By Ralph Nader
Will the Congressional Democrats recover the House of Representatives from the clutches of the cruelest, most corporately monetized, anti-people Republican Party since 1858? (see the House Democratic Caucus report) Amazingly, the answer, less than a week before the election, is no, according to veteran House Democrats, pollsters and the Washington D.C. punditry. In fact, that negative prediction has been consistent for at least 8 months.
Two more years of Reps. John Boehner, Eric Cantor and their gang blocking Barack Obama (if he gets elected), should he want to champion any significant legislation. Why can’t the Democrats landslide these Republicans as FDR, Harry Truman, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon Baines Johnson would surely have done?
The answers lie in the grotesque unmentioned ways that the incumbent Democrats have tied themselves up in knots that spell centralized paralysis. The following highlights how they have made themselves dysfunctional.
President Obama is running a “lone ranger” campaign instead of running with the Congressional Democrats as a team. Notice how he keeps saying, as he did during his nomination speech in Charlotte, North Carolina, “I want you to vote for me.” This separation has created more than a little resentment among Democrats on Capitol Hill. In my conversations with them, they compare Clinton’s propensity to campaign as President with his allies in Congress when he was in their Districts, with Obama’s aloofness. House Democrats are also upset at the White House’s refusal to direct some of their immense campaign cash to help hard-pressed Democrats in the House races.
So do the Democrats in Congress feel free to go it alone? Just the opposite. Before they open up new issues, new reforms and new fronts, they’ve decided to capitulate and wait for Obama to take the first visible step. Yet Obama, ever cautious and conflict-averse, does not make the first move.
Obama has his consultants, advisers and pollsters who say that he has to appeal to the five or ten percent of the right-of-center voters. He already has the liberals, progressives, unionists, and the minorities well in hand, because they have nowhere to go.
Given this tactical approach determining Obama’s daily orations and the political ads, including how they go after Romney/Ryan, there is no room for an inflation-adjusted minimum wage of $10 – which would still be less than it was in 1968! There is no room for a tough law and order campaign cracking down on corporate crime, fraud and Wall Street abuses. There is no room for a Wall Street speculation tax, a clear-eyed public works plan in every community, a list of to-be-abolished corporate welfare schemes, an end to corporate tax havens and tax escapes, or a fairer foreign trade policy or American workers.
As returning legislator, Alan Grayson is showing in his winning campaign against the Republicans and their super-PACs in central Florida, these can be vote-getting issues. But as I was told by many politicians backing Obama, that is neither his game plan nor his consultants! They simply do not think that they can get an even higher net voter turnout among their large non-voting base of lower-income workers with populist appeals. Thirty million low-income workers making under $10.50 an hour apparently do not have the extra voting turnout potential as do right-of-center undecided voters.
Of course, there are more factors involved. When I asked a top House Democrat what the real reason was for deep-sixing the minimum wage increase to catch up with 1968, he rubbed his thumb and two fingers together, and said, “They feel they’d raise less money if they did that.” Money, it seems, counts more than votes in this bizarre equation of the people with whom the party should stand.
So Cong. George Miller sits on his recently introduced bill to increase the minimum wage to $9.80 by 2014 because he is waiting for Obama. His House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi waits for Obama. So do the close campaigns of Democrats Elizabeth Warren and Chris Murphy in Massachusetts and Connecticut respectively, along with many close House races. (See Time For a Raise for more information.)
When I spoke to other leading progressive Democrats to assert themselves, jurisdictional turf presented itself. No senior Democrat in the House runs first with any labor issues other than Cong. George Miller, from the progressive San Francisco area, no less. Nor do any other senior Democrats run first with any energy and environmental issues other than ranking Committee member, Cong. Ed Markey. Markey and his allies privately wring their hands over Obama’s silence on climate change during the President’s daily campaigns. But the word from all quarters of the Democratic Party is not to move if Obama doesn’t move. You would not want to show up the President’s inaction, would you?
Yet, the Democrats have their own interest in winning their own Congressional elections, whether or not Obama cares about them. Doesn’t seem to matter. Following Obama means they may follow him as a party over the cliffs of defeat while he rides to the top of the Hill. You see the vast majority of incumbent Democrats are in safe districts and their seats are secure. Retaking the majority in the House is another matter. Personal career complacency does not vigorously propel a party drive to win back the House, regardless of what Obama chooses to permit.
What do the House Democrats owe Obama anyhow? He raises no money for them. He campaigns without them, thereby depriving them of mass media coverage. Even the Congressional Black Caucus is replete with indignation at how Obama has dissed them and their poverty issues since day one of his presidency.
After Election Day, November 6, contemporary historians will write that the Congressional Democrats waited too long on Obama and wasted their chance to win back the House and gain more seats in the Senate.
This is the politics of presidential personalismo run riot – inexplicable precisely because it has become so suicidal to the Congressional Democrats and to justice for the people for whom they claim to speak.