THE BLOG
11/10/2014 02:59 pm ET Updated Jan 10, 2015

Election Results: Better Cover for Dems, More Distractions for Progressives?

Last week's elections concern me some because the policies coming out of Washington will probably swing even more to the right, and some because of what they confirm about the parts of the voting public's level of understanding. The biggest problem, however, is that the two-party system fools more of the people more of the time when Republicans are in power and Democrats can pose as the progressive alternative. In this case, the Obama Administration will get even more cover than it has so far for its militarist, pro-Wall-street, surveillance-state, and, yes, even pro-fossil-fuel agenda.

The Elections as a Barometer of Political Consciousness

Ralph Nader and Black Agenda Report's Bruce Dixon make a strong case that corporate-funded Democrats could not energize their potential base. They were largely unwilling to address the issues that matter to those who might have supported them. Moreover, they were linked to an Administration that has an amazing batting record for talking a good game while delivering nothing. Hence the low voter turnout.

Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting notes how, in the face of this, the corporate media are playing their usual tune of urging Democrats to move even more towards the supposed center. But Dixon reminds us, "The last time Democrats gained control of the House of Representatives was when the American people imagined a Democrat congress would stop the Bush-Cheney wars in Iraq and perhaps impeach the president and vice president."

Voter suppression cost the Democrats some votes, but not nearly as many as their failure to be a true progressive alternative did. And, as Dixon points out, the voter suppression measures have been in the works for many years, without the Democratic Party alerting the public and mobilizing it to defend the right to vote.

So why did so many who did vote favor Republicans? Obama himself, echoed by Paul Krugman, suggests that Republican partisan obstructionism in Washington successfully created, among less-sophisticated voters, a cynicism about a do-nothing government that could be turned against Democratic incumbents or anyone tarred with the brush of being in the President's party. That's probably part of it.

But as the narrator of my story about a mass uprising leading to a successful nonviolent revolution here 10 years from now points out, in our time

the best distraction [from awareness of corporate wealth's domination of government] was the two-party system, which allowed the media to quote politicians from one party as they blamed the other for the nation's ills. It also allowed people who were fed up with how things were going, after a few years of control by politicians affiliated with one party, to throw them out and try the other. People had short memories, hope seemed to spring eternal—at least among the half of the population that voted—and neither the press nor the schools pointed out the larger trends.

Moreover, as Thomas Frank explained in What's the Matter with Kansas, Republicans are free to delude people with "social issues" as they pursue a blatant corporate agenda. (I'd add that the same gambit works for most Democrats. They just take the opposite side to appeal to a different constituency.) As Nader adds, in further explanation of last week's results, "And when you have voters who don't do their homework about the records of the candidates, they become very vulnerable to this kind of right-wing corporate Republican propaganda."

Which brings us to another common explanation for the November 4 results: the American people are stupid. I'm told that posts to that effect are circulating on Facebook. And, if you type "stupidity American people" into a search engine, even the first page of the (literally) 20,100,000 results that come up is illuminating. But Carl Gibson adds another crucial perspective on last Tuesday's results:

Washington State voters passed increased gun background checks, voters in 4 states increased the minimum wage, Illinois voters taxed millionaires to raise more money for schools, and voters in California agreed to rein in the prison-industrial complex by changing low-level, nonviolent drug offenses from felonies to misdemeanors. Voters in Alaska, Oregon and Washington, DC, all agreed to legalize marijuana.

And in Richmond, California, a city of 103,000 people in which Chevron spent $3,000,000 to sway a municipal election against the Richmond Progressive Alliance, none of the oil giant's candidates won. So, as Gibson, Nader and others point out, there are also large numbers of voters who are way ahead of what either party will give us. Those who are not are not stupid, but they are misinformed and mis-educated on a massive scale. If we want real change, some of us must create an organization which will have the commitment and patience to make educating and organizing our people, with a long-term vision in mind of building a massive movement for revolutionary change, the focus of our work.

How Who Won Does and Does Not Matter

So, in what ways does it matter who won? Maybe it makes a little difference on the policy level, although, as Glen Ford pointed out in 2012, Obama has probably gotten away with more militarism, expansion of the national-security state and catering to Wall Street banks than a McCain or Romney ever could. As Lori Wallach argues, a Republican Senate and Congress may cooperate more with Obama's desire to create disastrous globalization agreements like the TPP, although it may also oppose giving him fast-track authority.

I'm most concerned about two other things, however. First is the effect of the election on the level of political discourse, with the most unrestrained, right-wing demagogues having greater influence than they did before in setting the debate agenda. There is a real danger here, as these are the folks who will promote a neo-fascist analysis and an even more extreme corporate-military-surveilance state if our country experiences a severe economic crisis before an anti-corporate alternative organizes itself.

The other is the role of Republican extremists in making it easier for 100% corporate Democrats to masquerade as progressive, with the help of a press that reports both sides' rhetoric without background investigation of the facts.

Be that as it may, it's only a slight overstatement to say that I'd love to see activists erase from our minds the looming notion that November, 2016, will be significantly more important than any other month. Even though these events with which the teeter-totter of the two-party system hooks our attention do matter, what we really need to attend to is getting our own act together to start organizing a grass-roots alternative to that system's electoral game. To the extent that we get really involved in who wins the Democratic-Republican contests every two years, to that extent we are neglecting finding our way to pushing both corporate parties to the margins.