Postcards from the frontroads and backroads of the 2010 election campaigns

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Corporate money won, but progressives did not lose

The day before the election, I sensed a strange karma, as though some diabolical political force was settling across the country like a heavy, almost suffocating fog. What could it be, what would it portend for the election… and beyond?

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Then it came to me: The spirit of Tom DeLay was loose on the land!

The former house Republican leader, the nasty partisan who became known as The Hammer for nailing the GOP congress and K Street lobbyists into one seamless unit, the ethics-free floor leader during George W’s first term who now stands convicted of unabashedly collecting corporate campaign cash in exchange for moving corporate legislation–that guy.

On election eve, as our nation’s first $4 billion congressional campaign drew to a close, an election soaked in the corrupting power of corporate money–Tom DeLay stood in the dock of a Texas courtroom. November 1st was the opening day of his trial for secretly and illegally funneling corporate funds into several 2002 Lone Star legislative elections. Just before Thanksgiving, the jury convicted The Hammer. How’s that for karma?

DeLay’s crassly partisan conspiracy between big business, political front groups, and GOP operatives was the precursor of this year’s nationwide power play by the same trio. While the media establishment declared on election night that the big story of 2010 was the rise of the Tea Party, it ignored the much bigger story: the ascension of America’s narcissistic moneyed elite to the political throne. The Koch brothers, Rupert Murdoch, and a few other merchants of plutocracy and kleptocracy–working with such hired hands as Karl Rove, Dick Armey, Grover Norquist, and the US Chamber of Commerce–have become the controlling power in the US House of Representatives.

What the hell happened?

“The Tea Party spoke! Loudly, powerfully, and proudly,” announced the pundit class.

True, but what did it say? “Throw the bums out!” Okay, but this election also threw a bunch of bums in, including a new house speaker, Rep. John Boehner. He has spent his entire 20-year congressional career running legislative errands for his corporate funders.

“We hope President Obama will now respect the will of the people,” cried Boehner the day after the election. This from a rank Republican partisan who showed absolutely zero respect for the will of the much larger majority of people who voted for an agenda of progressive change only two years ago. In fact, since 2008, he’s done all he could, by hook or crook, to stomp that agenda to death. And in the next two years, Speaker Boehner and his cohorts will do all they can to hang the corporate agenda around the necks of ‘the people.’ Do the punditeers really think people were voting for that? Nonetheless, get ready, for it is coming. And, to the dismay of most rank-and-file teapartiers, Boehner will advance it in their name.

What happened on November 2 was the result of three storms converging:

STORM ONE: the collapsing middle class.

Contrary to conventional wisdom, this disastrous development is not merely about the cold statistic of 9.6 percent unemployment, as bad as that is. The deeper story (see September Lowdown) is that during the past two years, more than half of our people have felt the direct shock of America’s jobless economy–32 percent have been unemployed in this period, while big percentages have also suffered pay cuts or painful reductions in hours. Four and a half million of today’s unemployed have now been without work for a year or more!

The past two years amount to a lost decade for the vast majority of Americans, who’ve seen middle class jobs offshored, wages fall, family incomes sink, pensions looted, college education priced out of reach, and homes foreclosed (an October Washington Post poll found that a stunning 53 percent of Americans fear they won’t have the money in the future to make their monthly rent or mortgage payments).

It’s truly scary out there, made more so by news reports that corporate chieftains consider low wages, long periods of joblessness, declining homeownership, and other elements of economic insecurity to be ‘the new normal.’ Whether people are young, mid-career, or retired, there’s a growing sense across the country that a middle class future (the glue that holds our nation together) will no longer be available to them, their children, or grandkids. What the comfortable class (corporate, media, professional, and political) still doesn’t grasp is that this festering insecurity is fast metamorphosing from anxiety to anger, creating a politics of anti-ism that goes far beyond the tiny percentage of people hooked into the Tea Party.

STORM TWO: the infuriating and persistent weaseliness of Obama and the Democratic Congress.

Economic anxiety is a naturally fertile political landscape for Democrats. This is why voters unceremoniously booted the Bush Republicans out of office in 2006 and 2008. The Obamacans, however, turned out to be Obama-can’ts, failing to seize the historic, Rooseveltian opportunity that America’s majority had excitedly entrusted to them.


“Our top priority over the next two years should be to deny President Obama a second term in office.” —- Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell


Amazingly, the political cognoscenti are trying to interpret this year’s election as a repudiation of populist policies–as though there had been any. For example, Americans for Prosperity, the chief political front of the billionaire Koch brothers (see February’s Lowdown), sniffed after the balloting that “class warfare, tax-the-rich ideas were decisively rejected.” The general spin by the establishment media is that Obama overreached, frightening the electorate by being too liberal.

Dung beetles are not as full of it as those ‘analysts’ are! Obama & Team have not been too liberal, but too lame. And way too corporate. And not anywhere close to populist.

Working folk are in a world of hurt, but whose bedside did the Democrats rush to? Wall Street’s. Proclaiming a national emergency, they threw trillions of dollars at the very banksters who crashed our economy, even allowing them to keep getting their outrageous bonus payments. Meanwhile, the crashees keep getting pink slips and eviction notices. Obama winces at their plight, but shrugs, tell-ing these millions to wait for the “recovery” to tinkle down on them. No sense of urgency, no audacity, no hope. Did he not realize that people were watching this–and rationally concluding that he and the Dems were not on their side?

That’s why his party took what he called a “shellacking.” It was not the Tea Party or some mythical ‘conservative mood’ that did him in,

but his natural constituency, which was either angry enough to lash out at his aloof, blase attitude toward them, or simply chose not to vote. The turnout of eligible voters this year was 42 percent, down from 61.7 percent when Obama was swept into office.

STORM THREE: a landfill of corporate money.

About a week before the election, several news reports revealed that Afghan President Hamid Karzai has been receiving a steady stream of cash from the Iranian government. Delivered periodically in large plastic bags, the cash adds up to a multimillion-dollar secret slush fund that Karzai can use for such needs as the payment of bribes to produce his election victories. How gross! How corrupt!

Yes–and how embarrassingly similar to the sacks of secret cash that our upstanding corporations delivered to swing November’s election their way.

Thanks to the constitutional thuggery of five Supreme Court justices in this year’s Citizens United decree (see March Lowdown), CEOs may now take unlimited sums of their shareholders’ money from corporate treas-uries and spend it anonymously to elect or defeat any and all candidates of their choosing. Given this green light to corrupt America’s democratic system, corporations did not hesitate to speed through it.

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Postcard from young voters

Young Americans, who energized and largely created Obama’s campaign two years ago, showed little enthusiasm this year. In 2008, there was a big surge in youth turnout, and Obama won two-thirds of them. This round, the number of young voters dropped by half. His 2008 campaign created novel and exciting ways for young folks to play central roles, and he told them he would call on them to do the same in his presidency. But he hasn’t. “He made young people feel important,” says a current leader of the College Democrats, “then he got into office and there was no one talking to us.”



Postcard from behind the Tea Party

The media keeps calling the Tea Party a “populist” movement, but real populists fight overbearing corporate power–not hug it. Peek behind the Tea Party curtain, and who will you find? Dick Armey.

This longtime Republican lawmaker was a faithful servant to Wall Street and to any CEO with a fat checkbook, cheerfully working to pass the very policies of deregulation and giveaways to the rich that’ve run our country into the ditch. Then he cashed in on his insider connections to fill his own pockets as an influence peddler for the likes of health care giants and foreign governments. Next, he became an operative for the Koch brothers, running one of their political fronts called FreedomWorks.

In this post, he got the Kochs to fund the first teabag rally… and he quickly wormed himself into the movement as the chief political guru of various Tea Party campaigns. A three-decade Washington insider, Armey uses corporate money to pose as an outsider and shape the fledgling party’s agenda. He even wrote the “Tea Party Manifesto,” and shortly after the November election he convened a two-day retreat for incoming Tea Party lawmakers, presenting each of them with a ready-to-go policy book.


Postcard from Molly

Look out, here he comes! Rick Perry was re-elected governor of Texas with 55 percent of the vote, and he immediately used this “sweeping” victory to position himself for a presidential run. What he won’t tell you, however, is that the gubernatorial race was so lack-luster, so devoid of content, and so negative that Texas had the lowest turnout in the country, with only 32.5 percent of eligible voters having the stomach to cast a ballot. So Rick is actually the choice of about 18 percent of Texans. Some sweep.

Still, as we learned from 2000 and 2004, anyone really can be elected president. So heed the admonition of our late friend and political sage, Molly Ivins: “Next time I tell you someone from Texas should not be president of the United States, please pay attention.”


Various GOP operatives set up unrestricted front groups that took some $200 million from secret corporate funders to run private campaigns fostering the Republican takeover of Congress. With these fronts, corporations could finance a blitzkrieg of ugly attack ads against Democrats, yet not have to risk offending voters, customers, employees, and shareholders by revealing their corporate names. Of course, these shy donors will certainly make their names known to every winner they backed.

The US Chamber of Commerce was this year’s biggest funnel for undisclosed corporate funds, planning to plow $75 million in surreptitious corporate cash into the elections. Other funding shells for the GOP had such nondescript monikers as American Future Fund, American Action Network, Americans for Job Security, Club for Growth, and 60 Plus Association.

The operatives coordinated their attacks on Democrats through regular meetings dubbed the Weaver Terrace sessions (named for the street where Rove lives). They used such military terms as carpet bombing, shelling, barrage, and sniper to describe their media assaults in targeted districts. And their ads did not exactly elevate our public discourse–for example, an American Action Network spot in Nevada contributed to the defeat of Democrat Dina Titus by falsely accusing her of supporting “Viagra for rapists.”

On to 2012!

“If not us, who? If not now, when?”

This ancient, uplifting quotation has become a golden gem of oratory, and it is usually invoked to rouse grassroots folks to storm the barricades of the privileged. What a hoot then to see it as the lead sentence of a September 24th letter from one of the most privileged plutocrats in America: Charles Koch.


“Instead of handing out welfare checks, we’ll teach people how to earn their check. We’ll teach them personal hygiene.” —- Carl Paladino, GOP-Tea Party nominee for New York Governor, on his plan to put unemployed food-stamp recipients in New York’s underused prisons.

A billionaire 21 times over, this oil baron and recidivist industrial polluter is a libertarian extremist who hates government, loathes organized labor, loves Glenn Beck, and yearns to impose corporate rule over our democratic republic. Koch’s letter was an odd sort of grito (a cry for justice), for he was rallying the ultra-privileged to take up political arms against the hoi polloi!

Sent to several dozen of his rich, right-wing peers and political henchmen, the hyperbolic missive was a call to action: “It is up to us to combat what is now the greatest assault on American freedom in our lifetimes.” Wow. The greatest? In our lifetimes? And what is this horror? Obama, for starters; Democrats generally; and, specifically, such public policies as health care for all, Social Security, a green jobs program, environmental regulations, and so forth. Never mind that the great majority of Americans are solidly behind these policies, a wild-eyed Koch writes that they “threaten to destroy America as we know it.”

“We,” of course, are the select few possessing enormous wealth –or, as he refers to himself and his cohorts, “the doers.”

So, Koch is convening a secretive January meeting of his well-heeled comrades to plot the overthrow of Big Government and to organize for the 2012 defeat of Barack Obama and a bunch more of the dreaded Democrats. Naturally, the revolution of the swells has to be luxurious, so January’s invitation-only gathering will be at the Rancho Las Palmas Resort and Spa in Palm Springs. All sessions are closed to the media, security will be extremely tight, and attendees are told to keep all of the proceedings confidential (please, no tweeting).

What Koch’s upcoming confab in the desert tells us non-invitees is that even before this year’s election was held, big money was already arming for the next election. This year was just a dry run of the new financial WMD that corporations now possess. In 2012–with the White House and 21 Democratic senate seats up for grabs–corporate money is going to explode all over our democratic process. Rancho Las Palmas is the opening shot.

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Postcard from Liarsville, USA

Longtime Republican adman Ben Mathis scored a coup this year by getting well known actor Morgan Freeman to cut an ad attacking the incumbent Democrat in North Carolina’s 4th Congressional District. Freeman urged locals to vote for the GOP-Tea Party choice.

Only… he didn’t really. Mathis (who also worked for such teabag darlings as Joe Miller, Christine O’Donnell, and Rand Paul) had hired a ‘voice double’ to make the ad, mimicking Freeman’s distinctive sound. The actual Freeman was not amused, firing off a retort that bluntly accused the Republican camp of “lying.” Mathis, however, was unrepentant, pointing out that he uses many voice doubles who can imitate William Shatner, Queen Latifah, Donald Sutherland, et al. “We of course never say that they are the actual celebrities, but voters recognize their voice and trust it.”



Postcard from Canton

In the last week of the election, workers in a McDonald’s outlet in Canton, Ohio, were surprised to open their pay envelopes and find a bonus: instructions from the boss on how to vote. Enclosed was a pamphlet emblazoned with the McDonald’s logo, declaring: “If the right people are elected, we will continue with raises and benefits at or above the current levels. If others are elected, we will not.” To avoid any uncertainty, owner Paul Siegfried listed the names of the three GOP nominees for governor, senate, and congress, designating them as “the right people.”



Postcard from Iowa

Rep. Bruce Braley of Iowa is one of the Democrats who survived the media bombardments financed by cowardly corporations. Chair of the Populist Caucus in the House, he refused to run for cover. “I’m going to stand my ground and won’t be intimidated,” he said, staunchly defending his support of the health care bill, the stimulus effort, and other actions to help the middle class and the poor. Facing a $3 million blitz from the US Chamber, the American Future Fund, and other corporate shills, Braley assailed them as outsider special interests trying to buy an Iowa seat. He mounted a vigorous door-knocking campaign with the state Democratic Party, and won, showing that a principled, unabashedly populist grassroots campaign can trump Big Money.

Take heart

Big Money and a widespread, indiscriminate, ditch-the-incumbent attitude cost us some important champions of our populist cause, most notably Sen. Russ Feingold of Wisconsin. But they’ll be back, whether in elected office or as advocates from the outside. By the way, each of us should reach out to them now, not with condolences, but with personal messages of support, expressing how much we value them and look forward to continuing down the road with them (you can reach Feingold, for example, at


“If East Germany could do it, we could do it.” —- Joe Miller, GOP-Tea Party nominee for Alaska senate seat, explaining his plan to wall off the US-Mexico border.


Meanwhile, many of our congressional stalwarts weathered the onslaught of corporate money by confronting the bastards head on and staying grassroots, including Raul Grijalva of Arizona, Chellie Pingree of Maine, and Tim Walz of Minnesota. In fact, those Dems taking the worst hit were the meek, corporate-friendly Blue Dogs–26 of them lost, which is half of their caucus.

The essential fact to realize is that the populist movement did not lose this election. For two years, a wimpy Democratic White House and capitulating congressional Democrats have failed to stand loudly and proudly for workaday people on everything from the jobs crisis to Wall Street greed. So–big surprise–workaday people largely didn’t stand up for the Democrats. From now on, the progressive movement–especially us populists–must quit being an appendage to the Obama Democrats. Again and again, they’ve made clear that they won’t even consider the bold structural reforms that we want and our country needs. They are not the change America seeks, so we ought not be the rationalizers of their compromises and failures. Certainly we should be supportive where we can, yet as a clearly separate movement. Our job is not to serve them but to organize and mobilize at the grassroots as an independent, outside force that aggressively advances an unequivocating populist agenda. Obamacans might not want that agenda, but the American majority does.

I’m making moves!

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