This is an expanded version of Sanders’s comments in the print edition.
One year ago the nation gave a collective sigh of relief as the worst and least popular administration in modern American history came to an end. Not only was the Bush administration heading out the door, but the Republican Party was reeling from two consecutive elections in which it suffered massive losses at all levels.
With a huge taxpayer bailout attempting to prop up a reckless and greedy financial system on the verge of collapse; with 700,000 workers a month losing their jobs in the worst recession since the 1930s; with the continuation of a war in Iraq that we never should have gotten into; with a rapidly increasing national debt caused largely by that unpaid-for war as well as tax breaks for the rich; and with the continued refusal to address or even acknowledge the crisis in global warming, the American people were ready for change.
In Senator Barack Obama, Americans at every level reached out to an inspiring young leader who, through a brilliant campaign, brought enormous energy into the political process. Young people who had never given much thought about elections were not only registering to vote in record-breaking numbers, but their newly tapped idealism was leading them to actively participate in the campaign. Workers and their unions, who were victims of corporate greed and the ongoing collapse of the middle class, were determined to elect political leadership that represented ordinary Americans, not just the wealthy and large corporations. Women, who had battled for eight years to maintain the reproductive and legal rights they had struggled for over generations, were eagerly awaiting an administration that was on their side. Seniors, who were tired of hearing about Republican efforts to privatize Social Security and Medicare, wanted a president who understood the importance of those vital federal safety-net programs. And minorities and people of color, some of whom had experienced the hurt and humiliation of American apartheid, were ecstatic that the dream of a nondiscriminatory society was taking a giant step forward. The result: with a strong voter turnout, Barack Obama was elected president; the Democrats picked up twenty-one seats in the House and seven in the Senate (eight by the time Al Franken survived a recount and court challenge).
That was then, one very long year ago. Where are we now?
Today, having already experienced decisive losses in governors’ races in New Jersey and Virginia, the Democratic prospects for 2010 appear bleak. Polls show President Obama’s approval numbers sagging and some recent “generic ballots” show Republican candidates ahead of Democratic candidates–a huge turnaround over the course of the year. Perhaps most ominously, these new polls show that enthusiasm and interest in voting among Republicans is far higher than with Democrats. Given that off-presidential-year elections (voter participation could fall by 50 million this year compared to 2008) are often dominated by older and more conservative voters, a particularly low voter turnout among Democrats this fall could result in disaster for them. Why has this occurred? What can be done within the next few months to turn this scenario around?