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"Rules of Our Society Should Not Be Bought and Sold": Roosevelt Election Roundup

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In the wake of a Democratic loss not seen in the House since 1938, upended Senate seats, and Republican gubernatorial wins, Roosevelt Institute Fellows weigh in. Was the vote a referendum on Democrats? What will it mean moving forward? This post originally appeared on New Deal 2.0.

"The American people are voting against the political system. They are given the choice between the marketed vision of false hope and the vision of everyman financed by those who are attempting to take away vital services. Anger at the financial bailouts is understandable and a vote to cut off government from using our future tax burden to fortify the powerful is also quite sensible. The problem is that in the era of money politics, no coalition from either party can make good on the mirage of their marketed vision.

That both Alan Grayson and Russ Feingold were defeated after being ardent critics of the bailouts and the industry friendly financial regulatory reform is a clear warning that the money system can defeat the politician who represents the people's interest against powerful vested interests.

All of this points to the fundamental need for reform of government incentives in order to restore the power of votes relative to the power of money. And to the fact that reform is the precursor to limiting the domination of our state by concentrated money interests, both corporate and by wealthy individuals. The rules of our society should not be bought and sold."

-Robert Johnson, Roosevelt Institute Senior Fellow and Director of the Project on Global Finance; Executive Director of the Institute for New Economic Thinking

"High unemployment and a housing market that's right out of Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea would wreck any regime's reelection prospects. This was no communication failure: The administration had nothing to offer ordinary people. Facing a wave of secret money, you can't win elections by just saving banks."

- Tom Ferguson, Roosevelt Institute Senior Fellow; Professor of Political Science at the University of Massachusetts, Boston

"In my view, President Obama had one key mission: to prove the value of government. He and his defenders argue that he has achieved much. In particular, they cite health care reform, financial re-regulation, the Recovery Act of 2009, and some even claim he has a workable strategy in Afghanistan. All these were agenda items that needed addressing. Obama has been able to convince too few Americans that any of them were adequately addressed. In fact, they were not, and he never seemed to come to terms with that central fact. To the contrary, he seemed to bury his head in the sand. His claim was that we got so much done but no one really knew about it. This was not bad public relations. It was not failure of government. It was inadequate policy and the failure to own up to it. Obama said a few times he got seventy percent of his agenda done. He got something done, sure, but in no case did it solve the pressing problems they were addressing. This is a man who willfully has averted his eyes from reality, I fear, and the public knew it. And the stunning electoral losses -- made a little more tolerable by the constant lowering of expectations -- don't look like they will shake him up. Equanimity is his constant goal, even in the face of such adversity."

-Jeff Madrick, Roosevelt Institute Senior Fellow and author of The Case for Big Government

"There was no mandate for the repeal of health care in this election, with Democrats who voted against the bill and for the bill equally joined in defeat, but that won't stop Republicans for claiming one. The Republicans will do all they can to terminate the biggest expansion of the social compact in decades, understanding that if health care reform is implemented, it will prove to Americans that government can actually work for them."

- Richard Kirsch, Roosevelt Institute Senior Fellow and formerly National Campaign Manager of Health Care for America Now

"Barack Obama did not do what it took to pull the economy out of the doldrums. This is true for the fiscal stimulus, which was too small, too preoccupied with returning to a surplus as fast as possible, and contained too much lag. His banking bailout policies continued the Bush/Paulson approach and effectively reinforced the notion of government as an instrument of predatory capitalism, rather than an entity mobilizing resources for a broader public purpose. Obama didn't give us 'change we could believe in.' He instead used trillions of dollars in financial guarantees to sustain Wall Street (much more money than was spent on the stimulus) and consequently presided over one of the most regressive wealth transfers in American history. At a time when most Americans were experiencing stagnant or absolute declines in total wages, and Wall Street Robber Barons paid themselves even higher bonuses than before, the President was totally insensitive. He appeared to take pains to put down or ignore the aspirations of every single part of his base. And he wonders why there was an 'enthusiasm gap.'"

- Marshall Auerback, Roosevelt Institute Senior Fellow

"The most striking thing about the post-election landscape is the utter route of centrists Democrats. In the aftermath, as Chris Bowers notes, the Progressive Caucus is larger than the Blue Dog and the New Dems combined. Analysts will continue to go through the numbers, but right now there's nothing to suggest that 'liberal overreach' or a lack of centrist views was a factor. The truth is much worse: the ugly process of appeasing and buying off centrist Democrats on financial reform and health care turned what should have been landmark generational reform into a bitter, ugly view of corporate power and sleazy influence over our political system, the Senate and the political party that is supposed to defend the interests of working people."

- Mike Konczal, Roosevelt Institute Fellow

"Americans want bold ideas and a clear vision, not back-room deals and bank-centric policies. Until Democrats can offer these to voters, they will not succeed. For the next two years, those who would stand in the way of investing in jobs, schools, roads, bridges, and rebuilding the middle class will present even more obstacles to a prosperous future. But progressives are energized and see that the time for backing down and letting billionaires run the country is over. The fight for the future of ordinary Americans is on. Get the gloves off."

- Lynn Parramore, Editor of New Deal 2.0 and Media Fellow at the Roosevelt Institute