Thursday, December 11, 2014

The Republican Mandate that never was

Republicans in Congress are rubbing their hands with glee now that they will see majorities in both houses in Congress. Republicans will start next year with 54 members of the Senate and 246 members of the House. This is the largest majority they've had since the Truman Administration which ended in 1953.

Many Republicans seem keen to point out that Democrats lost, fair and square, and that they now have a mandate to defy, hobble and spit upon the sitting Democrat in the Oval Office, President Obama. But they sure seem slow to admit that voter turnout in the midterms was the lowest in 72 years.

This isn't just a problem for the Republicans. It's a problem for the Democrats, too. Democrats fair much better when voter turnout is higher. When voter turnout is higher, Republicans can actually claim a mandate to do something. But with such a low turnout, that only gives Congress permission to do nothing.

So Republicans are claiming a mandate with just 36% of adults casting votes. Considering all the new voter suppression laws, Citizens United, and the low quality of candidates that both parties have sent to Congress, a new question comes to mind. Is low voter turnout a feature or a bug?

This isn't an accident and didn't happen overnight. This is a trend that has spanned decades. There seems to be a confluence of trends that either inhibit or prevent people from voting. Many people are very busy working and they are thinking about money, not politics. They are thinking about feeding their families, paying the rent and where their next paycheck is going to come from. A weak economy is a feature, not a bug, designed to keep people working, away from politics, away from the street where they can cause trouble.

The Citizens United ruling from the Supreme Court ensured that Congress goes to the highest bidder. Unfortunately, that means the highest bidder is among the wealthiest in this country, a small minority so sure that they can single-handedly run this country for everyone. They live in Lesterland. A land where about 142,000 of the wealthiest people in this country decide who gets to run for office. Then the rest of us get to vote for their choices. I don't know about you, but that is a supreme turn off for young voters. This is a feature, not a bug.

Then you have voter suppression laws in many states across the country, particularly in the deep south, that seem squarely aimed at discouraging minorities from voting. Proponents of such laws claim that they're making reasonable demands, but the results say something else. Such proponents are awfully quiet about voter fraud after such a low turnout. This is a feature, not a bug.

We cast our votes in black box voting systems. Our voting systems are run on proprietary software, so no one really knows what the code is doing except the vendors. We cannot even trust our voting machines or the systems used to tabulate the votes. For the next generation of voters, that's a big turn off. They know something is up. This too, is a feature, not a bug. We need open source voting systems that we can trust.

So for the Republicans giddy with power, get real. Remember that your majorities come at the cost of lower voter turnout. You may have received a majority, but only by design, not by the merit of your ideas. Voters need to get their butts to the polls for every election, true enough, but you're not doing much to help that. Note also that statistically speaking, Republicans are bound to have a bloodbath in the next election, especially if turnout goes way up in 2016.

Democrats have a problem in that the candidates they put out for us to choose from are not really that liberal. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren are true Democrats, Social Democrats and they are willing to fight for the rest of us. They are vociferous in the Senate and they are building legacies that Ted Kennedy would be proud of. I know, Bernie is an independent, but he sure acts like a Democrat from the 1960s and 70s.

So when I see that Hilary Clinton is our best shot at the presidency in 2016, I must admit to some mild nausea. Clinton is part of the neoliberal economics faction that crashed the economy and helped to run voter turnout into the ground. Unless I hear her talking like a Jimmy Carter Democrat, I'm going to be looking for third parties like the Green Party.

If the trend continues and the Republicans succeed in taking both houses and the presidency, they are going to run a scorched earth campaign to destroy the minimum wage, Social Security, Medicare, science funding, the space program and the Post Office. Oh how they love to gore the Post Office. Every element of American infrastructure will become a profit center for their biggest donors. They will claim a mandate to do it, too, even with low voter turnout.

Unless we can get big money out of politics and elect Congressmen and women who speak for the rest of us. There are two very interesting campaigns to do this: 

I know more about Larry Lessig's PAC, They have raised more than $10m to fund candidates dedicated to real campaign finance reform. Not so sure about the other one, but both of these PACs seem to drive the same goals. Get rid of Citizens United, get real reform signed as law.

I hope we can do it before it's too late.
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