Remember what a funk those of us on the left side of the political spectrum were in at this time last year? The Republican Party had just kicked butt in the 2010 midterm elections and the Tea Party was dominating the political conversation.
One year later, the Tea Party is losing steam, while the Occupy Wall Street movement has spread all over the country. Rather than solely focusing on the conservative issues of cutting taxes and slashing government programs for the middle and lower classes, Americans are paying attention to and discussing our vanishing middle class, the huge disparities of wealth, and the ways our system is rigged in favor of the top one percent.
How does the 2010 election factor into these welcome trends? Sometimes things have to get worse before they get better, which was exactly what happened after the GOP took control of the House last year.
First of all, when one party--no matter which one--takes control of every branch of government, it almost never works out well for that party. Whenever anything goes wrong, there is only one party to blame. After 2008, the scapegoat, by default, was the President and the Democratic Party. The right-wing media machine went on full attack mode, and as the economy continued to sour (in large part because of Republican obstruction), Democrats were blamed and then soundly defeated in the 2010 election.
But the good news for those of us on the left was that since Republicans controlled the House of Representatives, they had to do some actual governing, as well as take some share of responsibility for the outcome. Since the GOP has done all it can to block President Obama's agenda, tepid though it has been, and haven't come up with a viable plan of their own, they cannot believably claim innocence for the country's economic problems.
Occupy Wall Street by CNN
Suppose the Democrats had hung on and kept control of the House in 2010? President Obama and Congress could conceivably gotten more legislation passed and made strides to reverse the economic downturn and made things a little better for the average American. That could have released some pressure from the growing frustration and economic despair that would ultimately spark the Occupy Wall Street uprising. The structural unfairness of our political and economic system would still be in place, just slightly less onerous. The prospects of Tea Party and Republican gains in 2012 would look better than ever.
But that scenario didn't happen. Democrats were soundly trounced in 2010 and the economy continued to flounder. Conservative policies of austerity, resisted only weakly by the White House and Democrats, caused hardship for many, most notably young people with few job prospects, many of them unemployed college students and graduates with back-breaking student loan debts.
Without realistic hope for change, with more people losing jobs and homes, the economic pressures mounted. The example of Arab Spring uprisings encouraged a few young American activists to try something similar at ground zero of the most egregious wrongdoing, Wall Street. That spark started an occupy conflagration that continues to spread across this country and the globe.
The black cloud of major Republican gains in the 2010 election turned out to have an unexpected silver lining. The One Percent and their Republican and Tea Party allies overreached and a large segment of the American people hit their breaking point. More Americans are starting to open their eyes to the serious institutional dysfunction that characterizes our political and economic system, and are starting to take action against it. We are all awaiting the ultimate outcome.