Were 2012 elections irrelevant?
The fresh rejection by American voters of the country’s most blatant right wing ideologues is a welcome event.
Yet as relieved as we citizens might feel, we must not delude ourselves into thinking the underlying mechanisms that beckon us toward disaster on a number of fronts have been overcome. Saving the best for last, here is a look at the elections of 2012.
In the most fundamental terms of democracy, little has changed. After an election campaign in which The Center for Responsive Politics estimates that $5,800,000,000 was spent, the ultimate instrument of policy-making in the United States remains the same — money.
Unless and until guaranteed avenues for communicating with voters are firmly institutionalized in this country, the stranglehold of the Republican and Democratic parties will continue to expand, with disastrous results. With more appetite for concealing than addressing the bedrock issues of our times, the bipartisan status quo threatens to run not only this country, but the world off a precipice more profound than the so-called “fiscal cliff” so carefully defined and broadcast in order to disguise the real issue of institutionalized wealth inequality.
For the most part, the 2012 campaign was a farce. Take, as an example, the series of presidential and vice-presidential “debates.” Inescapably billed as a major basis for voters to decide who will occupy the Oval Office for the next four years, the debates more accurately acted to reinforce a dangerously narrow vision of what (or who) this country is about, the primary issues facing its citizens and the acceptable range of choices on offer.
Through their central roles in the charade the two candidates — their duality reflecting a polarized world view — faithfully served the desires and tactics of the most powerful business interests in the world.
The first modern candidates’ debates were organized by the nonpartisan League of Women Voters, who yanked their sponsorship in 1987 in response to the non-negotiable contract presented them by the two major parties.
“It has become clear to us that the candidates’ organizations aim to add debates to their list of campaign trail charades devoid of substance, spontaneity and answers to tough questions . . . the League has no intention of becoming an accessory to the hoodwinking of the American public,” stated the league.
Unfortunately, the intent to hoodwink was on prominent display throughout the debates. A blatant example at this moment so near the wake of Hurricane Sandy’s destruction was the candidates’ total pardon from having to answer questions about global warming.
Nor was any light allowed to shine on the ongoing financial crime spree impoverishing millions while enabling the replacement of democracy by the rule of money, the rogue defense of an international empire sapping the nation’s wealth while alienating the rest of civilization, imminent rises in energy prices threatening an end not only to inexpensive fuel but also affordable food, persistent racism and the war against workers and the poor, the intrusion of religion into government — in short, actual roots of the symptoms consistently presented as “the issues” by the corporate press.
While only carefully selected topics appeared in corporate media throughout this interminable national campaign (a pre-Nov. 6 estimate by Moody’s Investor Service predicted around $2.8 million in ad revenue for local and cable TV alone), a constricting embargo was also in place upon the range of options deemed suitable for public exposure.
A general rule of thumb was — and is — that unless elite corporate entities and individuals can realize a profit, even the most obvious remedy is off the table. Thus, a return to effective representation for workers and tax rates on vast stores of wealth on a level that produced decades of widespread prosperity in the United States between World War II and the 1970s are non-starters, as is a health system designed to promote optimum public health instead of further enriching an inefficient and fraud-ridden insurance industry.
An effective public disinformation campaign requires a distraction, and nothing works better than fear. Enter the previously mentioned fiscal cliff, designed to shock and awe the masses into knee-jerk acceptance of a false choice between sharply increased taxes on the majority of voters or cutbacks on institutions available (if unevenly) to citizens since the first half of the last century: education, public health and safety, transportation and so forth.
That’s the choice, folks — more blood from the stone of the working class or the shutting down of essential services during hard times, exactly when they are most needed. Make no mistake, Paul Ryan’s dream lives on.
Yet there were bright spots amidst of the wreckage of the American dream.
In a victory for social justice as well as common sense, recreational marijuana use was legalized in Colorado and Washington. Voters in those states demonstrated their understanding of drug use as a public health issue rather than fodder for the private prison industry.
Voters in Albuquerque, Long Beach and San Jose, Calif., all passed, by emphatic majorities ranging from three-fifths to two-thirds, varied measures to raise minimum wages in their communities. In Albuquerque, the wage rate went from $7.50 to $8.50 per hour despite the tender attentions of both the state’s most powerful right wing radio station and newspaper.
And in Wisconsin, Tammy Baldwin became the country’s first openly gay U.S. senator. Meanwhile Maryland and Maine voters were registering their willingness to honor same-sex marriages in rebukes to the nation’s Bible-thumping fear mongers.
Progressive triumphs all, and yet voters scored their most significant victories of 2012 in support of the democratic process itself. In two states, Colorado and Montana, and in some 150 cities from California to Massachusetts, voters passed initiatives instructing their legislators to pass an amendment to the Constitution to overturn the disastrous U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling that legalized a level of often anonymous campaign spending by corporations and billionaires that effectively drowns out individual speech.
The margins of passage were huge, in some places into the 80th percentile, but the most significant and encouraging aspect of these results is how party lines were obliterated on an issue real patriots agree on — government of, by and for the people.
Dave Wheelock is a member of the Oneida Nation who directs and coaches collegiate sports in Socorro. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.