Election Eve 2006: Democrats Stir, Labor Takes Two More Torpedoes

The instant messaging antics that claimed the career of Florida Republican Representative Mark Foley have also served to remind the national Democratic Party that we are but a few weeks away from our national elections.  Declining Republican electoral fortunes were hobbled further by the Foley fiasco, adding to the growing list of reasons why voters are losing interest in the Republican Party program of war, corruption, and unconditional support for corporate super-profits.  Likely voters appear to be steadily migrating into the Democratic Party column for the moment, notwithstanding the pro-war, corruption-tainted, pro-super-profits views of too large a swath of elected Democrats these days.  It might just be that the Democrats are the only other name on the ballot when the disgusted citizenry shows up on November 7th, and they’ll be the beneficiary.

Back in June, I offered MRZine readers my sober assessment of what I saw as the absurdly inadequate campaign machinery of the national Democratic Party (“Will Democrats Regain Control of the U.S. House of Representatives on Election Day?” MRZine, June 20th, 2006).  How on earth could Democrats regain a majority of seats in the U.S. House of Representatives if they did virtually nothing to contest 90% of the races?  And, even if they did win control by a small margin, how much would actually change in the next Congress?  Especially given the conservative bloc of as many as 50 House Democrats who regularly support large parts of the Bush agenda?

The Foley events have finally stirred the slumbering Democratic Party election machinery.  The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) has been bumped out of its paralysis by an apparent barrage of phone calls from Democratic Party consultants eager to expand the number of “viable” races.  These paid-by-the-job operators sense big consulting fees to be earned in the remaining weeks.  This self-serving crowd — the folks who really run the Democratic “Party” — smell some super-profits of their own.  One can only imagine the frantic back-and-forth between the DCCC and the consultant crowd over the past weeks, as both try to figure out who their own candidates are out in the various races now deemed “competitive.”  The Democratic candidates who have suddenly seen their phone calls returned are relieved.  They have been accepted as real candidates by the DCCC know-it-alls.

The DCCC has, until now, pronounced its interest in supporting a grand total of 44 Democratic challengers as part of their high-priced “Red to Blue” project.  The Foley uproar has led to the sudden discovery of 17 additional candidates that apparently deserve some support from the DCCC, described as “Emerging Races” by DCCC staffers.  Scraped together, this amounts to 61 Democrats in House races who will get at least tacit support from the DCCC in the waning days before the election.  That still leaves more than 150 Democratic House candidates with no support whatsoever from their own party structure, since some unknown consultant in Washington, D.C. deemed their race as “unwinnable” more than a year ago.

The Washington press corps is hot on the trail of the probable brighter fortunes of the Democrats.  The Washington Post reported in a front-page story on October 10th that “GOP Officials Brace for Loss of Seven to 30 House Seats.”  Ever cautious, the Washington Post remains reluctant to predict a Democratic landslide even at this point.  The far-right, Reverend Moon-subsidized Washington Times offered a front page story on October 11th.  With an article headlined, “Democrats Veer to the Right in Fight for House,” they complain sarcastically that Democratic House contenders are increasingly staking out traditionally Republican positions on various issues such as abortion, guns, same-sex marriage, the Iraq war, and more.  If-you-can’t-beat-em-join-em is the theme du jour for many Democratic House aspirants.  The Capitol Hill insider news sheet Roll Call offered its own report on the awakening of the DCCC, with an October 11th front page story entitled “DCCC Tries to Expand Field.”

With several weeks to go, and with Republicans coming unglued on several fronts, there is no question that Democrats have gained the late momentum, if only due to Republican gaffes and stumbles.  But, given the pitiful job of the Democratic Party structures in recruiting and supporting their own candidates, it is improbable that last-minute jiggering by the DCCC will be of much consequence.  If nothing else, however, the DCCC and its stable of house consultants have positioned themselves to claim victory should voters provide a Democratic House majority in just a few weeks.  The DCCC staff and inner circle of advisors are ready to take credit for whatever gains are made and promptly blame someone else for any losses or shortcomings.  Welcome to the world of the inside-the-beltway political “industry.”

As for working people and union members, we are in need of some immediate political relief like never before.  While the media was enthralled with the Foley and Iraq debacles, and speculating endlessly about the prospects of the Democrats, the labor movement took two more Republican torpedoes to midships.  The first torpedo is “pension reform.”  Both the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate passed the sorely misnamed “Pension Protection Act” (HR4) on July 28th  and August 3rd, respectively.  Bush signed it into law as fast as he could.  What began legislative life as a 300 page text ultimately ballooned into a 1,200 page malignancy by date of passage.  Billed as a legislative remedy for the deficiencies of our current private-sector pension system, the final bill is in reality the political signal to corporate America that the age of real pensions is over.  The “Pension Protection Act” is the roadmap of escape for companies that have supported the current Republican regime with hopes of achieving this exact result.

The second torpedo is called the “Kentucky River” decision.  This gem emanated from the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) on October 3rd.  The ruling was a long-awaited decision regarding the exact definitions of supervisory status for workers, and the NLRB decree directs that millions of workers are now officially “supervisors” and “managers” and therefore no longer entitled to the protections of our labor laws.  That will likely mean no more union membership, union contract protections, or overtime pay for these folks.  Organized labor is girding for vastly expanded corporate attacks in the wake of this decision, while the unorganized millions won’t know what hit them until it hits them.

Hundreds of thousands of union members are today busy from coast-to-coast campaigning like crazy for thousands of Democratic Party candidates.  Many Democrats deserve it, some do not.  Many appreciate it, some could care less.  Many leftists find this baffling or even incomprehensible, while some — including me — see it as a tactical necessity that is forced upon us.  As unionists, we find ourselves in the political boxing ring with a much heavier and stronger opponent who has pummeled us but who has been unable (yet) to land the knockout blow.  We increasingly look forward to Election Day like the fighter who prays anxiously for the end-of-round bell.  That bell would give us a couple of minutes to rest on the little stool in the corner, catch our breath, have the blood wiped off our face, and basically try to see straight.

Long ago I lost any confidence that I had in our current Democratic “Party” to offer anything in terms of practical solutions to the problems we face.  They are, however, the only thing that amounts to a stool in the corner for a few minutes until the battle is joined anew.  Every boxer has his limit of endurance, and organized labor is fast approaching that point.  We need to hear that bell on Election Day.  But we won’t hear that bell unless the Democrats regain control of the House of Representatives.  I’ll take the Senate in the same vein.  It’s frustrating to witness the bungling and ineptitude of outfits like the DCCC, who seem to be incapable of recognizing their own advantage, let alone recognizing the predicament of organized labor.  But we play the hand that is dealt to us, and this is a pretty crappy hand, to say the least.  Election Day will come — and go.  The bigger question is whether organized labor and the left are able to come to grips with — and find a way to escape from — the ultimately fatal political spiral we now find ourselves in.

Will Democrats regain control of the U.S. House of Representatives on Election Day?  They might.  Their odds are improving in spite of themselves.  I’m rooting for them, because I look forward to getting a break from the Republican punches, if just until the next Congress is installed and we (hopefully) confront the Democratic version of the same fight.

Chris Townsend is Political Action Director of the United Electrical Workers Union (UE).

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