What created one of the largest election turnovers in the history of the U.S. House of Representatives, and what may be the consequences?
A CNN panel discussing candidates and voters concluded that both are well-educated, but illiterate of our democratic political process. One tea party candidate, when asked about deficit reduction, said he didn't know what that meant. Another, asked about Supreme Court decisions, said she couldn't name any.
The CNN panel described voters as frustrated, angry and with no understanding of relevant information, wanting only "change." Money, coarse comments and the specter of physical brutality punctuated the season, and 32 percent of tea party candidates won anyway, though Colorado maintained its balance.
The conditions of economic recession, job loss, gridlock and polarization are reminiscent of Germany prior to the Nazi takeover of German parliamentary democracy in 1932-33. William L. Shirer's The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich and John Toland's Adolf Hitler record similar frustration, anger, confusion and political illiteracy ending in the Weimar Republic's demise.
They wrote that Joseph Goebbels' plan was "a revolutionary movement" to take over the media with big business, conservative and military money. Financiers, as Shirer put it, wanted to end "infernal elections, democracy and disarmament." Toland said Hitler allied himself with influential businesspeople and corporations who wanted "managerial freedom." It was they, he writes, who "underwrote the election financially."
Labor unions, Catholics, Jews and socialists were targeted. Hermann Goering's auxiliary police force beat up opposition candidates. Constitutional rights were suspended due to "terrorism." Radical changes occurred through legal, democratic elections. Shirer writes that "the Germans had no one to blame but themselves."
The Nazi Party claimed it would "restore absolute leadership to the natural leader ... the employer." Shirer called the new party "intolerant, noisy and undisciplined." Nevertheless it railed against pacifists, liberals, social democrats, communists and Jews, claiming to restore "order in public life" by not raising taxes, and spending money on the military.
Millions of unemployed people and middle-class independents, Shirer wrote, viewed the Nazi Party as the answer. The voters cared little about business deals that resulted in dummy corporations formed to coerce the election. They joined in the "battle against the establishment." The nation "was confused," disunited and in "economic paralysis."
According to Toland, the "gamut of emotions and a wave of frenzied enthusiasm swept the masses." Changes eliminated a once-powerful middle class, "the backbone of democracy." Liberal and socialist political parties became illegal. "But to the average German," Toland added, "anything was better than the parliamentary shambles of the past year." And for the racists, "there was unrestrained joy."
This election, some conservatives campaigned to abolish public education, student loans, Social Security, Medicare, estate taxes, civil rights and the 17th Amendment. In New York, Carl Paladino threatened a reporter; in Alaska, Joe Miller had one handcuffed. Sharron Angle and Tim D'Annunzio spoke in not-so-veiled terms about armed insurrection. Meanwhile, James Dobson spoke out against Obama, abortion, gays, socialists and global warming.
With the election over, Obama now supports court restrictions on gay military, Arizona's unconstitutional law favoring religious schools, and Bush tax breaks for the richest 1 percent, creating middle-class inequities, and increasing the deficit by $700 billion.
Founding Fathers James Madison and Thomas Jefferson wrote that the American republic could only succeed with an educated, literate citizen electorate. We will now wait to see what transpires the next two years with our own new "change at any cost" representatives. They gained office with similar techniques of revolution, helped by unwary voters who settled for "any change."
Perhaps the biggest change is that Osama bin Laden has succeeded, through 9-11, to polarize Americans, forcing them to choose between terrorism-inspired fear and constitutional rights. One result is unregulated deficit, military and corporate spending, originated by conservative Republicans who call for "limited government" and "no taxes."
Will we, by 2012, be the new "good Germans" who were unable to see where this kind of change was leading?
Bill Durland, J.D., Ph.D., is a local civil rights attorney, author, activist and retired professor of philosophy, history and government.