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How Liberals Can Send the Right Message this Election

September 29th, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments

It seems that we’re stuck in a lose-lose situation. For most of us, voting for our Democratic Party representative in the upcoming mid-term elections will send the wrong message to Washington—that we approve of the pathetic, wishy-washy, cowardly way in which the Democrats of the 111th Congress have been governing. Constantly incorporating Republican proposals into their legislation in spite of their clear electoral mandate to change course, watering-down and weakening bill after bill to make them more acceptable to powerful special interests, refusing to stand up and make the case for things like a public health insurance option and a cap on carbon emissions, and most recently being too intimidated by the prospect of negative campaign ads that they won’t even vote on repealing the Bush tax-cuts for the wealthiest 2% until after the election. The strategy has been to move as far to the right as possible to ward off attacks from a right-wing media machine that is attacking them for being too liberal anyway. This is not the kind of government we voted for in 2006 and 2008, and the last thing we want to do is put our stamp of approval on it once again in 2010.

But what choice do we have? We certainly can’t vote for Republicans, as what they’re proposing will have us crashing back to disastrous economic conditions even faster than Democratic passivity. While Democrats don’t want to move forward quickly enough, Republicans want to actively move in the opposite direction, making the deficit-exploding Bush tax cuts permanent and repealing the health care reform legislation that in spite of its major shortcomings could still do a lot of good for a lot of people. As far as I can tell, these are their only two major policy ideas: tax-cuts for the rich and repealing health care reform. Anyone who votes for that thinking it will solve everything has been watching too much Fox News.

Of course most voters don’t know anything about economic policy, so they’re just going to go and vote against the Democrats because the Democrats are in charge and the economy still sucks. Never mind that the Republicans would make it worse—they show up at the polls every two years and launch their protest vote and that’s as far as their thinking goes. They don’t read or watch the news enough to understand just how badly they’re shooting themselves in their own financial foot.

That leaves liberals with the distasteful obligation of voting for Democrats to cancel out these understandable but misguided protest votes, and this is what the Democratic Party is counting on. No matter how poor a job they’ve done at governing these last 2-4 years, they know that their base knows the alternative is far worse. They’ve got us by the balls and we can either hold our collective noses and vote for them, or stay home and let fate plunge this country even deeper into the hole that uninformed voters have been allowing it to sink into for decades.

But there is an alternative, and I hope you’ll consider taking it. The key is to throw your support not behind the Democratic Party in general, but behind specific Democrats who deserve our support.

Russ Feingold is a senator from Wisconsin who has been right about nearly everything in his entire career, particularly when it comes to the economy. During the deregulation fervor of the Clinton years, he stood up and opposed the changes that would allow Wall Street to gamble with our money, which he warned would lead to a terrible financial crisis (and we all know how that story ended). This past year when Obama and the Democrats passed their Financial Reform-in-name-only legislation, Russ Feingold was the guy who had the balls to stand up and say no, that he could not in good conscience vote for a bill that wouldn’t prevent another financial crisis—which it won’t. Wall Street is still up to the same old dirty tricks, and when the next bubble bursts it will be Feingold alone among Senate Democrats who can say “I told you so.”

Feingold is currently in a bloody battle to keep his Wisconsin Senate seat, and the last I heard he was down by nearly 10 points. If he loses, the message the Washington establishment will take—the message they’re hoping to take—is that when Democrats are too far to the left, they lose elections. As a result, the rest of the cowardly Democrats who run to the right at the first sign of trouble will run even further to the right and become even more eager to please the Wall Street masters.

If you live in Wisconsin, for God’s sake get out and vote in November. You actually have the opportunity to send the right kind of message this election season—that liberals want a fighter who will fight for liberal causes, not just a bunch of pathetic cowards who are afraid of being labeled “anti-business”. If you don’t live in Wisconsin, you can still send a message by donating to Russ Feingold’s campaign, which you can do by following this link.

The other Democrat who deserves our support this election is Alan Grayson, whom just about everyone knows. Grayson is a convenient target for those on the right because he actually stands up and says controversial things like “The Republican health care plan is ‘Don’t get sick. And if you do, die quickly.’” They point to him and say he’s a crazy wacko liberal, the Democratic equivalent of a Michele Bachmann. Even some liberals have bought into this, and they’ll condemn him for going too far to the left just to make themselves look more moderate and say “at least I’m condemning extremism on both sides.”

This is a real shame, because the equivalence is a false one. Grayson may push some buttons from time to time but his attacks are always rooted in facts and reality. This is the kind of Democrat that more Democrats should be like—the kind who are not afraid to stand up and forcefully make the case for liberal principles. Most Democrats are so afraid of conflict that they spend 99% of their time bending over backwards to appear “reasonable” and willing to compromise. We need more like Grayson who aren’t afraid of a little controversy, of ruffling a few conservative feathers, of actually standing up and defending the things they supposedly believe in instead of tripping all over themselves to show that they don’t believe these things too strongly.

Grayson also faces a tough re-election campaign, and while most of us don’t live in his district and can’t therefore express our approval, we can still go to his website and toss a few bucks his way. If he wins re-election, the rest of the Democratic Party might wake up and say “Gee willikers! Apparently you can be a strong advocate for liberal principles and still win an election!” If he loses, the conventional wisdom that liberals have to hide their true beliefs and constantly pander to conservatives will be confirmed, and that will be disastrous.

There are several possible outcomes to the 2010 elections, and most of them are dismal. The most likely outcomes involve massive Republican gains in both chambers of Congress, which the Washington media will interpret as a message from the American people that they don’t want Change and would rather go back to the way things were under Bush. The other possible outcomes involve Democrats maintaining their majorities, which the Washington media will interpret as a message from the American people that they like centrist, middle-of-the-road compromise in which the government splits the difference between the interests of the wealthy and the interests of average Americans (and by “splitting the difference” we of course mean giving far more consideration to the wealthy).

But what will really matter is how things go in these tight races in which real liberals are fighting for their political lives. If people like Feingold and Grayson lose, the message will be that moving to the left is political suicide, and the conventional wisdom that has kept the Democratic Party locked in a rightward drift all these years will be confirmed. But if disappointed and disaffected liberals stand up this election and get behind candidates like Feingold and Grayson and these candidates win, then it won’t matter as much what happens in the rest of the country. We’ll have shown that when a politician is willing to fight for us, we will fight for them.

The best possible message we could send to the establishment would come in the form of corporate-friendly Democrats getting booted out of office while genuinely progressive Democrats win decisive victories. That will show everyone in the media, the government, and most importantly the White House, that the key to political victory is not to run from the left but to embrace it—to fight for real change and not be afraid of losing the support of the wealthiest Americans and biggest corporations because they’ll have the people on their side.

Support Russ Feingold. Support Alan Grayson. Make the message of the 2010 elections the one we should be sending: “If you’ve got our back, we’ve got yours.”

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