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PORTSIDE  May 2012, Week 3

PORTSIDE May 2012, Week 3

Subject:

What European Elections Should Teach Obama

From:

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Date:

Thu, 17 May 2012 22:37:23 -0400

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What European Elections Should Teach Obama

The Real Lesson of European Elections for Obama

by Randy Shaw

Beyond Chron
May. 15, 2012 

http://www.beyondchron.org/news/index.php?itemid=10152

According to the media, recent elections in France, Greece
and Germany show that voters have a "throw the bums out"
mentality. As the Los Angeles Times described it, "in
recessions, voters tend to punish the party in charge." But
the real election lesson is quite different. Voters are
rebelling against austerity, and giving pro-austerity
candidates/parties the heave-ho. This would mean great gains
for Democrats against pro-austerity Republicans - if voters
saw the parties this way. But due to Obama's focus on
deficit-reduction and failure to effectively market his
stimulus package, many voters do not. Europe's lesson is
that Obama should far more aggressively promote public
investment, job creation, and other economically populist -
and popular - measures. If he and the Democrats do this,
their success in 2008 could be repeated in 2012.

The European uprising against banker-imposed austerity
should lead us to ask: why are there not ongoing mass
protests in this country against a Republican House that
opposes public investment, student loans, and virtually
every government program outside of the military? Or if not
protests on the streets, at least at the ballot box?

The answer is that in Europe, the lines between political
parties are widely understood. Here, the Democrats are so
connected to Wall Street and the 1% that many voters see the
Party as equally unwilling to battle for their interests.

This is not working-class voters going with Republicans over
social issues. Rather, it's Obama and the Democrats' failure
to win their support by powerfully promoting growth over
austerity.

And when you read that the national Democratic Party is
doing little to help the recall of Governor Scott Walker in
Wisconsin - in a race that should clearly define where the
two parties stand on economic policy - it's no wonder that
many voters doubt which side the Democratic Party is really
on.

Obama's Partial Populism

Obama understands Europe's lessons better than his fellow
Democrats. He has returned to his populist campaign themes
of 2008, highlighting the federal bailout of the auto
industry, renewing lower cost student loans, and investing
in public infrastructure.

But he has not criticized the austerity program of the
Federal Reserve, or otherwise galvanized struggling voters
around an economic program as he did his gay and lesbian
base when he backed gay marriage.

When you read about young people leaving college with
massive debt no prior generation has ever faced, both
political parties are to blame. The very informed know that
Democrats have been far better on student loans and
educational funding, but those impacted are looking for
dramatic solutions NOW.

Obama is not offering such solutions. So some students see
him as part of the problem. He'll get young people's votes
for his stands on other issues, but the Democrats are
missing a chance to capitalize on a very hot button issue.

If Europe's lesson were anti-incumbency, Republicans would
lose the House in November. But because many voters see both
parties as equally complicit in austerity, Republican House
leadership is expected to survive.

The Democrats' failure to clearly identify as the party of
the 99% goes beyond national politics.

In California, a Democratic-controlled legislature cannot
get foreclosure bills passed because key Democrats in the
Central Valley and Los Angeles are opposed. Some are Latino
Democrats taking big bucks from banking and real estate
industries, despite Latino families being disproportionately
impacted by foreclosures.

California is the bluest of states with perhaps the nation's
most progressive voters. Yet even here, Democrats refuse to
seize the mantle of the 99% leaving voters blaming both
parties for the state's many crises.

Obama and other national and state Democrats have not
promoted policies firmly identifying them with the 99%. And
Europe shows that it is their ongoing identification with
austerity, not their incumbency, which poses their greatest
risks in November.

Europe's lesson about voters rejecting austerity policies
was also reflected in recent South American elections in
Argentina, Peru, Brazil and elsewhere. Candidates disavowing
the politics of austerity repeatedly prevailed, often
winning by far bigger than expected margins.

If Obama goes all out for growth and against austerity, he
could bring Democrats a near repeat of the sweeping gains
won in 2008. Otherwise, the President will prevail against
the weak Mitt Romney while pro-austerity Republicans
maintain House control and the power to weaken his agenda.

[Randy Shaw is author of The Activist's Handbook and Beyond
the Fields: Cesar Chavez, the UFW and the Struggle for
Justice in the 21st Century.]

==========

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