FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

Where is Everybody?

While all eyes were placed firmly on Tea Party electoral breakthroughs such as Rand Paul in Kentucky, other disturbing trends also developed behind the scenes of this round of elections. This was the first election since the Supreme Court decision that reversed the limits on corporate campaign donations by affirming corporate personhood. The money did certainly flow in 2010 and it served to shape the outcome of at least some of the elections. Ominous unnamed sources funded dozens of attack ads in contested races, Political Action Committee (PAC) funds flowed freely and the unions continued their failed strategy of footing the bill for the Democratic Party. The sheer scale of the spending combined with restrictive ballot access laws, served to further drown out independent candidates. Voters responded by staying home.

Money, Money, Money

Overall spending increased rapidly in 2010. The Center for Responsive Politics (CRP) reports that more than $4 billion, or the annual GDP of Mongolia, was spent on this election. The Supreme Court decision on corporate personhood seems to have had the biggest impact on outside spending. Outside spending relates to activities such as the purchases of election ads, making phone calls for candidates and other electoral activities on behalf of candidates. Spikes in outside spending normally occur during presidential years and then wane in by-elections. Until this year.

CRP tallies of outside spending show it surging in 2010 to nearly $300 million, a level equal to the heavily financed presidential election of 2008. In a reversal of 2008, Conservative concerns outspent Liberal ones by nearly two to one. Much of the Conservative money, some $32 million, was funneled through Chambers of Commerce in support of Republican candidates. Who did this spending is still unknown, as contributors evaded or delayed disclosure of their contributions.

One race that attracted serious money was the hotly contested Colorado Senate race in which Democrat Michael Bennet squeaked by Republican Ken Buck by less than 1% of the vote. Bennet spent more than $10 million on the race and received more than $1 million from a Democratic Party PAC. The outside spending was equally remarkable. Nearly $6 million was spent on advertisements opposing Bennet and another $2.4 million to support Buck. The total spending in this race amounted to around $34 million, a figure equal to the monthly GDP of Caribbean island-nation of Dominica.

Unions: The Definition of Insanity

Albert Einstein’s definition of insanity is useful when evaluating the role of unions in elections. Einstein understood insanity as “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” If you think of the trade unions as people, they are in serious need of mental counseling. They keep on doing the same thing, supporting the Democrats, with the same results, working people get screwed. This time, the strategy of the union leadership was to do this same thing again, but on a much grander scale.

Union leaders took advantage of the new rules by avoiding the annoying formality of setting up a separate fund for campaign donations. This year they spent directly from member’s dues. And, boy did they spend. The Service Employees International Union and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees alone spent about $37 million in outside spending on electoral races. Union money flowed throughout the country with little affect on policy proposals – the Democrats are still firmly committed to budget cutting or in Washington-speak “restructuring entitlements.”

The folly of union electoral politics was most clearly on display in the race for Governor in New York State. Here, Democratic candidate Andrew Cuomo left the heavily union-financed Working Families Party (WFP) twisting in the wind for weeks. The WFP offered their endorsement, but Cuomo refused, thereby putting the group’s ballot line in jeopardy. Cuomo eventually relented, but forced WFP officials to sign off on his proposals to cut the state budget – including cutbacks on unionized public workers! With the WFP politically neutered, Cuomo went on an embarrassing media offensive against public employees unions targeting them for concessions. Though the WFP kept its ballot access, it sold its soul and with it the last progressive cover for the trade union’s suicidal Democratic Party insider strategy.

Unintended Consequences

Things did not work out exactly as planned on Tuesday. Though big-moneyed interests did manage to shape some outcomes, the trend toward self-financed mega-rich candidates took a hit. This is not entirely negative as long as the inane notion that fueled it – that these candidates were too rich to give in to special interests – dies along with it.

The CRP reports that only 1/5 of the 58 Federal level candidates who contributed at least $500,000 to their own campaigns achieved victory. The rest faced spectacularly expensive defeats. The poster-child for this reversal was Republican Senate Candidate in Connecticut Linda McMahon. McMahon coughed up more than $46 million in profits from her wrestling empire yet still came up empty.

While self-financed narcissists were going down in flames, there were also some small signs of grassroots resistance. In New York, thousands of disaffected progressives and independents found their way to Green Party candidate Howie Hawkins. Hawkins’ vote total of more than 57,000 surpassed previous Green efforts and secured permanent ballot access for the party. Simultaneously, in Ohio, Socialist Party USA candidate for Senate Dan LaBotz captured the attention of more than 27,000 voters. Though LaBotz and the Socialists were practically starting from scratch in the state, they managed to present socialist politics in a manner that drew some amount of attention. Both Hawkins and LaBotz bucked the money trends as they ran their campaigns on the cheap and got the most out of small individual contributions.

Where is Everybody?

Despite all the money spent. Despite all the attack commercials. Despite the unrelenting reports on 24/7 political news channels, the American people still did not turn out to vote. The United States Election Project reports that the average turn out was around 41%. Heavily contested races peaked out just above 50% while other states hovered around the high 30’s. Anecdotal evidence also suggests that turnout among African-American voters was far lower than the 2008 Presidential election. Overall, for the entire country, people just stayed home.

The explanation for all this is exceedingly simple. Save the moralistic homilies about the duty of people to vote. The American people get at least one part of the problem. There are no significant choices offered at the ballot box. There is a basic agreement between the Democrats and Republicans over issues ranging from budget cuts, to free trade, to military strategy and expenditures. No amount of well-financed public relations can effectively dress up this agreement as difference. The American voters know this, so they stay home.

The next step, of course, is to build that alternative. This process is likely to take place primarily outside of the electoral arena. With the Obama Deficit Commission preparing to issue a report in December that is widely expected to propose dramatic cutbacks in public programs such as Social Security and Medicare, there will be plenty of issues to organize around. Protest politics will come back to the US. Whether this reappearance will be represented in the electoral arena remains to be seen. Certainly, thanks to the Supreme Court decision on corporations, there will be powerful interests lining up to prevent such manifestations.

BILLY WHARTON is a writer and activist whose articles have appeared in the Washington Post, the NYC Indypendent, Spectrezine and In These Times. He can be reached at whartonbilly@gmail.com

 

More articles by:

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

April 24, 2019
Susan Babbitt
Disdain and Dignity: An Old (Anti-Imperialist) Story
Adam Jonas Horowitz
Letter to the Emperor
Lawrence Davidson
A Decisive Struggle For Our Future
John Steppling
The Mandate for Israel: Keep the Arabs Down
Victor Grossman
Many Feet
Cira Pascual Marquina
The Commune is the Supreme Expression of Participatory Democracy: a Conversation with Anacaona Marin of El Panal Commune
Binoy Kampmark
Failed States and Militias: General Khalifa Haftar Moves on Tripoli
Dean Baker
Payments to Hospitals Aren’t Going to Hospital Buildings
Alvaro Huerta
Top Ten List in Defense of MEChA
Colin Todhunter
As the 2019 Indian General Election Takes Place, Are the Nation’s Farmers Being Dealt a Knock-Out Blow?
Charlie Gers
Trump’s Transgender Troops Ban is un-American and Inhumane
Barbara Nimri Aziz
Just Another Spring in Progress?
Thomas Knapp
On Obstruction, the Mueller Report is Clintonesque
Elliot Sperber
Every Truck’s a Garbage Truck
April 23, 2019
Peter Bolton
The Monroe Doctrine is Back, and as the Latest US Attack on Cuba Shows, Its Purpose is to Serve the Neoliberal Order
David Schultz
The Mueller Report: Trump Too Inept to Obstruct Justice
Geoff Beckman
Crazy Uncle Joe and the Can’t We All Just Get Along Democrats
Medea Benjamin
Activists Protect DC Venezuelan Embassy from US-supported Coup
Patrick Cockburn
What Revolutionaries in the Middle East Have Learned Since the Arab Spring
Jim Goodman
Don’t Fall for the Hype of Free Trade Agreements
Lance Olsen
Climate and Forests: Land Managers Must Adapt, and Conservationists, Too
William Minter
The Coming Ebola Epidemic
Tony McKenna
Stephen King’s IT: a 2019 Retrospective
David Swanson
Pentagon Claims 1,100 High Schools Bar Recruiters; Peace Activists Offer $1,000 Award If Any Such School Can Be Found
Gary Olson
A Few Comments on the recent PBS Series: Reconstruction: America After the Civil War
April 22, 2019
Melvin Goodman
The NYTs Tries to Rehabilitate Bloody Gina Haspel
Robert Fisk
After ISIS, a Divided Iraq, Wounded and Grief-Stricken
Binoy Kampmark
Julian Assange as Neuroses
John Laforge
Chernobyl’s Deadly Effects Estimates Vary
Kenneth Surin
Mueller Time? Not for Now
Cesar Chelala
Yemen: The Triumph of Barbarism
Kerron Ó Luain
What the “White Irish Slaves” Meme Tells Us About Identity Politics
Andy Piascik
Grocery Store Workers Take on Billion Dollar Multinational
Seiji Yamada – Gregory G. Maskarinec
Health as a Human Right: No Migrants Need Apply
Howard Lisnoff
Loose Bullets and Loose Cannons
Ricardo Alarcón de Quesada
Dreaming in Miami
Graham Peebles
Consuming Stuff: The Polluting World of Fashion
Robert Dodge
Earth Day: Our Planet in Peril
Weekend Edition
April 19, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Andrew Levine
What Will It Take For Trump to Get His Due?
Roy Eidelson
Is the American Psychological Association Addicted to Militarism and War?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Time is Blind, Man is Stupid
Joshua Frank
Top 20 Mueller Report “Findings”
Rob Urie
Why Russiagate Will Never Go Away
Paul Street
Stephen Moore Gets Something Right: It’s Capitalism vs. Democracy
Russell Mokhiber
Why Boeing and Its Executives Should be Prosecuted for Manslaughter
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail