What European Elections Should Teach Obama

obama boulderAccording to the media, recent European elections in France, Greece and Germany show that voters have a “throw the bums out” mentality. As the Los Angeles Times described it, “in recessions, voters tend to punish the party in charge.”

But the real election lesson is quite different. Voters are rebelling against austerity, and giving pro-austerity candidates/parties the heave-ho. This would mean great gains for Democrats against pro-austerity Republicans – if voters saw the parties this way.

But due to Obama’s focus on deficit-reduction and failure to effectively market his stimulus package, many voters do not. Europe’s lesson is that Obama should far more aggressively promote public investment, job creation, and other economically populist – and popular – measures. If he and the Democrats do this, their success in 2008 could be repeated in 2012.

The European uprising against banker-imposed austerity should lead us to ask: why are there not ongoing mass protests in this country against a Republican House that opposes public investment, student loans, and virtually every government program outside of the military? Or if not protests on the streets, at least at the ballot box?

The answer is that in Europe, the lines between political parties are widely understood. Here, the Democrats are so connected to Wall Street and the 1% that many voters see the Party as equally unwilling to battle for their interests.

This is not working-class voters going with Republicans over social issues. Rather, it’s Obama and the Democrats’ failure to win their support by powerfully promoting growth over austerity.

And when you read that the national Democratic Party is doing little to help the recall of Governor Scott Walker in Wisconsin – in a race that should clearly define where the two parties stand on economic policy – it’s no wonder that many voters doubt which side the Democratic Party is really on.

Obama’s Partial Populism

Obama understands Europe’s lessons better than his fellow Democrats. He has returned to his populist campaign themes of 2008, highlighting the federal bailout of the auto industry, renewing lower cost student loans, and investing in public infrastructure.

But he has not criticized the austerity program of the Federal Reserve, or otherwise galvanized struggling voters around an economic program as he did his gay and lesbian base when he backed gay marriage.

When you read about young people leaving college with massive debt no prior generation has ever faced, both political parties are to blame. The very informed know that Democrats have been far better on student loans and educational funding, but those impacted are looking for dramatic solutions NOW.

randy shawObama is not offering such solutions. So some students see him as part of the problem. He’ll get young people’s votes for his stands on other issues, but the Democrats are missing a chance to capitalize on a very hot button issue.

If Europe’s lesson were anti-incumbency, Republicans would lose the House in November. But because many voters see both parties as equally complicit in austerity, Republican House leadership is expected to survive.

The Democrats’ failure to clearly identify as the party of the 99% goes beyond national politics.

In California, a Democratic-controlled legislature cannot get foreclosure bills passed because key Democrats in the Central Valley and Los Angeles are opposed. Some are Latino Democrats taking big bucks from banking and real estate industries, despite Latino families being disproportionately impacted by foreclosures.

California is the bluest of states with perhaps the nation’s most progressive voters. Yet even here, Democrats refuse to seize the mantle of the 99% leaving voters blaming both parties for the state’s many crises.

Obama and other national and state Democrats have not promoted policies firmly identifying them with the 99%. And Europe shows that it is their ongoing identification with austerity, not their incumbency, which poses their greatest risks in November. randy shaw

Europe’s lesson about voters rejecting austerity policies was also reflected in recent South American elections in Argentina, Peru, Brazil and elsewhere. Candidates disavowing the politics of austerity repeatedly prevailed, often winning by far bigger than expected margins.

If Obama goes all out for growth and against austerity, he could bring Democrats a near repeat of the sweeping gains won in 2008. Otherwise, the President will prevail against the weak Mitt Romney while pro-austerity Republicans maintain House control and the power to weaken his agenda.

Randy Shaw

Posted: Tuesday, 15 May 2012


  1. Jay Levenberg, Esq. says

    What nonsense. This article shows nothing more than the author is completely unfamiliar with the American public. They may like social welfare programs but the public is in no mood for a repeat of another stimulus program or any big government program. The healthcare plan is not popular and Obama doesn’t utter a word about it though he spent a year trying to get it passed when it would have been better to spend a year working on the budget and deficits. Democrats in the Senate have not passed a budget in 3 years (and a budget is not subject to filibuster for all of you ready to blame the Republicans). And this author wants to spend more? How is that for being out of touch?. In California, Brown is faced with a deficit of 16 billion dollars and he wants to raise taxes. His popularity is in the 30s. Governor Christie in NJ was faced with a similar deficit. He cut spending and refusted to increase taxes. His popularity is close to 60% in th last Quinnipiac poll.

  2. Hwood007 says


    You are painting with too broad a brush.  The French and Germans are not as analogous
    as you would have us believe.  In fact, they
    are so diverse, neither would do something to assist the other unless it also
    assisted themselves.  Actually, they are not
    really comrades and neither has forgotten history. Having lived in multiple
    towns in several European countries, I can tell you none of them are mirror
    images of the other and they are quick to note their differences.  By living, I mean existing on the same block
    of town, drinking in the local pubs ,and not at the midtown Hilton, which
    translates into a golden ghetto.


    You may have some homogeneous feelings on the social level with
    the Greeks and the Italians, but they are even more accustomed to the benefit
    culture than the previous two.  What kind
    of people take to the streets, protesting their government for increasing the
    work week by a-one hour?  What thinking,
    if any, goes into the decision to burn public buildings and destroying public
    libraries?  The assets will need to be
    replaced with public funds so they are in fact burning their own money and will
    be taxed to replace it. DUMB


    Even the occupy group in America
    is not as drastic as the European left and you want to use them as a pattern
    for our great Democratic party to emulate? 
    You think I will vote for that?

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