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PORTSIDE  December 2012, Week 1

PORTSIDE December 2012, Week 1

Subject:

The Transforming Potential of the 2012 Elections

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Wed, 5 Dec 2012 22:53:35 -0500

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The Transforming Potential of the 2012 Elections
 
Submitted to Portside
By Mark Solomon
December 5, 2012

Post-election analyses on the left have acknowledged
the unprecedented impact of demographic changes, great
advances for women, significant victories in cultural
battles, resistance to voter suppression and to Super-
Pac billions There is a consensus that a powerful grass
roots movement is essential for moving the Obama
presidency in a more progressive direction. There has
been less discussion of the alignment of social forces
both in the election and after the election, of the
internal political conflicts raging in ruling circles
and how those conflicts impact mainstream voters and
progressive struggles as well as affecting concrete
opportunities for major advances.
 
Some pundits have noted that the 2012 election marked
one of the most ideologically divisive contests in
memory. There has been very little acceptance of that
estimate among progressives. Many on the left have
generally contended that the election did not alter a
broad ruling class consensus on global neo-liberalism
(untrammeled pursuit of maximum profits shorn of legal
constraint and undergirded by military muscle). Without
doubt, the ideological distance between campaigns was
contained within a somewhat narrow space. For many,
especially engaged activists, the ideological distance
at best was hard to perceive.
 
However, that picture is inadequate. It does not
acknowledge actual divisions within the ruling class
that undergirded the political stands of the major
candidates and parties, engendering an especially
vitriolic contest. The dividing line was between
unbridled neo-liberalism in global and domestic
policies versus what can be called "corporate
Keynesianism."
 
The Republican-Romney campaign was a model of virulent
neo-liberalism -- pushing a destructive race to the
bottom, taking deadly aim at organized labor, stoking
racism, sexism and anti-immigrant currents, ramping up
military spending, ridiculing the environmental crisis,
abandoning any vestige of commitment to a social safety
net and financial regulation. Heavily underwritten by
Wall Street, energy, real estate and gambling
interests, that wing cultivated a base built largely
upon manufactured racial, gender and anti-immigrant
grievances. It was activated by racist "dog whistles"
and pseudo-populist tales about "big government"
redistributing wealth from productive citizens to
"moochers" and "takers."
 
That Romney-led current was contested by an incumbent
administration even as the latter continued to fashion
its domestic and foreign policies with fidelity to
corporate power. Its landmark health care reform was
thus anchored on the insurance industry. Its foreign
and security policies remained in the grip of the
military-industrial complex, the national security
state and global imperial objectives. At the same time,
its approach to major foreign and domestic issues
sought relative nuance: tamping down expensive and
politically difficult wars; seeking multilateralism in
promoting its global economic and strategic interests,
engaging in advocacy of nuclear disarmament while
conducting drone warfare and targeted assassinations.
 
The administration's domestic mission, reflective in
some measure of its traditional working and middle
class base, was to adopt moderate reforms aimed at
preserving social stability by controlling growing and
potentially ruinous economic inequality. Crucially, it
sought to apply the core mantra of Keynesianism:
government intervention through investment in the
economy to make up for collapsing private financial
investment.
 
The election then turned on resistance to the class
warfare pursued by the Romney-Ryan campaign. Millions
of voters were less concerned with Obama as the lesser
evil (a preoccupation on sectors of the left), than
with the battle between the Republicans' blatant
pursuit of inequality versus the Democrats' tax policy
that advocated  modest redistribution of wealth. Thus
taxes emerged as a decisive class issue.
 
Among the electorate there was little familiarity with
ideological labels like Keynesianism and neo-
liberalism. But there was urgent concern with the class
warfare issues spawned by those competing currents. In
light of a divided ruling class, working people aligned
with the formation that best represented their class
interests, that would checkmate rampant reaction and
thus would create space for progressive advance. In
addition, the inseparable intersections of race, class
and gender brought into the coalition newer forces
themselves under attack from Republican neo-liberals:
women striking back against the war on reproductive
choice; Latinos responding to right wing attacks on
immigrants; African Americans reacting to voter
suppression and to racist disrespect of the President;
gays resisting bigotry and denial of civil equality;
young people responding to undermining of their
interests as students and workers.
 
While those forces aligned with "corporate Keynesians"
as a strategic imperative, there is compelling evidence
that an emerging progressive majority is not bound by
the limitations of coalition with elements of the
ruling class and is open to demands of greater
magnitude.
 
A striking example of the readiness of a majority to
breach the limits of the Obama-led coalition was the
remarkable "Budget for All" referendum launched by an
alliance of more than sixty labor, peace, civil rights
and community organizations in Massachusetts.It took
weeks of intense effort to arrive at a consensus on the
content of the proposal, especially on how to formulate
a succinct referendum that reflected the many concerns
of participating organizations -- including labor
unions that were initially hesitant about cuts in
military spending.
 
The non-binding referendum was advanced as an
alternative to the regressive "Grand Bargain" to
supposedly avert the mythical "fiscal cliff." The
proposal echoed HR 733, the Congressional Progressive
Caucus's anti-austerity bill. The Massachusetts
resolution called for no cuts in Social Security,
Medicare, Medicaid, veterans' benefits housing, food
assistance and other social programs; job creation
through investing in manufacturing, green energy,
housing, schools, transportation and other public
services; new revenues to be raised by ending tax
loopholes, offshore tax havens and taxing incomes over
$250,000; redirection of military spending to human
needs and ending the Afghanistan war now.
 
A small, but highly motivated group of canvassers
managed in often sweltering summer heat to get the
referendum on the ballot in 91 cities and towns
representing 1,300,000 voters. The results were
astounding. Despite few funds for publicity and
outreach, over  623,000 voted for the proposal, 209,000
against. "Budget for All" won big (mostly 75 percent
and higher) in every city or town where it was on the
ballot. It won big in towns that gave 31 percent of its
vote to incumbent Senator Scott Brown; its smallest
margin of victory was 53 percent in Dover, the
exclusive redoubt of the one percent. It won massively
in Boston's working class wards and in middle class
suburbs; it won overwhelmingly in African American and
Latino communities; it won over 90 percent of the Asian
vote.
 
The coalition that forged "Budget for All" has remained
intact and is determined to create an ongoing
collaborative organization. It is reaching out to the
hundreds of thousands who voted for the referendum,
urging them to tell the Obama administration that they
will not tolerate accommodations with the right wing.
It has already held a demonstration at the office of
Senator John Kerry; it is planning town meetings with
every Congressman (five Massachusetts representatives
had endorsed the proposal); it will organize large
demonstrative actions to generate a public clamor
against a destructive "Grand Bargain." and build
support for the alternative Progressive Caucus
legislation.
 
The"Budget for All" referendum owes its success to the
qualitative growth of an emerging progressive majority
of voters in 2012 determined to push back against
growing inequality and related injustices. New
awareness has emerged about corporations, social class
and economic injustice. The burgeoning Occupy Wall St.
movement contributed mightily to that rising
consciousness that was manifested in the outcome of an
election that delivered a blow to the far right and
that brought more progressive politicians, especially
women, into office. At this crucial moment on the eve
of a 2nd Obama administration, there is ample evidence
of a vast constituency not only poised to pressure
political forces given to vacillation, but to take the
entire political discourse to a higher more
transforming level. That is both a source of
encouragement and a challenge to left and progressive
forces to help nurture and consolidate that majority.
 
Mark Solomon is a past co-chair of the Committees of
Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism (CCDS).

___________________________________________

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