Midterm Takeaway: We Need a Lot More Democracy
Republicans banked this election on lies, fear-mongering, and rule-rigging. It almost worked.
By Peter Certo | November 7, 2018
I can’t be the only one who spent the night of the midterms tossing and turning. Though I managed to shut off the coverage and try to sleep, spasms of anxiety woke me repeatedly throughout the dreary hours.
Ultimately, Republicans picked off several red-state Senate seats while Democrats won back the House and at least seven governships.
A Democratic House will serve as a badly needed check after two years of aggressive Republican monopoly, but I can’t help feeling uneasy. For one thing, I can’t shake the last days of the campaign.
For a while, Republicans “merely” lied about their policy agenda.
Rather than campaigning on the $2 trillion tax cut for rich people they actually passed, they promised a middle class tax cut they never even had a bill for. And after spending all last year trying to throw 20 to 30 million Americans off their health care, they (unbelievably!) promised to defend Americans’ pre-existing condition coverage — even as they actively sought to undermine it.
But the lies took a much darker turn as the White House took hold of the narrative.
Led by the president, GOP propagandists turned a few thousand refugees — over a thousand miles away in southern Mexico — into an “invading army.” The White House put out an ad about it so shockingly racist and false that even Fox News stopped airing it.
Unashamed, President Trump kept repeating the obvious lie that the homeless refugees were funded by Jewish philanthropist George Soros — even after a refugee-hating extremist murdered 11 Jews at a Pittsburgh synagogue.
Such vile hatred may have been key to red-state Republican gains in the Senate. But where that wasn’t enough, it was backstopped by voter suppression and gerrymandering.
Suppression may have helped the GOP governor candidates fend off strong challenges in Florida and especially Georgia, where tens of thousands of voters were scrubbed from the rolls and lines in Democratic precincts ran up to five hours long.
And thanks to gerrymandering, it took an extraordinary effort for Democrats to win even a slim House majority. They’re up only a few seats despite decisively winning the popular vote by at least 9 points. Had it been “only” a 4 or 5 point win, Vox’s Matthew Yglesias estimates, the GOP might have retained its majority.
Also worth noting: Democratic Senate candidates actually racked up over 10 million more votes than Republicans, even as Republicans picked up Senate seats on a GOP-tilting map.
To me these results show that Republicans can’t win with their actual policy agenda — not even in many red states, judging by some ballot initiative results.
For instance, red-state voters in Missouri and Arkansas raised their minimum wages against the wishes of state Republicans. Missouri also legalized medicinal marijuana, along with deeply conservative Utah, and purple-state Michigan voters brought legal recreational marijuana to the Midwest.
Along with Utah, ruby red Idaho and Nebraska expanded Medicaid under Obamacare, a big win for health care.
These progressive policies are far more popular than their right-wing alternatives. So Republicans rely on a potent combination of lies, fear-mongering, and rule-rigging to win.
If Democrats ever hope to really come in from the wilderness, they need to support a host of radical pro-democracy reforms.
In that they can take inspiration from a stunning movement in Florida, where voters re-enfranchised over 1 million of their neighbors with felony convictions. And from Michigan, Colorado, Utah, and Missouri, which all passed initiatives to support citizen-led redistricting. And from Maryland, Michigan, and Nevada, which all made voter registration easier.
Uneasiness is part and parcel of drawing breath in 2018. But if I sleep a little better tonight, it’ll be thanks to movements like those.
Peter Certo is the editorial manager of the Institute for Policy Studies and the editor of OtherWords.org.
Getting Past Gingrich
I’m ready for a Congress that doesn’t prioritize hate speech and obstructionism over good governance.
By Jill Richardson | November 7, 2018
With the election over and a new Congress ready to be sworn in this January, I’m ready for a new, less toxic style of politics.
Journalist McKay Coppins traces the toxic politics of today back to Newt Gingrich in the 1990s. Gingrich, he said, pioneered “strategic obstructionism.”
Here’s what that means: Let’s say a bill was very popular with voters. Once upon a time, both parties might have compromised and passed the bill through Congress. Gingrich put a stop to that.
According to Gingrich’s logic, the Democrats who controlled Congress in those days would get credit for any bills that passed. If Republicans helped Democrats pass those bills, voters would be satisfied with the Democratic-controlled Congress. Republicans who supported even a popular bill wouldn’t get credit for it.
Under Gingrich, Republicans would oppose popular legislation they previously might have supported. Then Republicans would point a finger at the Democratic leadership and accuse Congress of doing nothing.
They’d tell the voters that Democrats won’t fix your problems so you need to elect Republicans. Never mind that Republicans caused the obstruction in the first place.
This worked. It still works.
That was Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell’s strategy throughout the Obama presidency: Don’t pass anything, then blame the lack of action on Obama.
Here’s the thing: While this strategy is effective at winning elections, it’s not an effective way of governing. It serves none of us when our leaders can’t get anything done.
Since the 1990s, we’ve lived through political rhetoric that stokes fear and anger. Fear and anger draw you in like a magnet. Fear and anger motivate people to watch more TV, click more links, and donate and volunteer more to campaigns. That doesn’t make them healthy or constructive.
There are a few other theories why Congress doesn’t work anymore.
One worth noting is the elimination of “earmarks.” In the past, Congress could persuade members to compromise on a bill by including earmarks: provisions in the bill allocating money to one or another member’s district. In exchange for voting for a bill he or she didn’t completely love, the representative would get funding to repair a bridge in his or her district or something like that.
In 2010, Congressional Republicans initiated a ban on earmarks. In 2011, Obama promised to veto any bill containing earmarks. They were decried as a form of corruption. However, they served to grease the wheels of democracy.
As a citizen, the poisonous rhetoric is painful to listen to. Watching the news hurts. Some politicians are openly spewing hate speech. Hypocrisy is rampant and nobody cares.
I’m all for politicians taking morally principled stands on behalf of their constituents. They’re supposed to do that.
What they aren’t supposed to do is focus on what will get them elected or keep them in office at the expense of what they must do to govern.
If both sides could agree on a bill that would benefit the American people, especially one most Americans support, they shouldn’t obstruct it just to score political points.
We’ll have a new Congress taking office in a few months, and then the next presidential race will begin to heat up. As voters, we should no longer reward hate speech and obstructionism that come at the expense of good governance.
OtherWords columnist Jill Richardson is pursuing a PhD in sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She lives in San Diego. Distributed by OtherWords.org.
White House Economists Are Obsessed with Socialism
A new White House report links the idea of Medicare for All with Mao. Really?
By Jim Hightower | November 7, 2018
Trump’s White House seems to be both spooked… and spooky.
Check out a 72-page “spookonomics” report issued right before Halloween by his Council of Economic Advisors. It reads like an endless Trump tweet, focused on his perceived political enemies and riddled with fantasies, lies, and paranoia about the policies of progressives.
À la Joe McCarthy, Trump’s economic advisors spew conspiracy theories about the proposals of Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, and other democratic populists, frantically linking them with “Failed Socialist Policies” of Lenin, Stalin, Mao, and other communist dictators.
Bernie’s commonsense ideas of Medicare-for-All and free college education, for example, are hysterically decried as totalitarian designs from China and the USSR. Likewise, the report compares Warren’s assertion that corporate giants are dodging their tax obligations to Lenin’s demonization and killing of yeoman farmers.
In this ludicrous, right-ring political screed — paid for by us taxpayers — the fraidy-cat Trump scaremongers toss in the supposedly spooky word “socialism” 144 times. That’s an average of twice per page!
Among the horrors that the Trumpistas cite is that Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren have stated that “large corporations… exploit human misery and insecurity, and turn them into huge profits,” and “giant corporations… exploit workers just to boost their own profits.”
Excuse me, learned scholars, but all of that happens to be true, as the great majority of Americans know from experience. Trump’s economists also inform us that if the U.S. adopted Venezuelan policies, our economy would shrink by 40 percent. Well, perhaps, but here’s the thing: No one is proposing we do that.
What’s really spooky is that these know-nothing ideologues are actually advisers to a president of the United States.
OtherWords columnist Jim Hightower is a radio commentator, writer, and public speaker. Distributed by OtherWords.org.
Military Benefits Were Won Through Veterans Movements, Not Generosity
Like labor unions before them, veterans and soldiers organized to win benefits millions now rely on.
By Kevin Basl | November 7, 2018
We thank labor unions for the eight-hour work day, pensions, the weekend, and many other employment benefits Americans enjoy. Organized workers staged direct actions — strikes, sit-ins, boycotts, etc. — forcing bosses to the bargaining table. It’s a history most of us learn in high school.
More overlooked is the history of how the modern military was shaped by veteran-led direct actions.
For one thing, our military is famously all-volunteer. Civilians no longer fear being drafted.
To get those volunteers, recruiters and guidance counselors tout the free college education, sign-on bonuses, food and housing allowances, and VA benefits that come with military service. I was continually reminded of these things when I joined the Army in 2003.
Look into the history of these developments and you’ll find sit-ins, marches, and many other forms of direct action.
The G.I. Bill, passed in 1944, helped build the American middle class. It guaranteed millions of vets a college education, home loans, and more after World War II. It still does today.
Veterans of World War I, however, received no such benefit. So throughout the 1920s and early ’30s, they marched and demonstrated, demanding back-pay compensation (referred to as a “bonus”) to reasonably match what their civilian counterparts had earned on the home front.
The largest demonstration happened in 1932, when a 25,000-strong “Bonus Army” occupied Washington, D.C. for two months. The veterans vowed not to leave until Congress approved the bonus. Instead, General Douglas MacArthur removed them by force using cavalry troops and tear gas.
But the veterans’ efforts eventually paid off. The bonus was paid in 1936. This incredible history is documented in The Bonus Army (2004), by Paul Dickson and Thomas B. Allen, and The War Against the Vets (2018) by Jerome Tuccille.
These years of protests by World War I veterans gave veterans organizations, like the American Legion, significant leverage in advocating for the G.I. Bill. President Roosevelt and Congress understood that not passing such a bill could mean veteran-led civil unrest, or worse.
Michael J. Bennett, historian of the G.I. Bill, writes, “After World War I, virtually every [fighting] nation other than Britain and the United States had their government overthrown by their veterans.” It’s no stretch to say the G.I. Bill was passed, in part, to prevent revolution.
Two decades later, in the late 1960s, a movement within the U.S. armed forces emerged in opposition to the Vietnam War. Soldiers refused orders, sabotaged equipment, and spoke out at protests.
In Soldiers in Revolt: G.I. Resistance During the Vietnam War (2005), David Cortright concludes that Nixon ended the draft in 1973 in response to this alarming resistance. “The internal problems that gave rise to changes in tactical deployment” to Vietnam, he wrote, “were also responsible for… the shift to an all-volunteer force.”
Of course, an all-volunteer force would need to offer better incentives to recruit people. This is where the improved living conditions, sign-on bonuses, and increased starting wages mentioned in every recruiter’s sales pitch came from.
In the 1970s and ’80s (and beyond), the organization Vietnam Veterans Against the War made it a part of their mission to improve VA healthcare. They occupied VA offices, demonstrated, and even locked themselves inside the Statue of Liberty to amplify their message. They were key in getting the VA to recognize PTSD, Agent Orange exposure, and other illnesses afflicting veterans.
But as these benefits were won, they can also be lost.
Today, as more service members and veterans qualify for food stamps, the VA system remains on the verge of getting dismantled. Meanwhile, soldiers are receiving orders sending them into morally and legally questionable territory (such as Trump’s “Operation Faithful Patriot,” deploying thousands of troops to the border of Mexico to stop unarmed migrants).
Against this, the history of veteran-led activism can provide inspiration and guidance. Direct action gets results.
Kevin Basl served in the U.S. Army, twice deploying to Iraq. He’s a member of About Face: Veterans Against the War and Veterans for Peace. Distributed by OtherWords.org.