By: Clarence Lusane
Don’t jump to conclusions: The sweeping Republican victory on Election Day does not mean the voters have embraced the Republican Party’s ideas, let alone the tea party agenda.
In the main, the election reflected the success of the pervasive anti-Obama drumbeat, the low motivation among many to support a lot of Democratic candidates who tacked to the right, and the ever-growing influx of money in the political system. It did not represent the triumph of any grand or new ideas from Republican leaders.
The incessant Republican pounding of President Obama worked. Obama’s low approval nationally was even much, much lower in GOP areas, especially in the South.
Democratic candidates couldn’t figure out how to deal with this. In Kentucky, Alison Lundergan Grimes wouldn’t even say whether she had voted for Obama, although she was one of his delegates at the 2012 convention. Such fumbling helped her opponent, Sen. Mitch McConnell, sail to re-election.
She and so many other Democratic candidates never made it clear what they stood for. Democratic candidates ran away from Obama but to where?
Grimes in Kentucky and Sen. Kay Hagan in North Carolina dared not speak his name, but that was not a winning strategy. It alienated core constituencies whose support was desperately needed, while winning few moderate or conservative votes. And it foolishly ignored the positives that Obama has brought: a much lower unemployment rate, reduction in gas prices and health care coverage for millions who didn’t have it before.
In the last days of the campaign, pleas from Democrats for higher black and Latino turnout were too little, too late. Black voters, according to the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, were crucial to Democratic hopes in Senate and governor races in Colorado, Georgia, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, North Carolina and Wisconsin. Democrats lost every single one of them.
Polls show that voters, including Republicans, actually support the substance of many ideas advocated by Obama and liberal Democrats. On Tuesday, for instance, referendums on increasing the minimum wage and legalizing marijuana won majority support in state after state.
Obama is not blameless in the debacle. After Congress dropped the ball on immigration, he delayed issuing an executive order because he didn’t want to make conservative Democrats address the issue in the campaign. This tactic didn’t succeed, either. Indeed, it is likely that Sen, Mark Udall lost in Colorado, at least in part, due to a depressed Latino turnout.
Tuesday was certainly a victory for the 1 percent. The Koch brothers and other right-wing billionaires funneled obscene amounts of money into the election, and they will very likely get what they paid for: a Congress that seeks lower taxes on corporations, fewer work and environmental regulations, conservative nominees to the judicial bench and further erosion of the welfare state. And there is no chance for campaign finance reform.
The clear lesson for Democrats is that you have to present an agenda and fight for it. You can’t run away and hide.
Clarence Lusane is a professor of political science and international relations at American University. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Copyright Clarence Lusane