Skip to main content

Election Failure by Democrats - Three Views

Instead of positioning as an advocate for the people, and especially the people who are being squeezed, too many Democrats were running as technocrats and bi-partisan healers. The election was fundamentally about frustration with a recovery that most people haven't enjoyed. The GOP theme was to blame President Obama and tie Democrats to him, arousing their base. Democrats chose not to run nationally against Republican obstruction.

Nation of Change
  • Election Failure by Democrats Due to Lack of Clear Progressive Direction - Bill Fletcher, Jr. (The Black Commentator)
  • Debacle: Get Ready for the Real Fight - Robert Borosage (Campaign for America's Future)
  • Trumka: 'Americans Are Desperate for a New Economic Life' - Kenneth Quinnell (AFL-CIO Blog)

Election Failure by Democrats Due to Lack of Clear Progressive Direction

By Bill Fletcher, Jr.

November 6, 2014
The Black Commentator

Here are a few quick thoughts on the November 4th election.

(1) There is almost always a low turnout during a midterm election and the party which controls the White House tends to lose.  This is definitely true but should not let us off the hook.

(2) The Democratic base largely stayed home except in certain important races, such as in North Carolina.  I think that we have to face the reality that the base that would be expected to vote Democratic was dis-spirited.  It is not just the ads that the Republicans ran.  The Obama administration has not led in a progressive direction.  There are certainly some major accomplishments, but there had been great expectations by many that after the 2012 election he would come out swinging.  I never had such expectations, but many people did.  Instead the administration continued to be stuck in various crises but also was not articulating a clear direction.  The Republicans were able to make Obama out to be the problem despite certain important facts, e.g., the economy has improved; troops had been pulled out of Iraq.

(3) Though the economy has improved, the condition for the average working person has not.  Yes, unemployment is down but we are still dealing with structural unemployment that is weighing on everyone.  The damage from the foreclosure crisis is far from over. And the rich are the ones who are benefiting from the improved economy.   To turn any of this around masses of working people need to be organized to fight for a division of the wealth.  Yes, that means building and supporting labor unions.  But when the President does not make that a clarion call-except when speaking with union members-he has no answer to the public that is asking for their share.

(4) Race, as always, was a factor.  The Republicans had sufficient codes to make it clear that race was an issue in the election.  Discussions about Obama allegedly being prepared to open up the flood gates to immigrants is a case in point.  But there were many other messages.  Once again, the Republicans have positioned themselves as the "non-black party."  Race arose in some additional and odd ways.  The Ebola crisis, for instance, was tinged with a racial cover.  The fear and panic associated with it and blaming it on Obama!

(5) This election was about money.but also not:  This was the most expensive midterm in history.  Yet it was not a guarantee that one would win if there was money on the table. The Democrats, in various races, sunk in a great deal of money.  So, we cannot put it all on that.  Money, however, plus motivation can make one VERY bit difference.

(6) The Democrats keep falling back into running technocrats.  While this was certainly not the case in every election, it was striking that there is this default position of channeling Michael Dukakis '88 and suggesting that one is a good candidate because one can run the trains on time.  Instead of positioning as an advocate for the people, and especially the people who are being squeezed, too many Democrats were running as technocrats and bi-partisan healers.  Yet this, in part, relates to money.  If you cannot run a campaign without goo-gobs of money, it is more difficult to run as a progressive populist.

(7) Progressives need to support and create organizations that are fighting for political power at the local and state level.  We need formations (which i have called "neo-Rainbow") that can identify and train candidates; build bases; take on initiatives and referendums; and run our candidates either in Democratic primaries or as independents, depending on the tactical situation.   This brings with it a series of major challenges not the least being accumulating resources.   There is no easy answer to the resource question but one thing that is certain is that building the sorts of organizations i am referencing, e.g., Virginia New Majority, Florida New Majority, Progressive Democrats of America, will necessitate around the clock resource accumulation, including but not limited to fundraising.  We will NEVER have the funds of the Koch brothers so we need to get over that and think about the strategies, tactics and organizational forms necessary and appropriate to an asymmetric situation.
[ Editorial Board member and Columnist, Bill Fletcher, Jr., is a Senior Scholar with the Institute for Policy Studies, the immediate past president of TransAfricaForum, and the author of "They're Bankrupting Us" - And Twenty Other Myths about Unions. He is also the co-author of Solidarity Divided: The Crisis in Organized Labor and a New Path toward Social Justice, which examines the crisis of organized labor in the USA. Other Bill Fletcher, Jr. writing can be found at Contact Mr. Fletcher and BC.]

Debacle: Get Ready for the Real Fight

By Robert Borosage

November 5, 2014
Campaign for America's Future

Debacle. Bloodbath. Call it what you will. Democrats, as expected, fared poorly in red states in an off-year election. Worse, unpopular Republican governors survived. This was ugly.

Yes, the electorate was as skewed as was the map. Many Republicans won office with the support of less than 20 percent of the eligible voters. Voters over 60 made up a stunning 37 percent of the electorate (up from 25 percent in 2012 or 32 percent in the last bi-election in 2010). Voters under 30 were only 12 percent of the electorate, down from 19 percent in 2012. Democrats won women, but lost white men big. Republicans lost ground with Hispanic voters, but in most of the contested states, they weren't much of a factor.

The election was fundamentally about frustration with a recovery that most people haven't enjoyed. Hysteria about ISIS and Ebola didn't help, but wasn't the central source of frustration. The Republican theme was to blame President Obama and tie Democrats to him, arousing their base. Democrats chose not to run nationally against Republican obstruction, assuming that technique and right-wing social reaction would mobilize their base.

There is no mandate for right-wing policies here. Arkansas voters chose to raise the minimum wage while electing a senator who opposes doing so. Colorado voters are pro-choice and elected a senator who isn't. Voters want action on climate change and gave the Senate over to those who are in the pocket of Big Oil. The most rational, given what is coming, were D.C. voters who chose to legalize pot.

The Coming Battle

Mitch McConnell, who drove the Republican strategy to obstruct every Obama initiative to paint him a failure, now warbles the soothing tones of bipartisan cooperation. Republicans made election night conversions from negative partisans to claim a mandate for bold, pro-jobs policies.

Any "cooperation" will be on their terms. They will invite the president to join in corporate tax "reform" that will lower corporate tax burdens, in cutting back Social Security or lifting the retirement age, in budgets that savage the vulnerable and lard the Pentagon, in ruinous trade deals that undermine American workers. They'll champion "repatriation" of the dough that corporations have stashed abroad to pay for infrastructure, handing multinationals a massive tax break and an incentive for even more tax avoidance.

This is the Wall Street "bipartisan" agenda ready to go: a grand bargain cutting Social Security and Medicare, fast-track trade authority, repatriation, corporate tax "reform." The president will be invited to secure his "legacy" with big reforms, while being warned not to spoil the mood with action on immigration or clean energy. This kind of bipartisan cooperation will make us long for obstruction.

President Obama will have to decide. Will he choose now to lay out what the country needs, make his case and make the choices clear, and stand against those who would take the country back? Or will he provide cover for deals that stack the deck even more for the powerful and against the rest of us? He shouldn't be left to make that choice in isolation in the White House.

The Strategy for Revival

In the circular firing squad already blasting away, the loss will be blamed on Democrats being too liberal. They will be urged to return to the center, to cooperate with newborn "moderate" Republicans. They'll be told that the way back to power is to appeal to white men by embracing "centrist" policies on trade, on tax reform, on entitlement reform.

But exposed in this election were the fallacies of the Democratic establishment. Social issues alone can't provide victory, since Republican candidates found it possible to rouse their base while donning sheep's clothing on choice, or going silent on gay marriage. Sophisticated campaign targeting and get-out-the-vote operations can't substitute for passion, clarity, and vision to motivate Democratic base voters to vote. White men and married women will be won not by adopting a corporate agenda or by joining in rigging the rules against them. They will be won by driving an agenda that will address the pressures they feel.

**There is a populist majority waiting to be forged. Majorities will rally for full-employment economics, for fair taxes on the rich and the corporations, investment in rebuilding the country and educating the children, strengthening retirement security, making college affordable, lifting the minimum wage, curbing CEO excess, empowering workers, guaranteed paid family leave, paid sick days and paid vacations, balanced trade to make things in America again, taking on the corruption of our politics by big money, investment in new energy and innovation that will create jobs and more.

This election will make progress even more difficult on any of the challenges most Americans face. Some change can come in states and cities. But Sen. Elizabeth Warren has it right. Voters are cynical; they think government is corrupted and doesn't work for them - and they are right. If the country is to deal with the real challenges it faces - extreme inequality and economic decline for the majority, catastrophic climate change, an oppressive war on working people - we have to stand up and fight. Democrats will have to make it clear that they are ready to join in.

[Robert L. Borosage is the founder and president of the Institute for America's Future and co-director of its sister organization, the Campaign for America's Future. The organizations were launched by 100 prominent Americans to develop the policies, message and issue campaigns to help forge an enduring majority for progressive change in America. Mr. Borosage writes widely on political, economic and national security issues. He is a Contributing Editor at The Nation magazine, and a regular blogger on the Huffington Post. His articles have appeared in The American Prospect, the Washington Post, the New York Times and the Philadelphia Inquirer. He edits the Campaign's Making Sense issues guides, and is co-editor of Taking Back America (with Katrina Vanden Heuvel) and The Next Agenda (with Roger Hickey).]

Trumka: 'Americans Are Desperate for a New Economic Life'

By Kenneth Quinnell

November 5, 2014

"The defining narrative of this election was confirmation, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that Americans are desperate for a new economic life," said AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka on Wednesday. After a disappointing election night, Trumka held a press conference to discuss the election and release the results of a poll conducted by Hart Research Associates that looked into the story behind the headlines. He said voters made it clear they want an economy that works for everyone.

He continued:

But the fact of the matter is that people are disillusioned by endless political bickering and eyed these elections with great dispirit. In way too many elections, they got a false choice. In these very difficult times, they did not get a genuine economic alternative to their unhappiness and very real fear of the future. But when voters did have a chance to choose their future directly-through ballot measures-their decisions are unmistakable.

The Hart Research poll found that voters heavily support working family issues. Voters overwhelmingly support most of the issues that the labor federation has championed in recent years: 75% support increased funding for public schools, 73% favor taxing American corporations on profits they make overseas, 62% support raising the federal minimum wage and 61% support increasing Social Security benefits. Meanwhile, only 27% support raising the Social Security retirement age and only 18% support raising the Medicare eligibility age.

These opinions were expressed at the ballot box when voters had the chance to vote directly on the issues and not through the filter of candidates and billions of campaign dollars. Minimum wage increases passed by large margins in Alaska, Arkansas, Illinois, Nebraska and South Dakota. San Francisco and Oakland likely did the same. Four ballot initiatives supporting paid sick days passed.

Trumka said:

It's clear that American workers and their families are way ahead of the political elite when it comes to envisioning the next American chapter. I was out there all fall.  I was in almost every contested state. I spoke to hundreds and hundreds of workers. Their desire for bold, comprehensive and lasting economic change is the most real thing I've ever heard.

He also said that the AFL-CIO was building upon that public support for working family issues by pushing forward with a long-term, year-round mobilization structure that won't stop with elections. The labor federation also will continue its outreach to like-minded organizations to build coalitions to press the interests of working people in the lame-duck session, with a particular focus on raising wages, immigration reform and making sure that international trade deals work for working families.

If you like this article, please sign up for Snapshot, Portside's daily summary.

(One summary e-mail a day, you can change anytime, and Portside is always free.)