Low voter turnout boosts Republicans
Two weeks ago, in a piece penned on Virg Bernero’s visit to the campus, I made the point any Republican gains in the mid-term election would be seized upon by the Obama administration as “political cover for its continual lurch to the right.” Moreover, I speculated the media would “inevitably chime in (saying) the American people have rejected the ‘left-wing’ and even ‘socialist’ policies pursued by the Obama administration.”
Since the elections, this perspective has been confirmed.
In a news conference Wednesday, President Obama wasted no time in reviving his rhetoric about bipartisanship with the Republican right on “common ground.” He even presented the Democratic electoral rout as a popular rejection of his government-led interventions into the banking sector, the auto industry and health care.
The “common ground” he expects to find with his Republican colleagues is on cutting government spending – but only government spending that provides social programs for working people, not spending on the military or the wealthy – attacking democratic rights, pursuing military adventures abroad and promoting increasingly hostile trade and monetary policies.
The claim peddled by the media, and seemingly accepted by Obama, that the election results represent a shift of the American people to the right, is not only impressionistic but simply absurd.
In the midst of the greatest economic crisis since the Great Depression, with mass unemployment, growing poverty, record levels of social inequality and unprecedented attacks on education, health care and social programs, we are asked to believe the American people are moving politically to the right to embrace the free market ideology, including tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy, curtailment of unemployment benefits and drastic cuts to education and social programs.
Furthermore, this claim has no factual basis. As I maintained in my previous piece, “the growing lack of confidence in the Democratic Party does not imply increasing support for the Republicans. The gains the Republican Party are expected to enjoy will be the peculiar result of an undemocratic two-party system that allows the political expression of the population to be realized only in the most distorted of forms.”
When one looks closely at the election results, this is what occurred.
Participation dropped by some 1.5 million votes compared to the previous midterm election. More than 41 million voters who turned out in 2008 stayed home this time. When compared to 2008, votes for Republican candidates for the House of Representatives dropped by about 11 million. For the Democrats, the decline was nearly 30 million.
In other words, the sweeping Republican triumph was a victory by default made possible precisely because the two-party system provides the American working class with the option of supporting a right-wing party of big business or a more right-wing party of big business – essentially a choice of cancer or polio.
This is not to say the Democrats didn’t deserve to lose. The dishonest and reactionary policies the party has carried out over the last two years alone justifies a complete political break with it. However, this divorce must be attended with the building of an independent party based on the class interests of the vast majority of the population – that is, a socialist party – if it is to germinate into a progressive movement.
If anything can be gleaned from the election results, it is the American people are moving to the left under the pressure of the economic crisis with an expanding layer of the population identifying both major parties for what they are – political representatives of a hostile class.