By Deepak Bhargava
What a difference two years make. In 2008, President Obama swept into office on a platform of hope and change. All across America, there was a groundswell of voices calling for an end to a political system that upholds the powerful special interests that ran America into the Great Recession.
In 2010, an empire of big corporate interests fought back, riding a wave of anger and economic dissatisfaction.
There is no disputing the fact that conservatives won and progressives lost on Tuesday. There is also no disputing that the frustration percolating across the country over politics in Washington swept in some obviously extremist candidates like Rand Paul, who criticizes the Civil Rights Act and argues businesses should be able to discriminate.
Yet, given the historic level of discontent throughout the nation with Washington politics, it is frankly shocking that the wave against the party in power was not even larger. One thing that did not happen yesterday:
Americans did not endorse a conservative Republican agenda. In fact, and paradoxically, exit polling shows that voters expressed even less approval of the Republican Party than the Democratic Party.
Democrats retained the U.S. Senate and Sen. Harry Reid (Nev.), a symbol of much of what the Democrats accomplished in the last two years who embraced Obama and the entire hope-and-change agenda, won re-election with the decisive support of Latinos (an almost unheard of 90 percent of the Latino vote).
What then did happen last night?
Big money takes back control
In 2008, on the heals of an economic collapse caused by tax cuts for the rich, deregulation of profiteering corporations, and the financial implosion brought on by the collapse of the vast Wall Street Ponzi scheme, the people fought back for hope and change. Just two years later, the empire has returned with a vengeance.
Unleashed by a conservative Supreme Court, independent groups flooded the system with a record amount of special interest money, more than quadruple the last midterm cycle. (In the end, it may exceed $ 1 billion.)
These groups, backed by massive multinational corporations, greedy banks and self-interested investment firms, vastly outspent progressives.
The level of coordination between “titans of industry” — health insurance companies, oil executives, Wall Street investors and real estate tycoons — working together with conservative journalists and Republican operatives to plan the 2010 election was truly unprecedented and extraordinary.
This final deluge of cash was preceded by a much longer and even more cynical effort by big corporate interests to reassert control over our democracy. Since the day Obama won, the special interests have been softening the ground for this assault. Consider:
The tea parties that kicked off much of this season’s anger didn’t start or end as a grassroots movement. They began in the summer of 2009 with corporate interests attempting to torpedo healthcare reform in order to protect profits at the expense of the people.
Since 2008, the healthcare and insurance lobby spent $1 billion to make sure profits kept getting priority over people in our healthcare system.
Ultimately, despite this massive hell-storm of GOP lies, industry misinformation, racial epithets and nearly outright bribery, health insurance reform passed due to the heroic steadfastness of the president and Democratic leaders in Congress. Unfortunately, the political damage was enormous.
Wall Street went all in against the financial reform package designed to restore balance to our economy. Over a quarter of a billion dollars was spent to discredit Obama and stop Democrat’s attempts to put consumers first.
They didn’t derail reform, but they did manage to do major damage to the president.
Ludicrously, 55 percent of likely voters now believe that the word “socialist” describes the president either “well” or “very well.”
Politics over public interest pays off for GOP
Republicans are reaping the rewards of a cynical and immoral strategy: Obstruct the president from succeeding and then blame him for Washington’s failure. The evidence is overwhelming:
Rep. John Boehner, likely the next speaker of the House of Representatives, railed in the campaign about Obama’s failure to create jobs, but the party he leads voted in lockstep against every single effort to jumpstart the economy by creating jobs.
Obama (to the consternation of some progressives) reached his hand across the aisle again and again, and each time the GOP rejected working with the president to solve America’s problems. The level of obstructionism was simply unprecedented.
The Republicans in the Senate have filibustered literally everything, even legislation they previously supported. Six Republican co-sponsors of a bill creating a deficit commission filibustered their own bill when President Obama came out in support of it.
In one of the most egregious examples of this cynical strategy, Republicans blocked immigration reform and then ran ads telling Latinos not to vote because the Democrats couldn’t get immigration reform done.
It was the economy
The damage done by the GOP to our economy simply could not be undone in 20 months. The top issue across the board in every state and in every race was the economy. The economy remains in terrible condition, and the party in power paid the price.
The fact that it’s in far, far better shape than when George Bush left wasn’t enough to convince voters. Arresting the economy from the total freefall simply doesn’t change the reality that our nation is suffering from the longest and deepest economic crisis since the Great Depression.
Fifteen million jobs have disappeared; the housing market has collapsed; family savings have evaporated; small businesses are starving for customers; states and cities are insolvent; and there is a huge surge in the number of people living in poverty.
The irony is that Republican candidates benefited across the board from the damage their party did to our economic system from 2000 to 2008.
The financiers who created this economic mess were helped every step of the way by Republicans preaching a free market religion and corporate managers who raided their own companies to cut themselves in on the spoils.
These predators were showered with riches while our roads and bridges rotted, our environment decayed, our schools declined, and our communities were starved for investment. The net result is a systemic crisis in which American companies have no incentive to create jobs here, and our communities face an ever-more-tragic widening in the gap between the super rich and everyone else.
Voters are frustrated because solutions for this crisis aren’t coming out of Washington. In the end, they punished the party in current power for the economic problems created by the previous president and a generation of misplaced economic values.
Next week: It’s not all bad news.
Deepak Bhargava is executive director of the Campaign for Community Change, which ensures that the needs of low-income people and communities of color are heard loud and clear in Washington and is the 501c(4) sister organization of the Center for Community Change, www.campaignforcommunities.org.
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