Uncommon Common Sense
By Bill Frayer
Gut Check for Progressives
The US midterm elections did not turn out well for progressive activists. I could make excuses for the Democratic Party’s poor showing. As the media has pointed out, the people who vote in the election are mostly older white people, unlike the coalitions of African-American, young, single women, Hispanic, and intellectual voters who elected Obama in 2008 and 2012. But I think something bigger is going on here.
In my home state of Maine, voters reelected Governor Paul LePage. This man is inarticulate, crass-mouthed, and seems to have no coherent plan to move the state in a positive direction. I was stupefied that my fellow citizens would reelect a man who, quite frankly is an embarrassment. Why did he win? Honestly, I think it was because his Democratic opponent had no positive message. He basically ran on the idea that he wasn’t LePage. The governor had a message. Those of us on the left didn’t like it much, but his views were well known. Voters want to know what a candidate plans to do. When Democratic candidates don’t present a coherent message, people have no reason to support them.
I think the Democrats’ problem started, ironically, with Bill Clinton. After he and Hillary lost the healthcare debate in 1993, he led the party to the middle. He cozied up to Wall Street and abandoned plans to promote a progressive agenda. He supported moderate-Republican ideas like welfare reform, banking deregulation, and NAFTA. He was influenced, if I remember correctly, by Dick Morris, the sleazy political operative who used his strategy of triangulation to help Clinton win.
With the toxic stalemate which exists in Washington, Obama has given us more of the same. Still getting his money from Wall Street, he pushed through mediocre health care reform, rather weak banking reform, and bailed out private industry with tax dollars. These are not progressive actions. They are, to be frank, middle-of-the-road small ball.
I wrote about FDR in November. He was elected on a bold platform and had revolutionary ideas that he was unafraid to push forward. People elected him because he was seen to promote a clear path to prosperity. Even Ronald Reagan, whose policies I abhor, spoke clearly and plainly about what he would do, and it appealed to the middle class.
We will never emerge from this dreadful deadlock in the US, and I don’t think the Democrats will regain majority control, until they directly and honestly put forward progressive, bold ideas to address the major problems the US faces.
The problem of income inequality is not a theoretical problem. It is systematically destroying the middle class. We need a fair tax system and a realistic minimum wage. Our infrastructure is crumbling and we need to be rebuilding it now. The banking sector is out of control and needs to return to servicing the working people who provide its income. The healthcare system is still broken. We need to eliminate the profit-hungry health insurance companies who are impeding progress. We’ve been fighting wars for 14 years which have done little except destroyed a generation of young poor people and impoverished the Treasury.
In short, the Democratic Party needs to abandon the ideas of the milquetoast middle and move assertively into the future. The alternative is unacceptable. The Clinton-era strategy of winning elections by going after marginal change is not going to work. American voters are crying out for a political class who will actually accomplish positive change.
I hope Hillary is paying attention