Historic!

That’s what they are all saying about the midterm results. They are actually only historic in that history repeats itself. Democrats and Republicans now know what the other felt like in 2006, when the Democrats swept and took over both houses of congress in the midterms of Bush’s second term. The coverage was nothing but bad theater, and the results only surprising to those who were still in denial about the effect of big dark money and the new voter suppression laws that were rushed into effect after the supreme court threw out key parts of the voting rights act last year.

I’ve seen the meme this morning that we need a new word to describe this midterm, as Obama used thumpin’ and shellacking to describe the defeat in the midterms of his first term. Well, the appropriate new word is obvious; buyout.

As reported in USA Today, 42 people contributed one third of the over $600 million raised and spent by super PACs this election cycle.
That is about three times as much in the 2010 midterms, for those of you who believe Citizens United really didn’t change anything.
(And I’m not saying that history repeats and nothing changes AND that it is different since Citizens United. The point is that the Citizens United decision locks in even more the status quo and is making it ever harder to get the change we need, to get our government working for the people.)

I’m sure those 42 people got their money’s worth. We can’t know for sure who funded which super PAC because the supreme court has said that money is speech and that this speech can be anonymous, and loud. According to the same article, super PACs outspent the political parties by more than 107 million dollars in this cycle. Feeling good, are we, about chipping in that $3 contribution that the dozens of emails you got every day begged for? Believing it made a difference?

Let’s look at the senate and see if money played any apparent role in who won the races. This information is available from many sources.
While it is true–as the Atlantic Journal-Constitution and the Sunlight Foundation report–that three of the five biggest super PAC donors this year were liberals, plenty of money was spent on both sides. Let’s look at what was spent in the key senate races that flipped from Democrat to Republican hands and gave control of the senate to the Republicans.

While some of these results aren’t definitively final, it’s unlikely any, or at most one, will flip from their current status when the final few votes are counted. Much of the data on money comes from Open Secrets. The vote totals I got from CNN and they can easily be found in many places. The dollar totals here are outside money—that is, money not spent officially by candidates and their parties (dollar totals do include money spent by political Party Committees—yes, the distinctions get complicated, and as long as they are confusing, those with the money are happy), but by outside super PACs, which are not supposed to coordinate with the candidates, though they can coordinate with each other. And, as their donors are completely secret, it is impossible for us citizens to really have any idea who they coordinated with. And with the Republicans taking over, who knows, this could be the last time we are even allowed as much information as we are now. The chart at Open Secrets divides the money into spent into “for Democrats,” “against Democrats,” “for Republican,” and “against Republicans.” I’m going to total it up, so for Democrats includes money spent for Democrats and against Republicans and when I say for Republicans it includes money spent for Republicans and against Democrats.
I think these are the eight senate races that flipped a seat from Democrat to Republican.

1. ARKANSAS:
Prior, the Democratic incumbent—333,535 votes
Cotton, the Republican challenger—478,388 votes
Senate seat flips from Democrat to Republican.

Outside super PAC Dark Money spent:
For Democrats: $15,320,845
For Republicans: $24,003,348
DARK MONEY WINS

2. ALASKA:
(Only 73% of the vote has been counted)
Begich, the Democratic incumbent—102,054 votes
Sullivan, the Republican challenger—110,203 votes

Outside super PAC Dark Money spent:
for Democrats: $23,268,040
for Republicans: $17,444,923
DARK MONEY LOSES (pending final results)

3. IOWA:
Open seat, with Democrat Harkin retiring
Braley, Democrat—491,669 votes
Ernst, Republican—586,856 votes
Seat flips to Republicans

Outside super PAC Dark Money spent:
for Democrats: $15,693,106
for Republicans: $32,280,816
DARK MONEY WINS

4. NORTH CAROLINA:
Hagan, Democratic incumbent—1,364,758 votes
Tillis, Republican challenger—1,413,269
Seat flips to Republicans

Outside super PAC Dark Money spent:
for Democrats: $42,100,841
for Republicans: $34,660,699
DARK MONEY LOSES

5. COLORADO:
Udall, Democratic incumbent—844.006 votes
Gardner, Republican challenger—923,883 votes
Seat flips to Republicans

Outside super PAC Dark Money spent:
for Democrats: $35,875,785
for Republicans: $33,493,454
DARK MONEY LOSES

6. MONTANA:
open seat, Democrat Tester retiring
Curtis, Democrat—145,343 votes
Daines, Republican—210,524
Seat flips to Republicans

Outside super PAC Dark Money spent:
for Democrats: $489,538
for Republicans: $ $555,159
DARK MONEY WINS

7. SOUTH DAKOTA:
open seat, Democrat Tim Johnson retiring
Weiland, Democrat—82,408 votes
Rounds, Republican—140,721 votes
Pressler, Independent—47,728 votes
Seat flips to Republicans

Money Spent:
for Democrats: $2,816,069
for Republicans: $1,665,142
DARK MONEY LOSES

8. WEST VIRGINIA:
open seat, Democrat Jay Rockefeller retiring
Tennant, Democrat—155,396 votes
Capito, Republican—279,901 votes

Money spent:
for Democrats: $247,303
for Republicans: $751,747
DARK MONEY WINS

It can be difficult to get exact counts on money. NBC gives the totals spent on what they have as the ten key senate races as $429 million, or $230 million spent by Republicans to $198 million spent by Democrats on radio and television advertising. Hard to think there is anyone who didn’t see the ads dozens of times in the markets where they were shown.

So looking at pure dollar figures, the forces of Dark Money won four races and lost four races (in the spending game). They won all the races in the results of flipping the seat to the Republican side. And if it had gone the other way, and the Democrats gained the eight seats, the loser would still be the American people. Do we really want elections that are funded by 42 rich people? Is that how democracy works?

And ask yourself this: Do you know anyone who was excited to vote by all the political ads they saw on television? I didn’t. Along with everyone I know, I simply wanted it to be over, to be done with being inundated by ads. That also is not democratic, and it is the goal of all the Dark Money spent on both sides; to convince the voter it doesn’t matter, and there is no reason to be involved or vote. That also is not democracy.

And here is the larger point. There is just too much money spent on the races. For all the problems we have, all the things we should be spending money on, and instead, we spend it on this. The total, just on the eight races listed above, which is a fraction of what was spent nationally, was:
$280,696,815

Imagine the number of teachers who could have been hired. The number of bridges that could have been built. The number of wind farms that could have been built. By ignoring the needs of our country and spending so much on elections, we are jeopardizing our future as a nation, as a democracy.

How do we change it? Well, we need those 42 people who financed a third of the dark money (and all the others in the next tier below them) to spent their money differently. They won’t do it voluntarily. So we need to tax them. And that won’t happen until we change Washington. And unfortunately, that probably won’t happen until there is another Great Depression that really wakes people up and and we elect a new Roosevelt who will actually bring about good change.

For distraught Democrats, take heart. It’s all a game, and in two years it will be your turn to win. In 2016, there will be twice as many Republican senate seats as Democratic seats up for reelection, the reverse of this year. All of which means this election was, despite the salivating talking heads, not in any way a repudiation of Obama or his agenda. (I mean, the Dems who lost all ran from the Obama agenda. The ones who embraced it—Durbin in IL, Merkley in Oregon, etc., won.) It was simply a matter of who was up for reelection this time, and that history repeats, and like all second term midterms the party not in the white house wins big. So go ahead, Republicans, get all excited, believe the hype that this time it really is a repudiation of liberalism and that you will have a permanent Republican majority. Have your fun for two years. And see how you do when you are the majority and have to govern, not simply obstruct. Things will cycle in two years. They always do. It’s part of the game.

All the money spent could not prevent the Democratic candidates, as a whole, from acting, as Jon Stewart said, like kittens curled into a ball hoping the Republicans wouldn’t kick them too hard in the head. Just part of the game that is always played. As long as the Washington power elites remain in power, they really don’t care much which party is in control. (If you don’t think it is all just a game to keep those in power in power, regardless of party, read “This Town: Two Parties and a Funeral, Plus, Plenty of Valet Parking in America’s Gilded Capital” by Mark Leibovich.)

As for the complete repudiation and mandate meme, well, despite all the dark money, some people actually did vote for senate candidates.
Republican candidates got 9,531,603 votes
Democratic candidates got 8,813,407 votes
So clearly the only conclusion is that 100% of the American people have rejected everything about the Obama agenda.

The makeup of the senate will now be 52 Republicans, and 45 Democrats, with a couple independents and a couple races still to be called.
What that means in our strange system, is that with just over half the senators, the Republicans will get to chair 100% of the committees in the senate and control 100% of the agenda. That has been just as absurd when the Democrats were in control.

It is also not a repudiation as much as a demonstration that voters have no idea. In Alaska, the Republican won handily while so did a ballot measure to raise the minimum wage. Did voters not know the Republicans are against raising the minimum wage? It hasn’t exactly been a secret. In Colorado they threw out the incumbent senator to elect a Republican who still supports a personhood amendment (despite his waffling and backtracking), while they also defeated a personhood measure on the ballot by about two to one. More than a repudiation of Obama, the results are a demonstration of voter disconnect.
(On the down side, big agra like Monsanto again defeated GMO labeling measures in Colorado and Oregon, so there is still nowhere in the United States where you have the right to know what is in the food you buy and eat. How is that freedom, Republicans? Oh right, it’s just freedom for corporations you are concerned with.)

In 2012, though Republicans won many more house seats, in total across the country a million more votes were cast for Democratic House candidates than for Republicans (thanks to the gerrymandering, the Republicans won more seats). I’m guessing the same is true this year. The information is not easy to find, and I don’t have time to go through and add the totals of 435 races. You can find plenty of information on how many seats were won and even how much money was spent. How many votes were cast, well, I guess if they made a big deal of that, we might get the idea our votes don’t really matter and we’d get upset, and realize that the majority party in Washington represents a minority of the people, and that would keep them (the politicians and the pundits and the media) from being able to keep playing their power games in secret.

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About JP

We're two guys who met in college, in 1980. We've stayed in touch, and like to talk politics, current events, music and religion. JP is nore liberal than Sid, but not in every way. We figure that dialogue stimulates ideas, moderates perspective, and is in general friendly. These are things we need badly in these dangerous times. The blog name is taken from a song by Bruce Cockburn.
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