America Turns Right

john boehnerTuesday night was a wake-up call for those who saw the 2008 elections as ushering in a progressive realignment built upon expanded voting by young people, Latinos, and women. Democrats lost the U.S. House, and will likely lose the Senate after the 2012 elections. Instead of a campaign focused on increased public investment, green jobs, and greater social and economic fairness, Republicans and their media allies succeeded in framing the 2010 races around “tax and spend” Democrats’ moving too far to the left; even President Obama said he would focus less on government solutions to the economic crisis.

Obama’s political team knew since Inauguration Day that there was typically a 33% drop-off in mid-term voter turnout, and that those least likely to vote were young people and other first time 2008 voters. It also knew that it could not count on the media to trumpet the success of progressive policies. Yet the Obama team failed to invest heavily in a grassroots organizing operation that could have kept young voters and the Democratic base connected to the Administration, abandoning the very strategy essential to progressives’ 2008 success.

It’s fair to say that most progressives saw the Democratic Party train wreck of November 2nd coming for several months, but felt powerless to prevent it. President Obama’s early and steadfast refusal to attack Republicans in fiercely partisan terms allowed the GOP to blame Democrats for the ongoing economic crisis, and by the time Obama hit the campaign trail it was too little too late to change the public mood.

I feel sorry for Joe Sestak, who was up against a Republican tidal wave in Pennsylvania and nearly pulled off an upset Senate victory. Other principled Democrats, like Florida Congressmember Alan Grayson, also fell victim to forces beyond their control.

And as I predicted, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid prevailed over Tea Party hero Sharron Angle. A record Latino voter turnout – 12% of the electorate – gave Reid a fifth term.

Elections No Substitute for Ongoing Organizing
As progressives took back Congress in 2006 and the presidency in 2008, these victories may have misled many into believing that winning elections ensures progressive change. Yet despite the most liberal president since Lyndon Johnson and the most progressive House Speaker ever, much of the core Democratic agenda – comprehensive immigration reform, the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), climate change legislation, a massive and ongoing public works jobs program – never even came close to enactment.

It’s a tragedy of missed opportunity. One that last night’s election ensures will not come again anytime soon.

When Barack Obama evoked Cesar Chavez and the UFW’s fabled “Yes We Can” (“Si Se Puede”) rallying cry, I thought the former community organizer understood that the forces of big money and persistent conservative media bias can only be overcome by ongoing grassroots organizing.

Take a step back and think about what distinguished Obama’s 2008 campaign.

Was it massive radio or television advertising that built a movement for change, or a massive grassroots effort involving personal contacts with voters? Obviously, it was the latter.

It was personal contacts by grassroots organizers that enabled Obama campaign staff to talk with voters and refute Republican and media lies. You can’t do this through impersonal mail or advertising appeals.

President Obama’s political team thought they could dispense with a massive investment in organizing because their accomplishments would have their base rushing to the polls in 2010. Unfortunately, there is a major gap between what Obama believes he has accomplished for his base and the base’s perception.

But here’s the critical point: even if Obama had done everything his base wanted, Republicans and much of the media would have sung a sufficiently different tune that the 2008 voter base would need the type of shoring up that only is achieved through ongoing personal contacts.

That’s why Obama’s decision to disband his massive campaign organizing force was the single worst mistake he made, and one that progressives paid dearly for last night.

Obama’s Organizing for America is a dramatically scaled down version of what was needed to combat the right-wing media machine. It utilized far too few organizers to keep even the most fragile parts of Obama’s 2008 electoral base intact.

It’s not as if the Democratic Party could not have afforded to hire at least 1,000 fulltime organizers from Day One of the Obama presidency. The Party just got through spending hundreds of millions of dollars on unproductive television and radio campaign ads.

Therein lies the anatomy of a defeat.

How many times must Democrats learn the lesson that they cannot out-advertise Republicans and instead must out-organize them?

randy shawIt’s not too late for Obama and Democratic leaders to learn from their mistakes, and to invest in at least 1,000 new organizers who would spend the next two years building grassroots resistance to Republican policies. But this will not happen.

Instead, Obama’s team will decide that the President and Democratic Party must move to “the center,” accepting Republican economic policies they once railed against. It’s a script that we have seen time and time again, and one that many of us thought had been discarded after the breakthrough of 2008.

Randy Shaw

Republished with permission from Beyond Chron


  1. Temporarily Anonymous says

    Obama claimed to want to work with both sides -LIE- He proved that at the C-Span meeting where he sat and pretended to listen to what the Republicans said in regards to the Obamacare that all his people went ahead and voted through refusing to listen to the Republicans or trying to work with them and his refusal to listen to the Tea Party Groups that showed up so many times because they wanted to at least be heard and things considered and maybe he could work with them. Obama was not interested in working with anybody. He made up his mind and decided on the Obamacare Plan that will backrupt the Nation if it continues. Then he has the audacity to make fun of the Americans, the Tea Party People, by using his fingers as if holding a tea bag and said, if you people with your little tea bags thinks……….My reaction was no different then theirs “the Leader of the Free World is standing up there making fun of the American people that just want to be heard. Obama made it clear he was not interested in working with both sides and making fun of people that disagree with him and insulting us over in Europe is a sign people THIS MAN HATES AMERICA AND AMERICANS! I do not know who is pulling his strings but he has got to be stopped before there is no more America. I do not know how someone is going to wake him up but they need to. He is likable and funny but he lies out both sides of his mouth and it comes so natural to him it makes you wonder what else is up under the rug.

  2. Ryder says

    “President Obama’s early and steadfast refusal to attack Republicans in fiercely partisan terms allowed the GOP to blame Democrats for the ongoing economic crisis, ”

    This makes NO sense, as Obama clearly, repeatedly, and openly told republicans that they didn’t have a say, were to be ignored, and could sit “at the back of the bus” while Democrats took control.

    Clearly, that is what allows the GOP to make the claim, in addition to four full years of Democrat control of Congress… Both houses… Having had the chance to act on the predicted housing crisis long before it materialized.

  3. Wes Tipton says

    The democrats have been in control of Congress for over 3 years, but it’s still the GOP’s fault at every turn. YOu guys will never ‘man up’ and accept responsibility for your own actions obviously, but the ‘American’ people gave you the answer to your excuses Tueaday night.
    That was a day we conservatives have looked forward to for two long dreadful years, and we will bring this country back from the brink of bankrupcty and absurd marxist ideology quickly.
    The previous post shows the facts which liberals continue to ignore, but I will keep those and post them to every blog in this country every single time I hear alib whine about what the GOP did the last 3 years.
    Get a clue before you write your misinformed atricles please.

  4. John Lloyd Scharf says

    Regardless of how you feel about it, here are the facts, according to the Bureau of Labor & Statistics:
    1.2006 had 4 to 6% historic lows in joblessness and moderate growth in the GDP.
    2.January 5th, 2007, the Democrats took power with the change of rules, H.Res. 6.
    3.Mortgage failures began in the fall of 2007 because of subprime loans backed by HUD, Fannie Mae, and Freddie Mac. Quazi-governmental Fannie Mae went from $87 a share then to 87 cents now.
    4.Since Pelosi became the Speaker, the Democrats have increased the national debt by $5 trillion. Credit, however intangible it seems, is not infinitely elastic. At some point, the government borrowing money competes with business. Business needs credit to build and maintain the means of production. Business is the engine that creates wealth. Government consumes wealth AND credit.
    5.In January of 2009, joblessness was 7.6%. In January of 2010, joblessnes was 9.6%. In the same period, 3.2 million more workers lost their jobs.

    It is unproductive to be blame storming by pointing fingers at the media, the TEA Party, conservatives, or Republicns.

    Given the large turnout for a midterm, it is clear the Democrats engaging in a huge spending policy was going to be followed by a huge taxing policy. The engines creating wealth in the US can stand spending 18% of the GDP on government for national defense and public safety.

    That engine ceases to reinvest at 36% of GDP being spent on government. Businesses fire people and let their inventories draw down. It was that which brought the stock market back to 80% of its 2008 level, not the policies of the Democrats.

  5. GaryH says

    Assuming, for the sake of a clear discussion, that Obama is sincere, and not a right wing Manchurian candidate, I think Rahm Emanuel is partly to blame.
    — Gary

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