American labor can begin the new year with thanks that 2012 is over. Not that the unions didn’t win some big victories in 2012. Their political programs in key swing states played a major role in President Obama’s re-election, both by turning out minority voters in record numbers in Ohio, Nevada, and Florida and by winning Obama a higher share of white, working-class voters in the industrial Midwest than he won in other regions. Their efforts also helped liberal Democrats hold key Senate seats in Ohio (Sherrod Brown) and Wisconsin (Tammy Baldwin), and pick up Massachusetts (Elizabeth Warren). In California, the nation’s mega-state, unions beat back a ballot measure designed to cripple their political programs by a decisive 12.5-percent margin, turning out so many voters that they also helped a key tax-hike measure pass at the polls and enabled the Democrats to win super-majorities in the state legislature.
Nancy Pelosi has confounded expectation before. Following the 2010 midterm elections, when Republicans recaptured the House on a wave of Tea Party indignation, Pelosi was widely, and unjustly, criticized for leading House Democrats to debacle. She had played a key role in enacting Obamacare, a program that the Obama administration chose not to defend as Election Day drew nigh. She had not paid enough attention to solving the recession, critics argued, though in fact House Democrats had passed additional stimulus measures that failed to surmount Senate filibusters. It was time, the critics said, for her to go.
My favorite exit-poll factoid this year comes near the end of the quadrennial Edison-Mitofsky questionnaire, as reported on the NBC News web site. The pollsters asked people leaving their voting places whether Barack Obama’s policies, and Mitt Romney’s policies, “generally favor[ed]” the rich, the middle class, or the poor—and respondents could give more than one answer. Among Obama supporters, 86 percent said that Obama’s policies favored the middle class, with another 25 percent saying that they favored the poor. Only 12 percent of Romney’s supporters, by contrast, believed that Obama’s policies favored the middle class while a whopping 74 percent said that they favored the poor—not a good thing in Romneyworld.
Despite setbacks in several states, the American labor movement came out a clear winner in Tuesday’s elections. Most important, they played a key role in ensuring the re-election of President Obama, and contributed significantly to Democratic Senate victories in hotly contested races in Massachusetts, Ohio, Wisconsin, and Virginia.
Over the past 15 years, California’s electorate has changed so dramatically and so quickly that Democrats have often won victories they weren’t even anticipating. In 1998, no one expected Gray Davis to win the governor’s office by 20 percentage points, and the tightly wound Davis, who had no life outside politics, was plainly bewildered by his own emotions during his victory speech on the night of the landslide. This week, no one expected the Democrats to win two-thirds of the seats in the state Assembly (they did expect to win that many in the state Senate, which they did), yet the Democrats won those seats going away. As California law requires a two-thirds vote in both legislative houses to raise any taxes, the Republicans have long used their just-over-one-third representation in those houses to block all tax increases, decimating the state’s schools, colleges, and parks in the process. Now, the Democrats have finally overcome that hurdle—and have become the first party with two-thirds representation in both houses since 1933.
Here’s a paradox. The networks’ exit poll taken yesterday shows that 50 percent of voters cast their vote for Democratic candidates for the House of Representatives, while just 48 percent said they voted for Republican candidates. Yet even as President Barack Obama won re-election and Senate Democrats not only didn’t lose their majority but picked up one or two seats, House Republicans suffered no diminution of their power and may end up losing just a handful of seats, if any. The Democrats had hoped to pick up the 25 seats they needed to retake the House, but they fell depressingly short.
During the past few hours in California, the new model of Republican/Big Money campaign finance has become clear. It’s the Russian Doll model—every time you think you’re about to identify the source of a major contribution, you open it up and lo! There’s another doll that you have to open up and lo! There’s another …
Labor started early this year. America’s most politically active union, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), first deployed staffers to Ohio and key battleground states in March, says SEIU President Mary Kay Henry, with whom I spoke by phone on Saturday afternoon as she walked precincts in Cleveland.
If Democrat Rep. Shelley Berkley still has a shot at ousting Republican Dean Heller from one of Nevada’s two senatorial seats next Tuesday, she should get none of the credit. Mired in scandal, under investigation by the House Ethics Committee, Berkley shouldn’t have a prayer in next week’s election. Yet she does—because Nevada’s burgeoning Latino population is moving the state leftward, because Heller trumpets his anti-immigrant stance, and because Barack Obama and Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid both have fearsome get-out-the-voter operations in the state that will get those Latinos to the polls.
The Nevada race is one of five senatorial contests this year in which the Democrats have a chance to flip a seat that’s currently Republican. (The other four are in Maine, Massachusetts, Indiana, and Arizona.) At the top of the ticket, Obama is the clear favorite to carry the state, notwithstanding Nevada’s highest-in-the-nation unemployment rate. Despite Obama’s lead, though, Berkeley has trailed Heller in ten of the 11 October polls on Talking Points Memo’s Polltracker web page, while tying in just one (a PPP poll completed on October 24.) She lags Heller by a 46-40 margin in the most recent Survey USA poll, taken on October 27 and 28 (the same poll gave Obama a four-point lead over Mitt Romney). Could it be that all those polls are wrong?
California’s venerable Field Poll released the first in its final series of pre-election polls today, and in the process provided a wonderful example to all its fellow pollsters. At a moment when a number of polls have come under criticism for not employing interviewers who can speak Spanish, the Field Poll responded to California’s growing diversity by conducting its interviews in English and Spanish—and Cantonese, Mandarin, Korean, and Vietnamese. The funding for these Asian-language interviews was provided by New American Media, which itself had received a grant for this project from the San Francisco Foundation.
Electoral historian and Fox News commentator Michael Barone, having long since made the trek from mainstream liberal to standard-issue conservative, is now endeavoring to pull the whole of American history along with him. In today’s Financial Times, he argues that Franklin Roosevelt never really won majority support for his key New Deal programs. Those programs now stand on the chopping block should Mitt Romney be elected president next Tuesday, Barone writes, and they lack popular support even if Barack Obama should prevail.
If you want to know what’s different about Florida, both in general and in this election cycle, just ask Jose Lopez. The organizer and leader of a laundry workers’ union that’s part of the Service Employees International Union, Lopez has been walking precincts as part of SEIU’s campaign to re-elect President Obama since mid-summer. One day, as he was chatting with an elderly man on his doorstep, his canvassing partner interrupted and asked Lopez, “How much do you know about snakes?” A rather large snake, it seems, had slithered between Lopez’s legs.
The elderly gentleman, who, like hundreds of thousands of new Florida voters, had migrated from Puerto Rico to the Orlando metropolitan area, excused himself, returned carrying a machete and proceeded to hack the snake not entirely to death. “The machete was too dull,” says Lopez, shaking his head. “He ended up just beating that poor snake to death with that thing.”
During Senator George McGovern’s 1972 presidential race, just out of college and back in my hometown of Los Angeles, I worked at the campaign’s Fairfax Avenue office, which was in the epicenter of L.A.’s Jewish community. Someone there (I don’t remember who) got the idea to print up a leaflet that proclaimed, in bold letters, “Nixon is Treyf”—treyf being the Yiddish word for not kosher, filthy, you shouldn’t eat it. The leaflet then went on to list reasons why President Nixon wasn’t good for the Jews. (We didn’t know at the time that Nixon had ordered a purge of Jewish economists from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, or that would have headed the list.)
America has the Koch brothers, and now California has the Munger kids. Unlike the rightwing Koches, Molly Munger and her brother Charles Jr. entered politics from opposite directions—she’s a liberal Democrat and a champion of inner-city schools; he’s an economic right-winger, a social moderate, and a Republican activist. But thanks to the vicissitudes of California politics and the self-absorption that wealth can bring (their father is Charles Munger, a Pasadena attorney and investor who is the longtime vice-chairman of Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway investment consortium), they’ve come together in the past couple of days to attack the most important measure on the California ballot: Governor Jerry Brown’s initiative to raise taxes on the rich so that the state’s schools and colleges won’t take a massive fiscal hit immediately following the election.
The scariest piece in the news this week isn’t about the election or the economy or the threat of terrorism—though it touches on all three. It’s about the latest development in humanity’s ceaseless urge to invent things—subcategory, the ceaseless urge to invent things that let people do things more cheaply than before.
Harold Meyerson is the editor-at-large at The American Prospect and a columnist for The Washington Post. His articles on politics, labor, the economy, foreign policy, and American culture have also appeared in The New Yorker, The Atlantic, The New Republic, The Nation, The New Statesman; the op-ed, commentary, and book review sections of The New York Times, The Washington Post, andthe Los Angeles Times, and in numerous other publications.