Voters Can’t Give Up on Change


We have nobody to blame but ourselves. Think back to 2008 when a skinny kid with a funny name excited us all and had us chanting “Yes we can! Yes we can!” Not only did the Democrats have majorities in both houses of Congress, but Barack Obama became the first (and consequently only) president with his own flavor of Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream, “Yes Pecan.” (It was available only in their stores, and all proceeds went to charity.) We had enough votes to do that, and it made a difference, one that we’re still enjoying today.

President Obama came into office the world economy was in free fall. If his administration is blamed for bailing out the big banks, the United States was also the only nation to adopt a Keynesian stimulus instead of an austerity program, and consequently became the one nation with a growing economy and reduced unemployment. President Obama also got the Affordable Care Act through Congress, dramatically reducing the number of people without health insurance.

Both were major achievements; neither was perfect. The stimulus was too small for the extent of the recession, and one-third of it was in the form of tax cuts, which are an inefficient form of stimulus. The ACA was planned to have a government based Public Option, giving people the choice of private insurance or a Medicare For all plan, which would have been a test to see which form of coverage people preferred. The stimulus had to be cut, and the Public Option withdrawn because of political opposition. Some Republican governors blocked major infrastructure plans that were part of the stimulus and would have brought jobs to their states. Other Republican blocked the expansion of Medicaid into their states, leaving millions of people without health coverage. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation (Jan. 12) 19 states had not adopted the expansion.

We didn’t get all that we’d hoped for, but we did well. As Otto von Bismarck said “politics is the art of the possible.” He said it in German, so it didn’t sound like that, but it was close. Adlai Stevenson called Lyndon Johnson, “A master of the art of the possible in politics.” Johnson himself said, “I believe that half a loaf is better than none. But my acceptance has always been conditioned upon the premise that the half loaf is a step toward the full loaf – and that if I go on working the day of the full loaf will come.” Neither the stimulus nor the ACA qualified as a full loaf but both were major achievements in an unfriendly political climate.

It’s not quite clear what happened in 2010, whether we were self-satisfied and didn’t bother voting, or we were dissatisfied with only half a loaf and didn’t bother voting, but the Republicans picked up six seats in the Senate, 63 seats in the House, and six gubernatorial seats. Twenty state legislatures went from Democratic to Republican. This allowed the Republicans to redraw congressional districts in anticipation of the 2012 elections and effectively gave them a majority in the House of Representatives until 2022. Many states enacted strict voter ID laws which effectively disenfranchise potential Democratic voters.

US District Judge Lynn Adelman found that Wisconsin’s photo ID requirement has a “disproportionate impact” on African American and Latino voters because “... Blacks and Latinos are more likely than whites to have difficulty obtaining IDs. This disproportionate impact is a ‘discriminatory result’ because the reason Black and Latino voters are more likely to have to incur the costs of obtaining IDs is that they are disproportionately likely to live in poverty, and the reason Black and Latino voters are disproportionately likely to live in poverty is connected to the history of discrimination against Blacks and Latinos in Wisconsin and elsewhere.”

College students who meet the standards of state residency may also lack the required state-issued ID since these laws commonly reject school ID cards as valid identification. In Texas you can vote by showing your concealed handgun license, but not your student ID.

The fact is, the game is rigged for the foreseeable future. No progressive candidate for president, no matter how charismatic, will be able to pass a progressive agenda under current conditions. We need a progressive president and a supermajority in the Senate to appoint a liberal justice to the Supreme Court. We need a majority House to pass a budget that reverses financial inequality, and we need Democratic majorities in all the states to restore voting rights and fair redistricting.

And yes we can – if we stop taking election days off. It means accepting the fact that even the most inspiring candidate can’t do the job alone, and if the younger voters who put President Obama in office would vote every election. It will take a great deal of awareness and disappointment when the change that we want now gets pushed off for years, but we showed in 2008 that we have the voters, now we just have to get them to vote.

Sam Uretsky is a pharmacist living on Long Island, N.Y. Email

From The Progressive Populist, March 15, 2016

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