Those who rely on the mass media for their information about what is happening in America today most likely think the country has gone crazy. The Republican presidential primaries have produced political comments that have comedians struggling to parody them further. But what is unreported is the huge gap between the discourse of the Washington power elite and mainstream Americans.
E.J. Dionne comments on the primaries in the Washington Post: “Republicans cannot shut down their presidential nominating contest because the party is in the midst of an upheaval wrought by the growing dominance of its right wing, its unresolved attitudes toward George W. Bush’s presidency, and the terror that the GOP rank and file has stirred among the more moderately conservative politicians who once ran things. … Bush’s efforts to craft a ‘compassionate conservatism’ friendlier toward those in the political middle collapsed into ruins years ago. This year’s Republican candidates almost never speak Bush’s name. It is to Santorum’s discredit that he did not dare defend his perfectly defensible vote in favor of Bush’s No Child Left Behind education program. Santorum, too, fears the pitchforks wielded by those who see any exertion of federal authority as leading down a road to serfdom.”
Likewise, when Santorum attacks women’s rights to birth control and denigrates the opportunity for higher education, he is attacking the premises of the chance of a middle-class future for most people. This is central to mainstream American values: yet the media and talk shows find nothing wrong with his statements. In contrast, the Washington Post reports: “a new Bloomberg poll finds that an overwhelming majority, 77 percent, believe birth control should not even be ‘part of the national political debate.’ It also finds that 62 percent think the contraception battle is ‘a matter of women’s health and access to birth control,’ the Dem framing of the issue, while only 33 percent believe it’s about ‘religious liberty.’ Fifty-three percent think Rush Limbaugh should be fired for his ‘slut’ comments.”
And the same disconnect also applies to the Supreme Court. “If Americans were wary of the Supreme Court opening the floodgates of outside election spending with Citizens United two years ago, they like it even less now that they’ve seen what the decision has reaped. A new ABC News/Washington Post poll Tuesday shows 69 percent of Americans think super PACs should be illegal,” comments Talking Points Memo.
A refreshing display of true mainstream opinion was given over the last weekend (March 12) in Wisconsin, where a mass rally at the state Capitol commemorating the fight against governor Walker’s legislative attacks on state worker unions, and the continued push for his recall, confirm that resistance to his implementation of right-wing Republican priorities has continued and is stronger than ever. The rally was estimated to mobilize up to 60,000 people.
Symbolic of the energy of the powerful recall movement is the candidacy of housewife Lori Compas, who organized her own grass-roots drive to recall the GOP Senate majority leader Scott Fitzgerald. Democratic professionals had not planned to try to unseat him, since he represents a strongly Republican district, but Ms. Compas, one of his constituents, succeeded in collecting enough signatures to force him into an election. When she spoke at the rally, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported, she held up a memo from the Government Accountability Board that said four recall elections against GOP senators should move forward. “This is Scott Fitzgerald’s pink slip,” she said.
Walker is a good example of what Republican rhetoric actually means. His onslaught on unions has been accompanied by major cuts in funding for the University of Wisconsin and the state school system, as well as programs for the sick and poor in the state. But what polarized Wisconsinites against him so completely was the way in which he refused any kind of compromise, forcing legislation down the throats of his political opponents. Although Wisconsin is a politically divided state, he is far enough to the right of mainstream opinion there that even conservatives joined in the campaign for his recall.
The Democratic party leadership and most union leaders present Obama as the best alternative to the crazy Republicans. But he, too, is to the right of U.S. public opinion. He is projecting war with Iran, asserting the right to assassinate political opponents, is in thrall to the big banks (which the corporate Dems have staked the economy on), and has reneged on everything he professed to stand for. Ultimately, he’s a political lightweight who has accepted the status quo and merely seeks a more rational way of smoothing over conflict.
Economist James Crotty comments “what Obama and the Democrats seem to be striving for is a moderate or a less savage attack on social programs [compared to Republicans]. But the narrative is largely the same: we’ve lived beyond our means (which isn’t true), and the solutions therefore are going part of the way with the Republicans but nowhere near all the way. So it’s a kind of a less savage, less intense assault on social democracy, but an assault nevertheless.”
In These Times writer Mike Elk points out: “a few days after the Communications Workers of America (CWA) endorsed President Obama for re-election, the president signed a bill funding the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) that, according to CWA President Larry Cohen, makes the organizing rights of airline and rail workers “worse than it’s ever been.” … As president, Obama publicly distanced himself from labor law reform—he didn’t give a single major speech on the subject of workers’ rights, as opposed to immigration and climate change. Likewise … Obama’s most recent State of the Union address did not mention the unprecedented attacks on workers’ rights at the state level, in places like Wisconsin, Ohio and Indiana.”
Instead of endorsing Obama for president and contributing large sums towards his re-election, unions should be using their resources for on-the-job organizing and grass-roots campaigns to repair the damage caused by the Republican drive to dismantle what union rights still remain. They cannot depend on Obama to defend them.