Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Election 2010 Post-Mortem: What Exactly is so "Historic" About the Republican Victory Over the Democrats?

We are going to be hosting a salon on the 2010 Election debacle (and of course, if any of you would like to contribute a guest piece by all means email it along).

I am really tired of the banal observation that this election is "historic." Every event is historic--from getting up in the morning, to using the toilet, to ordering a burrito at Chipotle. I want some precision, a dose of poetry in motion if you would have it, in the analysis of current affairs. Stated in more high foreheaded fashion, I want some specific historiography in the claims and observations offered by the pundit classes on yesterday's Tea Party Republican rout of the Democrats.

To the rescue? Our resident historian and fellow traveler Werner Herzog's Bear of the great blog I Used to Be Disgusted, Now I Try to Be Amused.


This election cycle I pretty much stopped watching political coverage on TV, and even turned off NPR, because the punditocracy has become unlistenable. I am told by reliable sources that they are calling last night’s election “historic.” I think it is, but not in the grandiose way that they think. I contend that it was historic as all elections are--an outgrowth of larger historical structures, events, and trends.

First off, we need to be clear on something. When the economy is cruddy, the incumbent party gets beat at the polls. That, my friends, is a historically established trend. I really don’t think a majority of Americans intended to vote to allow tax cuts for the wealthy or for insurance companies to deny coverage to people with pre-existing conditions, no matter how many Right wingers want to see this election as a verdict on “big government.”

In fact, considering the situation, the Republicans should have done better! We keep hearing over and over again about the strength of the Tea Party movement, but some of its most prominent candidates, many of whom beat establishment Republicans in the primaries, were total embarrassments. Opportunities to gain Senate seats in New York, Delaware, and Nevada were lost, and the likes of Paladino, O’Donnell, and Angle became national laughing-stocks. Tea Party fave Joe Miller will probably lose in Alaska, and Rand Paul made the Kentucky race a lot less of a sure thing than it should have been. Here’s a reality that they don’t talk about on television: the Tea Party stuff plays well in states like Arizona and Texas, where the voters are already heavily represented by knuckle-dragging troglodytes, but not in the Northeast, the West Coast, or much of the Midwest.

This election has actually confirmed three already established historical trends: the increased role of big money, the importance of the base rather than the middle (especially in midterm elections), and the power of the Right-wing noise machine. Corporate money and the lies that it can finance via “independent” advertising has been crucial in turning the tide in recent elections, just recall the infamous Willie Horton negative campaign ad and the "Swift Boating" of John Kerry. The Citizens United decision has merely reinforced and helped to cloak an already extant culture of underhanded corporate propagandizing. This doesn’t even touch on the fact that the Church and King mob that is the Tea Party was seeded by wealthy wingnuts.

In terms of the elevation of the base rather than the center, Karl Rove had already engineered a victory in 2004 by throwing out red meat to the diehards. People forget that much the same tactic had been used in 2002 to great success. After president Obama’s election, the GOP faced a choice: work responsibly as the loyal opposition to craft legislation to deal with the nation’s worst economic crisis in decades, or demonize Democrats, obstruct, and inflame the fringe. They chose the latter, and it has paid off yet again. The president needs to wake up and realize that although a large number of Americans are tired of the endless bickering in Washington, they are not the people who go out to vote, especially in off-year elections. By doing everything he could to be bipartisan while spurning his supporters, he has helped get himself into this mess.

Last and perhaps most crucial, this past election has shown the great advantage that talk radio and Fox News give to Republicans. They basically have a mass media propaganda arm that acts like a private sector version of Pravda, filling the heads of their viewers and listeners with all kinds of agitprop drivel. Coming from and living in Red State America, I can tell you that Fox News infects the public sphere like nothing else in these parts. I have to endure it in my favorite burger joint, have been visually assaulted by it at the bank, and have even heard stories of it blaring at the local courthouse. In some parts of the country it is the only national news outlet that people have any exposure to. Fox and other media organs share a lot of the blame for the large numbers of Americans who believe that President Obama is a Muslim, that he (not Bush) started the TARP initiative, and that their taxes have gone up, not down, in the last two years. As HL Mencken once said, no one ever lost money by underestimating the intelligence of the American public.

My advice to President Obama and the Democrats? Stop bringing a knife to a gun fight. Start shaping your own narratives, start calling out the lies, and start standing up for the things you are supposed to believe in. Running away from health care basically delegitimized it in the minds of many Americans. To paraphrase the wisdom of The Staples Singers: if you don’t respect yourself, how the hell do you expect anyone to respect you?


Cobb said...

People vote Left because they fear the Right. People vote Right because they respect the ideas of the Right and because the fear the Left.

'Hope & Change' isn't an idea. But I swear to God I heard Obama say 'Keep hope alive'.


Cobb said...

BTW, 60 seats haven't changed parties in the House since 1938 in FDR's second term when the Democrats lost 72 seats. Gingrich's class of 94 won 54 seats.

Paul Sunstone said...

The Bear's analysis seems quite insightful.

I think the election might also be a repudiation of Blue Dog Democrats. About half of them crashed and burned election day. Of course, that leaves us with a bit more liberal bunch of Democrats in Congress, albeit a minority now.

Michael Scott said...

Very insightful post. Thanks.

John Kurman said...

My political cartoon would be entitled "The Morning After" would show a bedroom strewn with empties, and a haggard old whore and a clown waking up next to each other. "Which one are you?" they ask.

Shady_Grady said...

The election was historic. "Democrats performed worse with whites..than in any other congressional election since the Second World War".

The Repubs hold a majority of governorships and have expanded dramatically outside of what, was just two years ago, though to be a southern base.

That's the bad news. The good news is that if the POTUS and Democrats get their **** together on the communication front and focus on the economy, in 2012 this recent election will just be a bad memory.

ish said...

I chose last week to begin rereading Howard Zinn's People's History of the U.S. I'm now up to about the 1910s.

It kind of puts all this in perspective. This election, actually, turns out to be quite the same old story.