President Obama owes his re-election to the black, Latino, trade union, feminist, and LGBT communities. It is they who rebuffed a Romney candidacy that relied heavily on the thinnest of veiled white nationalist appeals. A whopping 92 percent of Romney voters were white; and the only age group that Romney won handily was seniors. Obama in turn drew 55 percent of his vote total from whites and 45 percent from people of color. He won 55 percent of the women’s vote, 65 percent of union members, and 80 percent of voters of color (including 71 percent of the Latino vote and 73 percent of the Asian-American vote).
This progressive voting block got help from the other side. Republican senatorial candidates’ extremist and objectionable remarks about rape, combined with Romney’s “self-deportation” remarks, meant Republicans could make few inroads among female independents or socially conservative Latinos. Voter suppression laws backfired – at least momentarily, instead spurring record African-American and Latino turnouts.
Saying that, this electoral victory is no validation of the Obama administration’s centrist policies, examples of which include pushing tax cuts over public job creation; settling for a stunted, pro-corporate health care reform instead of Medicare for All; and barely aiding the foreclosed while treating the banksters with deep massage.
Neither was it smart politics. Bolder policies leading to an unemployment rate under 7 percent would have seen Obama waltz to victory. Instead, the first Obama administration governed in a cautious manner in part because, until Occupy, the Left never brought adequate pressure to bear. As Obama’s pro-Wall Street consiglieri appointments showed, the administration never used its bully pulpit, except in off-the-record conversations, and then to spite progressives.
Nor is Obama’s victory a permanent realignment of the American electorate. The midterm congressional electorate is usually more affluent and whiter than the presidential electorate. Only if the Obama administration pushes for public jobs, aid to the foreclosed and progressive immigration reform can it expand the 2014 congressional electorate, creating a more-or-less permanent left-of- center majority. If it won’t prioritize reversing the decline in working-class living standards, it may see more of its remaining white working-class support accede to populist Republican cant. Note that November’s white turnout declined by 5 million (or over 5 percent!) from 2008. These stay-at-homers disproportionately came from white working-class swing voters who spurned
Obama, but couldn’t buy into the plutocratic Romney.
“Deficit hawk” austerity policies
may excite business writers, but
full-employment policies deliver
swing working-class voters.
Witness the auto bailout’s enabling
Obama to win Ohio and the upper
Midwest. In Ohio, Michigan,
and Wisconsin white blue-collar
workers voted nearly 50 percent
for Obama. The labor movement delivered these voters, and played a crucial role in electing progressives Tammy Baldwin and Sherrod Brown to the Senate, as it did for Elizabeth Warren in Massachusetts. Now labor can demand that the administration fight – if only for its own survival – to legislate the right to organize as a basic civil right. Will it? Only if forced.
Even before the election, the administration leaked its intent to seek a “long-term solution” on budget and entitlement issues akin to the 2010 Simpson-Bowles congressional commission recommendations, which favored three times as much spending reductions as tax increases. The administration now hints at cutting the long-term growth rate of Social Security benefits by altering the cost of living adjustment formula, an unnecessary move and a cowardly capitulation when minor reforms such as removing the cap on income taxed for Social Security would make the system permanently solvent.
That acquiescence to corporate ideology needs confronting by militant street heat. Advocates of austerity would revert to the four “Ds” of neoliberal capitalism: deregulate the economy, decrease tax rates on the rich and corporations, defund public provision, and de-unionize the labor force. Except as raw meat for corporate carnivores, this makes no sense. We live in a wealthy society that can afford a more generous welfare state – but only if we tax the 1 percent and corporate America, those who have reaped 90 percent of the benefits of the last 30 years of economic growth. We can further save hundreds of billions of public revenue if we cut unnecessary new weapons systems and end incarceration of nonviolent drug offenders. We do have a runaway health care cost problem, but that can be bridled through a single-payer plan that takes the profit motive out of health care provision.
The Left also must ensure that Washington deals with the impending “fiscal cliff” by prioritizing economic recovery
Democratic Left • Winter 2012 • page 1
and full employment over spending cuts. If no agreement on future tax and budgetary policy is reached by January 1, an additional $110 billion of spending cuts will transpire. (The cuts in domestic “discretionary” spending would cut anti- poverty programs, such as Title I funding for low-income schools, and hobble federal regulatory agencies.) If all these parts of the “fiscal cliff” come to fruition, the annual budget deficit will indeed fall in calendar year 2013, but at the expense of cutting aggregate economic demand and sparking a double- dip recession.
Just as the Coalition on Human Needs argues, the Left should also press to eliminate tax cuts for the rich and corporations, preserve entitlements and restore domestic cuts, while maintaining military spending reductions. We must also reverse two other deleterious parts of the “fiscal cliff.” The 2 percent FICA payroll tax cut will expire, robbing average families of nearly $1,000 in purchasing power, while the looming $26 billion cut in extended unemployment benefits will devastate the lives of some 1.5 million unemployed people. Winning that means forcing President Obama to grow a backbone. The president has the upper hand, as the GOP desperately wants to avoid defense cuts (their industrial policy for their districts) or the blame for tax hikes on the middle class. There’s no need to give in to Republican bluster.
So what unique added value can DSA contribute to the emerging local coalitions of community groups mobilizing for a real solution to the fake fiscal challenge? For starters, DSA can educate the public about the unnecessary and harmful nature of austerity politics, showing that you can’t cut your way out of a recession, but you can publicly invest profitably in green jobs, infrastructure, job training and research and development.
DSA’s GET UP project (Grassroots Economics Trainings for Understanding and Power) comprehensively critiques neoliberal capitalism and promotes an alternative program for full employment and social justice. Student debt may be the next financial bubble, and the GET UP program addresses it, as it does the fight to make higher education a social right. DSA locals joining YDS
in fighting for student debt relief would also allow for a more seamless recruiting of younger and more diverse activists.
In addition, DSA can enhance its “The Other America is Our America” project by joining black, Latino, and white anti-poverty activists in demanding that the Obama administration honor the upcoming 50th anniversaries of the March on Washington and the War on Poverty by advancing a comprehensive anti-poverty program. Four democratic socialists organized the August 1963 March on Washington: A. Philip Randolph, Bayard Rustin, Martin Luther King, Jr., and UAW President Walter Reuther. The march called for “Jobs and Freedom,” recognizing that political and civil rights can be realized only through economic justice.
2014 will mark the 50th anniversary of the War on Poverty and debate will rage as to whether or not the War on Poverty failed or was murdered. DSA and its allies must argue that while the War on Poverty did not go far enough, it won crucial victories whose policy legacy lives on today in programs such as Food Stamps, the Earned Income Tax Credit, extended unemployment benefits and the still vibrant Social Security, all of which currently keep some 30 million Americans out of poverty, even as 46 million live at or below the disastrously low official poverty level.
But the street heat needed to move public policy in a progressive direction cannot succeed without addressing our country’s “democracy deficit.” The unbridled role of corporate and wealthy individual campaign contributions means that, absent public funding of elections, democracy is for sale. Thus, as we struggle against the politics of austerity, we must insist that political democracy is only fully achieved when accompanied by economic and social democracy. t
Joseph M. Schwartz is a vice-chair of DSA and a member of its Philadelphia local. A Temple University professor of political theory, he is the author, most recently, of The Future of Democratic Equality.