Thursday, August 16, 2012

The Money Race

Graphics by Kevin Kreneck. Click on images to enlarge.

Ayn Rand: The Right's Weirdest Idol of All

(From the Aug. 1, 2011, issue of The Progressive Populist, Hal Crowther takes down Ayn Rand, the atheist Russian emigre who inspired young Paul Ryan, among others, to become a right-wing Republican.)

By Hal Crowther

The Republican Party’s slapstick search for a leader would be heartwarming and sidesplitting, but for the tragic knowledge that one of these scrambling midgets will collect tens of millions of votes in the presidential election of 2012. Never have so many amounted to so little, talked so much rubbish, dreamed of an office so far above their abilities. Blood pressures rose among party elders when Donald Trump, marginally Republican and one of the greatest fools in the solar system, momentarily tossed his hairpiece into the ring and became the instant favorite.

The GOP dilemma — a golden opportunity to rule but nothing to say and no one to say it — is so desperate that my instinct is to help them sort it out. Could we make a start, at least, by dismissing candidates who called for President Obama’s birth certificate or raised the specter of Sharia law in America, followed briskly off the stage by lunatics who dismiss global warming as a socialist plot?

That would leave plenty of unbalanced extremists still in the running, yet reduce the stench of sheer evil and madness. The “birther” and Sharia cults reek of cheesy talk-radio racism; climate-change denial is a stranger faith yet, a political assault on basic science that insults a ground squirrel’s intelligence and casually threatens the survival of life on earth.

The party that produces birthers and global-warming deniers no doubt harbors End-of-the-Worlders, too, Christians who packed their bags for heaven with the senile prophet Harold Camping on May 21. Though none of them, I suppose, would commit to the time and expense of a presidential campaign just to preside over a nation of sinners expiring in fire and pestilence. Leo Rangell, the prominent Freudian analyst whose obituary is in this morning’s Times, once lamented that the American public is “gullible or easily seduced, and susceptible to leaders of questionable character.”

Dr. Rangell wrote that in 1980, long before gullibility became such an epidemic that we began to doubt the value of our schools, before media demagogues made a billion-dollar industry of manipulating our most credulous citizens, before the Republican Party dedicated itself to gathering most of them into its fold. Before Rush Limbaugh, before Fox News, before the Tea Party.

“Finally, people’s stupidity will break your heart,” observed my father, a small-town politician and a loyal Republican of the moderate traditional strain that has been systematically exterminated by the radical Right.

My father lived long enough to vote for George McGovern and against Ronald Reagan, but the rhetoric GOP candidates churn out to charm this Tea Party would sound extraterrestrial to most Republicans of his generation.

The odious hypocrite Newt Gingrich, who considered himself a serious presidential candidate until his entire staff abandoned him in disgust, rests his appeal on his intellectual superiority to Sarah Palin and Rick Perry — a distinction much like being a faster runner than Dom DeLuise. In his obligatory pre-campaign book Gingrich claims that Barack Obama, a cautious centrist if there ever was one, drives a “secular-socialist machine” that “represents as great a threat to America as Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union once did.”

Michael Savage, Rush Limbaugh, Father Coughlin, move over. Newt is just full of Shariah, among other things, and accuses Obama of “Kenyan, anti-colonial behavior,” a blatant pitch for the racist vote the Tea Party has re-energized. A colossal irony — demonstrating how hopelessly divided America has become — is that the radical philosopher Cornel West, a black Princeton professor, calls Obama “a black mascot of Wall Street oligarchs and a black puppet of corporate plutocrats.” This is not helpful of Dr. West, nor even responsible. He and Newt Gingrich are equally useless if a calmer, more logical and coherent political culture is what we’re after. But if I had to say which of these two hostile portraits of our president is less preposterous, I’m sure I’d choose West’s. Virtually all the valid criticism of Barack Obama has come from the left.

When Tea-stained legislators gut environmental laws to protect corporate profits, when they sneer at climate change while America bakes in its bedrock like a big green casserole — when Republican educational reform means classrooms with fewer teachers and more guns — there’s a temptation for reasonable Americans to throw up their hands and succumb to despair. Is it a death wish or a scheme to kill the rest of us, when “conservatives” fight against clean air laws, or legislate to place a loaded pistol in every yahoo’s holster? I’ve reached the second half of my seventh decade, and I’ve never seen such an intimidating swarm of fanatics and fools marching under one banner. The election of a non-white president has brought out the worst in the worst of us. But who guessed that there were so many, or that their worst was so awful?

The late Albert Einstein, of my father’s persuasion if not of his party, once wrote despairingly, “The tyranny of the ignoramuses is insurmountable and assured for all time.” But the coalition that poisons this struggling republic is an unnatural one, made up of rich cynics who supply the money and poor ignoramuses who supply the votes. They have nothing in common, except that the cynics will say anything and the morons will believe it. There must be something, optimists insist, that could drive a wedge between the exploiters and the exploited — some irresistible revelation, some fraud or contradiction so flagrant that the most obtuse voter could see how callously and criminally he’s being used.

How about Ayn Rand? The latest Republican poster boy, congressman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, stole the media spotlight with a slash-to-the-bone budget proposal that Fox News heralded as the Magna Carta of fiscal responsibility in America. I lack the expertise to take on Rep. Ryan’s budget digit-for-digit, but I place considerable confidence in the opinion of the Times’ Paul Krugman, who won a Nobel Prize for Economics in 2008. “The proposal wasn’t serious at all,” Krugman wrote. “In fact, it was a sick joke. The only real things in it were savage cuts in aid to the needy and the uninsured, huge tax cuts for corporations and the rich, and Medicare privatization. All the alleged cost savings were pure fantasy.”

That sounds about par for the current Republican course, with fresh infusions of Tea Party belligerence and unreality. But what frightened me most about Rep. Ryan was the report that he is an avowed disciple of the writer/philosopher Ayn Rand, and has declared in public that Rand is “the reason I got involved in public service.” Good grief, she’s back. She died in 1982, but someone neglected to drive a stake through her heart.

A passion for the prose and philosophy of Ayn Rand tells us a great deal about an individual, none of it good. There are few surer signs of a poor reader, a poor thinker and an unpleasant person than a well-thumbed copy of Atlas Shrugged or The Fountainhead.

In 2005, Rand’s acolytes gathered in Washington for a symposium to celebrate her 100th birthday — the occasion for Rep. Ryan’s disturbing confession — and I admit I’d give anything to see the seating chart. If there was some way to ban everyone in that room from holding public office, we could probably turn the United States of America back toward the generous light of reason.

She was to literature what Rod McKuen was to poetry, what Fabian was to rock n’ roll, what Guru Maharaj Ji was to religion. Look them up. Like them, she once enjoyed a huge audience of admirers. Unlike them, she was never harmless and she’s enjoying an alarming revival.

Since Atlas Shrugged was published in 1957, it has sold seven million copies. It’s possibly the most polarizing book ever written. For every Paul Ryan who finds it life-shaping, a dozen readers are mystified and a dozen more appalled. Few actually finish the 1,200-page novel, which ends with the mysterious Galt drawing a dollar sign in the air with his finger. If you wade into this stuff up to your ankles — the hokey melodrama, the backlit macro-characters posed like Easter Island monoliths, the cruel and obvious message stamped on every page—-you begin to fear that you can never wash it off.

At times her critics oversimplify Rand’s beliefs, which embody any number of contradictions and opacities. But essentially she glorifies the will and celebrates Nietzsche’s Ubermensch, the superman whose blazing passage through the world need never be impeded by the interests or opinions of mediocrities like you and me. It’s the same string of arrogant assumptions that spawned the Master Race theories of Herr Hitler: ego-deification, social Darwinism, arbitrary stratification of human types. Adapted for capitalism, it becomes the divine right to plunder — a license for those who own nearly everything to take the rest, because they wish to, because they can. Because the weak don’t matter. Let the big dogs feed. This repulsive theology was the work of a fairly repulsive person.

For an eyewitness portrait of Ayn Rand in the flesh, in the prime of her celebrity, you can’t improve on the “Ubermensch” chapter in Tobias Wolff’s autobiographical novel Old School.

Invited to meet with the faculty and student writers at the narrator’s boarding school, Rand arrives with an entourage of chain-smoking idolaters in black and behaves so repellently that her audience of innocents gets a life lesson in what kind of adult to avoid, and to avoid becoming. Rude, dismissive, vain and self-infatuated to the point of obtuseness — she names Atlas Shrugged as the only great American novel — Rand and her hissing chorus in black manage to alienate the entire school, even the rich board member who had admired and invited her.

What strikes Wolff’s narrator most forcefully is her utter lack of charity or empathy, her transparent disgust with everything she views as disfiguring or disabling: a huge wen on the headmaster’s forehead, the narrator’s running head cold, the war injury that emasculated Hemingway’s Jake Barnes in The Sun Also Rises.

To the boy, she appears to be exactly the sort of merciless egotist who might have designed a fascist philosophy that exalts power and disparages altruism. Rand is wearing a gold pin in the shape of a dollar sign. After meeting her, he can no longer read a word of The Fountainhead, which as an adolescent romantic he had enjoyed.

This division of the human race into the elect few who are destiny’s darlings and the “second-rate” multitudes above whom they soar—-this Ubermensch nonsense—-is perilously thin ice on which to rest a philosophy (Nietzsche, you recall, went hopelessly mad.)

Since there’s no agency that rates human beings the way we rate bonds, the elect are always self-elected supermen and superwomen. Super, says who?

If it’s supposed to be intellect as much as will that sets them above us, I sense a critical problem. Whenever a person of superior intelligence begins to comprehend the human condition, the first fruits of his knowledge are humility and irony—-those two things Rand and her heroes most spectacularly lack.

Personally, I never feel more superior than when I see someone carrying a copy of Atlas Shrugged. What actually sets the self-styled super race apart is an unrepressed infantile id, a raging “I want” that defies socialization. These are damaged children, people of arrested development drawn to an ugly philosophy that legitimizes narcissism and socially unacceptable behavior. Donald Trump would be a perfect example. For an apostle of self-willed happiness, the goddess of greed led a troubled life, marked by depressions, amphetamine addiction, messy love affairs and betrayals. But you could say that she had a capacious mind, if not a healthy or an orderly one.

She was well educated, she had actually read Aristotle and Nietzsche before she hobbled them and hitched them to her wagon. Her unlikely 21st-century resurrection is the work of much smaller, often almost invisible minds that cherry-pick the vast creaking structure of her oeuvre for their own ends, just as they cherry-pick the Bible or The Wealth of Nations.

If corporate feudalism is your dream for America, she’s the prophet for you. Her na├»ve faith in capitalism and contempt for “the welfare state” are just what the right-wing doctor ordered.

Much of the rest, alas, will never fly in Alabama. Pundits have been delighted to note that the heroine of the new Republicans was a pacifist who opposed the Vietnam War, a feminist who supported abortion, an adulteress who preached free love, a bohemian who mocked family life and child-bearing, an elitist who sneered at the common man, and, after all her “nanny state” rhetoric, a recipient of Social Security and Medicare and a late, sick convert to the benefits of socialized medicine.

Worst of all, for tea-stained Christian Republicans, she was a militant atheist. In Rand’s ideology religious faith was the most abject form of weakness, a sniveling retreat from the hardheaded, self-centered “objectivism” her heroes impose on the world. She not only would have rejected Jesus and his gospels, she actually did—-repeatedly. Christ’s message that the poor are blessed and the meek will inherit the earth is antithetical to Rand’s belief that the poor and meek are no more than mulch where the dreams of the mighty take root.

So adamantly did she denounce the altruism and self-sacrifice at the center of the Christian message, it’s no exaggeration to call her the intellectual Antichrist.

It’s no great exaggeration to say that praising her is like spitting in Christ’s face.

How do Paul Ryan, Ron and Rand Paul and company manage to pass off this radical atheist, this subversive Russian Jew (born Elisa Rosenbaum) as an iconic role model for Christian conservatives?

Apparently they don’t think they need to get into the details, not with their particular constituency. Assuming that they know the details themselves. The careless condescension of their leaders is not yet a scandal to the tea-baggers of America’s unlettered hard Right. But Ayn Rand seems like the biggest joke of all, one that might yet blow up in the party’s face.

The plutocrats she worshiped are so few, the plebeians she scorned are so many. The GOP’s little people can’t all be totally illiterate, and Limbaugh and Glenn Beck actually urge them to read this woman’s books. It’s in-your-face deception that reminds me of the old stage villain, the silent-movie heavy with the waxed mustache, cackling behind his cloak and inviting the audience to share the cruelty he’s about to inflict on his innocent victims. It’s as if Wall Street is surreptitiously giving the finger to Main Street Republicans, laughing at the gullible recruits as they march to the polls to lower corporate taxes and deregulate markets. Ayn Rand, indeed. She would have applauded the big dogs’ ruthlessness but rolled her eyes at the Christian-family rhetoric they’re obliged to use for bait.

She wasn’t one of them, of course; she certainly wasn’t one of us. She was one of a kind, thank god. In her defense, you might argue that her love affair with capitalism was rooted in a Russian Jew’s horror of the totalitarian systems that devastated Europe in the 20th century.

That offers her a gravitas she doesn’t share with ultra-light Midwestern reactionaries like Paul Ryan or Michele Bachmann. But the more Americans read her books, the better for liberals and the worse, I think, for Republicans.

Her work illustrates conclusively what a few brave clergymen and a few ink-stained relics like me have been saying for years to anyone who would listen, and to Republicans who refuse to listen — that Christianity and the wolverine capitalism of a John Galt are totally incompatible systems, two mutually exclusive human possibilities. They cancel each other out. Any political party that pretends to integrate them is a party of liars, and doomed.

Hal Crowther’s most recent book is Gather at the River. Write him at 219 N. Churton St., Hillsborough, NC 27278.

From The Progressive Populist, August 1, 2011
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Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Why would a science writer go on a campaign to belittle education and celebrate ignorance?

By Marc Jampole

Tooling around the Internet, I found two recent Forbes articles by a science writer named David DiSalvo that denigrate education and knowledge. Both are lists, one of do’s and the other of don’ts. But instead of just titling the articles, “Some stuff I’ve learned along the way,” DiSalvo prefers to take pot shots at those with degrees and smarts.

The names of the two articles say it all:
The two lists mostly come down to ways to get along with people: “Don’t talk down to others” and “You can learn something useful from everyone,” although the lists do take occasional snide sideswipes at learning, such as “Learning is good; doing is better” (which turned out not to be true in the case of the atom bomb). Basically, it’s Horatio Alger-Dale Carnegie kind of advice.

So why did DiSalvo tie both lists together with insults to the educated? It is possible that he learned the positive lessons he lists from people who didn’t go to college, just as it’s possible that he saw people he considers brilliant do the dumb things he lists. But that’s his anecdotal experience. Most of the stuff on DeSalvo’s do-this list I learned from people who went to college. His don’t-do list seems to apply equally to people of all intelligence and educational levels in my experience. Those are my anecdotes.

As a science writer, DiSalvo should know that anecdotes don’t prove a thing. If he wants to show some trait that we usually admire, such as brilliance or the discipline to complete college, may be tied to something unadmirable or dangerous, he should cite a study. That’s what a science writer usually does, even when sharing something personal. For example, a recent series of studies gave strong evidence that wealthy people behave less ethically. Of course, no Forbes writer would ever allude to these particular studies, since the Forbes ideology glorifies the wealthy as deserving masters of the universe.

Thus DiSalvo uses a very unscientific approach to make assertions that undercut his profession, since both doing and writing about science require education and a certain modicum of intelligence.

In all of these attacks on intellectualism in the American mass media is a certain smugness, as if to say, we don’t have to read and we don’t have to study. I can understand climate change deniers or those who don’t want to teach evolution in the classroom having such an attitude. But someone who writes about science?  You’d think DiSalvo would find another way to unify his lists of disparate homilies. For example, he could have just as easily written, “Ten Smart Things You Don’t Have to Go to College to Learn,” which is less confrontational and not overtly anti-intellectual.

I would be hard pressed to limit to 10 or even 25 the important things that I learned at college and graduate school—important principles of my profession of writing, ways to deal with people especially in big bureaucracies, success strategies for the real world, the scientific method and other ways of thinking. I’m just listing the topic areas, not the lessons.

And don’t get me started about the things I have learned from the many brilliant people among my relatives, professors, clients, colleagues and friends.

I bet DiSalvo’s list of things he learned from brilliant people and things he learned in college would be as long as mine.

Of course, no one would pay him to write an article around a list that praises science, at least not in the current mass marketplace of ideas, which prefers to celebrate ignorance.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Romney’s Ryan play to the core will only work if the Republicans can suppress enough votes.

By Marc Jampole

For those who have trouble telling Paul Ryan and Eric Cantor apart, Ryan is the thin one with the angular jaw, full head of hair and arrogant demeanor.

I guess that didn’t help much.

All kidding aside, Mitt Romney’s selection of Wisconsin representative Paul Ryan as his running mate is, to state the obvious, another play to the right. It’s now clear that those who thought that Romney would “reset” and move to the “kinder, gentler” center once he won the nomination were wrong. Whatever Romney’s stands were in the past, he now represents the rightwing that has become the Republican Party’s core constituency.

The question of course is why would Romney still be playing to the rightwing instead of trying to snap up independent voters by tacking to the center with another VP selection? Why would he select as his vice president the poster child for the calls to end Medicare?

The common thought is that Romney is still trying to win over the extreme right that still distrusts him because of his previous more moderate stand on key issues. But I’ve come to believe that from the start, Romney and the Republican Party have had a two-prong strategy. One prong is to energize the rightwing base to vote and the other is to suppress the votes of those outside the base by passing and enforcing laws at the state level that make it harder to vote.  Plenty has been written about each strategy by itself but no one seems to have noted that the two strategies work hand in glove and could synergize to yield a Republican victory.

On the national level, the math seems as wrong as the immoral imperative to subvert democracy by preventing people from voting: common sense would suggest that there are many more independent voters that Romney is turning off with his bows to the rights than there are poor, minority and student voters shut out of voting by new rules and de facto poll taxes in Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia, Ohio and elsewhere. But the math might very well work in a handful of swing states, and that’s where the election will be decided.

Might work, but I don’t think it will, and Paul Ryan is the reason why. He wants to gut Medicare, taking $750 billion in federal funding from the program and turning it into a voucher system.  After the Democrats hammer the airwaves with Ryan’s Medicare plan, Romney’s standing is bound to drop among independents. Ryan also gives core Democrats, many of whom are a bit disappointed in Obama, another reason to vote.  Republican lies about death panels and government takeovers may have made many Americans distrust the Affordable Care Act. But study after study shows that Americans love Medicare just the way it is.

The combination of supporting lower taxes for the wealthy while gutting Medicare will prove deadly to the Republicans.  There are just not enough Democrats whom they can keep from voting to offset the independents who will be turned off by Ryan’s Medicare stand.

Changing the subject: I’ve been meaning to mention that Professors Richard l. Zweigenhaft and G. William Domhoff recently updated their seminal essay on diversity among chief executive officers. Zweigenhaft and Domhoff find that while there is greater racial and sexual diversity among the CEOs of Fortune 500 companies, the overwhelming majority of them still come from an upper middle class or wealthy background (except among African-American CEOs). The implication of the article is that while we may have a more diverse society, there is still little social mobility (movement between economic classes). It’s a fascinating article!

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Editorial: Beat a Rigged Game

Two years ago, Republicans took advantage of liberal disappointment that President Barack Obama and congressional Democrats were not more aggressive in addressing economic troubles, health care and reckless Wall Street bankers.

In 2010, backed by the Tea Party irregulars on the far right, Republicans gained control of statehouses in two dozen states. Republican legislatures, spurred by the right-wing industrialist-dominated American Legislative Exchange Council, passed bills targeting public-employee unions and gutted programs to help the working poor in order to pay for corporate tax breaks. In a dozen states the GOP also passed “Voter ID” bills that require people to show a driver’s license to vote, which places a hardship on working people, the elderly and the disabled who don’t have a car or the resources to get the paperwork and take the day off to stand in line at the driver’s license office to get their state-issued IDs.

(If Republicans really had been concerned about in-person voting fraud — which is virtually non-existent — they could have implemented an ID card system without disrupting voting rights for an estimated 5 million citizens. Implementing the rule in a few months without a massive outreach effort to help citizens get their IDs so they can vote in the presidential election was not a good-faith effort.)

Meanwhile, with the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision in 2010 that allowed corporations to participate in political campaigns, Republicans have rushed to organize “super PACs” to raise money anonymously from wealthy individuals and corporations, including corporations controlled by foreign interests, to run attack ads. It is legal as long as they operate independently from the candidates — although in some cases the independence appears to be little more than a cubicle partition on K Street in Washington. Republican super PACs expect to raise more than $800 million for this election cycle and they probably will outspend Democrats by more than 8 to 1.

Even under the more straightforward fundraising regime, Mitt Romney and the Republican National Committee outraised President Obama and the Democratic National Committee for the third straight month in July, this time by more than $25 milion. In June the margin was $35 million and in May is was $16 million. It looks almost certain that the incumbent president will be outspent by the challenger. And when you factor in the advantage Republicans enjoy in super PAC money, Democrats are right to be concerned. In the first week of August, $50 million was spent by the campaigns and outside groups, virtually all of it in a small number of swing states, and not all the ads were truthful.

In the House, when Republicans took control in 2011, Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the 20 standing committee chairs — of which at least 10 were members of the 75-member Progressive Caucus — were replaced with John Boehner and the Tea-Party-tempered hardliners of the GOP. Republicans now have a 49-seat majority, which seems like a lot, but with only 12% public approval an electoral tide could wash the teabaggers out and Dems back in.

In the Senate, where Democrats currently hold a 53-47 majority, 16 Dems can be categorized as progressive populists, plus independent Sen. Bernie Sanders, based on their votes on key amendments to the financial reform bill in 2010. They include Mark Begich of Alaska, Barbara Boxer of California, Sherrod Brown of Ohio, Ben Cardin of Maryland, Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, Dick Durbin of Illinois, Al Franken of Minnesota, Tom Harkin of Iowa, Pat Leahy of Vermont, Carl Levin of Michigan, Jeff Merkley of Oregon, Harry Reid of Nevada, Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia, Bernie Sanders of Vermont, Jim Webb of Virginia, Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island and Ron Wyden of Oregon.

Another two dozen Democrats can be persuaded to vote populist. That is short of a Senate majority, which is why we ended up with a health reform that relies on an individual mandate instead of expansion of Medicare to cover everybody and the Dodd-Franks bill tinkering with regulation of the financial industry instead of the reinstatement of the Glass-Steagall Act. But allowing Republicans to keep control of the House and/or gain control of the Senate does not do working people any good.

This year Democrats are defending 23 Senate seats. They must replace seven retiring senators, including Joe Lieberman of Connecticut (no great loss, and likely to be replaced by a progressive Dem, Rep. Chris Murphy); Daniel Akaka of Hawaii (for whose seat the winner of the Aug. 11 Democratic primary between US Reps. Mazie Hirono, the more progressive candidate, and Ed Case, the more conservative Dem, likely will face Republican former Gov. Linda Lingle); Ben Nelson of Nebraska (probably the most endangered seat, but Democrat Bob Kerrey is the candidate most likely to throw Social Security under the bus in pursuit of a bipartisan budget deal); Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico (where Rep. Martin Heinrich is a progressive Dem candidate), Kent Conrad of North Dakota (where former state Attorney General Heidi Heitkamp is running a strong campaign as a prairie progressive), Webb of Virginia (where former Gov. Tim Kaine, a moderate Dem, stands a good chance of beating Republican former Sen. George “Macaca” Allen Jr.) and Herb Kohl of Wisconsin (where Rep. Tammy Baldwin is a strong progressive candidate).

Among the 15 incumbent Dems (and one progressive independent) seeking re-election are Brown, Cardin, Casey, Sanders and Whitehouse as well as occasional populists Bill Nelson of Florida, Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, Claire McCaskill of Missouri, Jon Tester of Montana, Bob Menendez of New Jersey, Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, Maria Cantwell of Washington and centrists Dianne Feinstein of California, Tom Carper of Delaware and Joe Manchin of West Virginia.

The best Democratic pickup opportunities are in Massachusetts, where Elizabeth Warren is a progressive populist Democrat challenging banking industry cutout Sen. Scott Brown (R); in Nevada, where interim Sen. Dean Heller (R) faces Rep. Shelley Berkely, a progressive Dem from Las Vegas; and lndiana, where the Tea Party ouster of veteran Sen. Richard Lugar (R) in favor of right-winger Richard Mourdock, with support from the anti-government Club for Growth, gives Rep. Joe Donnelly, a moderate Democrat, an opportunity to court centrist independents. Republicans likely will lose a vote with the retirement of Olympia Snowe in Maine, but Angus King, the moderate independent former governor who is the odds-on favorite to succeed Snowe, has sent mixed signals as to which side he would caucus with.

It’s hard to predict how the big money enabled by the Citizens United ruling will affect the presidential race, but it might have a more pronounced effect down the ballot.

The New York Times reported that while three Republicans were vying for the honor of challenging Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), pro-GOP super PACs have hammered McCaskill with $15 million of negative ads. “Not surprisingly, McCaskill is probably the most endangered Democratic Senate incumbent right now, trailing all three Republicans in polls in a state that is friendly to the GOP but hardly unwinnable for a Democrat (at least under normal circumstances),” Steve Kornacki noted at

In Ohio, Sen. Sherrod Brown is better-positioned than McCaskill to survive. But Newsweek’s Andrew Romano reports that GOP-aligned outside groups like the US Chamber of Commerce and Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS have invested $11.5 million in attack ads against Brown. As a result, Romano writes, “Brown’s average polling lead over his Republican opponent, State Treasurer Josh Mandel, has been cut in half.”

Races like these have the potential to be the real campaign money stories of the year, Kornacki noted. “Voters know far less about the average Senate candidate than they do about Obama and Romney ... The same is even more true when you get farther down the ballot to contests for the US House and state and local offices. This is where the Republican super PAC advantage could really be felt in November ...”

Democrats, particularly progressive Dems, will be outspent this fall. That doesn’t mean we’ve lost our democracy. That means democracy has to outwork the corporatists on the ground.

From The Progressive Populist, September 1, 2012
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Selections from the September 1, 2012 issue