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Jeff Cohen: Major corporate money was behind Dems as well

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PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay in Washington. Now joining us from Ithaca, New York, is Jeff Cohen. He’s the director of the Park Media Center at Ithaca College and was the founder of FAIR. Thanks for joining us, Jeff.


JAY: So what’s the headline for you, Tuesday night’s election results?

COHEN: Well, it was a repudiation of Obama across the board. And I would argue—you know, I’m sitting here in the state of New York. We’ve heard all about this corporate money that’s washing into politics. Well, the corporate money did play a role in New York state. You know, we had the three biggest elections. Corporate money was behind the three big winners, and they were all Democrats. Andrew Cuomo is the new governor of New York—big support from real estate interests and Wall Street. The two US senators from New York, Gillibrand and Schumer, are big favorites on Wall Street. Senator Schumer’s the protector of hedge funds. So, you know, when I’m sitting here in New York, the Tea Party was rejected in the governor’s race here. But when in this country you have a choice between corporate Democrats on the one hand and Tea Party sort of fanatical extreme right-wingers, that’s not a lot of a choice. And I think what’s really sad is some good people did go down today nationwide. One of them was Senator Russ Feingold. There’s no state where Obama’s popularity plummeted as fast as it did in the state of Wisconsin, and that really brought Russ Feingold down.

JAY: And why was that?

COHEN: It’s what I talked to Real News Network about many, many months ago, which is swing voters expected change, and when they didn’t get change, significant change from Obama, they looked somewhere else for change. And Feingold is a many-term senator, and he got punished because of Obama’s unpopularity in Wisconsin. Let’s face it: you know, we have a horrible economy, and what the people wanted was jobs, and instead of being bold on jobs, the White House gave us a weak stimulus. The country, people are losing their homes, and instead of a freeze on foreclosures for middle-class homeowners, Obama bailed out the banks, which didn’t loan the money to middle-class people anyhow. He dithered. You can’t dither when there’s a recession or a depression going on. If you’re in the White House and you do halfway measures and corporatized health-care reform, you don’t do anything on jobs, you do almost nothing about foreclosures, the independent voters who came to you in November 2008 are going to go somewhere else, even if it’s behind charlatans from the Tea Party.

JAY: Now, Feingold was somebody that wasn’t on the Obama agenda, more or less. He stood up to the administration on quite a few things. So for people who don’t know much about Feingold, first of all tell us who he is and what he stood for.

COHEN: Russ Feingold is one of the most independent Democratic senators. When the anti-civil liberties Patriot Act was passed shortly after the 9/11 terror attacks, it was a vote of 99 to 1—Feingold voted against the Patriot Act, which hurt civil liberties. He voted against the bailout of the banks, one of the only senators from either party. So he truly is an independent. But he got taken down in this anti-Obama landslide. And, again, if you look at [the] popularity of Obama in the state of Wisconsin, it just really sank from very high to very low, and Feingold was collateral damage there. And it’s just—it’s a sad situation. People that are interviewed by Real News Network have been saying for months and months and months, if you don’t have a bold policy coming out of the White House for jobs and for saving people’s homes, Democrats will be punished. And I feel sorry not so much about Obama but for good people like Russ Feingold. One of the few victories for the White House is they were out in California, the Justice Department was speaking out against decriminalization of marijuana, and that appears to have gone down to defeat. It’s just—it’s sad when they can take bold action defeating marijuana decriminalization, but the White House can’t take bold action for jobs or for stopping foreclosures of middle-class homeowners.

JAY: Now, why wasn’t Feingold able to differentiate himself? I mean, is there part of the problem that he is not himself articulating a coherent economic vision? Because to some extent this message of less government and less taxes and all of that, it seems to be penetrating.

COHEN: I think that it’s hard for Feingold—who is running against a self-financed millionaire—it’s hard for Feingold to differentiate himself from the party and all the ads in Wisconsin trying to link Feingold to Obama. And apparently it worked. It’s a sad thing that, again, this didn’t have to happen. A bold Democratic leader in the White House could have—beginning in January 2009, could have had a very different result in November 2010.

JAY: So President Obama’s not likely to become that bold leader. He’s going to be in a war with the far right now controlling the House. So what should people be doing?

COHEN: What’s needed in this country is independent politics. We have a vibrant independent media that every day shows people that the problem in the country isn’t just extreme right-wingers; it’s often corporatized Democrats. So what we need are new organizations. I think you’re going to see in a couple of weeks new online organizing. You’re going to probably see some new, bolder campaigns for jobs, pushing Obama to make the fight that he should have made in 2009, which was a fight for jobs rather than a fight for a bureaucratic, pharmaceutical-industry endorsed health-care proposal that won’t be helping a lot of people for years to come, if ever. And so I think what’s really clear, I think, to independent-minded people, progressive-minded people, is that new independent organizing is needed, new organizations, online and offline, that don’t take their leadership from Harry Reid or Obama or White House operatives. You’ve got to chart an independent course. The problem with liberal and progressive grassroots groups, groups like MoveOn, is that they adhered, they attached themselves to a White House that was not acting for change. And if you’re the left and you seem to be defending the status quo, which isn’t helping middle-class and working-class people, then you will be thrown out, like anyone who defends the status quo when the economy is this bad. Progressives have to be independent. They can’t be defenders of the status quo. New groups are needed, new elected officials are needed, and some of these corporate Democrats need to be taken on in primary fights.

JAY: Thanks very much for joining us, Jeff.

COHEN: Thank you.

JAY: Thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.

End of Transcript

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Jeff Cohen was the director of the Park Center for Independent Media at Ithaca College, and he was the founder of the media watchdog FAIR. He is the co-founder of