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Dems Lose Massachusetts: Obama Needs a Major Course Correction


First Step – Re-make the White House to get on the right side of corporate elites vs. the people

Second – Make challenging corporate power the 2010 election year issue

The Democrats are on the wrong side of a battle between big business elites and voters. If they stay on the side of the elites Massachusetts will not be the final defeat they suffer.

President Obama needs a rapid and major first-year course correction. He needs to learn from the Massachusetts senate race and two gubernatorial defeats in New Jersey and Virginia last year. The lessons: stop taking progressive voters for granted and make challenging corporate cronyism a top priority.

Obama campaigned in all three states; the results three Democratic defeats. The magic has worn off Obama’s elegant eloquence. People are seeing his policies are not "change" but a continuation of corporate domination. Rather than challenging the corporate cronies who pay off politicians with campaign donations, the Democrats are rewarding them. Corporate power dominates every issue whether it is war and militarism, Wall Street bailouts and health care, housing and jobs corporate power rules in Washington, DC.

The Democrats have turned off their voting base. In all three elections the reason for defeat was turnout. People who voted for Obama in 2008 stayed home in 2009 and 2010. Unlike Republicans, who work to excite their base with red meat, right wing issues, the Democrats take their base for granted assuming they have nowhere else to go. Now they are paying a price, but the price will get higher if they do not learn the obvious lessons from these three elections: excite your base, challenge big business and demonstrate the change in direction by re-making the White House.

Where should Obama start? He should start with his first appointment, the White House Chief of Staff, Rahm Emanuel. Emanuel embodies corporate power; the former head of the corporate Democratic Leadership Council has been a corporate, militarist Democrat throughout his career and his politics have cost the Democratic Party repeatedly. He was the architect of NAFTA in 1993, resulting in unions staying home in 1994 and the Democrats losing 54 House seats. As anti-war sentiment raged in 2006, Emanuel, then head of the DCCC, recruited pro-war Democrats. The result, only nine of his hand picked 22 candidates won almost costing the Democrats the majority in a year they should have won a landslide. His unimpressive track record has continued with the Dems going 0 for 3 since Obama took office. Keep Emanuel in the leadership and 2010 will be a Democratic Party disaster.

He is wrong on the issues because of his personal and corporate connections. Emanuel is the bankers lobby favorite. He was the top recipient of donations from hedge funds, private equity, investment and securities firms when he served in Congress. Personally, he earned $18 million in 2.5 years between government jobs at a hedge fund firm. He served on the board of Freddie Mac from 2000-2001 when its decision making helped bring on the housing crisis. It is no surprise that health care reform turned into an insurance company giveaway, while banking reform is giving Wall Street everything it wants and the foreclosure crisis continues unabated.

Emanuel is also a hawk. His father was an Irgun terrorist for Zionists. Emanuel volunteered for the Israeli Defense Forces during the first Gulf War while serving in Congress. He endorsed Obama after the candidate gave a hawkish, pro-Israel speech before the right-wing Israeli lobby, AIPAC, and then introduced Obama to their executive board of major donors. In 2006, when the Democrats won with a mandate to end the war Emanuel made sure ending the war was off the table. It is not surprising he is chief of staff of a White House that has broken all war spending records and has escalated militarism around the globe.

He gained notoriety during the health care debate when he essentially said take liberal legislators for granted. Emanuel’s strategy to get 60 votes in the Senate was bring the left of center Democrats on early to generate enthusiasm, then turn on them to woo conservatives in the end game. Newly elected Scott Brown began to overtake Coakley when he said he would be the vote that stopped health care. Opposing the Insurance Enrichment Act, aka health care reform, began to turn the election around for Brown.

The White House took the most popular reform, single payer health care, Medicare for All, off the table and then proceeded to craft a bill that did more for insurance and pharmaceutical corporations then it did for reforming health care. In his book "The Plan," Emanuel urges Democrats not to pursue universal health care or real reform. He is so out of touch with the needs of Americans that he merely urged the expansion of the S-CHIP program. With Emanuel representing the White House in health care negotiations, and Obama holding press conferences with corporate interests, real reform was off the table.

Removing Rahm would be a first step toward a much need re-making of the White House. The Obama national security and economic teams are filled with appointees who need to be replaced: General Petraeus, General Jones, General McChrystal, Bill Gates, Lawrence Summers and Timothy Geitner to name a few. It is time to clean house, re-start and set a new direction more consistent with Obama’s promise to change the way Washington, DC does business, i.e. stop caving in to the corporate power that dominates the Democratic and Republican parties. It is time for the Democrats to put the people’s necessities ahead of their donor’s profits.

Of course, the problem in the end is not Rahm Emanuel or the other Obama appointees, it is Obama himself. Obama has surrounded himself with corporatists so he needs to reach outside the White House to get a clear reading of the mood of the country. The White House became a corporate bubble in Obama’s first year. Now it needs to be popped. From his appointees he will hear the corporate message work with Republicans, support corporate solutions, don’t rock the boat the recipe that resulted in three Democratic losses, so far.

Last year President Obama told a meeting of Blue Dogs that he is a New Democrat this is the language for the discredited DLC. (As Black Agenda Report has written, Obama was listed as a member of the DLC but his name was removed from the roster as he began to run for office.) He consistently puts pleasing recalcitrant right-wing Republicans ahead of exciting his left of center base. If he wants to really bring hope and change to Washington he needs to put his voting base, not his donor base, first. He needs to become a progressive populist.

Obama is going to have to make a decision to set a new direction for his presidency or be a weak and unsuccessful president. He needs to really challenge corporate power, rally the people and make real reform the 2010 election year issue. These three early elections should teach him that financial support from corporations is insufficient; indeed being tied to the dollars of corporate elites is a recipe for defeat.

Obama can change course to a successful presidency or continue on the failed path he is currently on. But to do so he needs to recognize the urgency of now within his own White House and get on the side of the people.

Kevin Zeese is executive director of Prosperity Agenda (www.ProsperityAgenda.US) and Voters for Peace (www.VotersForPeace.US).

Author’s Bio: Kevin Zeese is Executive Director of the Campaign for Fresh Air and Clean Politics (www.FreshAirCleanPolitics.net) whose projects include Voters for Peace (www.VotersForPeace.US., Prosperity Agenda (www.ProsperityAgenda.US), True Vote (www.TrueVote.US and www.TrueVoteMD.org) and Climate Security (www.GlobalClimateSecurity.org). He is also president of Common Sense for Drug Policy (www.csdp.org).

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