Recommended: Massive Surge of Republican Money in Last Ditch Effort to Sink Obama

Thomas Ferguson and his collaborators have warned us about an endgame surge by the Romney campaign, a possible leap in his popularity that might eventually bury the Obama presidency. In this respect the Romney campaign may mimic the Bush campaign of 2000. Both have been fueled by massive spending and guided by lying. These, to be sure, are core competencies of the Republican Party. It is because of this late cycle spending that G.W. Bush leapt over Gore in the last days of the electoral season, although his election victory was helped by a corrupted electoral mechanism and a most dubious Supreme Court decision. Additional political disasters followed the constitutional coup d’état of December, 2000.

This is the post-Citizen’s United age in American politics, and money collection and spending along with elite ‘generosity and civic mindedness’ are the true stories of the current electoral season. This fact does not distinguish the 2012 elections from its recent predecessors. The defining mark this year issues from the quantities of money spent during the campaign. The Romney campaign, according to Ferguson, et. al., lately seems to be spending large sums of this money in the battleground states to win a victory next week. This effort favors Romney, of course.

A Romney victory fueled by big donor cash would certainly prompt outrage by Democratic Party partisans, although their rage would obscure the massive amounts of money raised and spent by the 2012 and 2008 Obama campaigns. The Democratic Party lacks clean hands in this matter. It, like the Republican Party, serves as a tool of Wall Street, the security-surveillance apparatus and, in a word, the empire. Thus the cries of the partisans ought to be considered mere hypocrisy rendered into obscure sounds, wholly without intrinsic importance. The somewhat obscure significance of this kind and degree of campaign spending lies elsewhere. Ferguson and company rightly locate and identify the effect produced by this money:

Big Money’s most significant impact on politics is certainly not to deliver elections to the highest bidders. Instead it is to cement parties, candidates, and campaigns into the narrow range of issues that are acceptable to big donors. The basis of the “Golden Rule” in politics derives from the simple fact that running for major office in the U.S. is fabulously expensive. In the absence of large scale social movements, only political positions that can be financed can be presented to voters. On issues on which all major investors agree (think of the now famous 1 percent), no party competition at all takes place, even if everyone knows that heavy majorities of voters want something else.

The quoted passage neatly expresses the gist of Sheldon Wolin’s inverted totalitarian thesis, namely, “Antidemocracy, executive predominance, and elite rule are basic elements of inverted totalitarianism” (2008, 239). Or, to make the point in different terms, those who have the gold make the rules, as Ferguson suggested in his classic book. The United States remains a democracy, albeit a highly qualified democracy. Elections occur, and candidates circulate in and out of office. But the demos at large cannot control or even hold its governors accountable for what they do or fail to do. Fractions of the demos that sit beyond the pale cannot expect to win the next election, as electoral losers can expect in a functioning representative democracy. They will remain a nullity. As a consequence, American citizens are principals without agents. The principals that count in American politics are the gold holders. The participation of the “lesser people” (Alan Simpson) in the creation of collective political power mimics that of a compliant and nearly mute Greek chorus. They may select only from all but indistinguishable options. The demos at large can therefore only replace one faceless face (or set of faceless faces) with another without, however, altering economic and security policy in a significant way. These policy choices belong to the gold bearing elite and oligarchs. The democratic mechanism in the United States thus makes adverse selection an unavoidable fate for most voters. Only massive and mutually supportive social movements have the potential power needed to break the cash-government connection. As Wolin once put the matter: In the United States…it is the streets where democracy is most alive…”, a “fugitive democracy” much like the early demos (2008, 227), but a democracy nevertheless.

Indeed.

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Homer makes good sense

Quote of the day

Shamus Cooke reports that:

The U.S. heat wave is slowly shaking the foundations of American politics. It may take years for the deep rumble to evolve into an above ground, institution-shattering earthquake, but U.S. society has changed for good.

The heat wave has helped convince tens of millions of Americans that climate change is real, overpowering the fake science and right-wing media – funded by corporate cash – to convince Americans otherwise.

Republicans and Democrats alike also erect roadblocks to understanding climate change. By the politicians’ complete lack of action towards addressing the issue, the “climate change is fake” movement was strengthened, since Americans presumed that any sane government would be actively trying to address an issue that had the potential to destroy civilization.

But working people have finally made up their mind. A recent poll showed that70 percent of Americans now believe that climate change is real, up from 52 percent in 2010. And a growing number of people are recognizing that the warming of the planet is caused by human activity.

Business Week explains: “A record heat wave, drought and catastrophic wildfires are accomplishing what climate scientists could not: convincing a wide swath of Americans that global temperatures are rising.

It is sad that the elite in the United States could care a damn about global warming, ecological catastrophe and the socio-political causes which produces these outcomes. It is also sad because this unctuous and vain elite enjoys a secure existence with respect to the majority of America’s citizens. We have a managed democracy designed to undermine the ability common Americans ought to have and will need if they are to hold their leaders accountable. The commoners, of course, will suffer badly from the catastrophe. Members of America’s elite will also suffer although they will manage to live through the catastrophe in much better shape — for a while. Eventually, everyone will confront the vast burdens produced by America’s sloth and narcissism. That is an inescapable entailment of the impending global catastrophe. It will be a totalization which none could resist. Need I mention that this future is unlikely to be a moment in which one would want to live?

The ungrateful bastards

The New York Times reports that:

President Obama’s re-election campaign is straining to raise the huge sums it is counting on to run against Mitt Romney, with sharp dropoffs in donations from nearly every major industry forcing it to rely more than ever on small contributions and a relative handful of major donors.

From Wall Street to Hollywood, from doctors and lawyers, the traditional big sources of campaign cash are not delivering for the Obama campaign as they did four years ago. The falloff has left his fund-raising totals running behind where they were at the same point in 2008 — though well ahead of Mr. Romney’s — and has induced growing concern among aides and supporters as they confront the prospect that Republicans and their “super PAC” allies will hold a substantial advantage this fall.

To whom does the Obama campaign turn when the stuffed-pocket crowd has turned its collective back on him?

With big checks no longer flowing as quickly into his campaign, Mr. Obama is leaning harder on his grass-roots supporters, whose small contributions make up well over half of the money he raised through the end of March, according to reports filed Friday with the Federal Election Commission.

As one should have expected after the Supreme Court’s very controversial Citizens United
decision (.pdf), the Republican Super PACs are fat with cash. This has forced the Obama campaign to appeal for funding from the lesser people whose interests he failed to serve during his first term.

Caveat emptor!

Food for thought

Food for thought

The political philosopher Andrew Levine recently addressed the nearly lifeless condition of democracy in America. The condition he discussed hardly affirms America’s self-identification as the world’s oldest, freest and most democratic country. Yet this sour claim resonates with the experience of many, and has real material and systemic causes which cannot be separated from the institutions which self-satisfied patriots affirm without thought or irony. These causes include a duopolistic party system with nearly unscalable entry barriers; the strongly anti-democratic features of the 1787 Constitution; the vast sums of money now spent on electoral campaigns, monies which mostly spring from the coffers of the better-off, the massive corporations and the obscenely rich oligarchs; the social, economic and political powers embedded within private institutions; and the enormous size, complexity and diversity of the American social system. These factors affect the quality of American democracy, as Levine points out:

Despite what students are told in civics classes (where they still exist) and what normative theories of democracy propose, democracy in America today has almost nothing to do with rational deliberation and debate, and very little to do with aggregating preferences or reconciling conflicting interests. It is about legitimating government of, by and for the corporate malefactors and Wall Street banksters who own Congress and the White House along with an obscenely large chunk of the nation’s wealth.

The Occupy movement has driven this point home, but it was widely appreciated long before Zuccotti Park entered the national consciousness. Why then is there no legitimation crisis here in the Land of the Free? The answer, in short, is that we hold competitive elections and, for the most part, abide by their results. Evidently, that suffices.

Thanks to centuries of struggle, we are all today at some level democrats, no matter how removed our political system is from anything like real democracy — rule by the demos, the popular masses (as distinct from economic and social elites). Democratic commitments run so deep that almost anything that smacks of real democracy becomes invested with extraordinary powers of legitimation.

This is why competitive elections have the power to legitimate even regimes like ours in which elites plainly do rule a disempowered ninety-nine percent plus of the population. Competitive elections embody a shard of what real democracy is supposed to be, and that evidently is good enough for us.

The United States of America — a land with a deep and intractable legitimation deficit (due to its democracy and accountability deficit) but no legitimation crisis to speak of, a country where the well-off and powerful fear the latent power of lesser people and where the relatively powerlessers have little input into the system which governs them. Common Americans mostly obey the laws made for them while meekly meeting the needs of their betters, a feature of the American system which affirms the status quo. The public face of this paradox will be on display this election year. One need only juxtapose presidential Barack Obama and Mitt Romney to sense the absurdity of this electoral contest, the completion of which will legally but not popularly legitimize the government thus elected. We have government with only barest consent of the governed.

This condition, ironically enough, may be compared to one which could be found in the various countries which composed the Warsaw Bloc prior to the Velvet Revolutions of the late 1980s. There one could find a depoliticized and seemingly cowed population, one which endured the policies and intrigues of an elite which they could not hold accountable in any way. Only a popular refusal to submit to authoritarian governance, when coupled to the dissolution of the Soviet imperial system, put these regimes into their well-deserved graves. Neither the Tea Party Movement, the two legacy parties, the Pentagon and the security-surveillance apparatus in general nor the coequal branches of the federal government embody the spirit of the American Revolution. That is, they are not agents of radical democratization. In the United States today, that honor today belongs to the Occupy Movement, for democracy in America can be found only when it is put into practice on the streets of its cities and towns.

As a matter of fact, the Tea Party Movement, the legacy parties, the security-surveillance apparatus and the coequal branches of the federal government are committed opponents of the democratization of the American political system.

Heroic Americans — citizens of the land of the free, home of the brave

Journalist Eyal Press, during his report on dissent, whistleblowing and elite opposition to both in Obama’s America, makes this remarkable but unsurprising claim:

Despite the lore of the whistleblower that pervades popular culture, Americans turn out to be less sympathetic to such dissenters than Europeans. Drawing on data from the World Value Surveys and other sources over multiple years, the sociologist Claude Fischer has found that U.S. citizens are “much more likely than Europeans to say that employees should follow a boss’s orders even if the boss is wrong.” They are also more likely “to defer to church leaders and to insist on abiding by the law,” and more prone “to believe that individuals should go along and get along.”whistleblower

Whistleblowers may often be praised in the abstract and from a distance, but Americans have a tendency to ignore or even vilify them when they dare to stir up trouble in their own workplaces or communities.

Stirring up trouble. Right here in River City. We can’t have that. Nosiree. We can’t have any of that.

Whistleblowers have walked hard road during Obama’s tenure (see, for instance, this, this and this), the ever-hopeful, sunshine President. They often lack a sympathetic ear in government, a lack which enables grifters on Wall Street and security apparatchiks in Washington to work their black magic on the weak. Crimes undetected are not really crimes! They’re smart business deals or realistic acts of sober G-men. And the powerful are always innocent until proven guilty.

Since Americans do not like to listen to discouraging words about important things, things on which they depend, it so happens that the fate of these whistleblowers obliquely mirrors the fate of the Occupy Movement: Like the Occupiers, whistleblowers are ignored when they are not harassed and denigrated. They, like their Occupy cousins, sometimes face prison terms for their efforts. They lose their jobs and their homes for exposing the powerful to critical scrutiny. It is fortunate that America’s whistleblowers in an out of government are not beaten or assaulted with caustic chemicals, although I would be negligent if I were to fail to point out that whistleblower Bradley Manning has had to endure mental and physical torture inflicted on him by the Pentagon. He stands before the world as an object lesson for anyone tempted to blow the whistle on America’s empire. The Occupiers have felt the baton and the pepper spray. The whistleblowers have been spared those methods. Yet, the powerful seek the same goal when confronting a whistleblower or an Occupation. They want to quash dissent.

It is sad that Americans typically advocate following the path of the witless and craven servant. For one thing, it is sad because the powerful are to remain unmolested even when they deserve close judicial scrutiny. It seems as though Americans prefer their authority figures to remain inscrutable and free. This condition creates a moral hazard problem for the country. For another, the beliefs which inform this advocacy comprise the social cement which binds together the elements that compose America’s security-surveillance government and its financial plutocracy. These institutional complexes could not operate as they have and want to without the passive and active consent of most Americans. Common Americans collude in the domination exercised by the elite. We might have a functioning democracy if it were not for these beliefs and the collusion they sponsor. We have instead what Sheldon Wolin called an inverted totalitarian system (see this and this). America’s politics are as vacuous as its plutocrats are rich and its war-makers are violent.

The antidote for minimal democracy remains strong democracy.

Bradley Manning: Before, After