MONEY TALKS, PROGRESSIVES WALK
I have just returned from a month-long trip through a large swath of America’s southland. About a week ago, on my way out of the Okefenokee Swamp in southern Georgia, I went through the very small town of Enigma, Georgia. There isn’t much in southern Georgia – so a town named Enigma easily catches one's attention. Located in the middle of cotton fields, the approach to this small town is along a divided highway with a median strip filled for a few miles with glorious planted wildflowers, very puzzling. Also somewhat puzzling in a town of around 1200 inhabitants is a population growth of almost 50% since 2000 in a place where the median household income is less than 2/3 that of Georgia as a whole. I have no idea why people are flocking to Enigma, but it also turns out that the town has four registered sex offenders among its 1200 or so inhabitants (according to City-Data.com), meaning that at least one in about every 300 folks you encounter there has had some serious issues.
While this Enigma passed quickly, it is harder to shake the enigma of the recent mid-term elections. It turns out that the nation had an election while I was on the road, and the electorate delivered a clear result – voting Americans overwhelmingly favor politicians who strongly oppose fundamental policy changes that voting Americans overwhelming favor. Talk about an enigma.
Let’s take the issue of raising the minimum wage – polls don’t agree on much, but they do agree that somewhere around 70% of Americans favor an increase in the minimum wage. Since voters flocked to candidates who oppose increasing the minimum wage, this result seems to suggest that high among President Obama's shortcomings that led to the election night repudiation of Democrats was favoring an increased minimum wage favored by most Americans.
It would be one thing if raising the minimum wage was a stand-alone item. As others have noted, there is much more. Most Americans favor some form of universal gun registration in response to growing gun violence. So what do they do when they march to the polls, they overwhelmingly elect candidates who have sworn to undo what little gun control presently exits – the M-16 in every schoolhouse crowd.
But wait, there is more. Almost everyone agrees that our immigration “system” is broken and that deporting eleven million aliens is not a good idea, unless everyone left here commits himself/herself to a lifetime of mowing, landscaping and fruit picking, not to mention serving themselves in restaurants. Yet, many of those folks who seem to understand the need for working immigrants and a better immigration solution just overwhelmingly elected candidates who vehemently want every true American to pick their own fruits and vegetables. And the list goes on – increased funding for education and improved infrastructure, more and better public transportation, increased access to healthcare, even serious efforts to confront climate change and to protect the environment and what little wilderness remains. Americans in large numbers favor this stuff, but vote for candidates who do not. Then these same voters seem to wonder why government can’t function to meet reasonable public policy objectives.
So what is going on here – why this huge disconnect in much of the country and probably in Enigma, Georgia as well? Part of it is surely attributable to a largely undereducated electorate manipulated by right-wing negative mega-dollars to vote against stated self-interest. Another part is that some of the public policy issues at stake are complicated and require both real information and a willingness to seek that information to overcome partisan lies, half-truths and intentional misrepresentations. A short attention span simply won’t get the job done.
A big part of the problem, however, is a very timid President and a largely right-of-center Democratic mainstream leadership that seems afraid of its shadow and incapable of articulating even a minimalist vision that seems to closely parallel stated voter sentiment. President Obama didn’t even try to make a case for his own limited actual accomplishments and utterly failed to articulate any vision for the coming two years.
Progressives compounded the problem in this latest election by sitting on their hands, leaving the playing field to right-wing Republicans and the ineffective right-of-center Democratic mainstream. The left got trampled by a herd of right-wing storm troopers sworn to further vilify President Obama, to undermine meaningful governance, and to ensure that corporate interests overwhelm the public interest.
So, with mainstream Democrats braying that their message didn’t get out and progressive Democrats urging real confrontation with Republicans on many fronts, it would seem that the last thing they would do is select again the same party leadership that just failed so miserably. BUT THE FIRST THING THEY DID, INSTEAD, THE MINUTE THEY FINALLY SHOWED UP FOR “WORK” IN CONGRESS, WAS TO CHOOSE THE SAME LEADERSHIP THAT JUST LED THEM NOWHERE.
Wow!!! Very hard to give hope much of a chance…