right among US voters. Both sides are so far off base that I think their positions are for fundraising and organising.

2010 was—absolutely—a bad year for Democrats, no question about it. But if you want to talk bad years, it’d be hard to get past 1980 and Reagan’s landslide. That election brought some truly evil people into Congress and gave birth to the radical right christianist movement that now controls the Republican Party. It ushered in eight years of almost unrelenting culture wars against the centre and left. THAT was a bad election.

So, too, was 1994 because it stopped any progress by the Clinton White House and jerked it sharply right. 2004 was a bad election because by then we knew how truly awful the Bush/Cheney regime was, and yet they and their cronies got back into power, anyway.

This election also isn’t as bad as claimed because most of the truly crazy Republicans were defeated. Also, the elected Republicans may turn out to be their own worst enemies: The new Republican caucus in the US House is roughly half newbies, which is unusual, and among them are many aggressively extreme rightwingers. This makes the new caucus not just even more rightwing than the current one, it’ll pose huge problems for Republican leaders: These aggressive new folks may not be as easily corralled as the old guard. If so, it could mean that internal fighting may become as much an image of this Republican caucus as it’s unwillingness to work with Democrats will be.

The right is wrong about the nature of the election: If it really showed the country veering right, there’d be evidence of that, but it simply isn’t there. For example, exit polls revealed that most voters wanted money spent to grow the economy and create jobs—cutting the deficit was NOT their top priority, unlike for Republicans.

In the current US House, there are 54 members in the Blue Dog Coalition of conservative Democrats. They suffered heavy losses in the elections and now have only 26 members. The Congressional Progressive Caucus, however, had 83 Democrats (79 of whom are in the US House). Only 3 CPC members were defeated in the 2010 elections.

If there really was this mythical rightward shift, that situation with Democrats would have been the opposite. Instead, the new Democratic Caucus in the US House is arguably more liberal than that of the current Congress. It proves what people like me have been saying for years, namely, that the best route to success on our side is for Democrats to be Democrats, not “Republican Lite” or a kinder, gentler sort of Republican. Our party stands for things and we now have the opportunity to coalesce behind traditional Democratic ideals so that in 2012 we have a real point of difference to present to the American people, not just “me-too-ism”.

So, the new US House will definitely be far more conservative than it is now, but there’ll be major conflicts among Republicans as people jockey to out-rightwing each other. Democrats in Congress will be more liberal than they were, which means greater opportunity for party unity on important issues—and that means the opportunity to send a coherent message to US voters, just as Republicans were able to do for the past four years. This is an opportunity, not a crisis.

It also has to be remembered that Democrats control the US Senate and White House so they can stop any extremist bills passed by the US House; there’s little danger yet of a far-right takeover of America. Still, there’s a lot of bad stuff that will happen, and a lot of good stuff that won’t. And that’s the subject of my next post.

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