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.
3. Though the economy has improved, the condition for the average working person has not. Yes, unemployment is down but we are still dealing with structural unemployment that is weighing on everyone. The damage from the foreclosure crisis is far from over. And the rich are the ones who are benefiting from the improved economy. To turn any of this around, masses of working people need to be organized to fight for a division of the wealth. Yes, that means building and supporting labor unions. But when the President does not make that a clarion call–except when speaking with union members–he has no answer to the public that is asking for their share.
4. Race, as always, was a factor. The Republicans had sufficient codes to make it clear that race was an issue in the election. Discussions about Obama allegedly being prepared to open up the floodgates to immigrants is a case in point. But there were many other messages. Once again, the Republicans have positioned themselves as the “non-black party.” Race arose in some additional and odd ways. The Ebola crisis, for instance, was tinged with a racial cover. The fear and panic associated with it and blaming it on Obama!
5. This election was about money…but also not: This was the most expensive midterm in history. Yet it was not a guarantee that one would win if there was money on the table. The Democrats, in various races, sunk in a great deal of money. So, we cannot put it all on that. Money, however, plus motivation can make one VERY big difference.
6. The Democrats keep falling back into running technocrats. While this was certainly not the case in every election, it was striking that there is this default position of channeling Michael Dukakis ’88 and suggesting that one is a good candidate because one can run the trains on time. Instead of positioning as an advocate for the people, and especially the people who are being squeezed, too many Democrats were running as technocrats and bipartisan healers. Yet this, in part, relates to money. If you cannot run a campaign without goo-gobs of money, it is more difficult to run as a progressive populist.
7. Progressives need to support and create organizations that are fighting for political power at the local and state level. We need formations (which I have called “neo-Rainbow”) that can identify and train candidates; build bases; take on initiatives and referendums; and run our candidates either in Democratic primaries or as independents, depending on the tactical situation.
This brings with it a series of major challenges, not the least being accumulating resources. There is no easy answer to the resource question but one thing that is certain is that building the sorts of organizations I am referencing, e.g., Virginia New Majority, Florida New Majority, Progressive Democrats of America, will necessitate around the clock resource accumulation, including but not limited to fundraising. We will NEVER have the funds of the Koch brothers so we need to get over that and think about the strategies, tactics and organizational forms necessary and appropriate to an asymmetric situation.
Bill Fletcher Jr is the co-author (with Dr. Fernando Gapasin) of Solidarity Divided; the author of “They’re Bankrupting Us” – And Twenty Other Myths about Unions; a senior scholar with the Institute for Policy Studies; and the immediate past president of TransAfrica Forum. Follow him at www.billfletcherjr.com.
This article previously appeared in the Association for Union Democracy newsletter.
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