Yeah, that hurt. As a dyed-in-the-wool progressive, Tuesday night's election results were, shall we say, a little hard to deal with (you only need to have been following me on Twitter to see just how hard). Wisconsin lost one of its greatest Senators and gained a climate change denying, pedophile employer defending, rubber stamping guy with zero political experience. Between Johnson, Walker, Kleefisch (oh God, four years of the death stare!), Assembly and Senate, our fair state changed from blue to red. You'll excuse me if I'm less than thrilled.
But so it goes. The wheel keeps on turnin', as the saying goes, and there will always be ups and downs. I admit, though, that it's difficult for me to really understand the short-term memory of the country. I mean, Prop 19 didn't even pass in California so it can't be that we're all big pot heads.
Eight years of disastrous, failed policies from a GOP controlled federal government -- eight years with aftershocks still being felt now -- and yet just two years into a shift in power to the left and people freak out and run back into the arms of that abusive lover.
Very strange. Kind of heartbreaking.
Here's the thing, though: The Democrats, as a whole, didn't do much to help themselves. Ultimately, though Feingold comported himself pretty dang well throughout the campaign, he likely suffered the blowback that resulted from feelings people had about Democrats in general this year even when he himself bared no responsibility. Why? Because:
- Too many prominent Dems walked away from the legitimate accomplishments of their term since Obama won election in '08 -- things like the Recovery Act, which helped staunch the flow of blood from the economy and prevented what might well have become a full-blown Depression; established the Credit Card Bill of Rights; the Health Care Reform Act, which prevents insurance companies from denying people coverage based on preexisting conditions and extends benefits to more at-risk children; passed a major tax cut for working people by lowering the amount of federal withholding in our paychecks; etc. etc. etc.
- For all the good stuff Obama and the Dems got done in the last two years, they did little to change the toxic climate in Washington that so many people (like the Tea Partiers) have rightly been rebelling against. As President Obama said himself in a press conference yesterday, "We were in such a hurry to get things done that we didn't change how things get done."
- Republicans are the absolute experts at staying on message -- even when the message is absolutely, utterly and completely false.
And those three factors are, I think, the main reasons why the GOP was able to make such impressive gains on Tuesday. They took advantage of people's legitimate fears and concerns about the economy, their less-legitimate fears and concerns about the world at large, and the Democrats historical inability to stand up for themselves. It was a recipe for success.
Don't mourn -- organize!
As frustrating as the election results were, however, there are silver linings to be had. Not only that, but if there's one thing us liberals are good at it's getting riled up enough to get things done when things are otherwise going poorly. We make great underdogs because, sadly, we're used to being them.
Despite the anti-incumbent wave that swept the land, Wisconsin's second Congressional district still overwhelmingly voted to keep Democrat Tammy Baldwin in office (62-37%).
In general, Congress lost far more (22 of 46) of the waffling, right-pandering Blue Dog Democrats than it did members of the Progressive Caucus (just 4 of 79). One can only hope that they get the message that people want representatives more firmly rooted in progressive traditions and ideas, more willing and able to stand up for something, and less likely to adopt whatever policies they think will get them re-elected. There's something to be said for clear choices, folks.
Now, too, the Republicans have some serious skin in the game -- on the national level, but especially in Wisconsin where they now effectively run the whole show. If the next two-to-four years don't go so well, they'll have no one to blame but themselves anymore. And I have a sneaking suspicion there's going to be a lot of finger pointing going on in very short order, especially if the GOP realizes its dream of tax cuts for the rich, decimating the university system, and crippling programs like BadgerCare.
I sincerely hope we don't see any of that happen, and I think there are plenty of people willing to put in the time and energy to work against many of the more dire campaign promises from the right, but it's enough of an uphill battle that I have to be realistic and assume that some of it will happen.
So we'll need to find ways to take care of the low income folks who are bound to lose what little health care they have if/when Walker and his ilk start implementing cut-offs and caps in BadgerCare.
And we shouldn't hesitate to point out the ridiculousness of tax cuts for the wealthy -- a technique that has proved ineffectual time after time after time but remains the wet dream of well-to-do conservatives even still.
We must also do our best to point out that, if Walker does allow Attorney General JB Van Hollen to join the lawsuit challenging the federal government's health care reform laws, repeal will mean adding billions to the deficit. Specifically:
The Congressional Budget Office is out with a new letter saying that while the health care law could reduce the projected budget deficit by $30 billion by 2020, repealing it would increase the deficit by an estimated $455 billion.
I don't know about you, but that doesn't sound like fiscal conservatism to me.
It won't be enough for progressives to oppose the failed policies of the right, though -- we'll need to step up our game even more to offer better solutions to the serious problems being faced by our country. And for once, we'll need elected representatives who will actually go to bat for those ideas, explain them clearly and consistently, and not back down when the extreme voices (from either side) go on the attack.
None of this is going to be easy: We just lost one of the few politicians who had been doing just that in Feingold -- though one can hope he'll find another way to do public service. And with the Citizens United ruling now allowing practically unlimited and difficult to track campaign contributions from corporations and opaque interest groups, it's more difficult than ever to find a level playing field for all candidates.
As always, however, we have to keep trying. No matter how dire things seem or how frustrated we get, the important thing to do is keep working for something better for everyone. Don't lose sight of the fact that even those people with whom we disagree -- about specifics, about votes, about the world -- are still our neighbors, even if they live on the other side of the country. It behooves each and every one of us to search for common ground and then work to build our society from that more solid foundation.
I'm writing this as much for myself as anyone, because it can be hard to remember when all you want to do is scream. Because no matter how it might look right now, in the end, the screaming voices are not the ones that endure.