Candidates, activists, party operatives, and especially the so-called independent expenditure committees, are locked in a fierce struggle to define the 2010 midterm election: Democrats say it is about a choice between going forward with the rescue, recovery and reform policies of President Obama and Congressional Democrats that broke the back of the worst recession in 80 years.
They maintain that these policies are pulling America out of the ditch into which the Bush Administration drove the country assisted by Congressional Republicans who were then in the majority of both the House and Senate. Republicans want to make the election a referendum on what they contend is the failure of President Obama and Congressional Democrats to right in just 20 months the disasters accumulated during the eight years Republicans controlled the White House and the Congress.
Conservative and rightwing independent expenditure committees, set loose by a recent 5 to 4 Supreme Court decision that accords to corporations the same free speech rights the Constitution guarantees to individual citizens, are spending tens of millions of dollars accusing Democrats of implanting socialism, restoring “big government,” looking out for “their own,” imposing a stimulus package that “hasn’t created one job,” being “Washington insiders,” bailing out Wall Street, taking over the health system, and so on. Financed by some of the wealthiest individuals and corporations in America, these outfits are outspending Democrats 9 to 1 apparently based on the belief that voters will believe lies told often enough.
Democrats are supposed to be super-vulnerable.
In part because young people, African Americans, Latinos, union members, and suburban women are said to be disinterested or disaffected, predictions have Republicans blowing out Democrats and regaining control of the House and maybe the Senate. So, why the hysterical rhetoric and record rate of spending?
Many of the races on which Republicans staked their return to power are tightening. A number of Democratic incumbents thought to be sure losers have pulled even or gone ahead. Signs abound that Democratic constituencies are interested in the midterm election and intend to vote. Moderates and independents may be having second thoughts about Republican candidates. More and more voters seem to be asking themselves whether they really want Tea Party Republican who want to abolish the U.S. Education Department, repeal health care reform and the 14th Amendment, think unemployment benefits are unconstitutional, question the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and would require teaching creationism, to be in a position to cast the decisive vote on Supreme Court nominees, science funding, aid to education, or nuclear arms reduction treaties.
The fact is the 435 members of the House of Representatives and the 37 senators to be elected on November 2 will decide whether policies are adopted that help the recovery or hurt it; restore tax equity or widen it; protect Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security or jeopardize them; address climate change or ignore it; end our involvement in two wars or extend it.
Democrats have been upfront about their commitment to continue moving the country in the new direction they articulated to voters in 2006 and 2008. Republicans have been less candid, preferring instead to defeat or obstruct Democratic efforts for electoral gain.
Early on, Republicans staked their electoral hopes on fanning the flames of division. They opened the doors of their party to extremist Tea Party candidates (The New York Times reports that 138 Tea Party activists are Republican nominees for House or Senate seats).
Everything was going fine until Republican leaders began to be asked about what they would do if they regained the majority. Thinking it unwise to run as the “party of no,” House Republican leaders apparently decided they needed to issue a manifesto of intent.
So, they issued “A Pledge to America.” Rarely have so many pages been devoted to saying so little or to repackaging so many recently failed policies. At the rollout, Minority Leader John Boehner said, “The point we make in this preamble to our pledge is that we are not going to be any different from what we’ve been.”
Republicans controlled the House and the Senate during six of the eight years of George W. Bush’s presidency. They controlled the House all eight years.
What did that get us? A $2.3 trillion tax cut that went overwhelmingly to the rich and turned a record surplus into a record deficit; two unfunded wars that added at least a trillion dollars to the deficit; an unpaid Medicare prescription benefit that added another half-trillion bucks to the deficit; non-enforcement of environmental, workplace, and consumer protection laws; and de facto deregulation of the energy and financial services sectors that resulted in the near-collapse of the global financial system and the worst recession in generations.
And the leader of House Republicans, who would become Speaker of the House of Representatives if they retake the House majority, pledges “we are not going to be any different from what we’ve been.”
Voters should take him – and them – at their word. Want proof? They would make the Bush tax cuts for the top 2 percent of Americans permanent, adding $700 billion to the deficit – almost $4 trillion over ten years.
Voters shouldn’t let disinterest or disappointment to induce them into staying home and helping give the reigns of congressional power back a party that pledges to repeat the disasters it inflicted on our country just a few years ago.
Congressman Gregory W. Meeks represents the Sixth Congressional District in Queens, New York