Electoral trick-or-treaters this year span a scary spectrum.
They include U.S. Senate candidates like Christine O’Donnell (Delaware) as bi-polar former witch/contemporary Puritan and Rich Iott (Ohio) in full SS Nazi uniform and New York governor-wannabe Carl Paladino as a homophobic Mafia hit-man.
Frightening rhetoric about President Obama has helped recession-proof the publishing industry, with right-wing screeds from FreedomWorks’ Dick Armey and his “Tea Party Manifesto” to Dinesh D’Souza’s latest, “The Roots of Obama’s Rage,” which resorts to a weird mix of DNA and reincarnation to concoct racist smear of the president.
To foment fear of Democrats' allegedly “socialist” policies, Republicans “No taxes! No spending!” (except for war and prisons) cry has been amplified to an absurd degree. Of course, there also is the now standard howl: “The Muslims will get you unless we keep ‘The War On Terror' going at home and abroad.” And, of course, Democrats are “soft on terrorism.”
Are you scared enough to keep Minnesota’s nutty Rep. Michelle Bachman in office or to put Colorado former DA/rapist protector Ken Buck in the US Senate? There’s a long list of undeniably scary “conservative”, Tea Party-Republicans on the ballot.
That’s a good thing for Democrats, who rely more and more on the fear card, too, to save their quivering behinds: “Vote for me or you’ll get The Terrifying Rightwinger -- and that means women’s reproductive rights will be killed and the Supreme Court will go Frankenstein!”
(What goes unmentioned is how Democrats have allowed women’s reproductive rights to be whittled away by state laws, and how they dropped abortion coverage from their healthcare “reform” bill. And let us never forget that some Democrats voted for the rightwing SCOTUS justices, including John Roberts).
That’s not to say that much of voters’ fears aren’t very real; unemployment isn’t budging much and home foreclosures keep rising. Increasingly, people ask if the American Dream is dead, merely a grieving ghost that haunts the long-term jobless, those fighting eviction by fraudster bankers and recent college graduates with big student loans to pay off on a Starbucks’ minimum-wage.
What’s so pathetic about the Democrats is that they could have addressed voters real fears in the last two years and be in a much better position in the mid-term election.
Throughout the truly terrifying Bush-Cheney years, Democrats' mantra was “We can’t challenge anything the Republicans do because they have Congress and the White House.”
What too many liberal apologists for those weak-kneed Dems ignore is how often Democrats colluded with the Republicans’ agenda -- by voting for the PATRIOT Act that‘s destroying civil liberties, for example, and voting for pouring more hundreds of billions of dollars into occupying Iraq and Afghanistan, and working to further de-regulate Wall Street – a little game that got rolling during President Bill Clinton‘s time in office, thus ensuring an economic meltdown at some point.
In 2006, once Democrats had a Congressional majority, George W. Bush’s veto pen became the unbeatable Darth Vader light sword. All he had to do was threaten and a majority of Democrats hid under their desks.
Two years ago, for the first time in 30 years, Democrats had the unmistakable opportunity to reverse decades of Freddy Krueger policies that have preyed on every aspect of the public interest . If the Democrats were still the political party of FDR’s New Deal and LBJ’s Great Society, they would have shoveled furiously to fill in the economic ditch left to us by Bush. Hardly any of them thought to reach for a spade.
What should the Democrats have done?
Massive job-creation should have been the top priority. They should have frozen home foreclosures and instituted real financial reforms that stopped Wall Street from functioning like a taxpayer-backed casino.
While the stimulus package preserved some civil service jobs and created some temporary new ones, it was at best a nervous half measure. President Barack Obama has refused to push a moratorium on home foreclosures, even with the exposure of massive fraud by banks, which even have tried to foreclose on people who’ve paid off their mortgages. The financial “reform” bill did not do anything to end the Wall Street abuses that tanked the economy. Hedge fund managers and CEOs are still making out like vampires at the blood bank , even as profitable corporations continue to lay-off tens of thousands of workers.
Healthcare “reform” deserves an essay, or a book or several books, all its own. Suffice it say that, even with some positive steps such as ending denials based on pre-existing conditions or allowing children to be on their parents’ insurance to age 26, the 2,000-plus-page bill shape-shifted so constantly no one knew what was actually in it.
Hysteria about “death panels” was easy for the political right to pull off because werewolf insurance companies wrote the bill, including the hex that requires everyone to buy their high-priced, fraudulent policies, with no real oversight or cost controls. Most of the bill doesn’t even go into effect until somewhere between 2014 and 2017, but, insurance companies are raising their rates and dropping children-only policies right now.
President Obama -- with Goldman Sachs economic advisors -- and most of the Democrats whistled past the right-wing graveyard with timid middle-of-the road policies that failed to address the real problems we are facing, making them vulnerable to the Tea Party Horror Show’s attacks. The problem isn’t “a failure to communicate,” but a refusal to take strong stands in the public interest. Democrats who’ve tried to make progressive critics into the Boogie Man are only contributing to the ‘enthusiasm gap” they fear.
Republicans have become like Dr. Frankenstein gone mad in his laboratory, cutting taxes for capitalist crony oligarchs, pushing for a permanent state of war that boosts ‘private contractors” from Halliburton to Blackwater/Xe and protecting Wall Street as it plunders our country. On what should be the other side, most Democrats have become long on liberal talk, short on progressive action, morphed into a servile Igor doing the exact things Republicans do at a slightly slower pace.
The bi-partisan consensus to push a corporate agenda is the scariest real thing voters face at the poll. When will we organize progressive pitchforks and torches to storm the castle?
Lydia Howell is an independent journalist in Minneapolis, winner of the Premack Award for Public Interest Journalism. She hosts “Catalyst: Politics & Culture” on KFAI Radio.