The Massachusetts election and the challenges ahead
Published Jan 27, 2010 5:07 PM
The victory of right-wing candidate Scott Brown in the Massachusetts senatorial
election throws into bold relief the crisis for the workers and the oppressed
in this country. It is one of leadership, politics and organization.
Many lessons are being drawn by the Democratic Party leadership, various
liberal pundits, labor union leaders and others about what happened in
Massachusetts. But, simply stated, there is one overriding lesson. The dismal
record of the Democratic Party leadership and the Obama administration’s
utter subservience to the banks and corporate interests have left the base of
the Democratic Party out in the cold — leading to
disillusionment and confusion.
Having to choose between the needs of their base — the masses
of workers, the poor and oppressed communities, and the progressive middle
class — and their corporate masters, the top Democratic Party
leadership showed once again that it is a captive of corporations and their
lobbyists. The administration is surrounded by bankers, finance officials,
corporate representatives, generals and admirals — just as
every previous administration has been.
|Hand-in-hand: Big business and government|
Executive Office of the President
MICHAEL FROMAN, Deputy Asst. to the President Citigroup
VALERIE JARRET, Asst. to the President Chicago Stock Exchange
JAMES L. JONES, National Security Adviser Chevron
White House Office
SEAN KENNEDY, Special Asst. on Legislative Affairs AT&T
MARC BEREJKA, Senior Policy Advisor, Microsoft
DENNIS F. HIGHTOWER, Deputy Secretary Designate Accenture
WILLIAM J. LYNN, Deputy Defense Secretary Raytheon
WILLIAM BRINKMAN, Director, Office of Science & Technology Lucent Technologies
STEVEN E. KOONIN, Under Secretary for Science BP (formerly
JACOB J. LEW, Deputy Secretary Management & Resources Citigroup
JUDITH A. MCHALE, Under Secretary of Public Diplomacy Discovery
GEORGE J. MITCHELL, Special Envoy to Middle East Defense
MATTHEW KABAKER, Deputy Asst. Secretary Blackstone Group
MARK A. PATTERSON, Chief of Staff to the Secretary Goldman
JAKE STEWART, Counselor to the Secretary Alcoa
KIM N. WALLACE, Asst. Secretary Legislative Affairs Lehman
NEAL S. WOLIN, Deputy Secretary Hartford Financial Services
SOURCE: BUSINESS WEEK, FEB. 1-8
The understandable enthusiasm and high hopes that accompanied the historic
election of the first African-American president, and the pushing back of
racism that this represented, are waning as Barack Obama follows the
well-trodden path of all those who step into the role of chief executive for
The disillusionment and anger that were bound to set in were first expressed in
the defeat of liberal multimillionaire and former banker Gov. John Corzine of
New Jersey. The defeat of Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley, the
Democratic candidate for senator in that state, is another expression of that
The problem at the moment is that the right wing is feeding on that
disillusionment, and will try to gain ground within the working class and the
middle class to sow racism, militaristic ideology and division, in the midst of
a deepening economic crisis.
The forces behind Brown
This is what let Brown, a little-known, right-wing Republican and Massachusetts
state senator, defeat the state’s attorney general in the Jan. 20 Senate
race for a seat held by Ted Kennedy for close to half a century.
The Brown victory has thrown the Democratic Party and the Obama administration
into a crisis. It tipped the voting balance in the Senate, depriving the
Democrats of a filibuster-proof majority and thus threatening the health care
bill and possibly the rest of the Obama administration’s legislative
agenda. The Brown victory further signified that Democratic candidates may be
in jeopardy in the 2010 congressional elections.
Brown is a Republican who campaigned with a blend of right-wing, reactionary
positions plus demagogic appeals to the working class. His campaign was
supported by the so-called Tea Party movement — a network of
ultra-rightists and fascist elements that surfaced during the town hall
meetings and poured vile racism and fraudulent anti-communist attacks on
The Tea Party groups are coordinated under the umbrella of Freedom Works, a
right-wing foundation headed by Dick Armey. This former U.S. representative
from Texas funneled funds from the health care industry and the oil, coal and
utility companies into the creation of phony “grassroots” movements
against the health care bill and environmental programs. Right-wing networks
around the country directed millions of dollars into the Brown campaign.
Brown denounced the bloated health care bill, backroom deals by the Obama
administration and government spending. He played on the fear of increased
taxes and called for creating jobs. He drove around in a pickup truck to create
the image of a “man of the people.”
At the same time he came out for waterboarding and denounced legal
representation for prisoners, such as those in Guantánamo. He was a
champion of the so-called “war against terror.” He opposed
legislation legalizing undocumented workers. He condemned cap-and-trade
legislation to reduce carbon emissions — not because it is
totally ineffective, but because it is “big government
To add to the confusion and deception, Brown praised Kennedy and did not play
the race card against Obama. On the other hand, he was supported by the most
virulent racist and fascist elements in capitalist society and undoubtedly
strengthened them politically.
Martha Coakley, on the other hand, ran a lackluster and belated campaign,
basically defending the program of the Obama administration on health care, job
There have been endless post-election analyses of the upset. Some attribute it
to the poor campaign run by Coakley. They bemoan that the outcome would have
been different if only she had run a more effective campaign and had not made
blunders, like not recognizing the name of a famous Boston Red Sox pitcher; if
only she had not been so aloof, had not gone on vacation, etc., etc.
But this is taking a completely narrow view of the defeat. What are the
circumstances that allowed a gaffe or a lackluster campaign to become decisive
in an electoral race for a “liberal” seat held by the
multimillionaire Kennedy dynasty for decades? Obama won Massachusetts by 67
percent. Brown beat Coakley by 52 percent to 47 percent.
Economic emergency and backroom deals
Bob Herbert, the only African-American op-ed columnist for the New York Times,
wrote an angry piece on Jan. 23 after the Brown victory, entitled “They
Still Don’t Get It.” Wrote Herbert: “There is an economic
emergency in the country with millions upon millions of Americans riddled with
fear and anxiety as they struggle with long-term joblessness, home
foreclosures, personal bankruptcies and dwindling opportunities for themselves
and their children.”
Regarding the health care bill, which Coakley had to defend and Brown ran
against, Herbert wrote: “No one in his or her right mind could have
believed that a workable, efficient, cost-effective system could come out of
the monstrously ugly plan that finally emerged from the Senate after long
months of shady alliances, disgraceful backroom deals, outlandish payoffs and
abject capitulation to the insurance companies and giant pharmaceutical
Add to this that the banks have humiliated the Obama administration by first
taking bailouts from the government and then giving out billions of dollars in
bonuses to their executives. They are now pulling in record profits, refusing
to lend money or readjust mortgages, and working to sabotage all restraint on
their financial manipulations.
Meanwhile, unemployment together with underemployment is at 27 million to 30
million. Three million homes went into foreclosure last year, and millions more
are expected. Hunger, poverty, wage cuts, pressures on the job, loss of health
care and every other hardship are growing.
The big question on the minds of the workers is when this will stop and who
will put a stop to it.
The greatest potential resource that the workers in this capitalist society
have is the unions. But at the moment, the rank and file is paralyzed by the
complete absence of any independence or struggle at the leadership level.
In the Massachusetts election 29 percent of Brown voters had voted for Obama in
2008. An AFL-CIO poll showed that union members voted 49 percent to 46 percent
for Brown. These are the numbers that should be zeroed in on.
Workers and others who voted for an African-American president in 2008 have now
swung to a right-wing candidate because of demagogy and because there was no
place else to go.
A challenge to fight back
That is the challenge to all the advanced elements in the U.S. All those who
are against capitalism, racism, imperialism, who are partisans of the workers
and the oppressed in the unions, the communities, the political movements on
the campuses, youth and students, must find an organizational form to come
together on a national and regional level to launch a massive movement to fight
back — to fight for jobs and to formulate a minimum program
that can express the interests of the workers and the oppressed independently
of the capitalist parties.
The liberals, social democrats and labor leadership are all fixated on the
electoral arena as the primary form of political struggle. They are directly or
indirectly supporters of or dependent upon the Democratic Party.
Electoral struggle is a legitimate form of struggle but cannot be substituted
for mass mobilization and class combat. The way to influence legislation in
this country historically has been through strikes, sit-ins, takeovers,
rebellions and mass resistance of all types.
The crisis in the Democratic Party has become a crisis for the labor unions and
social democrats in general. They have led the masses along behind the
Democratic leadership. This is the party that just sent 30,000 more troops to
Afghanistan, rains down missiles from Predator drones in Pakistan, still
occupies Iraq, sent 12,000 troops to occupy Haiti, supports Israel in its
suppression of the Palestinians, builds bases in Colombia, sponsored a coup in
Honduras, and so on.
The crisis of the Democratic Party should not be our crisis. It should be
turned into an opportunity for the broad movement of the workers, especially
the labor unions, to declare their independence, to expose the capitalist
interests behind the economic crisis, to fight for class unity of the workers
— organized and unorganized, documented and undocumented,
employed and unemployed — to open up a struggle in the
streets and workplaces, and to put forward its own political program.
We should not allow the right wing to co-opt disillusionment in the midst of an
economic crisis. The working class in this country is a sleeping giant. It is
time for every revolutionary to think long and hard about how to go about
helping this giant awake and shake the ground under the decadent ruling class,
whose profit system is bringing hardship without end.
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