The Big-Money Midterm

The news from the big-money midterm is: meh!

Democrats are out, the Republicans are in, and the country’s feeling bluer than ever. Six years after the rise of Obama, we are coming together as a country: not around the ‘hopey, changey stuff’, but around the same grim view of the future. Coming out of the polls the pessimists outnumbered the optimists two to one — and pessimists voted Republican.

There’s good reason for the crisis of confidence in the political leadership of the country: a report by Martin Gilens of Princeton and Benjamin Page of Northwestern published earlier this year found that American democracy may not be worthy of the name. Since 1980, at least, we’ve watched our government respond right quickly to the wishes of wealthy elites, at the expense of the rest of us. So what do you say when government of the people stops working for the people?

Are we ready to be small-d democrats? According to the ballot questions the citizenry wants higher wages for all, even in Republican strongholds, and to free up the criminal culture around marijuana. Do we wish we did more legislating by popular vote?  A recent article by Thomas Meaney and Yascha Mounk in The Nation poses the hypothetical. If the Congress were sent home tomorrow, and all 315 million of us were given the power to pass the laws, enact the taxes, build the bridges and start (or stop) the wars, by simple majority, over our smartphones or using our clickers — how long would it take before we were begging John Boehner or Harry Reid to go back to work?

We put it to you: after midterm Tuesday, has anything changed? Do you see anything exciting out there in the post-midterm haze?

Martin Gilens on “Affluence and Influence”


We’re so thankful for the years of academic work from Martin Gilens, a political scientist at Princeton. For years he has analyzed how popular and elite will has translated into policy. That work bore fruit in his book, Affluence and Influence, a blockbuster academic paper, and a star turn with his co-author, Benjamin Page, on The Daily Show.

When asked what we should call our lumbering democracy, he said not “plutocratic” — there are too many riches and distinct wills: Tom Steyer and George Soros versus the Koch Brothers and Paul Singer. He says it’s simple: we were dysfunctional, we’re still dysfunctional, and we have to work to purify our politics.

Guest List
Thomas Frank
founder-editor of The Baffler, columnist for Salon and Harper's Magazine, author of What's The Matter with Kansas?, and the man who told us that "bad government is the natural product of rule by those who believe government is bad."
Randall Kennedy
Michael R. Klein Professor of Law at Harvard University and author of For Discrimination: Race, Affirmative Action, and the Law.
Matt Stoller
political and financial journalist for Salon and many other publications.
Reading List
"Righteous Rage, Impotent Fury"
Thomas Frank, "Salon"
Our guest Thomas Frank's report from his home state of Kansas, filed two days before the vote:

For a certain species of Republican, Kansas has long functioned the way the “rotten boroughs” of 18th-century England worked for the people who owned them. The GOP here sends to Congress whoever they choose to send, no questions asked. They don’t even have to live here, really, just as long as there’s that “R” after the candidate’s name.

The machine is breaking down this year, and it’s not a pretty sight. Faced with a challenger he can’t seem to slime down, longtime Senator Pat Roberts has grown desperate. After all these years representing the rotten borough, he finds that he has precious little to offer and few achievements to boast about. Instead he lashes out in all directions. He assails his opponent for being rich. He warns about the horrific threat posed by Barack Obama. He urges upon us pure, naked panic. When asked about Central American refugee children in a recent debate with Orman he actually said this: “We have ISIS. We have Ebola. We have to secure the border.”

"The Empty Elections of 2014"
John Cassidy, The New Yorker blog
Cassidy's lament over the 'late-stage putrefaction' of American politics:
...It’s hard to get worked up about anything, and that, doubtless, explains why most voters aren’t paying much attention to the midterm elections. Or, rather, they are trying to pay  attention. If you are unfortunate enough to live in one of the states or districts where there is a close contest, you can’t escape so easily. Anytime you switch on your television or radio, you are pretty much guaranteed to be bombarded with the enervating output of political admen, spin doctors, and negative-research shops for whom this is, first and foremost, a profit-making industry.
"Thumbs Up for Higher Minimum Wages, and for Marijuana Industry"
Marilyn Geewax, NPR
State-level referenda and initiatives were an odd mixed bag, but some traditionally progressive causes — like raising the minimum wage and legalizing marijuana — fared well, with Alaska, Arkansas, Nebraska and South Dakota all raising their minimum wage above the national level.
"Republicans Ride an Empty Wave"
Samuel Goldman, "The American Conservative"
A listicle against the 'wave' interpretation of the midterm outcome from the very readable and provocative American Conservative:
We’ve seen this movie before. Remember the “permanent majority” of 2004? How about the “thumping” of 2006? Then there was the “new majority” of 2008. Of course, that was followed by the “Tea Party wave” of 2010. Which didn’t stop Obama from becoming the first president since Eisenhower to win a majority of the vote for a second time in 2012.
"What ever happened to 'of the people, by the people, for the people'?: A manifesto"
Zephyr Teachout, The Guardian
Our friend Zephyr Teachout — whose gubernatorial run in New York was one of the few exciting stories in American politics this year — posted a 'manifesto' to bust trusts and end limitless spending before the votes were tallied:
While there are many theories for the disgust and apathy towards this election, perhaps it is as simple as this: people don’t like being told falsely they have power when they don’t... Perhaps I can convince 70% of New Yorkers to support a financial-transactions tax. But if there is no responsive democracy, those numbers won’t translate to a financial-transactions tax. I care about dental care, and ending mass private and public surveillance, and funding schools so they can have small class sizes. But I can spend a lifetime advocating for universal dental care, and in a non-responsive democracy, it does not matter. You may recall the 90% of Americans who wanted gun reform following the tragedy at Sandy Hook – but got none. Public opinion without public power inflects every issue in America now.
"Why the Democratic Party Acts The Way It Does"
Matt Stoller, Medium
A wonderful review of “The New Democrats and the Return to Power” by Al From, by our guest Matt Stoller.
Democrats faced a shellacking in 2010. They were just defeated, again, up and down the ticket. It happened again in 2014. And while you might think that occupying the White House is some sort of palliative (and it is), recognize that the Republicans today occupy two-thirds of state legislative seats. This is a country governed at a local and legislative level by deep conservatives. But if you expect changes in philosophy and behavior due to these losses, you’re going to have to do what Al From did. Which is, organize. And don’t just organize to put Democrats in power, organize around ideas the way that Al From did. From’s ideas were incredibly consequential, and they are today the basis for how the West is run.

Related Content

  • Potter

    From an op-ed in today’s NYTimes by Thomas Edsall, Making the President Small a quote

    David Leege, political scientist emeritus at Notre Dame, summarized his assessment of the election in a late night email:

    “Bi-election year 2014 was the final chapter in making the president small. The immediate aftermath of 2008 was that Americans had finally conquered their racial aversions. The election of Barack Obama was a victory both for renewed national hope and long-awaited democracy. Obama was big, a star, a voice to be reckoned with, a mind to be taken seriously.

    “By 2014 Obama was small, a punching bag, easily bullied, the one to whom small politicians could talk tough, abusively, the one whose ideas were ignored, the one whom his fellow partisans would come to avoid at all cost. How could this happen in six short years?”

  • Potter

    I don’t know what to make of the election. Many good points are made in this discussion. And thank you for all the links. It’s hard to be optimistic about the future looking at the facts unless a lot of energy coalesces to form an organized movement, bottom up. I think rather people keep slogging on in their two and three jobs, too tired to become educated about the realities in politics

    “Most Americans don’t attend campaign rallies, or make political donations, or read much political coverage,
    or watch political shows such as “Meet the Press,” or even Fox News. To these sorts of folks, ads aren’t just an annoying sideline to, or a distraction from the real issues in the campaign. To a large extent, they are the campaign: they represent perhaps the main source of information about candidates and issues. Which, if you think about it, is pretty alarming.”

    – from John Cassidy New Yorker blog ( linked above)

    You can get the feeling that people do not know what they are voting for or against regarding their interests or the interests of the country as a whole ( if they care or think that way). Voters must be falling for the often mendacious ads and scare tactics of these ads and flyers and robocalls, unsorted truth from lies. And maybe they don’t get the connection between their daily lives and who gets to govern, nor the connection with the future for their children.

    This makes the issue of inequality -the struggle to subsist in this economy (as Frank is saying)-and campaign finance issues, culminating in the Citizen’s United Decision, at the top of the list of things that must change. Those are not easy things to change. Stoller suggests not to despair because we can change Citizens United by amendment. But he slides over that this, as well as changes in the Supreme Court, are a steep uphill battles especially with the coming Congress. Gilens also says it’s the system, the plutocracy. We’ve been building this for years!. It takes organization and enormous mounting energy (anger, deprivation) to change it- or even begin to. That’s depressing. It’s easier for people to push on and ignore it all.

    Randall Kennedy points out the racial reaction against Obama. I thought I could be proud that we elected a black president. I can’t indulge in that feeling now. I am horrified by how he has been treated. That said Obama at times has infuriated me. See this about the “chickenshit” business.

    For me it’s the Republicans that represent this callousness towards poor people with this attitude expressed so well by Romney in the last Presidential election: If you are poor, its your own fault. I made it therefore others are just not working hard enough, living off of handouts and entitlements.

  • Novinha

    This argument that one of the guests made, about how, as bad as the democratic leadership was, we should cut them some slack, because republican would have been even worse, exactly demonstrates the reason that voting has not worked in this country to get these criminals out of office.

    This paranoia about the Other Party that everyone seems to have is exactly why everyone is willing to overlook deceitful, criminal, unconstitutional actions by the president and his cabinet, and a lot of other members of his party. Maybe the republicans WOULD have been worse – but we’ll never know, because they weren’t in power at the time of the bailouts (at least the ones they’re referring to). The democrats were in power, and they were the ones who pulled the trigger. If 2 men are running towards a bank to rob it, and one gets there first and shoots a teller, do we forgive him because at least he beat the other guy there, and the other guy had an automatic rifle and might have done even more damage?

    We need to hold the responsible individuals accountable, and we need to see past this partisan 2-party paradigm, because that’s what all these politicians hide behind. They tell you that no matter what issues you have with them, you should still vote for them because they’re the only ones who can protect you from those evil psychopaths in the other party. Once people realize that there’s essentially on difference between democrat and republican – at least in terms of the things that matter, like who has the power (the plutocracy and the special interest groups that line their pockets), and who doesn’t (the 95% of voters who don’t have money to donate to campaigns), and what the former are doing to further disenfranchise the latter, they will see that taking sides in this red-blue civil war, and voting for members of either party, only lends legitimacy to this corrupt oligarchy and allows whoever holds office to point to his/her supporters and say “See? We have a democracy, and the people chose me.” If we want to choose *something else*, we need to stop giving them our votes and stop making excuses for them because we think they’re “the lesser of two evils”.

    • Potter

      We were given the same line (no difference between Republicans and Democrats) by Ralph Nader in 2000 who urged us to vote for him in a very close election. Enough bought it to help throw the election. (I know there are those who dispute this, I am not convinced).

      We wound up with GW Bush, not Al Gore, the guy who might have dealt with climate change as a serious threat. Instead “the decider” took us to the Iraq War, which we are still dealing with. This is also the guy who promised “compassionate conservatism”, an oxymoron in the version of conservatism we have today. He was urged to use that tactic to compete with the party that actually is more compassionate.

      True, Obama did not push for accountability. Nor was there a groundswell for it. Another disturbing issue.

      In this election that brought us the coming one party rule in the Congress, a lot of people stayed home. The older, whiter, more conservative voters came out according to exit polls (see “Red, Red and Red All Over” linked by ROS but hereRed Red and Red All Over ). But…

      …… the reasons were not so much ideological as cartological. The House map pretty well locks in a Republican majority until after the 2020 census, at the very soonest. In addition to the benefits that the Republican Party derives from gerrymandering and voter suppression, the increasing concentration of Democrats in lopsided urban districts causes Democratic votes to be disproportionately wasted. To win the House with a one-seat majority under the current map, Democratic candidates as a group would have to pile up a bigger over-all popular-vote margin than Obama did in 2012. Senate seats cannot be gerrymandered, but the two-senators-per-state rule always favors acres over people; at least gerrymandering is impossible.

      It’s a hard sell, not only to me, that there is no difference between Republicans and Democrats. It’s more the system and the money in it that is seriously corrupting our democracy. Changing that means more fundamental change.

      So I would like to know, starting from where we are, how we can get to a better place. Voting for a third party in a close election (which we have been having) or staying home, does not work.

      • Novinha

        Regarding the 2000 election, and the effect of third-party candidates on close races, this is another systemic problem due to the 2-party stranglehold on the way elections are run. In many countries in Europe (and also in many local elections within this country), there is a primary election in which any number of candidates can run, and then the 2 candidates with the most votes run again in a final election to determine which gets the majority. This allows people to vote in the primary for the candidate who most closely represents their views, without wasting their vote if that candidate doesn’t win. They have another chance to vote for their preferred of the 2 most popular candidates. If the 2000 election had been run this way, nobody would be accusing Ralph Nader of stealing votes from Al Gore. The very idea of non-mainstream candidates somehow corrupting the democratic process is ludicrous. But our primaries are set up in such a way that only one “liberal” and one “conservative” candidate can be sanctioned by their respective parties, and any other candidates have to wait for the final election. In many states, you can’t even vote in a primary unless you’re registered as a member of the respective party. The message is clear: independent voters and independent candidates are not welcome, but rather obstructions to the entrenched so-called “democratic” process, and should therefore be scorned and ostracized.

        Additionally, there is the electoral college. As you know, Al Gore DID win the popular vote – DESPITE Ralph Nader running – but because of the way electoral votes are assigned, Bush essentially stole the election. Every individual who voted for Al Gore in a state that Bush won – and in many cases this was 40-something percent of that state’s votes – essentially had their votes thrown out because of the winner-take-all practice of counting votes, while most of the states Gore won, he won by a landslide, thus relatively few of Bush’s votes were thrown out in the same manner. So here again, we have obstruction of democracy by a corrupt system.

        Finally, although I was a strong supporter of Gore in 2000, looking back now I think his message, and the enthusiasm he generated, were comparable to that surrounding Obama’s first presidential run. All of us disappointed Gore voters like to say that the world would be a lot different if Gore had won, and maybe it would have. But we’d probably be saying the same thing if John McCain had beaten Obama, and we’d have no way of knowing what a mess Obama would have made of things had he been elected.

        Furthermore, although the system was corrupt back in 2000 too, I think things have gotten a lot worse since then, and I can’t see how either party could (or would), at this point, produce someone willing to change it for the better. The fact is that moneyed interest groups have their hands in both pockets, and while Republican donors certainly donate more money to political races, the Democrats are just as beholden to their donors, and do not represent the people.

        Perhaps the most infuriating thing about this midterm election is the turnout rate. I think the reason that most of the people who came out to vote were Republicans eager to oust any Democratic incumbents they could from office, was that many Democrats and Independents felt they had no recourse. People are fed up with the government, they want change, yet they feel they have no power to enact any. They have lost faith in their representatives but they cannot bring themselves to vote for Republicans, whom they believe are the only alternative. Yet if all those disillusioned voters had gone to the polls and voiced their dissatisfaction, either by voting for third party candidates or even write-ins, then many of those challengers and incumbents would have been left with only fractions of the electorate, instead of a respectible 40-something percent of the vote. And then maybe the mainstream media would start to pay attention, and ask why, when so many people turned out to vote, the major party candidates got so few votes, and does this mean we need to change the way we elect people?

        In Massachusetts, for example, there were 5 candidates for governor. Yet most of the debates that were broadcast explicitly disinvited all of the independent candidates, leaving most voters with the impression that they had only 2 choices: an unlikeable Democrat or an unlikeable Republican. Polls showed that a large percentage of people made up their minds only at the last minute. When faced with 2 unpleasant choices, they closed their eyes and picked the one that they hated least. Is this the kind of mandate that should get people into office? Simply being backed by a massive party juggernaut and convincing people that you won’t make their lives worse than the other candidate will?

        You’re right that there are a lot of other problems involving the systematic disenfranchising of many voters: gerrymandering, vastly disproportionate representation versus population, voter ID laws, etc. But the fact remains that historically, Democrats DO get into office, and they do it just about as often as Republicans do. I don’t dispute that many Republicans engage in shady practices to steal elections, but that doesn’t change the fact that Democrats, when they do make it into office, fail to make any substantial positive changes to any of these unfair practices (or at least that’s been the case for decades now). Obama reminds me a lot of LBJ, in that both came into office hoping (or claiming to hope) that they would enact a lot of social reforms, fight poverty and exploitation of the working class by the wealthy, oversee a true liberalization of society, a restoration of power to the hands of the people. Instead, LBJ wasted his time and destroyed his legacy by getting bogged down in Vietnam, and expanding the war when he should have ended it, while Obama appears to have given up on every liberal ideal he once had in favor of extending and expanding the exact policies that made Bush so unpopular.

        If you look at the values of the voters, then yes, Democrats tend to be more “compassionate” and more in favor of the progressive policies that most people want right now. But the disconnect between what the voters want and what the Democratic officials deliver is staggering. One thing I’ll say for Republicans, is that while I may disagree with some of their policy ideas, they do tend to do what they say they’ll do. And Republican voters, especially the Tea-Partyers, hold their elected representatives accountable. While Democratic representatives talk a lot about what they care about and then turn around and do exactly what their big-money donors ask of them, and then their constituents make excuses for them because “at least they’re not Republicans!”

        • Potter

          “But we’d probably be saying the same thing if John McCain had beaten Obama, and we’d have no way of knowing what a mess Obama would have made of things had he been elected.”

          I think you mean what a mess McCain would have made of things. If you did mean that I would say, we certainly do. He was not secretive about his views and goals and has not been since. We would have boots (continuing and more) on the ground for sure, for instance.

          I would not go all out to defend Democrats, but any good intentions not to take big money, at least on the national level, and there have been some attempts ( if I remember Obama at first then he caved) is rewarded by losing the election.

          I don’t understand your reasoning that third party voters would have at least registered dissatisfaction— by what? Electing the worst alternative? Winning is everything! In this system that we have ( not the one we do not have) third parties have their chance in the primary season. If a candidate gets a lot of support, this tends to register one way or another either in viability of a candidate in the general election, or his/her positions being either adopted or modifying the main candidates. It’s not impossible for a third party candidate to cross over and run as a Democrat or Republican. I am not defending this system. I am saying this is what we have. Get me somewhere else by some realistic route. At this point, it would be easier to amend the primary rules which you rightfully complain about state by state. In the end, people have to act if they want to be heard.

          Regarding the recent Massachusetts election, Coakley I believe was the more well known but less appealing at least on the surface (not a good campaigner, had less money). The other candidates? It takes money and organization to make oneself known. Otherwise people don’t know who or what they are voting for. Who was Charlie Baker before this election? Off my radar. But he had money which translated into ads and signs everywhere here where I am (in the exurbs) with scarce Coakley signs. She ran a terrible campaign and this was expected from past performance in elections.

          The undecideds until the last moment I read as 8%- not that large.

          Your other well articulated points sort of echo mine, but I will say this to counter your final: I would rather have a Democrat in office doing half or a quarter of what he/she said he/she would do than a Republican doing what he/she said he/she said he/she would do. Don’t forget that once a legislator gets to Congress some of the job is blockage. With Obama ( a compromising centrist) at least we have a start towards universal health care, we had some stimulus, and Scotus appointments (don’t forget that).

          Thanks for this discussion.

          • Novinha

            No, I meant what I said. If McCain had won, we’d all be crying about how everything would have been so much better if we’d only elected Obama, just the way we do now when we talk about Gore. You can’t compare how two candidates would have handled the same situation when only one got the opportunity to try. And we DO have boots on the ground in the Middle East. You think because Obama promised not to “send” any, that there weren’t already thousands there that are involved in the conflicts right now? Supposedly in an administrative/logistical function, if you can believe there’s any such thing in a region littered with IEDs an rebel insurgencies. Obama is no different from the war hawks that claim we need to “defend America’s interests” by sending a generation of young people overseas to be killed, maimed, traumatized, and/or disfigured for life. At least McCain would have been honest about it, instead of insulting us by pretending to be some big peace advocate.

            Third party candidates do NOT have a chance in the primaries, unless they run within one of the two parties. And the only way to win the party’s vote is by selling out. There is too much money and influence in politics for someone with real integrity to ever get enough backing from their party to even make it onto the primary ballot. This is also part of why
            the system is broken. If we are only willing to vote for or listen to
            people who have money, then we deserve the leadership we end up with. Money has no place in
            a true democracy, and its ridiculous that we accept its role in our political system. I don’t think campaigns should
            cost any money. Anyone can put signs up on the road, but TV commercials
            should be banned. What we should have instead is debates, broadcast on
            basic cable and online, where all candidates are invited to participate,
            and all voters can have access. If we even the playing field, take
            money out of it, we remove the advantage of those with special interest

            Yes, this is the system we have. But if you think we’re going to get change by voting for one party or the other, then you’ve completely bought into the story they want you to believe. For decades people have been flipping back and forth from one party to the other, because every time things go wrong and they realize their government has failed them, they think they can fix it by changing the balance of power to the other party. But it never changes – at least it hasn’t since the days of FDR, because the two parties are two sides of the same coin. They just prey on different fears and insecurities and values to attract different bases, so that people stay polarized and convinced that the *other* party is the enemy, and the one THEY vote for is the future salvation of the country.

            The existing power structure gets its power from 2 places: money, and legitimacy – that is, the perception by the public that they have a right to rule and the approval of the majority to do so. If you really want to change the system, you have to attack one of these two sources of power. The only way to combat the money side – assuming you don’t have any – is through force – that is, revolution. These are effective, but tend to be bloody and painful, and often the result is as bad as, if not worse than, the original government that gets overthrown. That’s why my preference is to attack via the second source of power: legitimacy. That is, take it away. Refuse to participate, and voice your opposition, in any way you can. This requires that the average citizen wake up and pay attention and take some kind of subversive action, instead of just complaining that they don’t like the way things are. Voting is an easy way to do this, though not the only way, for sure.

            If everyone who thinks there’s no point in voting and stays home, or who votes indifferently for a mainstream candidate just because they feel they should, instead voted for someone whose views they actually agree with, or even wrote in their own name on the ballot, then the mainstream candidates would fail to get a majority of votes. If a non-mainstream candidate got elected, it would make headlines – and prove to the rest of the country that there ARE alternatives. One high-profile race won by a third-party candidate might be enough to wake people up and give them the confidence to vote the way they really want to, instead of feeling like they’re slaves to the party that they’re least afraid of.

            It’s true, this is not a quick fix. It will take time before enough people get courageous enough, or desperate enough, to stop participating, for there to be enough momentum to drive a real movement for change. But since I can’t see that voting for a republican or a democrat has ever accomplished anything positive (at least in my experience), and since the party divide seems to be effectively accomplishing the goal of turning people against each other due to petty politics, instead of banding together against the plutocrats who are their real enemies, I am perfectly content to cast my votes for candidates with integrity, those outside the mainstream money-driven politics, and at least know that I’m not complicit in keeping the oligarchy in power.

            I realize you are a Democrat who probably agrees with the majority of the party’s principle views, if not all the actions of its politicians, so I can see why you’d prefer a semi-effective Democrat to an effective Republican. But a lot of voters – self included – have more mixed views, and agree with one side on some issues, and the other side on others, and disagree with both on many. That’s why so many people switch back and forth from election to election, depending on which issues are in the headlines. Therefore I can’t agree that any Democrat is better than any Republican. Nor am I willing to compromise on a candidate who runs on peace, and then drone strikes civilians halfway across the world and makes jokes about it. Obama has done a couple things I’m ok with, but those don’t make up for the moral offenses he’s committed, the enslavement of the working class through bailouts to the banks, war-mongering against other countries, covering up corruption in the financial industry, violation of privacy and civil liberties by the NSA…alas, the list goes on.

          • Potter

            A leopard does not change his spots. The problem with Obama was that we could only judge from what he said about hope, change and boldness and then look at the short time he was in Congress (when he voted against the Iraq war for instance). We badly wanted and needed the change from Bush-Cheney. I would have been happy with Howard Dean I think. But I also think I would have been happy with Gary Hart… and George McGovern.

            So Obama inherited a mess to deal with, and he was new, “green”. With McCain we had a very long record to see. And he was promising more of the same. As well, McCain (and the party) irresponsibly chose Sarah Palin as his running mate. That said a lot. Where was the integrity in that? Voters understood this. Plus there was an excitement for many, in voting in a President who was not white, not from the usual background. And too Obama chose Joe Biden.

            Gore chose Joe Lieberman. With Gore, we knew a lot already: his time in the Senate and as VP, work on climate change. With George Bush, appealing in superficial ways, it was felt by many that he was of questionable presidential character. Dick Cheney just about chose himself as Bush’s his running mate, to be a monitor/minder ( so to speak). Little did we know what was in store for us. But we make the best choices based on the information we have.

            Yes we do have boots on the ground. But I think it’s safe to say we would not have withdrawn much at all with McCain. (We might still be in Viet Nam, or fighting that war again.) We can’t bring about big swings in this evenly divided country with it’s divided government. We can look at moves in the right direction. We can hope that checks and balances work or work to make sure it does. Bush-Cheney and the neo-cons had, as Colin Powell said at first, broken Iraq (Afghanistan already broken) and it was our mess. I don’t think Obama is “no different” from the war hawks. He has resisted for us the role of policing the world, all the while that we see McCain and Graham jump up and down about getting more involved.

            But you say voting for McCain would have at least been voting for someone “more honest”…ie to keep my own integrity in tact? No thanks.

            As well “integrity” has to deal with practicality, when the ruling starts. Even Ralph Nader would have had to deal or else. I wonder. Not that intergrity goes out the window, it’s just that it’s not about PERSONAL integrity or only about that anymore. That might be an indulgence if it does not fit the circumstance which calls for a calculation. I fault Obama with not being strong enough when he could have and should have, acted with more audacity, when it seemed to me he could have. I don’t fault his integrity because of that so much as his character need to appease, compromise, listen., which are not bad qualities.

            Third party candidates have a chance put their views forward well before an election and even for years. They have to gain a constituency. They start with minority views and need a lot of exposure to gain support. This cannot happen in one election cycle. If that support is strong enough, the R or D party has to hear it too and respond. Look what happened with the Tea Party and the Libertarians vis a vis Republicans. The Green Party is still alive but where is it’s support? It (progressives)has had some effect on the Democrats. The Green Party maintains that our campaign finance system is corrupt and refuses to participate in it. This integrity has gotten it nowhere. Yet if you look at the Green Party ideology, we have been moving slowly somewhat that direction: gender equality, environmental concerns ( sustainability), respect for diversity- etc. even encouraging/supporting non-violence and trying to back away from our own violence.

            You keep making the case for changing the system, but you do not say how until some far off time. Have we even begun? Before that you will keep your own integrity in tact. That is fine as far as I am concerned in a state where you are not going to change the result. Otherwise I am going to blame you for the result. You don’t address the fact that when you refuse to participate at all, those who DO participate, even an extremist minority, WIN. This is dangerous. It’s wild imagination to think that a write-in or non-mainstream candidate who happened to win a local election can make a difference either. If this is an act of resistance on a broad level ( as say wealthy Ross Perot brought about?) then what happens? What happened?

            Okay let the Green’s raise the money to put someone up that can make a dent. There is no law against that. It has not happened.

            “Therefore I can’t agree that any Democrat is better than any Republican. Nor am I willing to compromise on a candidate who runs on peace, and then drone strikes civilians halfway across the world and makes jokes about it. Obama has done a couple things I’m ok with, but those don’t make up for the moral offenses he’s committed, the enslavement of the working class through bailouts to the banks, war-mongering against other countries, covering up corruption in the financial industry, violation of privacy and civil liberties by the NSA…alas, the list goes on.”

            No, any particular Democrat is not better than any particular Republican. But by and large when you have Republicans now for 6 years working together against the President on whatever, it comes to that kind of mindset. Not that Democrats don’t do that, but they are less rulely, and at times a lot less. Everyone has their own “integrity”. With Republicans it seemed that integrity was all about destroying Obama and whatever he did or wanted to do- in lockstep. Health care be damned.

            I agree about the drones. I talk to my Congressman who has incredible integrity. as much as any out there, and he represents my views well.

            Regarding the issues you mention here, they have been discussed and with some ( not all and I do not want to broaden this discussion to your list) there is/was no black and white.

            I think of myself as an idealist too. But as I listen to Ralph Nader (for instance recently here) his idealism is very admirable. But with no realism or practicality about how we get to there from here leads people like yourself to pessimism, non-participation, non-acceptance of the fact that we are a work in progress, and, most importantly very divided large and diverse, and it seems somewhat politically uneducated, unsophisticated.

          • Novinha

            No no no, I’m not saying we should have elected McCain. Nor am I defending him – except to say that he was probably more upfront about his policies than Obama was. When I talk about voting with integrity, I mean voting for someone who actually represents your views, even if they have no chance of winning. And unless you’re one of those idiots (not you – but I have met plenty of this type of person) who tows the party line no matter what it is, and molds their opinions based on what their favorite politician says they should be, then you can’t do that by voting for a mainstream candidate, either republican or democrat.

            Also, you say Obama wants to compromise, that he’s not radical enough. Yet he has repeatedly shown his disdain and hostility towards Congress. I realize that much of Congress had hostility towards him from the beginning, but even then, he had a majority in Congress, and yet still couldn’t manage to get anything done. Part of the president’s job is to schmooze and compromise and learn to get along with Congress, even with reps whose views are different from the president’s own. Previous presidents have forged bi-partisan alliances and even friendships. Obama just makes jokes about how stupid Congress is, threatens to act unilaterally if they don’t work with him, and then passes executive orders. He’s passed more executive orders even than Bush did! And that is completely undemocratic.

            Look, I realize that voting for non-mainstream candidates is not a solution in the short term. But if I knew how to fix the country’s problems on my own, I would have done it already. Right now, the only way for an individual to do it is with money, as the Koch brothers are demonstrating. More important than voting, however, is voter awareness. Right now, it seems to me that a majority of people feel angry, frustrated, and helpless. They vote against the party in power because they don’t know how else to change the system. It seems like for the decade or two, most elections have been about who people are voting *against*, rather than any genuine excitement about a new candidate. (Remember the anyone-but-Bush campaign that everyone thought would get Kerry into office, yet which failed because nobody really could bring themselves to *like* John Kerry?) People are only going to become more frustrated and angry as things continue to get worse, as they will, because the growing influence of money in politics forces all mainstream candidates to indebt themselves to wealthy special interest groups for donations, whether they want to or not.

            I fear what people will do with that anger and frustration. I fear that it will lead to violence and chaos. As I said, I’m not a fan of bloody revolutions, or the governments that tend to come out of them. I realize that this scenario probably sounds improbable to most people, but that’s because no one ever expects things that they haven’t seen in their lifetime to happen. Yet they do happen. Massive violent change has happened in every part of the world, multiple times throughout history, and it will happen again, and all the signs that lead up to such events are already evident in this country. I would prefer that people VOTE radically, to change the system without completely destroying it all at once.

            My politics have evolved over the years. There was a time when I thought much as you do. I used to believe that we could make changes through gradual incremental improvements, and yes, there have been a few admirable ones as society has evolved. But in my lifetime, most of the changes I have seen *that were led by government* have been for the worse, by which I mean (for example), encroaching on people’s civil liberties; protectionism for big businesses; increasing amounts of power concentrated in the hands of the Fed, the banks, the politicians, and especially the president; perpetual war abroad; and criminalization of ordinary citizens for victimless “crimes” and subsequent mass incarceration.

            When you study history, you find that all governments and societies go through cycles. Times of affluence and peace are inevitably followed by periods of growing corruption, and inequality, with wealth concentrating among the hands of a powerful few and famine/poverty for the masses, which ultimately leads to civil unrest and uprising, revolution, and ultimately creation of a new political system. Sometimes the new system is better, sometimes it’s worse, but the transition is almost always traumatic and painful. We are on the cusp of such a revolution now, but I choose to hope that we have evolved enough as human beings and as a society that we can find a less violent, more enlightened way of stripping away that which is outdated and corrupt and rebuilding it in a way that reflects those values which we all share to some extent. So I say, vote for someone outside the system, and try to get as many other people to see why they should, too. The more elections that fail to produce results that satisfy the populace, the more people will turn to alternatives. How many will choose to vote differently, and how many will choose violence? I’m just one person. I don’t have the power to force change, only to try to inform. In the end, everyone must act as they feel is right. I only hope that through discussion and exposure to other people’s views, more of us (myself included) can make better decisions about what the right action is for them, and what will be best for the country at large.

          • Potter

            I have never in my lifetime seen such a barrage of criticism and hate obstructionism, directed towards a president from those with opposing views, especially in the Congress, against all attempts to govern in a cooperative manner. It is an attempt by the other party to delegitimize this president, this presidency. And I am not at all sure it’s not in part at least about race. Maybe I am not remembering what Republicans did to Bill Clinton. I am not sure that Obama’s own lack of boldness is also his caution about being the first black president. The story will be written more fairly, I am sure, that he was a pretty decent president.

            Despite yours and other’s criticism, about the 111th Congress, Obama’s first: “This Congress has been considered one of the most productive Congresses in history in terms of legislation passed since the 89th Congress, during Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society.”

            see it’s accomplishments, major events, major legislation, despite having no super-majority:


            “No no no, I’m not saying we should have elected McCain. Nor am I defending him – except to say that he was probably more upfront about his policies than Obama was.”

            “When I talk about voting with integrity, I mean voting for someone who actually represents your views, even if they have no chance of winning.”

            By the same token, your third party candidate can be upfront about his views and have gotten us into a mess as well. But you never thought he would win anyway. Your vote would be about something else: keeping your perceived integrity.

            Maybe in the primaries you should really indulge. In the general election, can you find such a person you are so sure of to risk that you are not voting for a spoiler ending us up with the least desirable candidate? I don’t know about you but I have felt anxious about the last three Presidential elections, that the other candidate would win and that result would be dangerous. One did (GW Bush). He was our worst President and did us a lot of harm. I don’t think there is a question about that.

            We elect representatives to actually inform themselves and act in our best interests and wishes if at all possible, using judgement not only their own upfront ideology or that exclusively. It’s a tall order. We are electing people after all, that have to deal with the structures, institutions, the laws as well as the current campaign finance system now “improved” by the Supreme Court decision.

            How does a candidate make his/her views heard? Money! Money is speech we now must learn. And people who have it are entitled to speak. Our rep, Jim McGovern, has been anti-war throughout. Admirably. We keep re-electing him on the basis of this and many other issues we see eye to eye on. This is my representation in the government.Maybe I don’t agree with everything he votes for or against, but by and large, I am pleased. He’s constantly raising money. But when he’s around asking for it from us we give and regularly so maybe he does not depend on big money.

            Not voting, is supposed to send a message- or even start a revolution? You say you don’t want revolution but see it coming. Revolutions breed counterrevolutions and then dictators. So neither do I want one, nor do I see one coming. In my younger days I was a “ revolutionary”, an Idealist; I indulged in protesting loudly. Got it off my chest, But I always voted. What not voting does is leave the decision to those who are willing or able to vote, the motivated, the persuaded.

            A big ship with more than one steering wheel, which is what we have, is really not going to turn on a dime in one direction in this form of government. It seems to be going nowhere at times. And, at that, it’s not going to necessarily turn in the way you want it to. Maybe that’s good. And if it somehow does take a jerk, it will jerk back again. It moves rather slowly, maybe imperceptibly at first. Will we keep this improvement in our health care system, so radical it is for some apparently, but not for those who did not not have health care,. And it is imperfect compared to what should be… my ideal.

            In hindsight, the election Bush/Cheney vs. Gore brought us the Iraq War, the start of the NSA part of the perpetual military “war on terror”. We are still it. The troops that Obama promised to remove have left and have been replaced by more drones. Trainers are not “boots on the ground”. Boots on the ground would be more honest I suppose. McCain would have boots on the ground.

            As well, we have the current “conservative” leaning Supreme Court which brought us “Citizen’s United” and the gutting of the Voting Right’s Act, both of which have a strong impact on who gets elected. That is dangerous. The court may even gut the Affordable Health Care Act.

            We did not know this at the time of Bush vs Gore, but it would have been a good guess who was the much better choice. And so to have a third party candidate going around convincing people that there is not a damn bit of difference so vote third party to send a message did a lot of damage. I think Nader thought he would win. But when Nader knew when and where he would not win, he stubbornly refused to throw his support. We don’t know how many did not vote out of despair that it really “makes no difference”. That Gore had no stomach for the campaign is true. Nader did not help. And Bush had friends in the right places

            To assess the Obama presidency to date fully, a topic and I am not prepared, but he has been highly rated at this vantage point by historians. I don’t understand his poll numbers, nor the Democratic candidates behavior of running away from him this midterm. I don’t think he deserved this. The electorate responded to this atmosphere.

            It is true that candidates and elected leaders, leaders that depend on our votes are corrupted by the need for money in order to achieve and maintain office. How we get to a better place has to do with solving that issue and maybe that alone first. It may go a long way in helping mitigate inequality as well, once we get legislators really working for people whose votes really count.

          • “I don’t understand his poll numbers, nor the Democratic candidates behavior of running away from him this midterm.”

            It is straight forward.
            He overpromised and under-delivered to the faithful.
            That perceived weakness allowed his adversaries to crank up the volume.

            I agree history will treat him well. History is written by the winners – in this case,
            represented by the health insurance industry, military industrial complex, and the financial sector.

          • Novinha

            And thank you, as well, for your articulate responses. I apologize if I come off as combative – my hostility is not towards you, but towards the system I’m railing against.

          • Novinha

            I actually had a long response I posted yesterday, but it looks like it didn’t get approved by the moderator. Too subversive, I guess. Oh well :-/

  • Cambridge Forecast



    The comment I am about to make has nothing much to do directly with electoral issues and results, the buying and selling of political offices, redistricting and gerrymandering, Citizens
    United, Karl Rove and the Koch Brothers, dark money, the need for public finance in political races, and all the other issues that relate to money in politics or shall we say, money supplanting and determining politics. Politics orbits money now like the planets orbit the sun.

    My comment concerns the peculiar place of money in American life, at the foundational level where no one sees it anymore. One would need a second Alexis De Tocqueville to describes this
    phenomenon in the detail it deserves. Concretely:

    In their book, “Dialectic of Enlightenment”, the two social theoreticians, Horkheimer and Adorno (buddies of Herbert Marcuse and Erich Fromm and Walter Benjamin, Frankfurt School),
    give us a “side-flashlight” into money and American identity (which then overlaps with money in politics, as per the ROS discussion), as follows:
    “Two Worlds”

    “Here in America there is no difference between a man and his economic fate. A man is made by his assets, income, position, and prospects. The economic mask coincides completely
    with a man’s inner character. Everyone is worth what he earns and earns what he
    is worth. He learns what he is through the vicissitudes of his economic
    existence. He knows nothing else. ….they judge themselves by their own market
    value and learn what they are from what happens to them in the capitalistic
    economy. Their fate, however sad it may be, is not something outside them; they
    recognize its validity. A dying man in China might say, in a lowered voice:

    ‘Fortune did not smile on me in the world.
    Where am I going now? Up into the mountains
    To seek peace for my lonely heart.’

    I am a failure, the American says—and that is that.”

    Seabury Press, 1972 paperback, page 211 “Dialectic of Enlightenment”

    This radical “despiritualization via money” which is one of the unseen pillars of American self-identity is a root of the current buyout of American politics by organized money. If you
    fundamentally are what you have (ie the basic American identity equation), then
    of course money is god and an unread and garbled version of Adam Smith’s
    “Wealth of Nations” is the sole gospel, turbo-charged by some vulgar Social
    Darwinism. The wealthy are the elect and the elect own the election.

    All of this is the unseen context that contributes culturally and atmospherically to the money-politics hijacking of the whole system, as discussed on this excellent ROS show.

    Richard Melson

  • Pete Crangle

    Thank you Chris and guests for a discussion I thoroughly enjoyed. That said, I will quibble (with myself among others) about the “lesser of N-evils” argument, where N is greater than one and lesser than the population count minus myself. I find that this argument has grown stale over the years. And yet, I must concede there are times when it can seem the only reasonable choice given the dearth of viable options that trickle down into the voting booth.

    A milestone in my electoral life: I cannot in clear conscience write-in Pat Paulsen anymore; unless the dead are now electable? And so, I come to accept that Democracy’s beauty lies in its flaws, its incompleteness, its uncompromising requirement for compromise, mediocrity, and mendacity. It is for these virtues that I hold my nose and close my eyes whilst exercising my civic franchise. And not without complaint and disgust about the shortcomings in myself and my interactions with this process called Self Governance. Democracy is dead. Long live Clay Henry III.

  • I have a blue collar job. I work on a crew that is employed by the wealthy. One day I had an
    epiphany and I said to my boss: “The poor don’t employ us.” With that said, I
    moved up a notch from being completely stupid to being just another progressive moron.

    My boss and my blue-collar brothers thought I voted against my self-interest when I voted for healthcare. Nonetheless, the country didn’t go socialist and, because the stock market went way up, the wealthy are spending gobs of money on their property.

    For the working poor, the outcome is that the porridge is not too hot or too cold. The crew is ‘going 8’ every day and I have healthcare. The knuckleheads I work with are now asking me how to sign up for healthcare.

    There was an incremental change, which maintained stability.
    That ^ is in everyone’s self-interest…..

  • In the intro Chris said big money on both sides.

    Frank said he didn’t know what was spent but then went on to say republicans were doing all
    the bad stuff, robo-calling etc.

    @6:00:00 “Essentially did away with the state income tax if you are … generally upper income taxpayer…”

    Did anyone fact check Frank’s comments?

    “Kansas House Bill 2117 eliminates state income taxes on small business and farm income
    claimed on individual returns and offers reductions in individual income tax rates and brackets.”

    “Reduced Income Tax Rates – Starting in 2013, Kansas individual income tax rates will
    begin slowly decreasing for the next five years until reaching their lowest
    point in 2018. ”
    See chart with the above heading at this link, which won’t format here at RoS:

    First off, the change was just implemented – starting in 2013 – seriously, you expect an
    economic turn-around in one or two years?

    The rate of change 2012 to 2018 min vs max.
    Min: 34% decrease
    Max: 40% decrease

    A 6% declination difference between min and max.

    Okay, now we know why people voted the way they did in Kansas.
    ….Baffler? yeah, I just skipped the rest of Frank’s comments.