Sitting out the elections? Think again


Some voters on our side of the struggle are taking a powder on the elections. They claim that President Obama raised their hopes as a candidate and let them down as a president.

They expected bold action on the economic crisis, but it didn't happen. The stimulus didn't go far enough. Ditto for health care legislation. The scale and pace of change has been too slow - too many people are out of work, out of affordable health care, and out of their homes.

Meanwhile, their riff goes, bloodletting continues in Afghanistan, corporations are sitting on nearly $2 trillion of idle money, profits are up, inequality is growing, and tax cuts for the wealthy are draining our treasury and driving up the national deficit.

There is truth here, but the question is: is it enough to stay home? I say no for three reasons.

To begin with the most obvious, the elections' impact on people's lives. Even though the size of the stimulus was inadequate and a public option was missing in the new health care law, both bills bring a measure of relief to millions of people. And as a friend of mine keeps reminding me, it may make only an inch of difference, but a lot of people live on that inch.

Which brings me to next month's congressional elections. If the Republicans regain control of the House of Representatives, that inch of difference (things like unemployment insurance extensions, food stamps, relief for local and state governments, modest jobs and infrastructure programs, readjustment of tax policy in favor of working people, funding for education, a real fight over military appropriations for Afghanistan) will probably vanish - along with hope for more far-reaching measures.

Furthermore, "austerity" will become the watchword, the pressures to weaken Social Security and Medicare will grow, and the economic pain for working people is likely to get much worse.

A second reason to vote is a little less obvious, but you don't have to know higher math to understand it: A Republican victory at the polls on Nov. 2 - defined as winning a majority of seats in the House - would be the opening act of a horror show, culminating in the Republican right reclaiming full dominance of Congress and the White House in 2012.

For the far right, electoral success in the current elections and then in 2012 is the eye of the needle through which it must past in order to radically transform the country to the advantage of the most reactionary section of monopoly capital and its allies, motley and dangerous as they are.

No one on their side is going to stay home on Election Day. A "no show" is a "no-no" for them. Everyone is expected to march to the polls and bring others with them.

You won't hear of any of them scaling down the importance of the elections. Their lens is wide-angled enough to see the big picture. The claim that the two parties of capitalism are indistinguishable is a fool's notion in their world. And they see this election and the one two years from now as a crossroads in American politics whose outcome will determine the kind of nation we will become.

Finally, a Republican victory this fall will not simply weaken the president and his party, but likely demoralize and take the wind out of the sails of the loose coalition that emerged in 2008 and after a post-election hiatus is finding its stride again, as evidenced by the Oct. 2 rally in the nation's capital.

To believe otherwise is naïve at best. Millions will feel that the promise of 2008 evaporated in the voting booths in 2010. They may not be entirely right about that, but that is how they will feel, and people act on the basis of their feelings. The mobilization of people in the post-election period will become more difficult.

Of course, some people are so deeply cynical that nothing could persuade them to vote.

Then there are a few others who will sit these elections out for ideological reasons. They argue that participation in the two-party system spreads illusions about the Democratic Party, delaying the formation of an anti-capitalist alternative.

In their view, the elections are simply a contest between two parties with no differences of any importance; thus, it makes little, if any, difference who wins - Bush or Gore, Bush or Kerry, McCain or Obama, candidates of the right or candidates of the center and left of center.

Any even temporary and tactical alliance with the Democratic Party - well, it's worse than the plague, to be avoided at all costs. Support for a Democratic candidate as a "lesser evil" is tantamount to craven political bankruptcy and opportunism.

What is to be done? It's simple, say the advocates of this point of view: make a "strategic break" with the two-party system. But there is an oh-so slight hitch that serious progressive and left-thinking people can't afford to overlook.

A "strategic break" makes sense only if millions of people and their organizations are ready to march out of the Democratic Party into a labor/people-based political party, but guess what? They aren't.

Yes, many people stay home on Election Day, but it is not an expression of political acumen nor is it the majority. The most active layers of working people organize others to vote and vote themselves.

While many of them express dissatisfaction with the Democratic Party, it hasn't risen to the point where they are ready to bolt it in any near term that I can envision.

Moreover, the rise of right-wing extremism reinforces this sentiment. Broad unity, not division, not attacking people's leaders as the "super leftists" love to do (they see these leaders as the main reason that people stay put in the Democratic Party - how simple-minded) is the blood that flows through the veins of the people's movement at this moment.

Politics is a contested, complex, and impure process. There are waves and breaks - progressive and reactionary - in continuity to be sure, but in between there are longer periods in which the struggle doesn't soar to new heights or sink to new depths, but still is consequential to the breaks that do come.

In 2008, politics, economics and mass thinking became unhinged from their old moorings and a political turn, albeit partial, occurred. Since then the completion of this turn has become a more protracted and difficult process than many, including myself, thought.

The elections in less than three weeks, for good or bad, will mark a new phase in this process. No one with an iota of common sense will sit it out. Shoot yourself in the foot if you like, but don't do it on Nov. 2 because the buckshot will hit the rest of us!

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  • The presence of Soviet troops was requested by the Afghan government after the U.S. had been aiding the Muhajedeen for months.

    Posted by Sean Mulligan, 10/23/2010 1:09am (5 years ago)

  • Funny, I remember when the CPUSA supported the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

    Posted by Peter Ramsey, 10/21/2010 9:41pm (5 years ago)

  • Sam writes about a "real fight for over military appropriations for Afghanistan." The ONLY fight should be over the immediate withdrawal from there.

    I think if a Republican were in the White House these pages would be full of criticism about the troops there and in Iraq. Not to lash out at Obama for his failure to bring home our young men and women is wrong as a leftist. A Communist should not be a cheerleader for the Commander-in-Chief.

    Posted by detectivetom, 10/21/2010 4:53am (5 years ago)

  • LOL! Now the communists are telling us there is no hope and to vote for a group of brutal capitalist thugs like the democrats.

    Posted by Surly Leftist, 10/20/2010 10:36pm (5 years ago)

  • Kenny has made no points to refute, only petty bourgeois cynicism. It is also clear that Republicans and teabaggers are behind some campaigns to use leftish sounding rhetoric to promote the same kind of cynicism he does, as in the case of Nevada on behalf od Sharron Angle. He'd do better sticking to empty-headed defenses of Stalinism as in his book.

    Posted by Smarter-than-a-teabagger, 10/20/2010 10:07am (5 years ago)

  • To say "Thomas Kenney would make a great spokesperson for the Tea Party" is silly. It is just an ad hominem attack with no basis in reality.

    Even teabaggers, no matter how stupid they may be, are smart enough to know they would not want a Thomas Kenney for their spokesman - he's positions are obviously left.

    Instead of being just plain silly, why not try to refute point-by-point what Kenney wrote.

    I can understand that because Kenney was using sarcasm Smarter-than-a-teabagger is trying to reply in kind, but it fails miserably.

    Let me explain.

    It is obvious from the gist of the conversation here that Kenney is in agreement that people may sit out the election because the Dems have acted as the GOP in so many areas.

    Here we are talking about regular folks who are not activists, just plain ole working people. Not "super-lefties" who have so much power that they can influence people to boycott elections but don't have the power to move people in another organized direction.

    The viewpoint that the Democratic Party politicians are responsible for their problems in attracting today voters who voted for them before is hardly radical. Labor leaders like the president of the AFL-CIO, Mass AFL-CIO, CLC leaders and others are saying the same thing. Shoot, Harry Belafonte basically said it on Oct 2.

    I guess they all can make "great spokespersons[s] for the Tea Party."

    Posted by José A. Cruz, 10/19/2010 11:15pm (5 years ago)

  • Thomas Kenney would make a great spokesperson for the Tea Party.

    Posted by Smarter-than-a-teabagger, 10/19/2010 8:28pm (5 years ago)

  • It is Sam Webb's faulty reasoning that has given us a myriad of Blue Dogs and conservadems in Congress that have consistently voted against the economic and political interests of the working class.

    We often criticize the so-called Reagan Democrats for voting against their class interests, yet here we find many among us advocating precisely that. We have nothing to gain by blindly voting for a Democrat, even when that Democrat is anti-choice, anti-LGBT rights, anti-labour, and prowar.

    Here is what we must do. Vote only for those candidates that have earned our votes. Vote for those candidates, regardless of party affiliation, that have stood on our side of the barricades. Vote for those candidates that have a solid record in support of the Constituion and our civil liberties.

    Posted by Red Parrot, 10/18/2010 5:42pm (5 years ago)

  • I fear for the young people who worked so hard getting Obama elected and then he brings in the same Clinton retreads (Summers, etc) in his economic circle. What the hell?
    No wonder my 25 year old son has turned cynical.
    Obama needs to have some balls and he had the support.
    I think thats gone, but not totally gone. We need to stop the bastard Republicans and do it now. These people will destroy the country! They have had 30 years since Reagan to destroy this country. With the propaganda machine called Foxx News, the Republicans have made politics a fringe sport. They are winning. But they have not won as this is a marathon not a sprint.

    Posted by Joe Hobson, 10/18/2010 11:10am (5 years ago)

  • Heaven forbid that the Republicans win on Nov. 2!

    They might escalate in Afghanistan and fake a withdrawal from Iraq.
    They might pass a bogus health reform law written by the insurers, thereby entrenching them in the system for many years to come.
    They might put EFCA labor rights reform) on a back burner.
    They might step up deportations of undocumented workers.
    They might expand the military budget to an all–time high.
    They might retain Bush’s apparatus of repression, including torture and assassination of US citizens by White House fiat.
    They might keep Guantanamo open and tighten the blockade of Cuba.
    They might threaten war with Iran.
    They might cave in to Israel and the Israel lobby, and neglect Palestinian rights.
    They might throw billions of our tax dollars at mega-bankers, but do little or nothing for ordinary homeowners.
    They might tolerate a 10 percent unemployment rate, with jobless rates double or triple that for youth of color.
    They might start overthrowing lawful elected governments in Central America.
    They might start raiding the homes of leftwing antiwar activists.

    I count my lucky stars for leaders who understand that the Republicans are the ultra right, and we must all vote Democrat to isolate the main enemy.

    Posted by Thomas Kenny, New York NY, 10/18/2010 9:25am (5 years ago)

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