Friday, November 14, 2014

Obama’s aggressive announcements since the elections: Is he courageous or in the endgame of wimping out?

By Marc Jampole
On the surface, it seems as if progressives should applaud the actions of President Obama in the wake of his devastating repudiation by 36.3% of the electorate. Instead of hiding in his man cave for the next two years, he has set or tried to set national policy in three important areas.
By coming out in favor of net neutrality, announcing a climate change accord with China and broadly overhauling the immigration enforcement system, Obama has in two weeks advanced the progressive agenda as much as he did over the past four years (or since the passage of the Affordable Care Act). He has taken a lot of flak from Republicans on net neutrality and global warming, but it looks as if the GOP is going to hold its fire on immigration, fearing a backlash from Latino voters.
Progressives could easily quibble about each of these presidential initiatives: He doesn’t go far enough when it comes to immigration and global warming (although maybe he went as far as he could and stay within the prerogatives of the executive branch of government). And although he is explicitly supporting net neutrality, he did appoint the current head of the Federal Communications Commission, Thomas Wheeler, who wants to end net neutrality and allow Internet service providers to charge different prices for different levels of upload and download speed, in a sense cordoning off the Internet into “first class” and “third class” sections.
My complaint with the President runs deeper, and I pose it as a question: If Obama had made these forceful executive actions before the election, would it have energized his constituencies and led to a larger turnout of Democratic supporters, thus enabling the Democrats to keep the Senate and make inroads into the GOP’s house majority?
We’ll never know, but a lot of circumstantial evidence supports the contention that the Obama Administration and the Democratic Party made very poor strategic decisions regarding the 2014 election cycle. Exhibit One is the fact that progressive initiatives passed all over the country. Exhibit Two is the post-election consensus that the vote, and lack of voting, was anti-Obama as much as pro the positions that Republicans favor.
All we saw and heard of Obama’s performance in the mass media in the weeks before the election was negative: the ostensibly botched responses to the threat of Ebola and ISIS. The media over-exaggerated both of these threats and tended to cover the Obama Administration response to both in largely negative and unfair terms.
But what else did they have to write about? Certainly announcing his support of net neutrality one week, a new accord on global warming the next, and a new more humane immigration enforcement policy the week after that would have filled the newspapers with articles about Obama acting boldly—and Republicans dumping on him in areas where surveys suggest the public holds the President’s views. At the very least, moving on these issues before the election would have crowded out some of the bad news, since the media has only so much time and space to fill. More importantly, it might have also given many of the people who stayed home from the polls a reason to vote.
We’ll never know if the untaken road would have led to victory, but we do know that the Democratic strategy to have the President hunker down and have candidates distance themselves from the President did not work. Instead of appealing to its base, Democrats chased voters who were likely going to vote Republican no matter what. It’s a strategy that has never worked in the past, and it didn’t work in 2014.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Whom can we blame for the fact that 63.7% of the public didn’t vote, besides the nonvoters themselves!

By Marc Jampole

Who are the 63.7% of the population who didn’t vote in mid-term elections this year? That’s the highest percentage of people to sit on their hands on election day since 1942, when poll taxes and voting restrictions prevented a significant part of our population—all Afro-American—from voting throughout the South and in other parts of the country.

I want to sort out the nonvoters, not demographically, but by the reasons they didn’t vote. The Internet is full of chatter about why people stayed home, in most cases giving undue weight to the one element that proved whatever point they were trying to make. I haven’t seen a survey, but I’m sure that significant numbers of citizens didn’t vote for the reason I’m about to discuss.

Let’s start with the slew of state laws that make it harder to vote because they shorten the voting period, make it harder to register, require more documents to register or require identification to vote. Certainly some part of the difference in the percentage of voters from this election and the mid-term four years ago stems from the fact that it was harder to register and to cast a ballot in many states. But in 2010, an enormous 58.2% of all eligible voters exercised their right to stay home from the polls. If we take a broad axe to this data, we come up with an explanation of why about 5.5% of the eligible voters stayed home: because new voting laws restrained or kept them from voting, a handsome price to pay indeed to try (emphasis on “try”) to prevent a repeat of the less than ten cases of voter fraud that have occurred across the nation over the past 30 years.

But what about the other 58.2% of the eligible who didn’t vote? Why did they stay home? Here are the standard impediments to voting:
·         Was ill: Some number of voters always miss voting because they happen to be ill that day or have long-term illnesses that affect their ability to make voting decisions.
·         Couldn’t get off work: It’s criminal that all employers of all sizes aren’t required to give citizens three hours to vote on election day. Keep in mind, though, that a goodly number of those who couldn’t get time to vote lost options for early voting because of new laws limiting it.
·         Disillusioned by the system: These people figure that it’s a fixed game and they just don’t want to play. It’s very difficult to argue with the disillusioned, especially given the record of the last 35 years in which our elected officials have repeatedly enacted laws and policies that harm 99% of the population but help the super-wealthy and large corporations. On the other hand, this year’s referenda favoring higher minimum wages passed in every municipality given the chance to vote on the issue. To a great extent, then, the disillusioned are perpetuating their own chagrin by not voting.
·         Never votes in nonpresidential years: It’s an enormous group. Over the past two presidential elections, an average of 40.1% of eligible voters stayed home; during the last two off-years, 60.95% of voters stayed home. Using a blunt axe again, that computes to a little over one fifth (20%) of all eligible voters who only vote in presidential years.
·         Have never voted: Say what you will about poverty, a lack of education, language barriers and upbringing, the mass media barrages us with so much information about elections, that it’s very hard not to blame those who have never voted—they are hurting themselves, and they are hurting others. Of course, a conservative of the Platonic or Burkean ilk would say that it hurts the body politic when uneducated or unprepared people vote (which for most of recorded history has meant those without property). I can’t agree with their logic. But when I’m wishing for laws that make it easier to vote and media that cover the real issues, I also wish for an electorate that believed more in civic virtues such as voting (plus serving on jury duty and whistle-blowing).

Those who are disillusioned, only vote for President or have never voted don’t realize how much power they could potentially wield. Here’s why: Most votes are extremely close, and that was certainly the case in 2014. In fact, virtually all newspaper reports, opinion pieces and think-tank whitepapers since the beginning of the republic have labeled as a “landslide” every election in which one candidate receives 53% of the vote. Of course, the news media and their owners have a vested interest in maintaining overall political stability, which is why the bar is set so low for landslides. For most of the ruling elite, having a stable election that produces a consensus is more important than who actually wins; especially nowadays when candidates of both parties feed so luxuriously at the troughs of big and often shadowy donors.

Think of it, though. More eligible voters stayed home this year than the number of voters it would take to declare a landslide in favor of a candidate.

It’s a shameful record.  

Yes, blame the Kochs and other right-wingers for bankrolling those who tell the lies they want the country to believe. Blame the news media for trivializing the election. Blame state legislatures for restrictive voting laws. Blame Obama for suddenly being so unlikeable (a new euphemism for Black).

But let's not forget to blame non-voters.