Electoral Nihilism

Elections are revealing for what they hide, in the case of the US midterms just completed: a bludgeoning of American political consciousness so as to reduce understanding to such superficial outcries as gridlock in government, ego-driven politicians, a failure to do the nation’s business, etc. Little if any word on the SUBSTANCE of policy-making: war, intervention, drone assassination, massive surveillance, increasing disparities of wealth, and concentration in industry, banking, media ownership, once more etc. For the list of systemic, structural, economic, and cultural developments, all pointing to the militarization and cartelization of US capitalism as an integrated societal-wide phenomenon, should by rights be the core of citizens’ critical awareness, and instead has been swept into the mental/ideological black hole, by means of bipartisan near-unanimity, of electoral nihilism. Bitch aplenty, line up vocally with blue or red banners, just DON’T look closely at, let alone protest against, an emergent fascist formation each day seeking further cohesion.

The midterms were a joke—issueless where it counted most, viz., on the most fundamental questions of policy and social direction. A referendum on Obama’s performance? Hardly; seemingly inconceivable, his own party found him too radical for popular consumption—which speaks volumes about how the Democratic party has wholly capitulated, in the name of War Liberalism, to the imperatives of American global hegemony and ultra-corporatism, presided over by a political-military caste themselves carrying water for a System predicated on expansion and repression rooted in its class structure, political culture, and historical DNA: the last, capitalism first, last, and always, assisted when needed by ethnocentrism, xenophobia, and of course racism, tied together in a red-white-blue-ribboned package of patriotism. With that collective, rigidified psychoanalytic defensive formation (itself merely the surface of what lay below, the concrete decision-making directed to world power and dominance), how expect those poor Democrats as well as everyone else to stand up to ruling-group—yes, such exists, though not in the tidy terms of the 1% or 0.1% of the Occupy Movement—pressures for knuckling down or under?

Obama deserves execration, not isolation. Running away from him, as happened in the midterms, is not good enough. From proverbial dogcatcher and city council member to the august halls of Congress, even to remain a Democrat is to have the BLOOD of Obama’s assassinations, his pompous/dangerous confrontations with Russia and China, his contempt for civil liberties, on their hands. The party, having flunked the moral choice of democracy vs. incipient-to-ripening fascism, has no right to exist any longer. Nor is Obama a causal force (that gives him too much historical significance!), the party consecutively marching rightward following the New Deal, as the more sophisticated strategic arm of US capitalism, providing liberal gloss to the main thrust of deregulated monopolism, as juxtaposed to tried-and-true Republican right-wing reaction, to be depended on for maintaining labor weakness, low corporate taxes, and a social climate of restrictive liberties. Both major parties are needed; they complement each other, while keeping the people safe, dumb, orderly.

The election results? Why should one even give a damn? If the Democratic showing had been stronger, the reinforcement of false consciousness would surely follow—even down to dogcatcher. And now the Republican control of both Houses of Congress—how shattering is that, when Democrats temporized on war, international law and obligation, comprehensive health care, arresting the forces of climate change, regulating the entire machinery of capitalism? For some time, on the essentials of democratic government, there has been but ONE PARTY, and that, working against a people’s society in every way. And oh boy, 2014 is hailed as the dress rehearsal for 2016 and the presidential election. Hillary makes Margaret Thatcher look like Rosa Luxemburg—the viperous sting to working people and global peace, in sum, the ideal candidate of the Democrats, to be matched by (not an easy thing to differentiate their candidate from her, given Hillary’s having already taken up the outer bounds of reactionary foreign and domestic policy) a Republican who reduces the other party’s platform and campaign themes to still more platitudinous levels. Whomever wins, critical political consciousness loses, and strike one more nail in the coffin of democracy.


The media call attention to alleged differences between the parties in order to keep alive the fiction of democracy in America. Out of the box early was the New York Times reporter Peter Baker (who along with David Sanger seems accorded authoritative standing in the paper and the Washington press corps), whose article, “President Obama Left Fighting for His Own Relevance,” (Nov. 5), provides an initial take on the significance of the midterms. Baker writes, “Two things were clear long before the votes were counted on Tuesday night: President Obama would face a Congress with more Republicans for his final two years in office, and the results would be seen as a repudiation of his leadership.” He emphasizes, however, Obama’s refusal to see this as a repudiation, instead “an electoral map… stacked against him,” and because “his own party kept him off the trail… he never really got the chance to make his case.” To Baker’s credit, he doesn’t entirely buy the explanation: “Sagging in the polls and unwelcome in most competitive races across the country, Mr. Obama bristled as the last campaign that would influence his presidency played out while he sat largely on the sidelines. He privately complained that it should not be a judgment on him.”

Yet Baker like others finds a constructive side, Obama’s uphill struggle for the people: “Mr. Obama now faces a daunting challenge in reasserting his relevance in a capital where he will be perceived as a lame duck. If the hope-and-change phase of his presidency is long over, he wants at least to produce a period of progress and consolidation to complete his time in the White House.” The Profiles-In-Courage myth redux, here sprinkled with comments of aides (“’He’s going to be aggressive’”), is tempered with new-found statesmanship of reaching accommodation with Republicans on issues that matter. Fol-de-rol so far as substance, the reporter’s thoughts instead on repairing acrimony between the parties, as though itself the primary issue before the American people. Bakes closes with a quotation from Anita Dunn, a former Obama adviser: “’The message for anybody who’s in power is that voters are looking for a change in how they approach getting things done.” Getting things done, no matter what, wins the day.

My New York Times Comment on the Baker article, same date, follows:

Repudiation of Obama–but for the wrong reasons. The country treats him as though he was a Leftist and accordingly shifts still further to the Right. The problem is less Obama than America, a rancid, belligerent people bent on militarism and global hegemony; and because Obama delivered only half-way, only drone assassination, confrontation with Russia and China, Special Ops covert warfare against popular movements, the electorate turns on him for not going far enough in a protofascistic direction.

Obama deserves no-one’s respect. Like Clinton, a friend of Wall Street and financial deregulation, he has brought disgrace to a once New-Deal oriented progressive Democratic party, itself now morally bankrupt. In sum, the mid-term elections prove nothing: two parties so close together, ideologically, economically, politically, that the US is moving increasingly to the posture of Fortress America, bent on ever more destructive international policy. If we can’t stay on top, we’ll pull the rest of the world down with us.

Obama has been repudiated for not going to the mat with China and Russia, although in fact his EU-NATO and TPP policies, and a besotted “defense” budget, suggest he has. Good riddance to confidence man supremo!

Norman Pollack has written on Populism. His interests are social theory and the structural analysis of capitalism and fascism. He can be reached at pollackn@msu.edu.

Norman Pollack Ph.D. Harvard, Guggenheim Fellow, early writings on American Populism as a radical movement, prof., activist.. His interests are social theory and the structural analysis of capitalism and fascism. He can be reached at pollackn@msu.edu.