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The Myth of the Spoiler: Why the Machine Elites Fear Democracy

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Spoiler arguments are part of an interlocking set of social control discourses that too often govern our thoughts and actions regarding elections and representational democracy.

While “the spoiler” is deployed on the wings of the “lesser of two evils” and “electability/inevitability,” it most resembles corporate-inspired arguments about austerity.

Spoiler arguments are the political analogue to the “austerity” claims enforced so ruthlessly by corporate elites. Under austerity “we are broke.” But, we must add: except for the trillions of dollars in cash that the big corporations and billionaires are sitting on — at the peak of their wealth — in the richest country in the history of the world. This artificial scarcity is then imposed on the people who, the 1% insists, will have to sacrifice their jobs, incomes, pensions, social services, and security.

In spoiler arguments, the elites insist — and far too many progressives  concede — there is a scarcity of votes. But, we must add: except for the 70-90 million non-voters that the dismal performance of government, triangulation, and our failure to organize have left disempowered and driven to the sidelines. This artificial scarcity of voters is then imposed on the people who are told by the corporate media to sacrifice their freedom, democracy, and political judgments by yielding to the parties and candidates they no longer believe in.

The spoiler trains us to think that sacrificing democracy to fear is clever tactic. That is exactly why the spoiler is one of the most powerful rhetorical weapons the machines have. It functions to scapegoat dissenters and limit political engagement and competition, when we really need more democracy, more choices, more voices.

Elections are truly spoiled because the existing parties either do not want the American people to participate or make no attempt to register and mobilize the 40% non-voting public or to engage the millions of independent voters.

Perhaps the most remarkable thing about social control discourse — given the wide acceptance of such ideas by seemingly rational people — is the degree to which these arguments are not based on facts. Speculation and ideology must masquerade as facts when facts threaten to undermine social control. So it is with “the spoiler.”

2000 Revisited

Since the election of 2000 is the most powerful reference for spoiler argument let’s unpack it.

The horse-race framing for elections has been incredibly effective in shaping the political outlooks of people who consider themselves liberal or progressive. Bush beats Gore “by a nose” in 2000 and we were told is the nose and not the horse that won or lost.

We were told, a million times over, that the 2000 election came down to 560 Florida voters that cast ballots for the Green Party candidate Ralph Nader. “A vote for the Green Party is a vote for Republicans,” goes the old saw.

It was not that Gore lost the votes of tens of thousands of white women who voted Republican by a huge margin of 53 % Bush to 44% Gore. Oh no, it was the 600 or so Nader voters.

It wasn’t that 12-13% of registered Democrats voted for Bush. It wasn’t that the Democratic base deserted the party and gave about 300,000 votes to Bush in Florida. That’s right, 12 times more Democrats votes for Bush than Nader. But no, no, no it was the 600 Green voters that elected Bush.

It wasn’t the 30-35%  of union members that vote Republican year after year. Nope.

It wasn’t that a 40% of eligible voters stayed home nationwide. Forget the 70 to 90 million voters that decide voting isn’t worth the trouble. Forget, forget.

It wasn’t that Gore could not win Tennessee, his home state where he served as a Congress-member and Senator for 16 years and where his father Al Gore Sr. had a long and distinguished record. Or that he could not win Arkansas the home state of his mentors the Clintons. Nah.

It wasn’t that we use an antiquated and antidemocratic electoral college system that Democrats and Republicans refuse to reform. It was the Green 600 for sure.

Or, as Michael Parenti so well demonstrates, that the Republicans stole the election.  And did again in 2004.

Or that Florida has the most draconian laws in the nation permanently disenfranchising people once convicted of a felony.

Or that many eligible voters were wrongly purged from the rolls as ex-felons they were not. Not our concern, no.

And, the list goes on and on.

The Supreme Court handed the election to Bush in one of the most politicized and nonsensical rulings in American history.

It wasn’t that the strategy of triangulation is a failure. That “third way” Democrats, led by the Clintons, abandoned, even attacked, their working class voter base and courted Wall Street. Its not that Gore was a loser and triangulation a danger to democracy. No, that cannot be it.

Spoiler is scapegoating.

So when someone raises the spoiler argument here is what I hear them really saying.

“Given our failure to organize the unorganized and motivate non-voters, we blame the opposition party to cover our shameful disregard for the working and poor.”

“Given my failure to contest power, I will blame whoever I have been told to blame so I blame the opposition.”

Pathetic.  The liberals doth protest too much, methinks.

What the Clinton Machine learned from 2000.

The Clinton machine learned that Jeb Bush is a visionary. Election fraud is easier than building your base. Steal an election and even the Supreme Court will endorse it and the people will accept it. So steal it. And when your game falters and triangulation comes tumbling down blame your opponent for your poor showing. They learned that control over the party machine is more important than the future of the country. Control over media helps to spin the blame.

What We Should Learn from 2000

The real lesson of 2000 is that triangulation, the strategy of the Clinton machine, is politically and practically bankrupt. Decades of moving the Democratic party to the right has left a huge political field up for grabs. This political field is otherwise known as the American working class or we the people: so Sanders, so Green Party, so Trump.

As far back as 2000, Jim Hightower documented the decline in the working class Democratic voting base.

These mostly are middle- and low-income folks, people making less than $50,000 a year. While they make up some 80 percent of the U.S. population, exit polls on Nov. 7 found that for the first time they’ve fallen to less than half of the voting population. As the Clinton-Gore-Lieberman Democrats have jerked the party out from under this core populist constituency, pursuing the money and adopting the policies of the corporate and investor elite, the core constituency of the party has — big surprise — steadily dropped away. In 1992, the under-$50,000 crowd made up 63 percent of voters. In 1996, after Clinton and Gore had relentlessly and very publicly pushed NAFTA, the WTO and other Wall Street policies for four years, the under-$50,000 crowd dropped to 52 percent of voters. After four more years of income stagnation and decline for these families under the regime of the Clinton-Gore “New Democrats,” the under-$50,000 crowd dropped this year to only 47 percent of voters.

And it has only gotten worse since the financial crisis of 2008.

Obviously, the main function of spoiler arguments is to keep people from voting or from voting for opposition candidates. But, a real opposition party is essential to changing the system.  And, while there are important differences between the Democrats and Republicans, under no conditions can either party be considered an opposition party.

That honor belongs to the Green Party.

The current two-party system will maintain a monopoly until the logic and power of that system is fundamentally altered or abolished. I have heard the collapse of the Republican party predicted over and over but always they return. We will never rid ourselves of this power sharing arrangement between Democrats and Republicans until the balance is disrupted. For that we need real opposition parties and real opposition candidates.

Kudos to Sanders and the Greens for leading a real opposition. And, for raising expectations. As the people come back into the electoral process the social control discourses lose their power.

There is no spoiler no matter how many times the corporate media trumpets these claims. There is nothing but our failure to contest power and the machine’s fear of democracy.

More articles by:

Richard Moser writes at befreedom.co where this article first appeared.

CounterPunch Magazine

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