Going into the 2012 elections people on the progressive end of the political spectrum need to ask the simple question: How will the first post-Citizens United presidential election affect the outcomes for those desperately seeking social change? The most likely result, unfortunately, is that after the mountains of anonymous campaign money come crashing down in a deafening avalanche of sophisticated negative ads aimed at Democratic politicians, Republicans are probably going to come out on top. Our current collection of post-"Hope and Change," tepid, apologetic Democrats at the national level that President Barack Obama has come to personify could get throttled just like they did in 2010.
The reality is that in 2010 the Democrats suffered what President Obama conceded was a "shellacking." Republicans swept the table winning 63 House seats and wiping out in a single election what took the Democrats two arduous election cycles to build. Republicans also made huge gains in governorships and state legislatures, including key states (some of them "swing states") like Ohio, Wisconsin, Florida, Michigan, and Virginia. The first midterm election in the post-Citizens United universe was a Republican rout. Going into 2012 I fear that the smug predictions I've been hearing throughout the corporate media of an inevitable Obama reelection are premature. Surveying the landscape I would not be a bit surprised if the Democrats lost the Senate as well as the presidency this November. The Republican strategy in Washington of making sure that the economy stays in the tank through November is working.
Take a recent example: The political talking heads on the cable news shows and on the editorial pages of what's left of the major newspapers almost unanimously portrayed Obama's recent deal with the Republicans to extend the payroll tax cut for two months as a "victory" for the president and his party. But it was nothing of the sort. As was the case every time Obama "negotiates" with the GOP Congress he dumped his key demand even before the "negotiations" began: the 3.8 percent surtax on millionaires and billionaires to pay for the payroll tax extension. When Senate "minority" leader Mitch McConnell is high-fiving after a deal is cut (and 89 Senators voted for it) what just transpired was no "victory" for Obama and the Democrats.
So things will lumber along in 2012, the economy will remain mired in deep recession, Washington will show again and again its complete dysfunction, and the electorate will grow angrier and angrier. And right-wing SuperPAC money will dominate the airwaves with one simple message: the recession is Obama's fault.
In the land that Gore Vidal called "the United States of Amnesia" one can already sense the 2008 banking meltdown and the misrule of George W. Bush and the Republican Congress (2003-2007) receding into the distance, vanishing into oblivion, going down the memory hole (insert cliché here). In 2012 nobody is going to be talking about the previous administration or the underlying causes of the great Wall Street heist of 2008.
And Obama has no one to blame but himself. The political costs of deciding not to prosecute or investigate any of the perps of the mortgage Ponzi scheme and denying the public even a handful of high-profile cases where we could convince ourselves that a little justice was served, never materialized. Instead, the Obama administration gave the banking executive hucksters a Get-Out-Of-Jail-Free card and his political party is going to suffer the backlash for coddling these white-collar criminals. That failure was a key motivating force for the Occupy Wall Street movement and it is not going to go away.
The backlash will be twofold: 1) A lack of enthusiasm of the Democratic base (just like 2010); and 2) The political energies that might have been put into organizing for Democratic candidates will be focused on other causes and organizations, like OWS. Why would anybody get "fired up" by working to send back to Washington a crew of failed politicians just so they can continue to fail for four more years?
Over the course of his first term President Obama has shown that he will not do the heavy lifting required to build a sustainable and coherent challenge to the dominating narratives that the Republicans have thrown at him. He buckles and capitulates and MSNBC can call these "victories" but that's not what millions of people who voted for Obama in 2008 believe. He was not elected to cut deals with corporate miscreants and tell us that what he really meant by the "fierce urgency of now" was that the country needed a string of U.S. presidents to move toward tiny, incremental "change" that we may or may not see in our lifetimes due to the power of the lobbies and complexity of "our" problems.
Obama's words today, no matter how stirring or eloquent or right on, are just another small part of the cacophony of bullshit we hear from our venal, mediocre politicians every minute of every day (especially in an election year). Few people on the progressive side believe a word that comes out of his mouth anymore because they stopped listening to him about 1,500 betrayals ago.
The Occupy Wall Street movement, as inspiring as it was, unfortunately, could follow the path of the Iraq peace movement that also organized enormous demonstrations during the lead up to the Iraq war only to be brushed aside and rendered irrelevant when it came to actually having an effect on reversing disastrous policies. George W. Bush taught us that mass protest isn't what it used to be -- he compared 15 million people marching worldwide against the Iraq war in mid-February 2003 to a "focus group." Maybe he was right. Maybe in our post-modern, fragmented and compartmentalized social unreality the will of the people matters about as much as one of Frank Luntz's dial-a-view sessions.
Which brings me, after my many depressing points above (for which I apologize), to the subject of this little blog: the powerful right-wing political obstacles that must be sidelined if progressive change can have any chance of success, whether Obama is at the helm or any number of the string of future presidents he now tells us we'll probably need.
1). Grover Norquist
This un-elected, cynical, elitist political animal -- with his denunciations of everything associated with the word "public" -- has carved out a niche for himself in the nation's political discourse that far surpasses any "Czar" we've heard Fox News howl about. Politicians across the country kiss Norquist's ring in the form of signing a "pledge" and taking an "oath" that no matter what crisis the U.S. might enter, they will never turn to increasing taxes on the rich to help deal with it. Unless this guy's power is curtailed there won't be any chance for using public policy to mitigate the effects of the yawning inequality in American society.
2). Frank Luntz
This advertising technician has proved that George Orwell was correct in his prediction that political language would be manipulated by the most powerful elements of society to entrench their power. Like Norquist, Luntz has become a power among the organized Right because his amoral, unethical, manipulative, dishonest, and downright greasy wordsmithing for the 1 percent works wonders and has already polluted our public discourse. With no real watchdog in the press exposing his lies and misinformation Luntz has been free to employ his techniques with great effect for his right-wing clients. Unless his lies, and the motives behind them, are widely and continuously exposed, progressives will have difficulty framing our major political debates.
3). Roger Ailes
This cunning right-wing apparatchik consciously controls the nuances and subtleties of the "news" narratives that Fox pumps up. Ailes's life work has already irreparably damaged the rationality of our political discourse by infusing it with lies and hyperbole in a format that ingeniously mimics a legitimate "news" broadcast. All of the superficial trappings of "journalism" are present on Fox without any of the substance. As long as Democratic presidents feel it necessary to have a sit-down interview with Bill O'Reilly (a McCarthyite blowhard who has been caught in countless lies and misinformation) there's little hope that progressive issues are going to get a fair shake in the mainstream media (of which Fox is now central due to its dominance in the ratings).
4). The Koch Brothers
These 19th Century-style Robber Barons have been so successful in buying politicians to act as servants for their vast oil and gas holdings -- even when one of their governors is exposed (as with the prank phone call to Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin) -- they still keep chugging along in their apparently long-term project of turning over the United States of America lock, stock and barrel to an aggressive right-wing corporate oligarchy. Citizens United has expanded the Kochs' power and others like them to proportions that would be unimaginable as recently as the last presidential election. The millions of dollars they routinely pump into every pet right-wing cause, and who knows how much in anonymous SuperPAC money, just further destroys the election system in the world's oldest "functioning" democracy. Progressives either have to match the Kochs' spending dollar-for-dollar (good luck) or somehow get their damaging effects to American democracy exposed in a vigilant press (don't count on it).
5). Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell
This Machiavellian power monger who has abused the filibuster and imposed minority rule on this country more successfully than any Senator in U.S. history has a 100 percent winning streak in every battle he has enjoined with Obama. McConnell knows whose side he is on and he loved the Citizens United decision so much he attended the Supreme Court's announcement of the ruling. What Obama needs more than anything in 2012 is one -- just one -- confrontation with McConnell where the Kentucky Senator is the clear loser and everybody in the country sees it that way. The recent vote in the Senate on the payroll tax cut extension where McConnell was seen high-fiving with Wyoming Senator John Barrasso does not bode well for the battles to come in 2012.
All these personalities can continue their work in freedom and live in the lap of luxury; they just cannot be allowed to influence the direction of the nation. They cannot be "compromised" with or brought into a "big tent," or be "reached out to" in a spirit of "bipartisan comity" -- they must be fought and pushed aside.
When Herman Cain boasted that he was the Koch Brothers' "brother from another mother" we were shown pretty clearly that this is not your mother and father's Republican Party. They've succeeded in pulling the "center" of American politics far to the right and Obama's tepid compromises are only facilitating this rightward trajectory. We'll have to wait and see where the limit (if any) to this 30-year rightward lurch lies. But as the Tea Party onslaught in 2010 showed us there really is no conceivable limit to how far they can pull the center to the right, unless and until there is a forceful push back from the "opposition." Why did 200,000 people come out to hear Obama's inaugural address? Because they wanted him to reverse the Bush policies, not continue them and in some cases expand them. Therein lies the biggest disappointment.