After the Obama victory in the 2008 presidential election, Michael Albert speculated (prophetically?) in a Z article "What Now?" (December 2008) that the "most likely case will see Obama place the same old faces in his Administration to pursue the same old policies, save perhaps for a flawed health campaign that will be played up as the accomplishment of the ages and a bit more market regulation than the lunatic fundamentalist fringe—now known as the young Republicans in Congress—would have undertaken." Further, he predicted that Obama's emphasis would be on "the need to compromise to get things done, while lowering expectations raised by campaign promises of hope, change, and empowerment."
Albert also suggested that the grassroots organizing apparatus that Obama's campaign had built would fade into "total oblivion" as he "apologetically" extended the Iraq occupation, "regretfully" expanded the war in Afghanistan, and "confidently" enacted corporate bailouts.
Since 2008, what hasn't been clear is how to push for progressive gains when the government has been defined as progressive (by the right, as well as many on the left), but clearly isn't; and when the opposition that gains media attention and excitement is funded and led by the right wing, while substantial opposition from the left—anti-war, union/worker, and environmental—goes unreported, at least in the mainstream. What follows are some of the net briefs—media advisories, voting research, and commentary—that were emailed to Z after election 2010. For those of us who see the Obama administration's policies as mostly "business as usual"—sometimes a little better than Clinton and Bush, sometimes worse even than Reagan, perhaps this information will help point to what needs to be done.
Elections.gmu.edu was one of the few mainstream sources in the U.S. that mentioned the percentage of the "voting-eligible population" that actually voted, which they estimated in mid-November was 40.3 percent. The overall total was similar to the 2006 mid-term election, but significantly less than the last two presidential elections: 60-62 percent.
Ruy Teixeira and John Halpin, senior fellows at the American Progress Action Fund (which focuses on political theory, communications, and public opinion analysis), provided the following facts and figures:
· House. Republicans gained around 65 House seats, the largest post-World War II seat gain by either party in a midterm election. Approximately 52 percent of votes for House seats went to Republicans and 45 percent to Democrats.
· Senate. Republicans picked up six seats in the Senate.
· Governorships. The GOP picked up an estimated net of five governorships, though they did lose California.
· Age. About 11 percent of 2010 voters were 18-29 years of age, down from their 18 percent share in 2008. They supported Democrats by a 17-point margin (57 percent to 40 percent). This is a significant drop from 63 percent to 34 percent in 2008. Seniors were 23 percent of voters, up from their 16 percent share in 2008. Senior support for Republicans in 2010 was 59 percent to 38 percent, a 22-point shift from 2008.
· Race. Voters were 78 percent white and 22 percent minority. The minority figure is a decline of 4 percent from the 2008 level of 26 percent. Congressional Democrats carried Hispanics 64 percent to 34 percent, not far off their 68 to 29 percent in 2008; Black voters were even stronger for Democrats—90 to 9 percent—which is in line with their 93 to 5 percent and 89 to 10 percent preferences in 2008 and 2006; White voters supported Congressional Republicans by 60 percent to 37 percent. This 23-point margin compares to an 8-point margin in 2008 and a 4-point margin in 2006. Congressional Democrats lost white working class voters by 29 points in 2010. Democrats also suffered losses among white college graduates—by 6 points in 2008 and 18 points in 2010.
· Ideology. 41 percent said they were conservatives compared to 34 percent in 2008; moderates were 39 percent compared to 44 percent in 2008.
· Gender. Democrats lost women by a single point in 2010 and men by 14 points.
· Independents. There was a sharp swing among independents in 2010. The GOP carried this group by 18 points, 56 to 38 percent. That compares to an 8-point Democratic win among independents in 2008.
Open Secrets/Center for Responsive Politics emailed "Who's Buying This Election?" in which they point out that close to half the money fueling outside ads came from undisclosed sources. At the federal level, more than $123 million was donated by anonymous sources to nonprofit organizations that ran television and radio advertisements, sent out direct mailers, and bought up Internet ad space. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a business association that isn't required to disclose its donors, spent $35 million on "electioneering communications," targeting broadcast messages that included a visual or audio reference to federal candidates.
The next three of the top five outside spenders were all conservative groups that share office space, operatives, and a similar lineage—American Action Network, headed by former Sen. Norm Coleman (R-MN), spent $26.6 million; American Crossroads, a 527-organization turned "Super PAC" promoted by Karl Rove, spent $21.6 mostly advocating against Democrats; American Crossroads' sister 501(c)4 organization is not required to disclose its donors. This group, Crossroads Grassroots Policy Strategies, has spent $17.1 million on independent expenditures and electioneering communications.
According to VerifiedVoting.org, 25 percent of the nation's registered voters used paperless electronic voting machines on Election Day. In 11 states, paperless voting accounts for most or all ballots. Specifically, six states have paperless e-voting statewide (DE, GA, LA, MD, NJ, and SC); in five states paperless voting accounted for a heavy majority of votes (IN, PA, TX, TN, and VA); and in Kansas, at least 40 percent of the vote is estimated as paperless. On a more positive note, 40 states have moved toward requiring voter-verified paper records (VVPR), either through legislation or administrative decision, though seven states will not fully implement their VVPR requirements until sometime later.
In September, the Brennan Center for Justice (www.brennancenter.org) released a report that describes "repeated failures" with local voting systems that "disenfranchise voters and damage public confidence in the electoral system," criticizing as unreliable the reliance on private companies that sell and service voting equipment.
The report joins a half-dozen other investigations released during the past 10 years, from various academic and independent research sources, exposing the vulnerability of electronic voting systems to inappropriate manipulation (vote stealing) either by outside hackers or private contractors; inaccurate and politicized purging of voter registration rolls; inadequate and unused auditing mechanisms for actual votes and ballots, especially in electronic systems; and a system that discriminates against poor and minority voters in poll access and vote counting—both structurally by unequal distribution of electoral resources and through orchestrated vote suppression campaigns.
In this November's election, dozens of anomalies and problems are still being collected by watchdog sites such as votingnews.blogspot.com, including vote flipping (going from one candidate to another) on ES&S machines in Pennsylvania that required technicians to perform Election Day "recalibration"; widespread failure of Diebold machines (now owned by ES&S) in Utah; and the usual reports of bungled tallies, incorrect ballots, and questionable election resource allocation causing long lines in some districts. Scattered vote suppression incidents against minorities were reported in several states (CA, FL, KS, MN, SC, & TX), though apparently not the nationwide suppression campaign that some had feared. Incidents included automated "robocalls" to Latino voters in California and Kansas, telling them to be sure to vote on Wednesday (a day late) and attempted voter intimidation at polls by Tea Party activists in Minnesota, South Carolina, and Texas.
According to Teixeira and Halpin, the clearest message from the exit polls about the swing toward the GOP was the economy. More than three-fifths (62 percent) selected the economy as the most important issue and Republicans received 54 percent to 44 percent support among that group. Half of voters said they were "very worried" about economic conditions and these voted Republican by 70 to 28 percent. Similarly, 41 percent of voters said their family financial situation was worse than 2 years ago and this group voted Republican by 63 to 34 percent. Of the 37 percent who described the state of the national economy as "poor," 71 percent supported the GOP.
In addition, more voters (35 percent) blamed Wall Street for today's economic problems rather than President Bush (29 percent) or President Obama (23 percent), but the Wall-Street-blaming voters supported Republicans by 56 to 42 percent. The Obama administration's association with bailing out Wall Street bankers apparently had a negative effect on Democratic performance, according to Teixeira and Halpin, who also note that "the election did not appear to be a total repudiation of the new health care reform law"—47 percent said they wanted to see it remain or expand, while 48 percent wanted it repealed.
A 52 percent majority wanted either to keep the Bush tax cuts only for those earning less than $250,000 or let them all expire, compared to 39 percent who wanted to keep all the tax cuts.
In "Elections a Setback for Peace" from ZSpace, Tom Hayden notes that the "November election was a setback for the peace movement, not only because of the defeat of Senator Russ Feingold, but for deeper reasons." He points out that both parties kept "Afghanistan off the table" during campaign, even though, from June-November alone, 274 American soldiers were killed and 2,934 were wounded on the battlefield with a cost to taxpayers (under Obama) of $12.5 billion per month, $113 billion per year.
Chairships. One of the more worrisome Congressional chairs changing hands is reported on by CommonDreams.org which published "Certified Right-Wing Extremists Set to Take Control of House Foreign Affairs Panels" by Alexander Main, a policy analyst at the Center for Economic and Policy Research. Main points out that as a result of the elections, Cuban-American representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen is expected to replace Howard Berman as chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
As the New York Times noted in July 1990, Ros-Lehtinen, together with Senator Connie Mack (Rep. Mack's father) and Jeb Bush, "lobbied hard" in favor of the release of right-wing Cuban Orlando Bosch, a convicted terrorist who U.S. officials believe to be responsible for dozens of bombings including the 1976 bombing of an airliner that killed 76 civilians. In April 2002, as a coup was unfolding in Venezuela, she referred to air force colonel Pedro Soto, who had been among the first officers to call for a coup against the democratically-elected government of Hugo Chavez, as a "great patriot." As the Miami Herald reported in 2005, Ros-Lehtinen and two of her Florida colleagues lobbied on behalf of another Cuban terrorist—Luis Posada Carriles—who was imprisoned in Panama for his role in a plot to kill Fidel Castro. In 2006, she openly called for the assassination of Fidel Castro in an interview: "I welcome the opportunity of having anyone assassinate Fidel Castro…." Three days after the military coup that overthrew the democratic government of Honduras, Ros-Lehtinen delivered a letter to President Obama expressing support for the coup and criticizing the Administration for endorsing OAS and UN resolutions condemning it.
Redistricting. Every ten years (in the year after a census), most states re-draw the borders of their Congressional districts. Despite many attempts at reform, this usually results in some form of gerrymandering. According to a post by Justin Levitt on ElectionLawBlog.org:
· 189 Congressional seats will be drawn in states where Republicans are likely to control the redistricting process
· 26 seats will be drawn in states where Democrats are likely to control the process
· 145 seats will be drawn in states with divided control
· 68 seats more or less await the results of races too close to call
An article by David Edwards at RawStory.com adds: "Republicans took the majority in at least 14 state legislatures and now control both legislative chambers in 26 states—and control the ability to redistrict in 16.
Climate Deniers. ThinkProgress reports that many of the 100 new Republican legislators hold extreme right views:
· 50 percent deny the existence of humanmade climate change; 86 percent are opposed to any climate change legislation that increases government revenue
· 39 percent have already declared their intention to end the 14th Amendment's guarantee of birthright citizenship; 32 percent want to reduce legal immigration
· 91 percent have sworn to never allow an income tax increase on any individual or business—regardless of deficits or war
· 79 percent have pledged to permanently repeal the estate tax
Teixeira and Halpin note that "political commentators are notoriously prone to over-interpreting election results and extrapolating singular causes for victories and losses. These interpretations usually underlie some desire to influence ideological debates and power struggles or to shape media stories about the election. And 2010 is no different." They comment, "conservatives are wrong to assume that public negativity about government performance and the recovery measures translates into a massive ideological shift to the right on the role of government."
They mention a recently released pre-election survey on American attitudes toward government conducted by the Washington Post, the Kaiser Family Foundation, and Harvard University. The poll asked the public if they supported more, less, about the same, or no federal government involvement in dealing with a variety of issues. Majorities, ranging from 67 percent to 84 percent on five domestic policy issues, said they wanted to see either the same or more federal government involvement in the issue. Those wanting to see less or no involvement ranged from only 32 percent down to 16 percent.
On the question in the same poll about whether you'd rather have the federal government provide more services even if it cost more in taxes or have the federal government cost less in taxes, but provide fewer services, a slight plurality (49 percent) preferred the first government-expanding option over the second government-cutting option (47 percent). This compares with 28 percent selecting the government-expanding option in 1994, while 57 percent preferred the government-cutting option.
And what does the public say they want their representative in Congress to do? It turns out that by 57 percent to 39 percent, they want their representative to fight for more spending to create jobs. Teixeira and Halpin note that "conservative hype about a public thirsty to cut government is overblown and not backed by credible data. "
According to a Pew Research Center survey of 1,546 adults in April 2010 a bare majority (52 percent) reacted positively to the word "capitalism" and majorities of Democrats (81 percent), independents (64 percent), and Republicans (56 percent) reacted positively to the word progressive. Similarly, a 2009 Rasmussen poll found that only 53 percent of Americans described capitalism as "superior" to socialism, while a 2010 Gallup poll found that 37 percent prefer socialism as "superior" to capitalism.
Michael Albert's advice in his 2008 article holds true now as it did then: "Whether we face optimistic government innovation that welcomes movement involvement or we face limited reform seeking to damp down movements or we face business as usual profiteering while eagerly repressing movements, people of good will have essentially the same task. We must push for progressive gains, even as we lay the groundwork for moving beyond reform into redefinition or—in the words of current punditry—transformation."