FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Why People Vote Against Themselves

by SAM SMITH

It is always sad to see large numbers of people engaged in a politics that opposes their true self interest.

It is one of the things that defined the American south for a century after the Civil War.

It was what allowed the Nazis to take power in Germany.

And it is what happened  in Wisconsin’s recall election.

The reasons are numerous and varied but key to them is often a culture under great stress believing false promises being made to it by the powerful. White southern sharecroppers were taught to romanticize a plantation society they could never join and to blame blacks for their problems. For Germans the target was Jews and for Wisconsinites it was public unions.

While the scale and ultimate evil of these examples differ enormously, the strategy was the same: false stories, false demons and false solutions.

It is, however, the reality that Wisconsin faced badly and which greater America will face in coming months, so it may help to look at some other important factors affecting the state’s outcome:

Money

The right spent about $23 a vote to win in Wisconsin. Transferred to the fall election, that would mean – thanks to the despicable Citizens United ruling – any of the following could buy the election and still have  from 83 to 98 percent of their wealth left: Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, either of the Koch brothers, Geoge Soros, any of four Waltons, Michael Bloomberg or Mark Zuckerberg.

The media

Television remains the major source of information and misinformation for American families, who spend over six hours a day with their TVs on. The networks they are watching are overwhelmingly run by corporations whose bias is towards the right. To get a sense of how television affects our view of politics, notice how often TV journalists refer to a candidate’s ads as opposed to their actual positions. TV has made political propaganda equal to or superior to actual facts in its coverage. This doesn’t even have to be malicious. For example, last night Howard Fineman on MSNBC was pushing the Republican line that public employee pensions are a serious issue. If Fineman had bothered to look into the matter he would have found, as Robert Reich has reported, that “public-sector workers now earn 11 percent less than comparable workers in the private sector, and local workers 12 percent less. (Even if you include health and retirement benefits, government employees still earn less than their private-sector counterparts with similar educations.)” These days it is considered good journalism just to pass on the lies of politicians.

Extremist group culture

The secret of extremist groups is that they offer salvation with little demanded other than cash and loyalty. The Republican Party is increasingly sharing the characteristics of the KKK, the Church of Scientology or Skull & Bones, namely offering a safe haven without the need for thought.This has a powerful appeal to the troubled.

The collapse of civic education

One of the seldom discussed characteristics of corporate-driven school testing is that it takes major time away from those former activities in a school that made students good citizens able to function with others. The victims include not only civic education but joint activities – including the performing arts – that teach the young how to live in a community. Another victim is history. Where does a young person today learn about the role labor unions have played in making America the country it is? Or come to  understand the importance of a recall?:

The significance of this in Wisconsin was well described by Daily Kos: “Young people didn’t turn out. Only 16 percent of the electorate was 18-29, compared to 22 percent in 2008. That’s the difference between 646,212 and 400,599 young voters, or about 246,000. Walker won by 172,739 votes.”

Labor unions

Labor unions aren’t what they once were, not because the problems that created them don’t still exist, but like so many other American institutions they have become more often iconic instruments of power rather than effective advocates and practitioners of their own cause.  Unions have been losing members for quite a while, yet – with a few notable exceptions – not much imagination has been applied to the problem. For example, the labor movement could have launched a workers’ equivalent of the AARP, one of the powerful non profits in the country – creating its own constituency for organizing. Unfortunately, nothing like this happened.

The collapse of liberalism

In recent decades, liberalism has turned into a upscale social demographic rather than a political movement. As it has done so, its historic connections with the working class and labor have suffered badly. For example, Franklin Roosevelt’s labor secretary, Frances Perkins, was central to more progressive economic legislation than the entire liberal movement has been able to come up with in the past thirty years. It’s hard to get liberals excited anymore about issues like pensions or the minimum wage and eventually politics reflects this fact. Consider the example of the women’s movement, which – with a few exceptions like the group Nine to Five – has been stunningly uninvolved with the most oppressed women in the country, those of lower incomes and social class. Further, treating those you should be organizing as just a bunch of  Bible thumping, gun toting idiots doesn’t help much.

To be sure, not much of the above can be cured by November, but it may help to face a few of these facts head on and then start doing something about them.

Sam Smith edits the Progressive Review. He is the author of The Great American Repair Manual.

More articles by:

Sam Smith edits the Progressive Review.

January 22, 2018
Patrick Cockburn
It’s Time to Call Economic Sanctions What They Are: War Crimes
Jim Kavanagh
Behind the Money Curtain: A Left Take on Taxes, Spending and Modern Monetary Theory
Sheldon Richman
Trump Versus the World
Mark Schuller
One Year On, Reflecting and Refining Tactics to Take Our Country Back
Winslow Wheeler
Just What Earmark “Moratorium” are They Talking About?
W. T. Whitney
José Martí, Soul of the Cuban Revolution
Uri Avnery
May Your Home Be Destroyed          
Wim Laven
Year One Report Card: Donald Trump Failing
Jill Richardson
There Are No Shithole Countries
Bob Fitrakis - Harvey Wasserman
Are the Supremes About to Give Trump a Second Term?
Laura Finley
After #MeToo and #TimesUp
Howard Lisnoff
Impressions From the Women’s March
Andy Thayer
HuffPost: “We Really LOVED Your Contributions, Now FUCK OFF!”
Weekend Edition
January 19, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Dr. King’s Long Assassination
David Roediger
A House is Not a Hole: (Not) Caring about What Trump Says
George Burchett
How the CIA Tried to Bribe Wilfred Burchett
Mike Whitney
Trump’s Plan B for Syria: Occupation and Intimidation
Michael Hudson – Charles Goodhart
Could/Should Jubilee Debt Cancellations be Reintroduced Today?
Marshall Auerback – Franklin C. Spinney
Boss Tweet’s Generals Already Run the Show
Andrew Levine
Remember, Democrats are Awful Too
James Bovard
Why Ruby Ridge Still Matters
Wilfred Burchett
The Bug Offensive
Brian Cloughley
Now Trump Menaces Pakistan
Ron Jacobs
Whiteness and Working Folks
Jeffrey St. Clair
The Keeper of Crazy Beats: Charlie Haden and Music as a Force of Liberation
Robert Fantina
Palestine and Israeli Recognition
Jan Oberg
The New US Syria “Strategy”, a Recipe For Continued Disaster
ADRIAN KUZMINSKI
The Return of the Repressed
Mel Gurtov
Dubious Partnership: The US and Saudi Arabia
Robert Fisk
The Next Kurdish War Looms on the Horizon
Lawrence Davidson
Contextualizing Sexual Harassment
Jeff Berg
Approaching Day Zero
Karl Grossman
Disaster Island
Thomas S. Harrington
What Nerve! In Catalonia They are Once Again Trying to Swear in the Coalition that Won the Most Votes
Pepe Escobar
Rome: A Eulogy
Robert Hunziker
Will Aliens Save Humanity?
Jonah Raskin
“Can’t Put the Pot Genie Back in the Bottle”: An Interview with CAL NORML’s Dale Gieringer
Stepan Hobza
Beckett, Ionesco, and Trump
Joseph Natoli
The ‘Worlding’ of the Party-less
Julia Stein
The Myths of Housing Policy
George Ochenski
Zinke’s Purge at Interior
Christopher Brauchli
How Trump Killed the Asterisk
Rosemary Mason - Colin Todhunter
Corporate Monopolies Will Accelerate the Globalisation of Bad Food, Poor Health and Environmental Catastrophe
Michael J. Sainato
U.S Prisons Are Ending In-Person Visits, Cutting Down On Reading Books
Michael Barker
Blame Game: Carillion or Capitalism?
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail