The Mid-Term Elections
Giving Bush a Free Ride Spelled Ruin
by Ralph Nader
November 10, 2002
The mid-term elections are over. After spending hundreds of millions of business dollars, the Republicans now control the Senate and hold on to the House of Representatives. It is amazing that the Democrats did not do worse. They had decided months ago on a strange strategy --that they were going to defeat the Republicans by not criticizing their belligerent leader, George W. Bush.
In their ads, literature and debates between Senatorial and Representative candidates, mention of Mr. Bush by them was to praise not to challenge, or to expose the hypocrisy, and the damage to American workers and consumers by this corporation President.
Listening to the debate from around the country on C-Span radio, I was astonished to see Democratic candidates in tight races eager to show their support for Bush's 2001 tax cut for the wealthy, for the give-a-way war resolution authority on Iraq, and for Bush's federal drive to take over the historical role of the states in personal injury law by restricting Americans' right to their full day in court.
And what did Senate Democrat candidates such as Jean Shaheen in New Hampshire and Senator Max Cleland of Georgia get for their support of President Bush? Why he roared into their states on Air Force One and campaigned against them, as he did against other Democrats who voted with him on these and other Republican litmus paper tests.
The morning after election day, reporters asked Senator majority leader, Tom Daschle why the Democrats lost? He replied, because the Democrats were "up against a very popular President." That's a self-fulfilling point. Asked the same question, Democratic Party Chairman Terry McAuliffe answered: "Because they [the Republicans] outspent us." But it was Republican House speaker who gave the accurate response: "Because the Democrats did not have a message."
At a time of rising unemployment, a shaky economy, and growing Republican deficits, it would seem that the Democrats had opportunities. Yet while the Republicans were shamelessly touting ending the estate tax for the 4000 estates a year that are in the multi-million dollar category, the Democrats were not highlighting the desperate need for raising the federal minimum wage (now about a third less in purchasing power than it was in 1968!) and extending unemployment compensation benefits.
Most Democrats, with the prominent exception of the late Senator Paul Wellstone, took a dive on making Republican softness on corporate crime a major issue, coupled with solid reform proposals to crackdown on corporate scandals that stole billions from pension funds and 401ks and cost many jobs. (See Citizenworks.org).
Namby-pamby was the Democratic routine on the increasing millions of Americans without health care coverage and on the staggering inefficiency, waste and greed of many giant HMOs and the drug industry.
Although the Democrats had in their possession finely tuned economic stimulus plans, they tied their own by declining to go after a bloated military budget (now half of the U.S. government's entire non-discretionary budget) and the tens of billions of dollars in yearly corporate welfare subsidies and handouts.
Instead, the Democrats' economic agenda was the raising of big bucks from business interests -- a sure way to silence championing the peoples' necessities.
When the Democratic Party adopts a look-a-like strategy vis-a-vis the Republican Party, some of their voters may prefer the real thing and vote Republican. After all, only a shift of less than three hundred thousand votes in key states would have given the Democrats control of both Houses of Congress.
Amidst the din of endlessly repeated political television ads, it wasn't made very clear that the Democrats were going after the Republicans on down home consumer protection issues, such as insurance and food safety and affordable housing. Environmental positions regarding cleaner air and water were not prominent either.
Lessons for the future? Don't give your major political opponents a free ride between and before elections. Challenge the corporate takeover of elections, including the sudden surge of political television advertising paid directly by industries like the big price-gouging drug companies. And get down to the neighborhood level with visible stands for the people.
Otherwise the Democrats will become even better at electing very bad Republicans.
Ralph Nader is Americaís leading consumer advocate. He is the founder of numerous public interest groups including Public Citizen, and has twice run for President as a Green Party candidate. His latest book is Crashing the Party: How to Tell the Truth and Still Run for President (St. Martinís Press, 2002)