'Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.' -- Eugene V. Debs

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Vote or Die (Part 4) 

Within about a half and hour or so, we are likely to discover that Democrat Martha Coakley has lost the Massachusetss Senate race to Republican Scott Brown. As Coakley's campaign unravelled as a consequence of her ineptitude and public dismay at the corporate friendly policies of the Obama administration, liberals at DailyKos and firedoglake, among other places, engaged in increasingly vitriolic exchanges, with some believing that Coakley's defeat would serve as a wake up call to the national Democratic Party, while others asserted that it would destroy any prospect of progressive change.

If you spend any time following the raucous debate, it gets tiresome pretty quickly. A few participants are willing to acknowledge that Obama signalled his willingness to serve the interests of capital when he took no action to challenge the cloture rule in the Senate, the rule that requires 60 votes to cut off debate. By doing so, Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid empowered conservative Democrats and moderate Republicans by making it necessary to obtain their support to get any legislation to the White House for signature. It was all very convenient, a ready made excuse as to why it was necessary to escalate the war in Afghanistan, continue to bail out the banks and transform health care reform into a government subsidization of the insurance industry and pharmaceutical companies.

Hence, the public would just have to learn the virtues of generational patience, and accept that it will take not just years, but decades, to accomplish all those things that they expected from an Obama presidency. But, for those of us to the left of liberals, to the left of the American electoral process, the Coakley-Brown race is a textbook example of how the system is rigged against any meaningful participation by many Americans. If Brown wins, health care reform is either killed, or passed in an even more menacing form, while if Coakley wins, you get health care reform passed with a few fig leafs, such as the recent deal between the White House and the AFL-CIO on the so-called Cadillac plan tax, that do not alter its regressive features. One can anticipate similar outcomes in relation to other future measures designed to address the current economic downturn. Given that the Congress is firmly in the hands of the Lieberman/Nelson/Baucus axis, it hard to even identify any differences that would result in foreign policy as a result of the election of either candidate.

Liberals understood this very clearly, as appeals for support for Coakley took on more and more hysterical tones. If Brown won, they screamed, Republicans would return to power and destroy the country. Voters who refused to respond to the rhetorical horsewhipping administered by Democratic activists deserved what they will get. Left unanswered, of course, was whether voters deserve what they are currently getting from Obama and the Democratic majority in Congress. Coakley supporters were left with such emotional appeals, because there have nothing to substantively say that would persuade voters that Coakley, and by extension, Obama, have any intention of challenging the plutocracy that controls the government.

Perhaps, such fearmongering will work just enough to carry Coakley through to victory, and put off the day of reckoning until next November. Obama and Reid could respond to a Coakley defeat by getting progressive legislation through the Senate with just 51 votes, and thus, reinvigorate a moribund liberalism with a record of populist accomplishment, but that's about as likely as the prospect of the US military abandoning the control over Haiti that it has seized in response to the earthquake. If given a choice, the middle class looks likely to gravitate to a party that celebrates its exercise of power for the benefit of capital, as opposed to a party that dresses its corporate friendly policies in the garb of an ersatz populism. One wonders whether the collapse of the Obama presidency will plant the seeds of a direct action political movement based upon the recognition that the electoral process is no longer capable of addressing the needs of the populace. If so, it will take awhile for the seeds to germinate.

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