Curtain Raiser

Priorities Are Few, Colltalers

This entire post could be an autopsy of the U.S. midterm elections, its catastrophic impact on the Democratic party, and what it meant to anyone south of a 100K income bracket, and north of a medium understanding of, say, reality as something verifiable by anyone.
We’ll get to that, if only briefly because it can easily become an exercise of self-flagellation and despair for non-millionaires and tolerant individuals. To prevent that, we’ve searched for some good news to serve first as a counterbalance for the week.
It wasn’t easy because we didn’t want to go all Pollyanna over our readers, just to produce a diabetes-inducing moment of relief. But we did find a few relatively positive stories to help everyone cope with the daily torrent of bad news flooding the headlines.
From a strictly humanitarian standpoint, we could lead with the release by North Korea of the two Americans, Kenneth Bae and Matthew Miller, who unwittingly became the latest paws in the ideological struggle between the U.S. and the Kim Jong-in regime.
To stay ‘local,’ we could also call promising the latest economic data, showing that unemployment has reached its lowest point since the recession started, and that President Obama is now willing to use executive power to pass some form of immigration reform.
Although low wages continue to be a deflating factor in the current economy, and for any immigration bill to survive a GOP congress, it’ll probably lack substantive backbone, both issues may represent an improvement, albeit modest, on the lives of millions.
On a global level, it’s also great that Pope Francis has excommunicated an Argentine pedophile priest, José Mercau, and demoted a powerful conservative American cardinal, Raymond Burke, in a seemingly rupture of the Catholic Church’s with its recent past.
It shows the leader of over a billion people concerned about the church’s rapidly eroding influence, declining numbers and diminishing relevance, and how crucial it is for him to reposition it as a moral alternative to the rise of religious intolerance in the world.
Now, about that autopsy. It’s hard to make an argument that any of these hard-sought gems of good news can offer a serious counterpoint for what the midterm elections may wind up costing to progressive segments of the American society.
Everyone and their crazy uncles seem to have a take on possible causes for such a lopsided defeat by Democrats. But while it’s clear that a lot – some say the majority of Americans – have lost at least something with the elections, money was its biggest winner.
So, giving credit where it’s due, blame should be placed at the doorstep of the U.S. Supreme Court, which opened a can of expensive worms with its ‘corporations-equal-to-people’ ruling, arguably its most misguided, and politically driven, decision so far.
Citizens United, along with the mangling of the historical 1965 Voting Act, stand as travesties because their absurdity doesn’t hide the fact that they’re unmistakably ideologically motivated, which is one thing the Founding Fathers did not want the court to be.
The 2013 decision to lift restrains placed on states known for their discriminatory practices against minority voters, had the immediate effect of curtailing voting registration. And the 2010 Citizens ruling flooded the electoral process of anonymous cash, which turned this one into the most expensive election of its kind, ever. Almost $4 billion are reported to have been poured into it.
The Supreme Court’s interference on the very accessibility of voting to low income, minority, and supposedly Democratic-inclined voters did count for a big handicap for the president’s party. But money supported and was spent almost equally by both parties.
So that can’t solely explain the Democrats’ big beating of 2014. In quick succession, then, other possibilities could be: redistricting, or gerrymandering; a low turnout; a conservative media, uninterested in covering campaign issues; and the fact that many candidates actually lacked a clear proposal agenda, and some even chose to distance themselves from the president’s few achievements.
About that turnout: preliminary studies reveal that an estimated 60% of the electorate did not show up to vote. And among those who did, young voters – the real contemporary swing demographics – represented a lower percentage that’s been in past elections.
Going beyond the bare skeleton of possible causes, including others not mentioned here, it’s worth finding out why the Democratic Party is losing its appeal among black, Latino, young voters, and even women, traditionally, the base of its constituency.
But enough of demographics; it’s the party itself that seems adrift. While ‘favorites’ got kicked out or lost to incumbents, progressive issues, such as raising minimum wages, workers rights, pot and gun reform, even abortion, have stealthily passed in many states.
That shows the disconnect between political representatives, ever so busy fund raising, and the matters that mobilize people. Or was it all because few showed spine when it counted? Who cares? A better quest is finding out what is keeping corrupt and mentally unbalanced politicians as perennial Washington residents, when it’s ever so clear where their economic and political allegiances lie.
An easy, and painful way, to emphasize that disconnect is the fact that the campaign of almost all candidates, both gubernatorial and to Congress, largely ignored some of the most relevant issues affecting our lives today, in the U.S. and abroad.
President Obama’s decision to send 1,500 additional troops to Iraq, for instance, was simply not in the horizon for those running on a so-called national security platform. Neither was an issue for ‘pro-jobs’ contenders the fact that Wall Street chiefs continue to profit from the general misery of an underpaid and overexploited American workforce. In both cases, just follow the money to find out why.
Candidates were also equally out of synch or tuned out to corporate attempts to kill Net Neutrality, or the administration’s relentless push against whistleblowers, investigative journalists like James Risen, or people like Edward Snowden and Chelsea Manning.
And many other issues (we sort of warned you, the list is long and depressing). In that sense, perhaps the beating was not out of place, and won’t mean much to ordinary citizens. Like the stuff that’s buried deep in your closet for years, you probably no longer need it.
What we do need (besides ending this post) is an injection of new blood, new ideas, a new social contract that restores to the electoral system its ability to promote real change. In that way, the reversal of Citizens United is, now more than ever, a priority.
As is voting integrity, increased accessibility to polling stations (why on earth can’t we vote with our smartphones?), even some level of accountability, so to prevent that only one third of the voter universe is granted governing power over the majority.
Not that you don’t already know this, but the one-sided promotion of a very rich strata of society, to the cost of everyone else, is simply unsustainable. Or as W.B. Yeats masterfully put it over a century ago, things fall apart; the center cannot hold.
Speaking of holding on, it’s very likely that it’ll get harder, before any improvement. Winter is coming; prepare accordingly. But even that shall pass too. In other words, ‘step on the gas and wipe that tear away.’ We’ll meet on the other side. Have a good one. WC

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