In Midterm Elections Farce, Public Ignored by Both Parties

by Michael Meurer, Truthout | Op-Ed –

2014 election volunteers

Volunteers for the New Hampshire Democrats group inflate noisemakers before the Jefferson-Jackson Dinner, an annual Democratic fundraising celebration, in Manchester, N.H., Oct. 16, 2014. Scott Brown, the Republican challenger, has gained traction in a potentially pivotal Senate race by lashing the Democratic incumbent, Jeanne Shaheen, to President Barack Obama. (Photo: Ian Thomas Jansen-Lonnquist / The New York Times)

As another midterm election grinds to a close, with campaign spending set to break the $3.6 billion record of 2010, it is difficult to read newspapers such as The Washington Post as anything but farce. Voter turnout is expected to be lower than turnout during the 2006 or 2010 midterms. Evidently hoping to pump up readership among the disaffected, the Post has resorted to trivializing headlines such as “Obama, the pariah president,” “Obama is scaring women” and “Bloomberg Politics deletes Obama chicken photo tweet,” the latter about possible racial overtones involved in publishing a photo of the White House chef’s specially prepared chicken wings.

In addition to an always-present racial subtext with Obama, the central message of this election from media outlets such as the Post is that an ineffectual and unpopular president is taking down the hapless Democrats he putatively leads. Democratic candidates across the land are “running away from Obama” and his record, proclaims Time magazine, for example.

Pollsters universally predict Republicans will maintain a majority in the gerrymandered House and claim a majority in the Senate. Given the lack of suspense, let alone substantive debate, public interest has declined as the election nears, defying historical precedent.

During the 2010 midterms, in which Obama’s party lost control of the House and squandered a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate to a former Cosmopolitan centerfold, I wrote an article for Truthout titled, “Why Democrats Should Run as Big Spenders and Tax Raisers.” Although the article’s tone of ironic exaggeration was intentional, the main points are as true today as in 2010:

If US fiscal history were a guide to politics, Democrats would be running in the 2010 midterms on a platform of raising taxes and doubling domestic spending on everything from infrastructure to health care to alternative energy. Instead . . . they are running away from Barack Obama’s modest spending programs and struggling to justify a very manageable budget deficit.

Change the year to 2014, add Ebola and ISIS, raise campaign spending to unprecedented levels, and the Republicans are again having a field day predicting apocalypse if big spending, big government Obama Democrats are left in control. However, Democrats are not losing solely because of Obama. They are losing because from Obama to Hillary to their down ticket herd of clone-like congressional candidates, they have failed to embrace any semblance of what were once core Democratic principles, such as tax equity, financial regulation and robust public spending on education and public infrastructure. The party has gone from the New Deal and Great Society vision of regulating capitalism to mitigate its most corrosive social and economic effects, to an openly market driven-agenda of bipartisan public sector austerity coupled with massive private sector tax cuts for top income brackets.

Ritual national elections now offer a choice between heavily marketed neoliberal political brands rather than competing aspirational visions. Both parties are dependent on massive special interest funding that ensures they represent the financial class over the working class. Faced with a choice between straight neoliberalism (Republicans) and neoliberalism with a human face (Democrats), voters are simply opting out, with 51 million people who are eligible to vote not registering, and 42 percent of registered voters declaring themselves independents.

Yet the public is clearly open to an agenda of real, and possibly radical, change. In January 2014, Pew Research published a State of the Union poll that showed:

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Reprinted with permission