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Dems Take a Pounding in the Mid-Terms: Progressives Not Bold Enough, Says Caucus Leader

The final results of the 2010 mid-term elections have only just been tallied, but progressives have already begun their soul-searching.

It's official: John Boehner, R-Ohio, is the new speaker of the House of Representatives.

Now that Democrats have lost the House -- by at least 60 seats -- pundits will likely declare a mandate for a right-wing agenda. Don't believe a word of it. What we witnessed tonight was a protest vote by an angry sector of the electorate, encouraged by hundreds of millions in spending by corporate-funded groups, that has attributed its falling fortunes to a cultural change in Washington. People who are not like them are running things in Washington, and everything really sucks.

In an emotional victory address, Boehner promised an agenda of cost-cutting and "reducing the size of government." Then, dissolving into tears, Boehner seemed to put forward his own experience as a prescription for Americans suffering in the struggling economy, recounting how he "worked every rotten job that was out there" in order to put himself through college, and using his current success as an example of "chasing the American dream."

The final results of the 2010 mid-term elections have yet to be tallied, but progressives have already begun their soul-searching.

Progressive Caucus Co-Chair Lynn Woolsey, congresswoman from California, told Pacifica News Radio that the Democrats lost the House because "we weren't bold enough." If they had started off with a jobs bill, Woolsey said, their position would be different tonight. And, Woolsey said, "We could have done a much better job of letting people know what we had accomplished." As of Nov. 3, the caucus's other co-chair, Raul Grijalva of Arizona, was still fighting for his House seat in close race against Republican Ruth McClung.

At an election-night event broadcast by Free Speech TV at Busboys and Poets, a progressive gathering-place in Washington, D.C., longtime labor activist Bill Fletcher, field director for the American Federation of Government Employees, complained that progressives left the right a wide opening when, after the election, the leaders who had put together the coalition that elected President Barack Obama sent those activists "back to the barracks."

The Tea Party Agenda Comes to Congress

So, now that the Republicans have the House, what will they do? Beholden to the special corporate interests who poured millions into races across the country, they are pledging to shrink the size of government and cut spending. But more than that, their mandate is to stop Obama from doing anything.

At a Washington, D.C., conference sponsored by the Americans for Prosperity Foundation in August, foundation President Tim Phillips told a room full of activists that job one was the repeal of "Obamacare". It's not a goal they are likely to achieve in the next congressional session, Phillips said, but they can pass it in the House, attach repeal amendments to Senate bills, and force Obama to veto the repeal of health-care reform "two or three times" before the session concludes. The Americans for Prosperity Foundation was founded and is chaired by David Koch, heir to the fortunes of Koch Industries.

The Republicans did not win the Senate, but if enough Tea Party-branded candidates are seated -- especially those indebted to the Senate Conservatives Fund PAC led by Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina -- the Senate will likely devolve to a state of complete gridlock, making it impossible to get anything done. Heck, given the message sent to the leadership of the G.O.P. establishment with the spate of primary challenges its candidates faces at the hands of DeMint and his allies, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell might just opt for DeMint's gridlock agenda whether or not the South Carolinian gets to seat the majority of his Tea Party team. After all, two new senators have won tonight whose candidacies were launched in direct challenge to McConnell's leadership.