New York’s 26th: Is Hope Still Alive?
As someone who believes that the democratic process in America is pretty much dead and buried, election results that go against the establishment always surprise me. Even with all the talk leading up to the special election in New York’s 26th district about how the seat might go to a Democrat even though it’s one of the country’s reddest districts and has been held by Republicans since the Civil War, I still assumed the Republicans would hold on to it.
But I underestimated just how bi-partisan the opposition to Paul Ryan’s budget plan would be. He proposed that Medicare be replaced with a voucher program, basically giving senior-citizens a coupon to go buy insurance on the private market. Naturally, senior-citizens aren’t too optimistic about putting their lives in the hands of private insurance companies (most non-senior-citizens aren’t too happy about it either but that’s another matter) so when the Republican candidate Jane Corwin announced her support for the plan, her poll numbers started dropping and she wound up losing the election, much to my great surprise.
I figured that Republicans wouldn’t have made such a radical proposal if they hadn’t believed they could survive it politically. Medicare is an extremely popular government program that even die-hard conservatives want protected. The same goes for Social Security, and you can ask George W. Bush just how popular the idea of privatizing that is with the American people.
The truth is that as much as they may rail against it, Americans love their socialism. Talking about getting rid of these programs has always been akin to political suicide. This seems completely obvious, pretty much Politics 101. If you want to keep your seat in Congress, keep your hands off Social Security and Medicare.
But the oligarchs have had their eyes on these programs for a long time and they’ve been dying to kill them for decades in order to free up room in the national budget for more tax-cuts for corporations and the wealthy. To finally pull the plug on the last bit of national wealth being distributed to the middle-class and make sure it now all goes to the very top. Once the top 1% have more money than everyone else combined, it’s check-mate and game over.
This moment in American politics seemed to be the right time to finally make their move. All the pieces were in place. Fox News has had plenty of time to sufficiently brainwash a large portion of the population that all social spending is evil and that trickle-down economics is the only fiscal policy that works (even though it’s been obvious for at least 20 years that it doesn’t). The Koch Brothers and other wealthy elites have been financing and pulling the strings of this Tea Party movement which their pals in the media have helpfully inflated out of proportion and created the impression of a sweeping grassroots rebellion among middle-class Americans who are apparently demanding that the rich take more of their money. And most importantly, their pawns on the Supreme Court have ruled that Corporations can spend as much money as they want in elections.
The thinking was that it no longer matters what most Americans think. As long as your proposals are perceived to have public support—and the media makes sure they are—you can safely do the bidding of the oligarchs without concern for what the majority actually thinks. Enough money will be spent on negative ads against your opponent that your seat will be safe and you can go on doing your corporate masters’ bidding in perpetuity.
But apparently we’re not at that point just yet. In spite of the massive amount of money spent to defeat the Democrat Kathy Hochul in the special election in New York’s 26th, she still emerged victorious. And while Fox News and other media outlets are trying to downplay the importance of the Medicare issue (lest the American people find out that they’re pretty much in agreement on it) it’s clear that the result was due to people’s fear of losing Medicare.
The oligarchs overreached this time, and they’ll presumably put their plans to gut Medicare back on the shelf for awhile. Democracy, in this case, seems to have worked. Despite all the media-spin and big money donations to keep one of their puppets in that seat, the American people spoke and definitively rejected their plan. We believe the government should take care of the elderly, and we let our leaders know it.
But the fight is by no means over—not by any stretch of the imagination. This only demonstrates that we are in fact still capable of winning if we actually choose to fight. The oligarchs have put us in check but they haven’t check-mated us just yet. That doesn’t mean that in just a few more moves we’ll find ourselves trapped in the scenario I described above in which corporations can force through whatever legislation they want regardless of how unpopular it is.
If the Democrats were smart and/or not bought by the same corporate interests as the entire Republican Party, they’d take this cue to go on the offensive. Instead of merely running their 2012 campaigns on the promise of defending Medicare from the Republicans who want to kill it, they could (and should) vow to expand Medicare: to re-ignite the push for a public healthcare option by proposing that anyone can buy-in to Medicare regardless of age. The contrast between the parties this year would be sharper than ever: one party wants to kill Medicare, the other wants to make it available to everybody. If New York’s 26th is any indication, we’d probably see a massive Democratic sweep the likes of which we haven’t seen in modern history.
Unfortunately, Democrats don’t seem to have any desire to be so bold. They’re not going to take the lesson that New York’s 26th could teach them—that popular support still counts for more than Big Money donations. They apparently still believe that democracy is as dead as I thought it was and the only way to hold on to political power is to cater to the wealthy and corporate elite.
I would not be shocked if President Obama announces that in the spirit of bi-partisan compromise he will make a few modest cuts to Medicare and Social Security, thus securing a great deal of campaign money for himself at the expense of a few more progressive voters. He’s banking on the fact that the Republican primary will weed out any serious candidate who might stand a chance against him, so his only opponent will be so far to the right-wing fringe that he can win as a center-right candidate.
True democracy is dying, gasping for air under the weight of corporate power and income inequality, but the fact that a Democrat can win in one of the country’s most Republican districts because a majority of voters agreed on an important issue is proof that it’s not dead yet. It can be resuscitated, but only if we remain active and not expect our politicians to do it for us.