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.

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.

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