Wrath of Suburbanites and Independents

BumluckSuburbanites and independent voters in Virginia and New Jersey broke Republican in yesterday’s election. Tuesday night, I saw CNN’s John King tell his viewers that this phenomenon could only mean that people are sending a signal to President Barack Obama that they’re fed up with “all that spending” in Washington. King’s assertion is interesting because it sounds a lot like the Republican talking point we’ll hear flogged endlessly this week and it comes from a network that prides itself on being neither FOX nor MSNBC. But I think the election results show that in today’s miserable economic context no incumbent governor (or incumbent party) managing a state or province can escape the wrath of an electorate that continues to bleed and suffer while it watches its tax dollars squandered on foreign wars and Wall Street fat cats.

Any governor facing voters at a time when teachers are being fired, parks closed, and services discontinued, when people are unemployed, losing their homes and without adequate health care, is bound to have a difficult time. Here in California, if Arnold Schwarzenegger were up for re-election, with his abysmal 27 percent approval rating, he’d get clobbered. I heard that Jon Corzine’s rating was 39 percent (Arnold would call that number evidence of a mandate). What Virginia and New Jersey show is that the inaction on the economy in real terms coming from Congress and the Obama administration is taking its toll. It’s nice to hear all that talk about “economic stimulus” and “public options” for those who need health care, but so far Washington inertia has failed to deliver any concrete gains to ordinary people. And if this trend continues into the midterm election season of 2010 I wouldn’t be surprised if more incumbents go down in flames when the voters have an opportunity to vote their rage.

The public’s anger arises from the sense that Washington only serves the interests of the rich and powerful while the middle class gets bupkis. When was the last time the federal government did anything for the working middle class? Stagnant wages and salaries, depleted pensions, soaring health care, college, and housing costs, predatory lending, gouging of every kind imaginable from creditors. Consumer “confidence” is a foreign concept. The Great Wall Street Rip-Off of 2007-2008 broke the back of the American middle class. Most people were just treading water before Wall Street ran away with a large chunk of the country’s wealth. The only lesson from yesterday’s voting is that people want to throw the bums out and this sentiment will only build through 2010.

In 2010 the Democrats will lose House and Senate seats — the only question is: How many? If the Congress continues on its do-nothing 1994-deja vu course — whether due to bureaucratic inertia, Blue Dog obstruction, or political miscalculation — the Democrats will lose their majority in one or both chambers of Congress. And they will deserve to lose their majority just as they deserved to lose it back in 1994.

Foreign wars and occupations of basket-case countries where every additional one thousand soldiers costs the nation an additional $1 billion a year. Trillions of dollars in bailouts, corporate welfare, and loan guarantees forked over to a clique of filthy rich, undeserving, white collar criminals on Wall Street. These are things that do not make good public policy and the American people understand this fact. Ordinary working people deserve to get something in return for their hard-earned tax dollars but so far all they’ve gotten is foreclosed homes, job losses, shoddy access to medical care, and uncertain futures.

The only “good” news for Democrats was New York’s 23rd district. Now at least they have one more seat they can afford to lose in 2010. In Maine, the rollback of gay rights shows that these rights must be won in the courts, not at the ballot box.

During the 2008 presidential campaign Obama tapped into this same anger and won big. After he turned over the economy to Tim Geithner and Larry Summers it just looks like business as usual. Wall Street pays out billions of dollars in bonuses regardless of performance and has already begun securitizing about $18 billion worth of peoples’ life insurance policies betting (indeed hoping) people will die earlier than expected, and speculators are once again hedging those bets with credit default swaps. Lukewarm regulations are the talk of Washington but so far nothing has come out of the Democratic Congress with any real teeth. Bob Gates continues Bush’s ill-conceived wars unabated and the Treasury Department is full of Alan Greenspan retreads. These are the reasons people are angry and will take it out on incumbents in 2010, not because of “all that spending” in Washington or any fondness for the Republicans.

joseph-palmero.gifThat’s why there’s so much anger directed at “bonuses” and “executive compensation.” The caps placed on the pay-outs to a handful of Wall Street scapegoats might feel good but it doesn’t do anything to address the underlying injustices of living in a plutocracy. Unless the federal government steps up and takes control from these people who a year ago came begging for bailouts we’re staring down the barrel of the next catastrophe.

Joseph Palermo

Originally published by the Huffington Post. Reprinted with permission from the author

Published by the LA Progressive on November 5, 2009
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About Joseph Palermo

Joseph Palermo is Professor of History, California State University, Sacramento. Professor Palermo's most recent book is The Eighties (Pearson 2012). He has also written two other books: In His Own Right: The Political Odyssey of Senator Robert F. Kennedy (Columbia, 2001); and Robert F. Kennedy and the Death of American Idealism (Pearson, 2008). Before earning a Master's degree and Doctorate in History from Cornell University, Professor Palermo completed Bachelor's degrees in Sociology and Anthropology from the University of California, Santa Cruz, and a Master's degree in History from San Jose State University. His expertise includes the 1980s; political history; presidential politics and war powers; social movements of the 20th century; the 1960s; and the history of American foreign policy. Professor Palermo has also written articles for anthologies on the life of Father Daniel Berrigan, S.J. in The Human Tradition in America Since 1945 (Scholarly Resources Press, 2003); and on the Watergate scandal in Watergate and the Resignation of Richard Nixon (CQ Press, 2004).