Written by: Michael Baharaeen
The 2010 midterm elections brought to power a juggernaut of Republicans. With the drastic influx of GOP legislators – more Republicans in offices across the country than at any time since 1928 – our country has seen unacceptable behavior from our government. We have seen these majorities impede progress and development, while simultaneously taking away rights that have been granted to the people for decades. Democratic voters were found asleep at the wheel in 2010, and the past two years not only show the cataclysmic results from such an action, but they are also a teaching moment for progressives nationwide: 2012 matters.
Pundits and political operatives will often casually suggest every two or four years that “this election is the most important one in the last x number of years.” While this sort of “crying wolf” eventually creates a numbing effect on the public, it has never been truer, at least in my lifetime, than for this year’s elections. There is an incredibly clear distinction between the two parties: one is fighting for “good government” policies, and the other would mostly like to see a full unraveling of many New Deal programs. There is no question that the decisions voters make in November could have lasting ramifications for decades to come.
After November 2010, Republicans saw majority gains not only at the federal level, but also in governorships and state legislatures. It is difficult for even the most ardent of GOP supporters to claim that these newly formed coalitions were not working in tandem across the country to implement very similar policies. In addition to the growing suppression of abortion rights and the abdication of federal funds for high-speed rail lines by GOP governors (something that would help bring us further into the 21st century), the Republican Party compiled a checklist of destructive policies with which they began marching forward, state by state.
Drug testing for welfare recipients. By doing this, one can only assume that Republican lawmakers are equating all poor people with drug addicts. Otherwise, why not drug test everyone who receives any kind of government benefits, including their wealthy, bailed-out Wall Street donors1, as well as Medicare and Social Security recipients? Perhaps students who go to public schools, or anyone who checks out a book at the library? Maybe even those who dare take advantage of the government service that is our public road system? No, these drug tests are only being administered to the most destitute among us. Leave aside for a moment the fact that even the ultra-conservative Drudge Report acknowledged that only 2% of Florida welfare recipients failed their drug test2, or that the Miami Herald reported that these programs actually cost the state more money than it sought to save by depriving all of those purported druggies of their welfare checks3; from a moral standpoint, there should be no excuse to humiliate the poor in such a manner.
Tax cuts for the rich & balancing the budget on the backs of everyone else. Naturally, the Republicans wanted to appear to care about fixing the economy, even though as most regular observers of politics know, it would be very politically convenient for them if the economy were still suffering in 2012 so that Obama could take the blame. In states with Republican governors, the modus operandi has been to cut taxes so that the “job creators,” a convenient euphemism for the richest one-percent of income earners, will be able to create more jobs. But if this renewed drive for supply-side, “trickle-down” economics had even a shred of efficacy, wouldn’t it be plausible to think that unemployment rates should be going down at a much quicker rate across the country, especially given that Corporate America has amassed a staggering $2 trillion? It would be. Instead, the rich have received over 90% of the gains made since the recession, and yet unemployment is still over 8%. However, these results have not deterred GOP governors one bit from continuing to press forward with these policies. Even economic dilettantes should know that cutting taxes — taxes being revenue to the government — means that the government has less money to spend. So how do GOP lawmakers solve this problem? They end up targeting programs that are sacrosanct to the poor and to the working and middle classes, including Pennsylvania’s governor, who signed into law devastating cuts to higher education4.
Strict voter ID laws. One of the most basic rights to the citizens of this country, granted by both state constitutions as well as the U.S. Constitution, is the right to vote. Efforts to encumber that right, while historically are usually deemed unconstitutional, are nevertheless now pervading the country, with 180 of these bills having been produced in 41 states since January 20115. And, unsurprisingly, they almost completely target Democratic voters — the young, minorities, and even senior citizens (who want to see their Medicare and Social Security protected). What is the justification Republicans have given? To stop voter fraud, of course! Obviously, this problem must be rampant if so many state legislatures are bringing legislation forward to stop it, right? Well, according to the Brennan Center for Justice, the chances of lightning striking someone are greater than the chances of discovering voter fraud6. Politifact.com corroborated the ACLU’s claim that in Florida, a state seeking these types of laws, voter fraud is less common than shark attacks7. So what is the actual purpose of these laws, then, if there is no significant problem? The answer is simple: if successful, key Democratic voting demographics will be disenfranchised unable to vote. This will have a nice buffering effect for the Republicans in 2012, for even though there is growing outrage over their policies, the affected voting blocs will be unable to retaliate.
Union-busting. Continuing the theme of suppressing Democratic supporters and dismantling progressive foundations across the country, Republican governors and legislators in several states have moved forward with swift union-busting measures. Unfortunately, they have been largely successful. Subsequent to the passage and implementation of anti-union legislation in states such as Wisconsin, Ohio, Tennessee and Maine, among others, union membership has drastically declined. Since 1954, union membership nationwide has gone from 39.2 percent of workers to a dismal 11.9 percent (in a country of 300 million people, that difference is much larger than it may appear at first glance). In Wisconsin the AFSCME, the second largest group of public sector union workers, saw its membership plummet from 62,818 to 28,745. Similarly, the American Federation of Teachers in Wisconsin lost 6,000 members, almost 35% of its membership8. Keep in mind: these losses came within one year. So why is this phenomenon so unique to Republican-controlled states? As the Center for Responsive Politics has shown, three of the top ten groups who spent the most money in 2010 were unions, the only sect in the top ten which gave to Democrats9. Suffice it to say that the less power this Democratic stronghold has, the less money they will be able to give to the Democratic Party come election time. It is an ingenious plan, and if successful could have reverberations throughout the Democratic community for decades.
A Brief Note on the Presidency
As many who know me are aware, I have several qualms with President Obama. While I think he has made great advances for the country in some areas, I have been disappointed with his conservative tendencies in others. However, I plan on voting for him 2012, as should every individual (particularly Democrats, even the disillusioned ones) who wants to maintain some sort of mitigating figure in power to prevent the Republicans from exacerbating even further the problems they have caused. Ruth Bader Ginsburg, one of the more liberal Supreme Court justices, has mentioned that she only plans to remain on the bench for another three years. Should President Obama lose, there is a possibility that the Supreme Court could go from a 5-4 conservative tilt to a 6-3 configuration. If this happens, mark my words: first on the docket will be a challenge to Roe v. Wade, followed by a conservative wish list, from reinstituting school prayer to English as the national language.
The other obvious reason for reelecting the president is because there is no guarantee that Democrats will either regain control of the House or maintain control of the Senate. However, should that indeed happen, Obama would be the last roadblock to streamlining the Republicans’ wish list of conservative policies. Some political observers have suggested that even if Mitt Romney wins the presidency, he will make an inexorable shift to the middle. But will he be willing to wave a veto threat at a Republican-controlled Congress over legislative initiatives he thinks are too radical?
I have laid out the evidence. Citizens of states which were drastically impacted by the Republican ascension in 2010 realized the consequences of their democratic apathy and immediately sought to remedy them. There is no guarantee, though, that long-lasting damage has not already been inflicted upon our country. Whether or not we want to believe it, 2012 could potentially shape the direction of our country for the next century. Democrats, progressives, and anyone interested in moving our country forward need to see the past two years as a teaching moment and prepare to fight back.