Turning Towards Apathy

The Republicans of course, as the winners do in every election no matter how silly it sounds, are claiming a mandate in their election victory. Also, of course, just as in the campaign, they are unable to say what the mandate is for beyond stopping everything Obama wants to do, including, one must presume, getting up in the morning. In the campaign and since their win they have yet to say anything specific about what they would like to do, how they would like to govern—beyond the standard talking points of cutting corporate taxes and further gutting every safety net we have left.

We expect that from the Republicans and their lap dogs at Fox News. What is surprising is that I have heard from centrists and even some liberals the meme that the country has turned to the right, that we are even more a center right country now than we were two years ago (interesting, isn’t it, how the country’s political proclivities change with every election and even news cycle, if you listen to the pundits whose job is to keep you watching even when their is nothing to say).

The election results say no such thing, unless you believe that about 20% of us speak for all of us. (As has previously been pointed out, since 127 or so Americans funded 60% of the Super Pac money, it would be more accurate to say that the free speech—if you believe the idiocy that money is speech—of 127 rich guys have been allowed to drown out the speech of everyone else.) The New York Times today has a good analysis showing that this year was the lowest turnout in a federal election since the midterms of 1942, at 36.3 % of eligible voters. The Republican overall won by three or four points, so of that 36.3% a little more than half went to Republicans, so the Republican landslide was achieved with around 20% of eligible voters voting for it. Does it feel like Democracy yet?

I say this to those on the left and the center who are worried the country has turned to the right, because I have heard some of those same friends and pundits say that they are also worried about money in politics and voter suppression. My point is that you can’t have it both ways. Either money and voter suppression laws have skewed the results away from the actual will of the people, or the vote that was made does reflect the will of the people and we have become more conservative. I don’t find it logically possible to hold both ideas at the same time. Yet in our age of truthiness, it seems many people try to.

Here and elsewhere the case has already been strongly made about the influence of money in politics—and how the negative advertising itself suppresses the vote by making people so apathetic and disgusted they just stay home. (And, it must be said, a lot of that fault falls on those under 30, who made up 19% of the electorate in 2012 and only 13% this year. If those 6% who stayed home this time had voted, we would likely be looking at a Democratic landslide. We barely teach civics in school anymore, so it is hardly surprising that so many young people seem to believe we live in a monarchy with a single ruler and so think the only vote that matters enough to bother with is the one for president.)

We do know that in the immediate aftermath of the Supreme Court gutting the Voting Rights Act last year, 20 or so states passed new laws designed to suppress the vote of minorities and young people (so yes, it is not all their fault that their turnout was down); the demographics most likely to vote for Democrats. As Ari Berman shows in a piece of excellent reporting, while we cannot say for certain that voter suppression swung the election to the Republicans, there is good evidence that their margin of victory was very close to the number of voters who were disenfranchised and not allowed to vote. Taken together, the dark money and the voter suppression make it pretty clear that the election results were bought and not that they reflect the will of the people. (And yes, the Supreme Court decision and the voter suppression laws were bought with big dark money; they were not democratically enacted by the will of the people.)

It was good to see the news yesterday that Obama has worked out a climate deal with China. And as with his announcement about the Internet and the FCC a few days earlier, it begs the question why this wasn’t announced before the election. If it had been, we may now have a few more elected representatives than we do who would support the agreement and help strengthen it, rather than fight it simply because Obama wants it.


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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