As we sit down to the post-midterm banquet of blame, a number of items stand out on the menu.
First there is the traditional fare: The party that holds the White House often loses midterm elections — in this case, the Democrats staged a repeat of their 2010 performance.
One might also make a meal out of unregulated money corrupting the electoral process. But that is not an easy excuse to swallow. Both parties spent record amounts for a midterm election, trying to sway voters. For example, according to an analysis by the Sunlight Foundation, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee spent more than $51 million dollars (all but 2 percent of it on negative advertising) and saw only 17 percent of its candidates elected, while the National Republican Senatorial Committee spent more than $37 million dollars (100 percent of it on negative advertising) and had 94 percent of its candidates sail into office.
Still, money talks, particularly when it comes to elections. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, congressional candidates who spent more than their opponents won 94.2 percent of the time, while in the Senate, where a handful of well-financed Dems were defeated, that figure stood at 81.8 percent.
Or the despairing partisan can order that old staple: Traditional Democratic voting blocs fail to vote in midterm elections.
This year that was certainly true of voters under 30, Latino voters and African American voters, who represented 19, 13 and 10 percent of the electorate in 2012, but only 13, 12 and 8 percent in 2014. If those who turned out then had turned out now, the results would have looked different. That is supported by an October survey by Democracy Corps, which asked those who voted in 2012 who they would vote for today. A hypothetical Democratic presidential candidate beat their Republican counterpart by 4 percentage points.
As it is, the GOP now controls the Senate (and thereby all appointments to the federal judiciary) because Democratic voters failed to turn out in sufficient numbers yesterday, while the most faithful Republican segment of the electorate — those who are older, white or male — had no such problem. (The Republicans also won the ballots of 38 percent of voters who identified as members of union households — or 6 percent of the total 2014 electorate. This indicates that organized labor could do a better job of political education.)
What motivated those who did vote? According to the exit polls, 45 percent of those polled cited “the economy” as their chief concern. Yet, with few exceptions, elected Democratic Party leaders shied away from making populist appeals — appeals that might have inspired people to get out and vote their pocketbooks. As In These Times Senior Editor David Moberg has reported, according to a recent Hart Research Associates poll, given a choice between a Republican who promised to “grow the economy” and a Democrat who supported creating “an economy that works for everyone, not just the wealthy few,” swing voters picked the Democrat by 22 points.
There was one exception to this dearth of Democratic leaders who championed populist proposals. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts) crisscrossed the country attempting to galvanize the electorate in key Senate races.
So one can end the pity party with just deserts for corporate Democrats: Warren seems to be considering a challenge to Wall Street Democrat Hillary Clinton for the party’s 2016 nomination. In October, People magazine asked Warren if she was “on board with a run for the White House?” Instead of her previous “No,” Warren replied, “I don’t think so.” Then she equivocated, “If there’s any lesson I’ve learned in the last five years, it’s, ‘Don’t be so sure about what lies ahead.’ There are amazing doors that could open.”
Erica Sagrans is heartened by this change of tune. Sagrans is the campaign manager for Ready for Warren, a group that describes itself as “progressives ready to support someone who isn’t afraid to take on powerful interests like the Wall Street banks that crashed our economy.”
“More need to take Warren’s lead and be honest and fearless about standing up for their beliefs and convictions in the way that she does,” Sagrans says. “She is the kind of Democrat that the Democrats have been yearning for. And Warren is motivating to lots of other kinds of people as well. I was in Iowa at Tom Harkin’s annual steak fry and people in Hillary Clinton t-shirts came up to us and said, ‘I love Elizabeth Warren. She is amazing.’ ”
Warren has the additional advantage of not being a professional politician. Following the 2008 financial collapse, she was propelled into politics by the enthusiasm of people who saw in her a straight-talking critic of a failed banking system and a defender of working families. Unlike Clinton, she has not cozied up to Wall Street money or lived much of her adult life in Washington.
Sagrans says that if Warren decides to throw her hat into the ring, she will have to do so sometime in early 2015 in order to have a realistic chance of securing the nomination.
Warren isn’t the only plain-speaking populist eyeing a run for the White House. Bernie Sanders, the independent socialist senator from Vermont, is also considering declaring himself a candidate for the Democratic nomination. Sagrans sees no problem with that: “It would great to have it be a competitive race with a lot of different people and ideas in the mix.”
After all, coronations have no place in a healthy republic — nor does rule by an elected oligarchy, which is where, with the 2014 midterms, America seems to be headed.
Joel Bleifuss, a former director of the Peace Studies Program at the University of Missouri-Columbia, is the editor & publisher of In These Times, where he has worked since October 1986.