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Mitchell Bard Headshot

A Short and Clear Guide to What a Midterm Vote Really Means

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It seems that Tea Party-dominated Republicans are going to make gains in the midterm elections on Tuesday. Prognosticators from Nate Silver to The Huffington Post are forecasting the likelihood of a GOP takeover of the House and a very closely-divided Senate.

The president's party traditionally loses seats in the next midterm election, and with unemployment pushing double digits, it is not surprising that Republicans are faring well (despite the fact that the current economic problems resulted from the policies of a Republican president and Republican Congress). But there are two factors that make this midterm election especially vexing for those of us who think a Tea Party/Republican surge is bad for the country: Much of the anti-Democratic sentiment is based on lies about health care (Sharron Angle is still pushing the death panel lie) and stimulus, and the Republicans' gains are being fueled by a post-Citizens United flood of corporate money. (Democratic candidates actually had more money in donations than their Republican counterparts this election season, but cash from interest groups backed by people like Karl Rove has swamped the Democrats, flooding the airwaves with attack ads.)

So, with the midterms days away, I wanted to make it crystal clear what this election is really about. When you pull a lever on Tuesday, you may think you are voting for one candidate or against another, but, in the big picture, the vote won't be for a person. Instead, whether you like it or not, you will be voting based on these opposing principles:

1) What is best for corporations and the wealthiest one percent vs. what is best for the vast majority of Americans. Wealthy donors like the Koch brothers aren't pouring millions of dollars into this election because they won't be benefited by the results (nor because Republicans won't be indebted to them). Tea Party/Republican candidates have supported a massive tax cut for the wealthy, even if it adds to the deficit. They have also promised millions of dollars in spending cuts, even as they won't identify what programs they would cut. Suffice it to say that the spending reductions won't hurt the Koch brothers, but they will hurt lower- and middle-class Americans.

Before voting, ask yourself this simple question: Do you want to support and affirm the flood of money going to Republican candidates from the likes of Rove, the Koch brothers and the Chamber of Commerce, none of whom rank what is best for the majority of Americans high on their list of priorities?

So if you vote for a GOP candidate, and he or she wins, you will get a politician who is looking out for the wealthiest Americans and corporations, but not for the rest of us. (I discussed this issue in more depth here.)

2) Extremism vs. mainstream American policies. This is not your father's Republican Party running on Tuesday. This new GOP has been taken over by the Tea Party, whose out-of-the-mainstream views are so far to the right, they are simply un-American. Many of them want to abolish the Department of Education and believe that basic, long-running, established, essential programs like Social Security and unemployment insurance are unconstitutional. (I ran down the views of 10 high-profile Tea Party/Republican hopefuls here.) They are prone to outrageous statements, like Angle claiming that Muslim law is taking hold in American cities, Ken Buck supporting banning IUDs and birth control pills, and Christine O'Donnell lying about the president's student loan program. They have talked of repealing the 14th and 17th Amendments.

In short, this is not just about deficits, taxes and spending. If the real policies of the Tea Party/Republicans were actually enacted, a vast majority of Americans would be outraged.

3) Going back to the policies of George W. Bush vs. not going back to the policies of George W. Bush. The Democrats have had less than two years to try and dig the country out of the hole left to them by Bush. While it is not fair to think that the economic mess could be fixed quickly (especially in the face of all-out obstructionism by the GOP), it is absolutely fair, in light of the current sagging economy, for the opposition to offer another option, an alternative way to put people back to work. Only, the GOP is not doing that.

What is the Tea Party/Republican plan to jump-start the economy? Tax cuts for the rich and less government regulation. Sound familiar? It should, because these were the two hallmarks of the Bush economic policy, which led to slow job growth (compared to the decade before), the largest income disparity between the wealthy and middle class since the Great Depression, and, eventually, a full-on recession. (Remember, even though the stock market plunge that accompanied the financial crisis wiped out big chunks of Americans' retirement accounts, Bush still believes that not privatizing Social Security was his biggest failure as president. The ignorance and myopia of that statement is astounding, especially given the epic failure of his economic and foreign policies.)

The Bush economic policies were clinically effective in redirecting money from the lower- and middle-classes to the wealthy. A vote for the Tea Party/Republicans on Tuesday is a vote to re-institute those policies.

4) Ignorance and inexperience vs. intelligence and ability. I admit to being a fan of 1970s punk music, which relished the musicians' lack of technical proficiency. But while I'm fine with a less-than-talented guitarist hammering out chords in a rock-and-roll song (replacing technical skill with passion), I expect more from the people who run our government. The current crop of Tea Party/Republicans seem to revel in ignorance the way the punk guitarists flaunted their lack of ability. They toss out words like "elitist" in an effort to make a virtue of their lack of knowledge and/or education. We all got a laugh when O'Donnell revealed in a debate that she didn't know what was in the First Amendment, but it is outrageous that someone running for the U.S. Senate doesn't have that basic knowledge at her disposal.

Similarly, Wisconsin Republican Senate candidate Ron Johnson has an ad that demonizes senators for being lawyers, which means that he is complaining that the members of a law-making body are experts on the law.

Don't fall for the spin. Intelligence, education, knowledge and competence are good qualities, contrary to what the Tea Party/Republicans would have you think. (It's amazing such a statement even has to be written.)

The Bush years were a lesson in the perils of willful ignorance. With so many problems facing the country, we can't afford to let the ignorant and incompetent try and fix things.

In the end, the midterm elections on Tuesday are really about four basic questions:

1) Do you support corporations and the wealthiest one percent over the rest of us?

2) Do you support far-right policies that are way out of the American mainstream?


3) Do you want to go back to the economic policies of George W. Bush?


4) Do you support ignorance and lack of qualification?

If you answer "yes" to these questions, then, by all means, cast your ballot for Tea Party/Republicans. But if you believe in what's best for all of us, and you want to reject extremism, ignorance, Bush's economic policies, and the takeover of our elections by Rove, the Koch brothers and the Chamber of Commerce, than you might not want to vote for the GOP.

Voter anger may be justified, but on Wednesday morning, we will have to live with the votes cast on Tuesday. And we will all be better off if those votes don't come for the Tea Party-dominated GOP.