by Jan Baughman
(Swans - November 15, 2010) Though the nuttiest of the Tea Party wingnuts lost, the 2010 US midterm election was an apparent mandate against Obama and Pelosi; health care reform is out and the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy are in, say the emboldened Republicans. We need to shrink government, cut spending, cut taxes, cut the deficit, create jobs -- an ideological shift lacking mathematical logic. So what's new? Power is transferred from blue to red and back again, election after election, and the response from progressives is drowned out by the sound of crickets in the night as both parties continue to move on a rightward trajectory. Plus ça change...
In the aftermath, the once eloquent and energizing Barack Obama is still fantasizing about bipartisan compromise in an increasingly hostile climate of non-compromise, thanks in much part to the posturing of the imminent House Speaker John Boehner. The Republicans are forthcoming in declaring that their mission is to ensure Obama is a one-term president, and their potential control of power -- the next presidency and Senate along with the House -- may very well be inevitable. As an independent, progressive observer not invited into the debates or the elections, what is there to conclude but that it is more of the same; in other words, change we can believe in?
The Democrats had their victories -- or lesser defeats -- with Nancy Pelosi retaining her seat and gearing up for the fight to become minority leader; Barbara Boxer beating ousted Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina; Harry Reid retaining his seat against Sharron Angle; Chris Coons defeating "I am not a witch" Christine O'Donnell; and Jerry Brown returning as governor of California despite e-Bay billionaire Meg Whitman having outspent him 14 to 1, proving that money doesn't always buy you happiness, i.e., power.
Still, one has to applaud the Tea Partiers for their success in creating a "third-party" movement (in quotes because it's not a formal party), attracting much publicity and therefore gaining legitimacy, and moving Republicans (and hence, Democrats) to the right. Whether the Republicans will embrace the Tea Partiers or distance themselves from them will not be clear until the 2012 campaigning begins (any day now). But in this election, not once were they referred to as "spoilers" -- what Democrats repeatedly labeled Ralph Nader in his runs for president that allegedly siphoned votes from their party. In contrast, the Tea Party, with its significance and nonsensicality, was taken seriously as contenders with an agenda that needed to be reckoned with.
The midterm elections provided yet another teaching moment: Progressives cannot keep closing the door on truly progressive third-party candidates, in the hope that by continuing to vote for Democrats the party will eventually take up their cause. There is no progressive movement that challenges the status quo and the Tea Party. MoveOn.org has long since moved on into oblivion, and the Democrats continue their rightward movement in an attempt to garner support from Republicans and what they see as a rightward-moving populace.
I ask again, What's Left For Progressives? Perhaps it will take the election of Sarah Palin as president to mobilize the progressive movement to take a strong and serious stance, learn from the effectiveness of the Tea Party, and not resort to their blind support of the Democrats in the "now is not the time" and lesser-evil rhetoric. So much is at stake in these reactionary times, and it would be nice to think that we can learn more from history and not simply repeat it. And repeat it. And repeat it. Plus ça change... Jerry Brown proved that elections can still be won on principles and not simply bought by millionaires. The time is past due to start voting on those principles, and stop blindly supporting the two-party system that is working against them. A progressive movement cannot be built as long as we don't support progressive candidates.