|George Parker was one of the greatest salesmen/conmen of the 20th century. Unsuspecting tourists would arrive from out of town, and they would meet the nicest man as they toured the Brooklyn Bridge or caught a sporting event at Madison Square Garden. In hushed tones, Parker would show tourists realistic looking deeds that to the naked eye appeared completely authentic. For a steep price, this tourist would be a proud owner of the Brooklyn Bridge. Thus, the popular joke was born, “If you believe (fill in the blank) then I have a bridge in Brooklyn to sell you.”This story sums up the feeling an observer would potentially take from the stunning upset win by Kathy Hochul (D) in the special election held in New York’s 26th district. With the win, Hochul is heading to the House of Representatives. This was done in a district in which Obama lost in 2010; it routinely elects Republicans.
Hochul’s win is an amazing feat. It proves two points conclusively. First, this election proves that attacks on Medicare and Medicaid will be denounced in unified fashion by almost all levels of the working class. Second, it also underscores a serious political naiveté by the electorate which is highlighted by how drastically the election shifted when Hochul started campaigning on the issue of standing up against Medicare cuts.
Three weeks before the election, Hochul was behind in this race by about 5 points. In a desperate move, she emerged as a defender of Medicare by going after Representative Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget plan. She ended up winning the race by approximately six points, a rough 11-point turnaround in a race that had an unusually high turnout for a special election in a non presidential year.
It was Medicare and specifically the defense of Medicare that Hochul won on. So one should ask, what about the rest of Hochul’s platform? Is it as vibrant in its defense of working people’s interests as it was in defending seniors against attacks on Medicare?
Maybe the message prominently featured on her website can shed some light on what her true platform is.
“I’m running for Congress because we can do the same thing in Washington that we’ve done in Erie County — cut waste, hold down taxes, and help Western New York businesses create jobs for hard working families.”
Is this statement not the exact platform that the Republican Party has been running on for decades? Helping businesses create jobs is just a coded way of talking about tax breaks for corporations, and they are now sitting on record profits. That government is wasteful and that employers, if given tax breaks and incentives, will create jobs? The official unemployment rate in Erie County, which is not seasonally adjusted, is 7.9 percent and that is not counting underemployment or those unfortunate souls who have dropped off the rolls because of being designated “discouraged” workers. This is a measure of success that Hochul ran on?
Her record on her website reads as one long love poem to corporate America with proud achievements of eliminating taxes and no record of shifting the burden to the rich in order to make up for the shortage of funds coming in. Furthermore, nowhere on Hochul’s website does she speak to union issues or even whether she supports unions despite the fact that unions poured millions of dollars and time and energy into her campaign.
Republicans denounced Hochul’s stunning win with Representative Paul Ryan author of the Ryan budget weighing in. “When [voters] realize that our plan actually preserves the system for people 55 and above, the president’s plan raids Medicare and puts a rationing board in charge of the program, I think they’re going to be upset that they’ve been lied to,” he told the Los Angles Times.
Voters are being lied to, but the effort is bipartisan. The only difference is that the Republicans use cynicism to split the voters, hoping that baby boomer retirees will let them dismantle benefits that do not directly help seniors. As far as Ryan’s point goes regarding rationing, he is half wrong; the Independent Payment Advisory Board cannot ration health care. With that said, it can hunt out “waste and abuse.” One can suspect a broad definition of what is “waste and abuse.” After all, Ronald Reagan as Governor of California was able to parlay isolated cases of abuse within the state mental health facilities into rampant cases of “waste and abuse,” which allowed him to destroy the state mental hospitals in California.
Simply put, Hochul’s campaign during the last three weeks sounds amazing. The staunch defender of Medicare and proud advocate of closing tax loopholes fighting to hold the rich accountable cannot be reconciled with the record she spent most of the election running on. Therefore, celebrating her election for reasons other than workers voicing their anger over cuts to Medicare is a waste of time and certainly not a victory of a “pro-worker” candidate.
When confronted with the opinion that the election of Kathy Hochul will do little for the voters in the New York 26th district because of her positions on government, taxes and job creation, the defensive and proud Democratic voter will say, “Hochul has flaws but is far better than the alternative, Jane Corwin.”
It is not an issue of who is the better candidate, and the American voter must move beyond the lesser of two evils mentality. Neither candidate deserved the support they received, and let us not get started on Tea Party Candidate Jack Davis.
President Obama, himself no stranger to mixed messages, gave a startling congratulatory statement to Hochul.
“Kathy and I both believe that we need to create jobs, grow our economy, and reduce the deficit in order to outcompete other nations and win the future,” Obama said. “Kathy has shown, through her victory and throughout her career, that she will fight for the families and businesses in western New York, and I look forward to working with her when she gets to Washington.”
Nowhere is there talk of “drawing the line in the sand.” Nowhere is there talk of defending workers rights or making it easier for families to unionize or increasing taxes on the rich, despite high unemployment and a massive transfer of wealth from working people and the poor to the richest top bracket of Americans during the past three decades. Instead, the President, in reference to Hochul’s real record of cutting taxes, makes it clear that he supports her real agenda and by his very silence on the Medicare issue dismisses her campaign as election-year politicking.
It is becoming something of a joke. If you believe that the Democratic Party today is truly willing to defend Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security from cuts, then I have a bridge in Brooklyn to sell you. George Parker would be proud selling deeds to the Brooklyn Bridge.
In the end, though, there is no bridge for sale and this is no joke. It is only going to be through the mobilization and activation of millions of union members, their families and community allies across the country on a platform of “Good jobs, not cuts, and tax the rich” that workers can mount a defense from cynical election posturing that threatens to destroy benefits that millions of Americans need in order to survive.