As I learned from experience in my “vote-for-me” period, the nature of the political scramble is this: You win some, you lose some. Counting Democratic primary contests, I ran seven statewide races in Texas, winning five.
My final loss was a squeaker in November 1990, having been surprised by a fusillade of truly vile TV ads fired at me in the last two weeks by a fellow who went on to become nationally infamous as the Michelangelo of Smear: Karl Rove. But: Win some, lose some. In my concession press conference, I simply noted that in politics, “One day you’re a peacock, the next day you’re a feather duster.” And, after all, feather dusters are quite useful things to have–in the political arena, as well as in the home.
So, in this 2012 post-election Lowdown, let’s assess the condition of our progressive plumage.
Top prize, of course, was the presidency, and we won! Sort of. Really what we did was avert a hard Romney-Ryan lurch rightward, downward, and backward–all at once. Ouch. That would’ve hurt.
But we also won one more four-year crack at pressuring Obama to be an actual Democrat. We should not waste this opportunity by playing another round of pattycake with him. Gently pushing from the inside–trying to curry favor by being nice and staying quiet–has proven futile with this guy. To the contrary, he’s shown that what he responds to is loud and sustained noise–as he did when confronted by obstreperous tea partiers, intractable Republicans, balky insurance giants, angry Wall Streeters, the pouty US Chamber of Commerce, etc.
He only turned to us when he needed to be re-elected, and we delivered. It was the progressive base (labor, women, Latinos, African Americans, environmentalists, poor people, the LGBT community, students, New Deal defenders, small farmers, anti-war activists, civil libertarians, et al.) that carried him to 332 electoral votes. And for many of us, he was a heavy haul.
Our progressive forces (in the cities and countryside, in our national organizations, in Congress, and in the media) can’t let him and his insular staff shove us to the back shelf again. We have to get in his face now and stay there, making demands wherever he goes and publicly protesting his every equivocation and capitulation. Forget giving him “time” and “space.” That was last term. This term, Obama owes us.
Yes, he still has a bunch of unhinged Republican troglodytes to deal with in Congress but–come on, Obama–gut it up! First, they lost. The people (including many Republicans) overwhelmingly rejected the Ayn-Randian, Grover Norquistian, Koch-kleptocratian tommyrot peddled by Romney, Ryan, & Gang.
Second, the Senate just became much more progressive (even more populist) and much feistier with the addition of Elizabeth Warren (MA), Tammy Baldwin (WI), and Mazie Hirono (HI). Even in the tea-addled House, virulent right-winger Allen West was ousted and the savvy and scrappy Florida populist Alan Grayson, was added–a geometric improvement for progressive possibilities in that woeful body.
Third, we’re here–the grassroots coalition of progressive “outsiders” that delivered Obama’s decisive victory and gave him a host of better lawmakers is now ready and able to bear down on recalcitrant and wishy-washy congress critters to advance a strong and true populist agenda. Let’s do it! For example, it’s time for a Robin Hood Tax on Wall Street speculators (see the January 2011 Lowdown and check out The Robin Hood Campaign). This would boost our public treasury by about $350 billion a year, finally allowing America to pay for such obvious national needs as revitalizing and expanding our infrastructure, an aggressive green jobs program, Medicare for All, a top-quality public education system, a re-woven safety net, and other efforts to produce percolate-up prosperity for America’s workaday majority.
No, we won’t get all this done in Obama’s second term, even if he gets behind some of it, but we’ll reframe the national debate, rally ordinary people to a governing agenda that works for them, and restart America’s historic journey toward our founding values of fairness, justice, and equal opportunity for all. What have we got to lose? And what better way to spend the next four years?
May I proposition you?
Some of the most significant electoral battles of 2012 had no candidates in them. These were “initiatives and referendums”–a process of direct democracy first proposed by the historic Populist Movement of the 1870s and presently available to citizens in 26 states and hundreds of cities. Unfortunately, corporations and super-wealthy individuals have glommed on to this democratic innovation with deep-pocket vengeance, using their silos of money and expertise in PR deceit to pass some awful proposals and kill some great ones.
Still, progressives are making good use of the initiative alternative to build winning coalitions around many big issues that the power structure refuses to address. This year, these coalitions produced several important public policy victories, even in red and purple states, showing again that populist issues can open minds, shove aside right-wing orthodoxy, and overcome corporate money.
CITIZENS UNITED. This Court-sanctioned, daylight robbery of the people’s democratic authority should have been at the center of Obama’s campaign against Mr. “Corporations-are-people” Romney. It certainly warranted a presidential push, and it would have been a winning issue, even among rank-and-file tea partiers–but, zilch. Beneath the media radar, however, democracy organizers in two states and dozens of cities built formidable grassroots campaigns this year to pass initiatives that say “no” to the swamp of corporate cash engulfing our elections.
A whopping 72 percent of Colorado voters approved Amendment 65, directing their legislature to demand that Congress draft a constitutional amendment overturning Citizens United and send it to the states for ratification. An even-more-whopping 76 percent of Montanans said “yes” to Initiative 166, declaring that corporations do not have constitutional rights. Likewise, 74 percent of Chicago voters (including 73 percent of Republicans) approved a local initiative demanding that Congress propose an amendment reversing Citizens United.
Among those passing local initiatives, citizens of the burg of Brecksville, Ohio had to battle their own city hall just to get Issue 25 on the ballot. Theirs was a unique proposal, requiring that city officials convene a biennial “Democracy Day” for residents to express themselves on the impact of corporate cash in their elections. It then required the mayor to send a letter to Congress detailing the people’s objections.
For months, the mayor tried to toss this proposition off the ballot. But the people kept fighting, and only a month before the election, Ohio’s Supreme Court ruled 5-2 that the coalition’s proposal was a legal ballot initiative. On Election Day, 52 percent of Brecksvillians proudly voted Issue 25 into law.
MICHIGAN-ISTAN. Democracy was literally usurped last year in Michigan by GOP Gov. Rick Snyder and the Republican-controlled legislature. They put a nasty piece of autocracy on the books allowing the governor to suspend citizen control of local governments and appoint czars empowered to impose martial law (see Lowdown, September 2012). From small cities like Benton Harbor to the urban hub of Detroit, this outrageous theft of local control sparked a statewide citizens’ rebellion, and the rebels managed to put a repeal proposal on November’s ballot. Sure enough 52 percent of voters supported Proposal 1, striking down the rule of the czars.
The Taliban-istic ideologues of far-right GOP extremism, however, are not ones to let voters have the final say. The state senate majority leaderdeclared that the legislature would come back next year with a new czar law. Letting democracy prevail, he explained, would be “irresponsible.”
KNOW YOUR GMOs. The heavyweight match of the year pitted Monsanto and Big Food against a broad coalition of California consumers, organic farmers, environmentalists, and others. These “people’s interests” had stunned the corporate interests earlier this year by getting more than enough signatures in a petition drive to put Proposition 37 on the statewide ballot (see Lowdown, November 2012). It would’ve required food processors that use genetically modified organisms in their products to print that important bit of information on their packages, thus allowing everyone to decide for themselves whether or not to buy risky, inadequately tested GMO foods. It’s a simple, honest step for food marketers to take–so, naturally, they refused.
Instead, a who’s who of multinational food giants (alongside Monsanto, DuPont, and other major makers and hawkers of gene-altered crops) threw a hissy fit over the idea of having to reveal their secret.
Nine days before the election, polls showed Prop 37 with 67 percent support. Then, at the last minute, the measure was pounded by a $45 million blitzkrieg of grossly deceptive ads and dirty tricks. Among the deceivers and tricksters putting up more than $1million each were PepsiCo, Kraft, Nestle, Coca-Cola, and General Mills. The carpet bombing worked, with support falling to 47 percent by Election Day.
The most ridiculous (though effective) lie of the GMO profiteers was that labeling would raise annual food prices for Californians by hundreds of dollars per person. The corporations also illegally contended that both the Food & Drug Administration and Stanford University supported “No on 37” (neither did), and they even used FDA and Stanford logos on mailings and TV ads. Most ironic was the corporate claim that dastardly “out-of-state interests” were behind the right-to-know proposition (Hello, Nestle is based in Switzerland, PepsiCo in New York state, Coke in Atlanta, Kraft in Illinois, and General Mills in Minnesota).
Outspent by more than six to one, the right-to-know advocates got nipped at the polls this time, but the five million voters who didn’t swallow the industry’s lies are a solid base for pushing forward, and the citizens groups are determined to do just that in California and elsewhere. Despite their bottomless purses, GMO profiteers are fooling recklessly with the very DNA of people’s food, and that won’t be a winning idea for long. The corporations themselves confirm the weakness of their political position, not only by going to extremes to keep their altered ingredients secret, but also by trying to desperately hide their sponsorship of campaigns to kill sensible labeling requirements.
A BASKETFUL OF BALLOT BATTLES. Sometimes you can win on your own initiatives, and sometimes by not losing on theirs. Progressives were engaged in both kinds of big fights in this election.
Labor. A terrific victory for union rights and political fairness was scored this go ’round on California’s Prop 32–a wad of ugliness put forth by the Koch boys and their malicious cadre of big-money, anti-union ideologues. Gussied up as a good government reform, it essentially would have gutted labor’s participation in political campaigns. It cost unions and their grassroots allies tens of millions of dollars, but they effectively exposed Prop 32 as a right-wing corporate sham–and voters rejected it with a solid 56 percent.
The outcome was less happy in Michigan, where unions tried to pass two proposals to enshrine basic labor rights in the state constitution. Koch front groups, corporate cash, and GOP politicos went all out with a TV ad blitzthat defeated both measures. However, teachers and other public education champions won big with three initiatives in Idaho to boost teacher rights and education funding. And South Dakota voters repealed an anti-teacher state law that GOP legislators had passed in a burst of ideological idiocy.
Gay marriage. Previously same-sex marriage victories have come from legislatures and the courts, not from the ballot, but in 2012 that changed dramatically–four proposals, four victories. In Maine, 53 percent of voters approved such nuptials; in Maryland, 58 percent repealed former laws outlawing them; in Washington, 53 percent affirmed a state law legalizing marriage equality; and in Minnesota, 51 percent rejected an initiative to ban gay marriage.
Marijuana. The nation’s absurdly expensive and ineffective war on drugs took more big hits on election night. Medical use of cannabis was approved by 63 percent of Massachusetts voters, reaffirmed by 57 percent of voters in Montana, and only narrowly lost in Arkansas (which would have been the first Southern state to authorize medical use). Meanwhile, in a major political breakthrough, Colorado (55 percent) and Washington (55 percent)became the first states to legalize and regulate the possession of marijuana for personal, recreational consumption.
Here come the thieves
In the mid-1990s, when it became clear that Bill Clinton’s economic policy was being shaped for Wall Street rather than for the workaday folks who elected him, a farmer friend of mine said: “I don’t mind losing when we lose, but I hate losing when we win.”
We can’t let that happen to us–or to America–in the next four years. We won, and now we must make a determined democratic push to collect on November’s clear progressive victory. As we might have expected from the leader of a party deeply mired in delusion, the GOP’s senate sourpuss, Mitch McConnell, assessed the election results this way: “Now it’s time for the president to propose solutions that actually have a chance of passing the Republican-controlled House.” We can laugh at such twaddle, but the Republican/ corporate forces actually believe it. And if we don’t confront them from the start, experience teaches us that Obama, too many congressional Democrats, and the mass media will give in to such a fabulism as the framework for the coming debate on public policy. In short, they will allow the GOP, the Koch network, and corporate lobbyists to pull off a heist–a brazen theft of our democratic victory–IF WE LET THEM.
Check the “Do Something” box to link up with groups that are moving now to prevent the theft. Consider what specific actions We the People should be taking now, and send your ideas to the groups and to us: firstname.lastname@example.org.