Where Is Everybody?

While all eyes were placed firmly on Tea Party electoral breakthroughs such as Rand Paul in Kentucky, other disturbing trends also developed behind the scenes of this round of elections.  This was the first election since the Supreme Court decision that reversed the limits on corporate campaign donations by affirming corporate personhood.  The money did certainly flow in 2010 and it served to shape the outcome of at least some of the elections.  Ominous unnamed sources funded dozens of attack ads in contested races, Political Action Committee (PAC) funds flowed freely and the unions continued their failed strategy of footing the bill for the Democratic Party.  The sheer scale of the spending combined with restrictive ballot access laws, served to further drown out independent candidates.  Voters responded by staying home.

Money, Money, Money

Overall spending increased rapidly in 2010.  The Center for Responsive Politics (CRP) reports that more than $4 billion, or the annual GDP of Mongolia, was spent on this election.  The Supreme Court decision on corporate personhood seems to have had the biggest impact on outside spending.  Outside spending relates to activities such as the purchases of election ads, making phone calls for candidates and other electoral activities on behalf of candidates.  Spikes in outside spending normally occur during presidential years and then wane in by-elections.  Until this year.

CRP tallies of outside spending show it surging in 2010 to nearly $300 million, a level equal to the heavily financed presidential election of 2008.  In a reversal of 2008, Conservative concerns outspent Liberal ones by nearly two to one.  Much of the Conservative money, some $32 million, was funneled through Chambers of Commerce in support of Republican candidates.  Who did this spending is still unknown, as contributors evaded or delayed disclosure of their contributions.

One race that attracted serious money was the hotly contested Colorado Senate race in which Democrat Michael Bennet squeaked by Republican Ken Buck by less than 1% of the vote.  Bennet spent more than $10 million on the race and received more than $1 million from a Democratic Party PAC.  The outside spending was equally remarkable.  Nearly $6 million was spent on advertisements opposing Bennet and another $2.4 million to support Buck.  The total spending in this race amounted to around $34 million, a figure equal to the monthly GDP of Caribbean island-nation of Dominica.

Unions: The Definition of Insanity

Albert Einstein’s definition of insanity is useful when evaluating the role of unions in elections.  Einstein understood insanity as “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”  If you think of the trade unions as people, they are in serious need of mental counseling.  They keep on doing the same thing, supporting the Democrats, with the same results, working people get screwed.  This time, the strategy of the union leadership was to do this same thing again, but on a much grander scale.

Union leaders took advantage of the new rules by avoiding the annoying formality of setting up a separate fund for campaign donations.  This year they spent directly from member’s dues.  And, boy did they spend.  The Service Employees International Union and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees alone spent about $37 million in outside spending on electoral races.  Union money flowed throughout the country with little affect on policy proposals – the Democrats are still firmly committed to budget cutting or in Washington-speak “restructuring entitlements.”

The folly of union electoral politics was most clearly on display in the race for Governor in New York State.  Here, Democratic candidate, Andrew Cuomo, left the heavily union-financed Working Families Party (WFP) twisting in the wind for weeks. The WFP offered their endorsement, but Cuomo refused, thereby putting the group’s ballot line in jeopardy.  Cuomo eventually relented, but forced WFP officials to sign off on his proposals to cut the state budget – including cutbacks on unionized public workers!  With the WFP politically neutered, Cuomo went on an embarrassing media offensive against public employees unions targeting them for concessions.  Though the WFP kept its ballot access, it sold its soul and with it the last progressive cover for the trade union’s suicidal Democratic Party insider strategy.

Unintended Consequences

Things did not work out exactly as planned on Tuesday.  Though big-moneyed interests did manage to shape some outcomes, the trend toward self-financed mega-rich candidates took a hit.  This is not entirely negative as long as the inane notion that fueled it – that these candidates were too rich to give in to special interests – dies along with it.

The CRP reports that only 1/5 of the 58 Federal level candidates who contributed at least $500,000 to their own campaigns achieved victory.  The rest faced spectacularly expensive defeats.  The poster-child for this reversal was Republican Senate Candidate in Connecticut Linda McMahon.  McMahon coughed up more than $46 million in profits from her wrestling empire yet still came up empty.

While self-financed narcissists were going down in flames, there were also some small signs of grassroots resistance.  In New York, thousands of disaffected progressives and independents found their way to Green Party candidate Howie Hawkins.  Hawkins’ vote total of more than 57,000 surpassed previous Green efforts and secured permanent ballot access for the party.  Simultaneously, in Ohio, Socialist Party USA candidate for Senate Dan LaBotz captured the attention of more than 27,000 voters.  Though LaBotz and the Socialists were practically starting from scratch in the state, they managed to present socialist politics in a manner that drew some amount of attention.  Both Hawkins and LaBotz bucked the money trends as they ran their campaigns on the cheap and got the most out of small individual contributions.

Where is Everybody?

Despite all the money spent.  Despite all the attack commercials.  Despite the unrelenting reports on 24/7 political news channels, the American people still did not turn out to vote.  The United States Election Project reports that the average turn out was around 41%.  Heavily contested races peaked out just above 50% while other states hovered around the high 30’s.  Anecdotal evidence also suggests that turnout among African-American voters was far lower than the 2008 Presidential election.  Overall, for the entire country, people just stayed home.

The explanation for all this is exceedingly simple.  Save the moralistic homilies about the duty of people to vote.  The American people get at least one part of the problem.  There are no significant choices offered at the ballot box.  There is a basic agreement between the Democrats and Republicans over issues ranging from budget cuts, to free trade, to military strategy and expenditures.  No amount of well-financed public relations can effectively dress up this agreement as difference.  The American voters know this, so they stay home.

The next step, of course, is to build that alternative.  This process is likely to take place primarily outside of the electoral arena.  With the Obama Deficit Commission preparing to issue a report in December that is widely expected to propose dramatic cutbacks in public programs such as Social Security and Medicare, there will be plenty of issues to organize around.  Protest politics will come back to the US.  Whether this reappearance will be represented in the electoral arena remains to be seen.  Certainly, thanks to the Supreme Court decision on corporations, there will be powerful interests lining up to prevent such manifestations.

Billy Wharton is a writer, activist and co-chair of the Socialist Party USA. He can be reached at: whartonbilly@gmail.com. Read other articles by Billy, or visit Billy's website.

4 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. Don Hawkins said on November 7th, 2010 at 4:43am #

    There will be powerful interests lining up to prevent such manifestations that is probably true Billy and like you wrote doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Kim wrote a comment in another post far far away in space and time and said how can progressives and Liberals keep voting for the Democrats when there polices keep wreaking havoc on other lands not exact words Kim used but close. Let me say am doing my part not to do the same thing over today. Suppose to set the clock’s back are we will I kept mine the same and plan to do that all year. This Christmas instead of celebrating Christmas am going to celebrate space time. Will people think am crazy who cares because after I explain it to them why am doing this I’ll bet the men join me some of them. It is my opinion that the people we see and hear on TV or many we read on the Internet leaders in there field of expertise don’t have the slightest idea what the hell they are doing. Let me rephrase that I know they don’t have the slightest idea what they are doing I mean if you had the mind of a Hollywood starlit you could see it or maybe a professor of economics at Harvard you could see it then again maybe not. Anyway it’s Sunday I was going to change that and make it Saturday but probably going to far and there are powerful interests lining up alright to prevent such manifestations but remember all done in a little place called Oz. Where is everybody?

  2. Don Hawkins said on November 7th, 2010 at 6:30am #

    In the land of Oz what’s going on today? Not much sort of the same thing over again and I see the leader of the free World is in India and just what the leader’s are doing is a good question. Deciding the course for the human race and other life forms on Earth. Probably not although they might like to think so. There are some people who could help with a course for human’s and just where are they today? Somewhat fighting off the leaders of the free World. One heck of a place the third planet from the Sun.

  3. Don Hawkins said on November 7th, 2010 at 6:57am #

    Here’s something that is not the same thing over again go to google and put in GOES-15 check out the Sun today. Yes those wild and crazy scientists from NASA with I might add bad data such bad data who for the most part know there are not God’s floating in space or if there is probably very small but when combined a powerful force indeed. If you do do that not so much the rather bright spot on the Sun today bottom left but the dark spot’s middle that could change a few things here on Earth. Then again you could do what am going to do today make a list and check it twice. Why do I write this because I just watched CNN then Fox and at least here in the States all is well people are still buying little plastic things and a few are buying big plastic things and of course in say New York City someone is sleeping in a cardboard box and a man standing on the corner and as people pass by saying thank’s for all the fish and the passers by in there fancy clothes in to much of a hurry to even hear or see.

  4. Don Hawkins said on November 7th, 2010 at 7:34am #

    Plato stated, “Unless philosophers bear kingly rule in cities or those who are now called kings and princes become genuine and adequate philosophers, and political power and philosophy are brought together . . . there will be no respite from evil for cities.”

    Hay where’s Bozh I’ll bet he might have a few words on that did he get mad again? The king’s the princes the queen’s the pol’s the cia and on and on and can they forgive a child of being afraid of the dark or maybe just a few or not at all?