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Working In These Times

Tuesday, Oct 12, 2010, 8:08 am

Siding With Banks on Foreclosures? Dems Must Learn 4 Key Lessons

BY Roger Bybee

A pre-foreclosure sign hangs in front of a Miami home. Lender Processing Services, Inc. reported in September that nationwide foreclosures were 20 percent higher than a year ago, affecting 282,528 households in August.   Photo by JOE RAEDLE/Getty Images

The latest polling data on November 2 is looking grim for Democrats. However disappointed, disillusioned or disgusted you may feel about Democratic leadership, that is very bad news for all working people.

You have to wonder what the Obama Administration is thinking when it argues that banks should not be punished for violations of homeowner rights during foreclosure proceedings, despite proven abuses. As the NY Times reported,

The swelling outcry over fast-and-loose foreclosures has thrust the Obama administration back into the uncomfortable position of sheltering the banking industry from the demands of an angry public.

Despite the Obama team's abysmal position on this, only Democratic majorities will allow the recovery we so desperately need. We need a truly major stimulus program—of the kind never implemented, contrary both to conservative myth and the Obama Administration's self-defeating message that its stimulus plan was large enough.

But any new stimulus plan that could lead to recovery would be absolutely shut off with Republican majorities in either of both houses, with disastrous results.

Pew Research data show an exceptional degree of interest and mobilization among Republicans for the midterm election, with the electorate likely to be far more conservative, whiter and older than the pool of voters in presidential elections. The findings of Pew Research on this question were summarized by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

According to Pew, the overall "enthusiasm gap" has less to do with Democratic apathy (interest among Democrats is not abnormally low by historical standards) than it does with unusually high interest and enthusiasm among Republicans.

The possibility of a last-minute, all-out surge by the Democratic base is a hope I continue to harbor, but the clock is ticking down.

LESSONS TO APPLY IN 2012

Given how little time remains, allow me to offer my suggestions to the Democrats to consider before November 2, and certainly before 2012:

1) Avoid showing contempt for your most loyal voters. (Stop hiding  behind the "We must save Wall Street to save Main Street" line.) 

Exhibit A: Obama advisor David Axelrod pronouncing White House opposition to a moratorium on foreclosures on Meet The Press Sunday because "there are valid foreclosures that should go forward," to avoid disrupting the housing market. Meanwhile, foreclosures have been hitting record levels, a situation worsened by the feebleness and futility of reforms hatched by the White House and the Dems. So why not propose halting foreclosures at least until workable programs are actually helping people to stay in their homes?

Or why not point out that big banks—major recipients of bailout money from taxpayers—have been abusing the court process in mass foreclosure filings?  This is a problem that the White House knew about for months, but failed to act upon action. Many banks, realizing that they have been caught red-handed on this, are now announcing moratoriums on their own.

To be sure, there have been a number of honorable and visible exceptions to Democratic passivity, like  Rep. Anthony Weiner (N.Y.) forcefully exposing appalling GOP hypocrisy on healthcare for 9/11 cops, firefighters and rescue workers,  Rep. Alan Grayson ( Fla.) bluntly spelling out the Republican health plan ("die quicker"), and Sen. Russ Feingold (Wis.) on a host of issues. But too many Democrats have acted like bystanders at a time when they need to deliver millions of jobs with decent pay and benefits.

2) Aggressively push issues of your own that connect local and national concerns.

Democrats have rarely been off the defensive for the past two years. In large part, that is explained by the Democrats' failure to advance issues of importance to working families. Potentially, these efforts would link a national strategy with local efforts, activating the 13 million people enlisted during the 2008 election by Organizing For America. But the OFA has seemingly been a mere extension of the White House, and is unable to connect the grassroots to the federal level because communication runs only one way—from the White House.

As Rachel Maddow pointed out, the Democrats have not utilized the referendum weapon, despite its proven success in turning out poor and working-class Democratic voters who would otherwise be staying at home. For example, in 2006, the Democrats benefited hugely from referenda calling for minimum-wage increases, winning on the issue with overwhelming votes, thereby drawing working-class workers to the polls and providing victories for Democratic Senators Claire McCaskill and Jon Tester.

There are a host of other hot-button economic issues that would concretely show, regardless of the economy's condition at this moment, that (some) Democrats are actively fighting for working people living-wage rules; bans on factory farming; and a moratorium on foreclosures, to name just a few.

3) When you have a winning issue, use it to hammer a wedge into the Republican base.

The issue of offshoring jobs infuriates Americans across the political spectrum--including Tea Partiers and Republicans--and is a big potential asset for Democrats. But the notion of revoking the tax breaks for exporting jobs was only raised briefly by Obama in January and then virtually dropped off the charts for months. Finally, the Create American Jobs and End Off Shoring Act suddenly popped up for a Senate defeat on September 28 with virtually no build-up.

It's such a potent issue that belatedly, desperate Democrats are finally making offshoring of jobs one of the central themes of their TV ads. But it's clear that some Dems still don't understand the value of this issue in provoking Americans to consider corporations' role in causing and prolonging the recession as they send more jobs overseas. 

Thus, rather than blame Corporate America for the loss of jobs, Sen. Harry Reid unbelievably labeled foreign sweatshop workers as the beneficiaries of offshoring. In a TV ad, Reid shamelessly charged that his GOP opponent Sharron Angle is “a foreign worker’s best friend.” 

4) Take the gloves off and call Republican obstructionism what it really is: sabotage.

Labeling the Republican Party as "the party of no" is a pretty weak counter-attack considering the enormous stakes for the nation at a time when a minimum of 15 million are out of work. This isn't mere GOP negativity or petulance. It certainly isn't Obama's unwillingness to offer compromises to Republicans, as the media often suggest. Rather, it is an active effort at sabotage, accomplished through a minority undemocratically blocking constructive action by the majority.

The GOP use of the filibuster is nothing less than economic sabotage, placing their partisan interests over those of the nation and its tens of millions of citizens who are suffering without secure jobs, worried about losing their homes, losing health insurance, and sliding into poverty. They should have been called out on this right from the start.

 TRANSFORMATION REQUIRED

But for the Democrats to absorb any of these lessons, the party will have to go through a fundamental transformation. The party cannot find compelling language, develop a coherent message, or fight effectively if it continues to be an organization without a basic loyalty to the people who have counted on the Democrats to be their voice in hard times.

Given recent history, much of the public perceives that Dems are unwilling to fight tenaciously for their interests. This bitter truth was sharply posed in John Halpin and Ruy Texeira's analysis of data based on Democracy Corps polling. Their summary of the polling: "a majority of Americans do not believe progressives or Democrats stand for anything."

(A note to readers: Amidst all the polls and pundits' predictions of a GOP landslide, I have not encountered any survey of how voters feel about the specific Republican agenda of more tax cuts for the rich, more de-regulation of corporations, attacks on Social Security and Medicaid, and slicing up the already-shredded safety net. Let me know if you come across something of value on this.)

Roger Bybee is a Milwaukee-based freelance writer and University of Illinois visiting professor in Labor Education. Roger's work has appeared in numerous national publications, including Z magazine, Dollars & Sense, The Progressive, Progressive Populist, Huffington Post, The American Prospect, Yes! and Foreign Policy in Focus. More of his work can be found at zcommunications.org/zspace/rogerdbybee.

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