by: Sam Webb
October 26 2010
I just returned from two weeks of travel around the U.S. At one stop
on my journey someone asked me where this election fits into the
scheme of things.
Here is what I said.
With a narrow-angled lens it is the latest round of a political clash
triggered by the election of the first African American president and
the economic meltdown in 2008.
One of these momentous events might have been enough to set into
motion a clash of contending forces. But when both occurred nearly
simultaneously the ferocity of this clash became tsunami-like.
It hasn't ebbed, and, in fact, with the midterm election around the
corner, the rage of the right is surging to a new level.
And if you are hoping that the politics of rage, obfuscation and
obstruction will ease in the election's aftermath, think again. These
politics are deep in the political DNA of right-wing extremism - it
won't give up something that works, at least so far!
In any event, one side will gain momentum on Nov. 2, while the other
side will have to regroup to one degree or another.
But with a wider-angled lens, this election and the rage connected to
it (racist and anti-immigrant especially) are traceable to two periods.
One is the so-called "culture wars" of the 1960s - which were in
reality a period of unprecedented social upheaval and struggles, not
since matched - over poverty, racial equality, student, women's and
farmworker rights, the Vietnam war, and other issues. These powerful
and overlapping movements arose to challenge the status quo of that time.
The other is the sharp turn to the right a decade later. If the
"culture wars" of the '60s were the opening round of a new era of
struggle, the 1980 ascendance of Ronald Reagan to the White House
(and the decision of then Federal Reserve Bank chairman Paul Volker
to spike interest rates to nearly 20 percent and thus induce a deep
recession) signified a reconfiguration, intensification and extension
of this struggle to a broader swathe of the population, especially
the working class and labor movement.
With the transfer of the main levers of political power to Reagan and
his hit-men, the barbarians of the right initiated an all-out class
war from above. It was ideological and cultural as well as political
and economic. The gloves came off. There was no place for compromise.
Right-wing extremists and the most reactionary sections of monopoly
and financial capital ganged up against the working class, racially
oppressed, women, youth, seniors, and other social groups.
And guess what? This turn to supercharged class warfare, steeped in
racist appeals to white people, largely succeeded.
The wealth of the top income tiers ballooned, while income for the
lower tiers either stagnated or plummeted.
Neoliberalism, deregulation and financialization became the new
The use of force became the option of first choice in matters
domestic and foreign, and the organizations of the working class and
people beat a retreat.
But a retreat isn't a rout. Though weakened, the working class and
people lived to fight another day, and another day, and another day ...
Much time has passed since the "culture wars" of the '60s and the
turn to the right a decade later, but the distant voices of George
Wallace, Bull Connor, Richard Nixon, Phyllis Schlafly, Ronald Reagan
and Reverend Jerry Falwell can still be heard. The past, as someone
said, is never past. The intensification of class and democratic
struggle that occurred then continues today, combining the old
issues, protagonists and rhetoric with the new issues, protagonists
Most strikingly new is the election of President Obama, and the
massive and spontaneous surge of democratic-minded people and
movements that backed him. This loose coalition of diverse forces,
broader than anything before it, is the main vehicle that will drive
the nation to a more just and decent future.
It won't be easy. The 2008 election tipped the balance of forces in
the direction of democracy and progress, and pushed the right onto
its heels. But the blow wasn't a knockout.
The right regrouped, faster than most anticipated, and turned
obstruction, division and demagogy into a vicious and powerful weapon.
Next Tuesday, Election Day, the right hopes to continue its journey
back to political dominance.
But if it does make gains, let's remember that gaining a momentary
advantage is miles from reclaiming the main levers of political power
and even more miles from bringing a final resolution to this
longstanding conflict - a conflict that in my view can only be
settled when one side vanquishes the other.
The differences are irreconcilable. Each side has a diametrically
different vision of what America should look like.
One vision - the vision of labor, minorities, women, youth and other
social groups and movements - believes in an America that raises
living standards and guarantees jobs at livable wages, expands
opportunities and rights to the disenfranchised, alienated and
marginalized, embeds human equality and diversity into the social
fabric, and seeks peace through mutual understanding and cooperation,
establishes robust regulation of the economy and democratic public
and cooperative ownership when necessary, aggressively addresses
global warming and environmental degradation, respects all forms of
life on our planet, and embraces the cultures and peoples of other lands.
The other vision - that of right-wing extremism, the tea party,
sections of corporate capital, groupings of medium and small
businesses, and their grassroots constituency - is exclusionary,
fears outsiders, worships a dog-eat-dog unregulated capitalism,
insists on global dominance, subordinates people of color and women,
turns same-sex relationships into a sin and psychological disorder,
blames the poor for poverty, possesses a strong anti-Semitic strain,
poisons the environment, and cynically manipulates our nation's most
noble freedom moments and traditions.
Which vision will come out on top and when that will happen is not clear.
Nevertheless, and regardless of what happens on Election Day, the
possibilities for progressive advance are real and palpable. With
unity, outreach and persistence, the movement that crystallized two
years ago and rallied in Washington in early October can expand on
the legacy of earlier periods of struggle and meet the new challenges
of the 21st century.
But right now, every democratic-minded American should go to the
polls on Nov. 2 and mobilize others to do the same.