Nonvoters Rule the Election
Michele Eve Sandberg
Editor's note: Evan Rowe is an adjunct professor of history at Broward College.
Despite the campaign hype and advertising, despite the fact that this election will decide Florida's governor and the legality of medical marijuana, the largest voting bloc this election cycle will be, as it was in 2010, the nonvoter. The nonvoter, often derided and chided, will once again be king this election cycle, without much fanfare or perspective. So let's give it some perspective. Let's show some respect to the nonvoter and reveal the partisan hackery that passes itself off as serious politics.
For starters, both parties are controlled by big money. This is not a revelation, nor an original point, but let's examine what it means in greater detail.
In essence, the dominant political space in society is controlled privately. The private sector finances the state. This includes the national state, as well as state and local governments, in lesser degrees. At the state level, the primary difference is that the price tag to purchase control over the state becomes much lower than it is at the federal level (i.e., smaller industries can compete to control state governments more easily than they are able to compete to control the federal government. So Google and Amazon can compete to control U.S. senators, while a midsized company like AutoNation can compete at the state level).
By and large, what this all boils down to is that the valuable space in American life is predominantly controlled privately, while the public space has become increasingly stressed, at least in the places where it benefits the population at large (i.e., social spending). As I have often pointed out in various lectures and writings: It is an intellectually useful metric to ask yourself who controls which space in society when it comes to understanding the role of the government. Who controls the food? The private sector. The clothes on your back? Private. The information that was pumped into the public's minds, from the music they consume to the political ideas that are legitimated by mass media? Private. The arms industry, computers, and so on?
The lion's share of the political power that most of us face in daily life is with the private sector, not the government.
And like any good and vibrant power system, a central way to keep the system humming is that the actual centers of power are simply held as axiomatic and must remain unquestioned, nearly invisible, and almost never debated. And the best way to deal with that is by having a raging debate about where only a small fraction of power exists, and that space is the state.
Thus, the shrill and often petty tone occurs in elections because the actual amount of power shift that the outcome offers is quantifiably minimal for the vast majority of the population, which hereafter shall be referred to as the working class. Yet the party hacks go ballistic when I point this out.
They do not go crazy because their team offers the people nothing and runs around subsidizing and tax-breaking the problem sector and generally facilitating upward redistribution of power and wealth, yet they act like I'm out of control simply for pointing this out. It's completely acceptable, in their mind, to repeat this same insane procedure but get mad at me simply because I say what they are and what they do. I am not the one who is choosing to run campaigns, I am not the one who is allowed to control the agenda, yet when I simply point out how little power the political class returns to the working class majority, I'm out of line for defending the working class majority against a clueless and posh high and upper-middle class.
Comparing what each level gets out of the system, it is clear why money at the top gets pumped into the political system by business factions. If you run a midlevel business and you invest money in the political system, there is presumably a return on investment that comes from putting that money into the political system. So if you invest $1 million in campaign funding and get back $5 million thanks to the political class subsidizing or tax breaking, then there is a significant return on investment. Ironically, the return-on-investment point was also made by none other than Jim Bopp, the lawyer who successfully argued the Citizens United case and noted:
So, then I think well, maybe not; we don't need them. But one thing's for sure is that contribution limits are way too low. They are $2,500, and you can't even buy a Democrat congressman for $2,500. The anecdotal evidence is that it takes $99,000 in cold hard cash to buy a Democrat congressman. That was the amount Congressman Jefferson of New Orleans had in his freezer.
Republican congressmen seem to go at a higher rate. Duke Cunningham had a schedule of bribes in his desk. The lowest amount was $140,000 for him to earmark your weapons system. So we know for sure that it takes a heck of a lot more money than $2,500 to unduly influence a congressman, so our limits are just too low.
His delusions about money being speech or the ideological delusions about liberal billionaires aside, the basic point is that concentrated money effectively aligns around issues and policies that ensure the maintenance of that power. I know this is stating the obvious, but in the land of illusions, the obvious needs to be stated -- and restated -- often.
As a comparison, an ordinary worker who joined the Democratic Party in the industrial North during the New Deal, was brought in under the loose idea (and I don't want to overstate the power of the New Deal) of a state-mandated political program that reduced profits because it boosted wages. This was the bread and butter of the party's Northern voting base from the '30s until it was effectively broken in 1978-79 (another matter).
But now, after decades of state- and private-sector-facilitated upward redistribution of wealth, a worker at the local gas station or Target or anyone who is part of the 100-million plus in the working class, then you do not get the same return on investment for political participation. This leaves the only voters within the working class voting almost exclusively on what I often refer to as "free issues." Free issues are those that cost elites almost nothing to offer to the general population.
The criteria for them is that they serve the purpose of psychologically attracting people into a party brand but do not threaten the large monetary interests of the people who finance the campaigns. So abortion is a winner, gun control or no gun control is a winner, race is a winner, immigration is a winner, Jesus is a winner, gay marriage is a winner, and so on. These are winners for the four in ten eligible voters who are most likely vote this election cycle, because no matter how voters split (elephant or donkey status), they will do absolutely nothing to reverse the massive upward redistribution of power that has occurred and will continue to occur without a massive political shift to the left, yet will still exorcise the political passions of those who are as passionate about their causes as some in the nonvoting majority are about their respective sports teams.
An uncomfortable maxim about power is that it is relative and, thus, cannot be taken in an abstract fashion. Power is a relationship, and to take it literally means taking it away from someone else. You cannot have any policies of "economic fairness" without identifying who you think should lose it.
If the Dems seriously cared about winning, they would operate by offering people material power in exchange for voter support. But they simply do not care and will prefer to win only if the Republicans throw the race (by ineptitude or otherwise). They were banking on the medical marijuana amendment to give them the modest boost in turnout they would need to win the election, but even that campaign turned into noise in the face of the pro-drug-dealing interests who prefer the profitability that the current black market system produces. (To be clear, the profitability from the current amendment would be quite high, as it is in the California pot sector, but with multiple states competing in a regulated regime, the ability for the private sector to use the state to ensure price support for the major narcotraffickers -- which is basically how the drug war functions from a profitability standpoint -- could become precarious. A regulated regime in the pot market simply creates order by deliberately creating price floors that ensure billions in profits to dealers and secondary amounts of money in tax revenue.)
I have said all of this before, but you simply cannot reason with the party hacks. They don't want to win, or at least to the extent that they do want to win, they only want to win on their preexisting acceptable terms. They want to win in precisely the way they formulate why they should win, despite the fact that their reasons are clearly not resonating with the general population. T
The Democratic Party activists always seem to act as if they are entitled to support (what with the anti-Nader rage 15 years later, less than 5 percent of the population voted for Nader, but a full 50 percent of the electorate stayed home, but you don't hear the Dems imagining that the nonvoter brought Bush II to power because that would indicate their own failure to mass appeal and, thus, the Nader scapegoat persists, 14 years later) and that what they offer is somehow a self-evident truth. But It is not incumbent upon the vast majority (six in ten, an overwhelming majority) to figure out why and how the Democrats are in their best interests. It is incumbent upon the Democrats to recognize that people with power in the private sector are a central problem and that their entire purpose is to mobilize the many in an alliance against those in power.
The private sector seems to have no solution for the labor crisis many of us face. After decades of upward redistribution of wealth and power, and given an untapped electoral market of a full six in ten eligible voters, it should be obvious that any political party that appeals to this center is capable of winning landslide elections at all levels. To put this in perspective, if the Dems went after the vast majority of the nonvoting working class, they would either double their entire vote totals (minus the number of entitled rich individuals and business sectors that would abandon the party were it to mobilize the many at the expense of the arrogant and wealthy minority) or significantly pad easy victories. And that is with only two out of the six extra votes that remain on the sidelines.
But don't hold your breath. We're in for another nailbiter between two pro-business candidates who both solidly enjoy the support of the country club class, and so long as neither is prepared to mobilize a new base, it is not possible to have a political coalition that offers material power to the many if the powerful few are allowed to sit inside of it.
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