Democratic Left

Lessons for the Left from the 2014 Elections: Part Two

North Carolina's Moral Mondays (Slate)

By Joseph M. Schwartz           

(This is the second part of a two-part article. Find Part One here)

3. Voter Suppression: A Major Threat to Democracy in the United States

The Democrats should run against Republicans on the grounds that they are a party that is hostile to democracy.  Republican voter restriction laws in 14 states potentially disenfranchise 11 percent of the electorate due to their lack of official government IDs. These are new poll taxes, since lower-income people often cannot take time off from work or afford the fees to purchase official government voter ID cards. Nate Silver of the blog 538 estimates that voter ID restrictions may repress turnout by as much as 2.4% (disproportionately students, the poor, the elderly and blacks and Latinos).

Ari Berman of The Nation and Wendy Weiser of the Brennan Center for Justice have done preliminary analyses of the effect of voter exclusion laws on the 2014 elections. Their analysis should motivate progressives to prioritize organizing to overturn voter restrictions.  In Kansas, slash-and-burn tax-and-budget cutter Republican Governor Sam Brownback defeated Democratic challenger Paul Davis by only 33,000 votes. Yet 24,000 Kansans tried to register this year unsuccessfully because they failed to present the documentary proof of citizenship now required of state law. An earlier study by the non-partisan federal General Accountability Office found that new voter ID laws reduced turnout by two percent in 2012 in Arkansas and three percent in Tennessee.

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Lessons for the Left from the 2014 Elections: Part One -- Build A Grassroots Anti-Racist Class Politics

 Scott Walker Wins On Anti-Worker Agenda (Politico)

By Joseph M. Schwartz

(This is the first part of a two-part article. Find Part Two here.)

1. Democratic Funders and Consultants Avoid the Politics of “Class Warfare”  by Saying Nothing

Mainstream pundits cite as causes of the Republican triumph in the 2014 elections an electorate whiter and older than the presidential vote and the unfavorable terrain for the Democrats, who defended 21 of 34 Senate seats, eight of them in “red” southern and border states. But too few point to the Democratic consultants’ and affluent funders’ conscious choice to avoid any populist, economic justice themes in the campaign. They advised the Democrats to focus on winning swing voters, mostly affluent suburban women and single women. This would not necessarily be a problematic strategy if they put the needs of women in a broader economic context. But, instead, the consultants pushed the vapid theme of  “we are not crazy Republicans who make war on women,” without speaking to policies such as publicly-financed child care and parental leave, nor to the reality that poor- and moderate-income women often cannot access reproductive health services.

Thus, the Democratic national establishment, by running a strictly anti-Republican campaign, inadvertently turned the election into a national referendum on the Obama administration. Given that real family income has fallen six percent since 2008 and that the benefits of the uneven economic recovery have almost all gone to the top 10 percent, the Democrats fared poorly, even in traditional blue states. Folks are angry at Washington’s failure to improve their living standards, and the majority of voters took it out on the party that controls the White House. Populist resentment can also take a racist form, and undoubtedly some of the ire towards President Obama derives from that source.

But was another road possible? The electoral success of Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), and Bernie Sanders (I-VT) demonstrates that an anti-corporate agenda can appeal to working-class voters of all races. Of course, the national Democratic leadership was unlikely to bite the Wall Street hand that feeds its campaign coffers; but what if the administration had at least prosecuted some of “the banksters” who caused the economic crisis?

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Looking Back, Leaning In, Moving Forward


A confluence of events has got me thinking about Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In and how we define the women’s movement. I’ve been reading her book for a while – it’s a fairly easy read, but not very gripping. At the same time I’ve been reading Dorothy Sue Cobble’s book, The Other Women’s Movement: Workplace Justice and Social Rights in Modern America. Sandberg’s book, of course, has been on the New York Times best seller lists, spawned many "Lean In  groups" – including, of course, on Facebook, while Cobble’s book is aimed at a narrower audience, largely academics.

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Jobs, the Elections, and the Politics of Phantasmagoria and Insecurity

Real Clear Politics

 By Bill Barclay

On Nov. 7, three days after the 2014 midterm elections, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics released its Employment Situation Report for October 2014. The numbers are simple and not dramatically different from those that the Chicago Political Economy Group (CPEG) has analyzed for the past several months. 

Here are some key takeaways from the report:

First, about 214,000 new jobs were created, continuing the string of net private job creation to 56 months, a new record. 

Second, leisure and hospitality, health care and social assistance, retail trade and temporary help services – in that order – accounted for almost three of every five new jobs in October. Over the past year, these four job categories accounted for almost half of all new jobs.

Third, the unemployment rate dropped slightly to 5.8%.

Fourth, the labor force participation rate remains very low at 62.8%, although the employment/population ratio has risen by 1% over the past year.

Fifth, looking over the longer time span, the “Obama economy” has, to date, generated more than 4.5 million new jobs, vs. the “Bush economy” new job creation of 1.5 million. 

Sixth, although not part of the jobs report analysis, the federal deficit is below 2% of GDP – lower than the 40-year average.

Few of the voters in the 2014 elections could have told you any of the foregoing – and some would have vehemently denied at least the last two points.    

Why, in the face of reality - or at least some facets of reality – did the Republicans do so well (or, the Democrats do so poorly)?

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The 2014 Elections and Beyond


By Jim Shoch

There's no way around it; the Democrats suffered another "shellacking" (President Obama's description of the 2010 election results) in the recent congressional midterm and other elections. The Republicans will likely pick up nine Senate seats and 16-19 House seats and captured numerous governorships and state legislative chambers, with gains in all cases especially large in the conservative South (although a number of minimum wage and marijuana legalization initiatives did pass in various states). What explains these mostly depressing developments?

It's important to be clear that the election outcome was not the result of any sharp right turn by the electorate. Exit polls showed that the voters actually agreed more with the Democrats than the Republicans on most important issues. And Republican candidates advanced no positive legislative agenda; their only unity was opposition to Obama. Thus, the Republicans can claim no conservative policy mandate.

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A Few Quick Thoughts on the November 4th Election

By Bill Fletcher, Jr.

1. There is almost always a low turnout during a midterm election and the party which controls the White House tends to lose.  This is definitely true but should not let us off the hook.

2. The Democratic base largely stayed home except in certain important races, such as in North Carolina.  I think that we have to face the reality that the base that would be expected to vote Democratic was dis-spirited.  It is not just the ads that the Republicans ran.  The Obama administration has not led in a progressive direction.  There are certainly some major accomplishments, but there had been great expectations by many that after the 2012 election he would come out swinging.  I never had such expectations, but many people did.  Instead, the administration continued to be stuck in various crises but also was not articulating a clear direction.  The Republicans were able to make Obama out to be the problem despite certain important facts, e.g., the economy has improved; troops had been pulled out of Iraq.

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The Democrats' Catastrophe and the Need For a New Agenda

The party's failure isn’t just the result of Republican negativity.

By Harold Meyerson

Democrats had ample reason to fear that this year’s midterm elections would not go well for them, but bad doesn’t begin to describe what happened to them—and the nation—yesterday. Catastrophic is more like it.

Democrats didn’t just lose the Senate; they lost statehouse after statehouse. They didn’t just lose the red states; they lost the purple and the blue. They lost the governorships of Maryland, Massachusetts and Illinois, and had the governor’s contest thrown into the legislature by the failure of their incumbent governor to win 50 percent of the vote in the socialist enclave of Vermont. They lost their last white member of the House from the deep South (Georgia’s John Barrow), but they also lost seats in the deep North—two in New York, one in New Hampshire, possibly one in Maine, and they are clinging to narrow leads in two of Connecticut’s five districts. Their statewide down-ticket candidates will probably all claim victory in deep-blue California, but by margins far narrower than those they’re accustomed to, and some presumably safe Golden State House seats are in danger as I write.

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Violence, Women and the Economy


Just in time for National Domestic Violence Awareness Month, DSA’s Peg Strobel interviews Dr. Stephanie Riger about the complicated relationship between domestic violence, poverty, and gender roles, about the services available people in abusive domestic situations, and how this has changed over the years.

Stephanie Riger is a Professor of Psychology and Gender and Women’s Studies at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Her current research includes the affect of welfare reform on domestic violence and the evaluation of domestic violence and sexual assault services.

 Listen to the interview here.

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Upcoming Events

Is Fixing the U.S. Economy Just Political Will? - Changed Date

November 24, 2014 · 63 rsvps
Online - web-based seminar

No, some things can be fixed but others can't. 

Sign up for the final session (DATE IS NOW November 24!) of our three-session online webinar/seminar series with Steve Max, DSA Vice Chair and founder of the Midwest Academy community organizing school.

Steve will recap main lessons from the first two seminars in the series. (If you signed up for the first or second session -- don't sign up again. But we are accepting new RSVPs.)

This seminar is part theory, part recent history and part contemporary observation from a Marxist viewpoint.  The presentation style is easy to follow and no particular background is needed. We'll note the surprising views of a few enlightened capitalists and discuss how the U.S. became a debtor nation, how profits from financial speculation outpaced manufacturing, and the big question: how might the jobs come back?

NOTE: seminar is scheduled for 9pm Eastern, 8pm Central, 7pm Mountain, 6pm Pacific.