Remember when President Barack Obama used to be cool? Four years ago, with free-market conservatism discredited by the biggest recession since the 1930s, many progressives expected Obama to be the next Franklin Delano Roosevelt, to reverse the gradual right-wing drift in American politics and economics after Ronald Reagan.
Today, hardly anyone believes in Obama any more. People vote for him because they are afraid of the Mitt Romney-Paul Ryan agenda, not because Obama inspires them.
And yet, most progressives and liberals will still vote for Obama. Many have worked hard to campaign for him, and will do so until Election Day. But what does he give us in return for all this? Broken promises.
He promised to increase the minimum wage to $9.50 an hour, to ban the permanent replacement of striking workers, to create a foreclosure prevention fund for homeowners, to create a public option health plan, to allow Medicare to negotiate for cheaper drug prices, to double federal funding for cancer research, to require employers to provide seven paid sick days per year, to create a cap-and-trade system to reduce global warming, to repeal the Bush tax cuts, to close Guantanamo Bay Prison and many other long-forgotten promises. None of the campaign promises were accomplished.
Some people say that Obama could not get his initiatives passed because of the hostile Republican controlled Congress. This excuse ignores the entire first half of his presidency, when Democrats controlled both the Senate and the House of Representatives. Why was nothing passed then?
Another excuse, was saying Obama could accomplish nothing because of the Tea Party surge in 2010, but Obama’s failure to act was the cause of the right-wing resurgence, not the other way around.
If the government enacted bold policies to benefit ordinary people, such as starting a public sector jobs program or granting universal health coverage, then people would see their lives improving and vote accordingly.
But if the government does not reverse the trend in job losses or foreclosures, and only passes a half-baked health “reform” that forces everyone to purchase bad private insurance and doesn’t even fully take effect until 2014, then people will see that the government isn’t making their lives any better. They will come to see it as the problem, not the solution.
It’s a very simple process: if the government doesn’t help people, then the government gets a bad reputation, pushing people to become more conservative.
Why did Obama fail to act on his progressive promises? Because he knew he had progressive votes in the bag. He expected progressives to support him no matter what he did, so he saw no reason to give progressives anything.
This is what always happens when you vote for the “lesser evil,” for the candidate who doesn’t really share your values but is less bad then the other guy. You are essentially telling him, “you can do whatever you want as long as you are less right-wing than the Republican candidate.”
Thus, Obama (and any other Democrat) is free to disregard progressive opinion completely, and focus on repaying his wealthy campaign donors. When Wall Street tells you that they will fund your campaign if you don’t regulate them, and your voters don’t care what you do as long as the Republican is worse, it becomes very tempting to accept Wall Street’s offer. Since your voters will support you regardless, you have nothing to lose.
The Republicans and the Democrats are playing the American people, and the game is a classic called “good cop, bad cop.” The Republicans are the bad cop, threatening to slash and burn anything remotely progressive or even centrist. The Democrats are the good cop, telling us they’re here to protect us from the big bad Republicans.
“You have to work with me,” says the good cop, “because that other guy is crazy, and only I can save you from him.” But, of course, they are both on the same team. The Republicans keep moving to the right and the Democrats chase after them, knowing that as long as they stay one step to the left of the GOP, they can rely on all progressives to keep voting for them.
There is only one way to end this game. Progressives need to let the Democrats know that they will no longer play along, that they will no longer give them our votes for free. If they want progressive votes, they’d better start dishing out progressive policies, taxing the rich to provide much-needed funding for education, or universal single-payer health care. These are, in fact, moderate demands. You can find such policies in Canada or Japan.
There is no danger of helping the Republicans by voting for a third-party. This is Massachusetts. The Democratic candidate for president always wins by a landslide. In fact, unless you live in Florida, Ohio, Virginia, or one of the other handful of swing states, there is never a reason to vote Democrat or Republican. Better to make a statement by voting for someone you really support, than to throw your vote away on Obama, knowing that it will do nothing to affect the outcome.
So we should give our votes to progressive third parties and candidates instead. In Massachusetts, that currently means Jill Stein and the Green Party, but some other states have candidates running on socialist tickets as well. Voting for a third-party candidate is better than staying home on Election Day, because it sends a clear message – while staying home could be interpreted as apathy.
Mike Tudoreanu is a Collegian columnist. He can be reached at email@example.com.