Sunday, November 02, 2014

Midterm Election Blues

The midterm election is, of course, Tuesday, and it is still likely that the Republicans will win the Senate, again demonstrating how cynical the electorate has become and which party that cynicism tends to serve. Some will say it is "Obama fatigue" at the heart of the likely victory, others will blame the ignorance of the masses and still others will say the country is simply continuing its long march to the right that started in the 70s. I think the more realistic explanation explores three related trends: 1. The aforementioned cynicism, 2. The rise of political insularity (one could say toward partisan fundamentalism) and 3. The power of money and fear.

Political cynicism is a topic that has interested me for many years and one that seems to have become more of a problem with each passing election. There was a sense that Obama’s victory in 2008 was a step away from that cynicism based on its message of hope and change, but the effectiveness of the right in obstructing almost everything Obama has attempted to do ever since (after the first year or so) has exhausted that early hope and only amplified the sense that government can do nothing right. That is, of course, not the case – and one could argue the state is increasingly important as the only check to unfettered corporate power. But cynicism is more powerful than any other ideology, as it disempowers people from seeking social change at the level of the individual and their subjectivity, ensuring more of the same or worse in perpetuity.

The second issue that has become increasingly troubling in recent years is that of partisanship, though I think insularity and fundamentalism might better capture the true nature of the issue. Far more people hold steadfast to their political affiliation than in the past and far too many of these people now insulate themselves from any opinions that contradict their growing uncritical certainty. I find this problem on the left as much as on the right, with the Internet probably the biggest enabler – as one can read publications, blogs, tweets and websites that simply reinforce what they already believe. The growth of talk radio and cable television mean that one can comfortably go through large parts of their lives listening and watching only those that reinforce what they already believe. It is the fascist dream, cut into two, with the resultant inability to get anything done actually serving conservatives much better than liberals (and the power elite more than everyone else).

The final issue is the insane amount of money now being spent on elections in the wake of the Citizens United Supreme Court decision and the further proliferation of attack ads and fear mongering to arguably undermine the will of the people. As I have reported here before, generalized surveys show that the average American does care about corporate power, about inequality, wants progressive tax reform, more regulation and, essentially, many aspects of a relatively progressive platform. And yet when it comes to elections, the country is split along partisan lines that tend to confuse the corporate media into claiming them as ideological lines. Fear and money have essentially undermined the very notion of American democracy and early discussions of a constitutional amendment to address this central problem appear to be one of the only viable answers until the Supreme Court changes its balance (if that ever happens).

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