Cross-dressing by Republicans on domestic issues &endash; masquerading as reformers pledged to invest in education, protect Social Security, provide a prescription drug benefit to all seniors and even prosecute corporate criminals -- blurred differences between Democrats and Republicans and opened the election for Bush's national unity pitch, but Bob Borosage of the Campaign for America's Future said Democrats aided and abetted the Republican strategy by defaulting on issue after issue. "They couldn't agree to take on the drug companies, so had no plan to get drug prices under control. They couldn't agree on serious pension reforms, and blew the attack on the fraudulent bill that the corporate lobby pushed through the House. They punted the investigation of Enron, and ceded much of the corporate accountability agenda. Party unity was valued over a compelling agenda or even a clear message. Concerned about placating the conservative and money wings of the party, the Democratic leaders consciously chose to put forth no national agenda at all," he said.
When the vote on the war finally occurred and attention turned, however belatedly, to the economy, he said, "Democrats had literally nothing to say -- other than to remind Americans that the economy was in the pits &endash; which most everyone already knew."
"If that debate had been joined, Democrats surely would have benefited. When asked to choose between progressive positions and conservative ones on trade and corporate accountability, voters across country and in battleground states overwhelmingly chose the progressive side &endash;- even when a party label was affixed to the two positions. And voters gave their strongest support to an economic plan that called for action to get the economy going, starting with canceling the tax cuts for the top 1% scheduled to take place years from now, and instead cutting taxes now on low and middle income families, investing in school construction and homeland security, and extending unemployment benefits. Again that support was equally strong in battleground states.
"But Democrats failed largely to speak to this central concern. Asked which party had 'clear ideas on what they want to do,' voters chose Republicans over Democrats by a remarkable 45% to 20%, a 25% gap that was even a bit larger in the battleground states."
Borosage concluded: "A majority of the country continues to favor action on core issues -&endash; like jobs and growth, protecting Social Security, investing in education, holding corporations accountable. Democrats will fare far better -&endash; and the country will be better served -- if they put forth an ambitious program for jobs and growth, and challenge the direction and the priorities of an administration and a Congress that is virtually indentured to the business lobby. This election shows that the reform majority can't be won by default. It won't be inherited. It must be mobilized, educated, engaged and roused into action. And that can't be done by the timid, the compromised, or the confused."
SOCIAL SECURITY MANDATE. Social Security defenders claim the mid-term election was a mandate to maintain the retirement system with the current level of benefits. Roger Hickey of Campaign for America's Future (www.ourfuture.org) put together a coalition that included senior citizens, the AFL-CIO, women's groups, civil rights groups and churches and people with disabilities. Hickey noted that over 200 Democrats signed a pledge to protect Social Security. Only three Republicans signed, but most of them were forced to publicly state: "I will never privatize Social Security. And my private accounts will never hurt anybody. I will protect Social Security in the US Congress." Even John Sununu (pretty much of a privatization true believer) was forced to tell voters "Social Security is a sacred trust. John Sununu will fight any privatization scheme that puts your benefits at risk."
In some key races Democrats used the pledge to great advantage, Hickey said. In South Dakota, when John Thune denied he was a privatizer and had the "chutzpah" of accusing Sen. Tim Johnson of being one, Johnson countered that he had signed the Pledge to Protect Social Security and told the state that Thune had refused. When Sen. Tim Hutchison (R-Ark.) was asked why he lost his re-election bid, he told the press, "I'd fault myself in that we did not respond clearly and forcefully enough to the charges on Social Security and the seniors."
"If Republicans want to move legislation to create private accounts out of Social Security, they will have to come up with a plan that achieves their campaign promises not to cut Social Security benefits -&endash; a goal the Bush commission was unable to achieve," Hickey said.
"If Republicans want to promote private accounts as a voluntary option for young people to invest their Social Security taxes, they had better not introduce legislation that has mandatory benefit cuts for everyone.
"If privatizers want to sell the idea of carving private stock market accounts out of Social Security to the Baby Boom generation &endash; now just beginning to think about retirement &endash; they had better figure out a way to get these aging workers to ignore the losses their 401(k)s have just experienced. In the current environment, Social Security's guaranteed benefit -- indexed to inflation and living standards and paid out until you die &endash; looks pretty good compared to most Boomers' other retirement savings.
"And if Republicans hope to re-elect President George W. Bush in 2004, they would be ill-advised to embroil the president in a fierce battle over Social Security privatization before the next election."
BUSH VULNERABLE. A Newsweek poll showed that despite the GOP's success, Bush's approval rating dropped to 60%, its lowest level since 9/11. His "re-elect" number was 48% and leading a "test match" against Al Gore by 54%-39% "says more about the Democrats' weakness than his own unassailability." Sen. Hillary Clinton scored 40% in a similar matchup against Bush and Dick Gephardt got 37%. The poll found that a prescription drug help for seniors is the top legislative priority of voters and the poll found by a 2-1 margin they prefer a Democratic proposal to run the drug plan through Medicare and not, as the president prefers, by private-sector health-care providers.
GREENS WIN LOCAL OFFICES. The Green Party won at least 33 races Nov. 5, for a 2002 total of 66, eclipsing the previous best of 58 races won in 2001. The party has 171 elected officeholders, pending final results. John Eder won in state House district 31 in Portland, Maine, defeating his Democratic opponent by a two-to-one margin. David Segal was elected to the Providence, R.I., City Council. Victories ranged from Hawaii to Maine and Texas to Minnesota, with North Carolina and Texas both electing their first Green to local office.
"My resounding victory last night demonstrated that grassroots politics still works, and took the Maine Green Independent Party, and the Green Party in the US, the next step in its growth," said Eder, only the second Green elected legislator in the US. "I'm ready to go to work for my constituents and demonstrate that the Green Party's platform can help the quality of life for Mainers."
Some Green candidates for state legislative office recorded vote totals over 20 and 30%, and in the double digits in races with both Democrats and Republicans. Green candidate AnnDrea Benson got 22% in Pennsylvania's 3rd Congressional District, the best showing yet for a Green in a congressional race.
"Last night's election demonstrates that the Green Party continues to grow whether the economy is up or down, whatever the issues are, and independent of the plight of the Democratic Party," said Dean Myerson, GP political coordinator.
In governor races, Peter Carnejo got 5% (358,518 votes) in California, Jonathan Carter got 9% in Maine and David Bacon got 5% in New Mexico but Greens (and Libertarians) will lose automatic ballot status in many states where they failed to draw 2-5% in governor or other statewide races.
HEALTH CARE PLAN SHOT DOWN. Oregon voters resoundingly defeated a plan to provide health care for all residents. The plan, which was defeated 79% to 21%, would have replaced existing health insurance with a statewide program at a cost of as much as $1.7 billion in new taxes the first year. Insurance and business interests rallied against the initiative. Mark Lindren, chairman of Health Care for All Oregon, said he hoped to continue the fight for single-payer health care, which was not taken seriously when he started the petition drive.
A second Oregon proposal, to require the labeling of food products that contain genetically altered ingredients, was defeated by a similar margin. That initiative pitted organic farmers and consumer groups against multinational agribusiness companies.
Among other initiatives, drug policy reforms were rebuffed, as Nevada voters rejected a proposal to legalize small amounts of marijuana, 61% to 39%. Arizona voters rejected a measure that would have legalized medical marijuana and Ohio residents turned down a requirement that nonviolent drug offenders receive treatment instead of jail. South Dakota voters rejected measures that would have allowed juries to consider the merits of a law (jury nullification) and legalizing the growing of industrial hemp. However, the District of Columbia approved a pro-treatment measure.
California and Colorado voters rejected election-day voter registration. Florida and California voters approved sweeping measures to reduce class size and expand after-school programs, respectively, but did not provide financing for them.
Massachusetts voters cast doubt on the future of public campaign financing as 75% opposed the use of "taxpayer money being used to fund political campaigns for public office,'' in a non-binding referendum placed on the ballot by legislators hoping to gut the Clean Elections law that was passed by initiative four years ago. The law provides public funds to candidates who agree to curbs on fund-raising and spending, and this year provided money to one gubernatorial primary candidate and about a dozen legislative candidates. Legislative leaders are widely expected to attempt a repeal of the system when the Legislature meets in January. Clean Elections backers say they'll try to beat back any such move.
Animal rights initiatives succeeded in several states, including Florida, where voters approved a constitutional amendment to ban the confinement of pregnant pigs in restrictive crates. Oklahoma outlawed cockfighting. Ironically, a large turnout of cockfighting supporters in Democratic eastern Oklahoma may have helped Brad Henry (D) upset Rep. Steve Largent (R) for governor.
Voters decided 202 initiatives and approved 62%, according to the Initiatives and Referendum Institute (see www.iandrinstitute.org).
NEW PROGRESSIVE REPS. Most of the tight congressional races tipped Republican on Nov. 5 but progressives welcome a few new faces to the House. Perhaps the biggest win was Democratic political novice Timothy Bishop's defeat of Rep. Felix J. Grucci Jr. (R) in eastern Long Island, New York. Bishop, a college administrator supported by 21st Century Democrats, won by only 2,421 votes. Chris Van Hollen (D), a Maryland legislator supported by Progressive Majority, knocked off Rep. Connie Morella (R) in the D.C. suburbs. Raúl Grijalva, a progressive member of the Pima County (Tucson) Board of Supervisors, won handily in Arizona's 7th District after beating seven opponents, including a well-funded pro-business Democrat in the primary. Kendrick Meek, son of retiring Rep. Carrie Meek, is expected to be a progressive voice from Florida's 17th District (Miami).
BALTIMORE RESHAPES COUNCIL. Baltimore ACORN and allies in CLUB (Community and Labor United for Baltimore) have reshaped the Baltimore City Council through Question P, a ballot initiative that passed with 65% of the vote, replacing large three-member city council districts with smaller single-member districts designed to provide more accountability to neglected neighborhoods. Baltimore was the last of the 103 largest cities in the US to abandon multi-member city council districts. See www.acorn.org.