In the talk given on Monday by Robert McChesney, a professor of communications at the University of Illinois, Urbana Champaign about his new book (co-authored with John Nicholls) titled Dollarocracy: How the Money-and-Media Election Complex is Destroying America, he spoke about the race against the clock that is driving recent political developments.
He said that the Republicans are in a bind because the demographics are against them as the numbers of minority voters grow. The electoral college is set up in such a way that in order to win the presidency, they have to win all the states that are currently toss-ups and even then they win by just a few electoral votes. Furthermore, the tide is against them. Florida is already rapidly shifting from toss-up and to being reliably Democratic and once Texas joins it, the game is over for Republicans.
He says that this is why there is such a determined effort to rig elections by depressing Democratic voter turnout by doing things like gutting the Voting Rights Act so that states can more easily put in place restrictions that will prevent minorities from voting. Other moves such as repealing the 17th Amendment and returning to having US senators selected by state legislatures rather than by direct voting (which used to be the system until 1913) are less likely to happen but their appeal is that it is easier for big money to buy off state legislator than to buy a statewide election.
He also said that voter turnout goes from the mid-50% in presidential years to the mid-to-high 30% in the off-years and the drop-off is largely due to Democratic voters (especially minorities and young people) not showing up in the off years. So Republicans still tend to do well in the off-years while Democrats do well in the presidential election years. So the 2014 elections should be bad for democrats.
He said that 2010 was particularly bad because not only was it was an off year in which the Republicans did well, but the years ending with a zero are the ones in which the people elected that year that create the electoral map for the next decade. As a result, Republicans were able to design districts so that although they got fewer votes than Democrats in 2012, they got more congressional seats. He says that Republicans fear 2020 because that (a) that is a presidential year and so Democrats should do well; (b) the demographics would be worse for them than now; and (c) the people elected that year, likely to be majority Democrats, would get to design the congressional districts for the next decade. This could result in the Republicans being consigned to permanent minority status, like what happened to the Whig Party in the 19th century.
Hence there is a sense of desperation that the Republicans have to get everything they want before the end of the decade. This explains their go-for-broke strategy, to stop anything that seems remotely progressive from being enacted and pouring money and tampering with the voting system rules. He said these moves are a sign that Republicans have realized that they cannot win fair elections on the issues they care about anymore so they have to rig them. Even former president Jimmy Carter said recently that “America has no functioning democracy at this moment”. Of course, the media studiously avoided covering that inconvenient truth.
But McChesney said that we should not be sanguine about this because the bad side is that big money realizes this and they are also giving to Democrats. They may not get all that they want from them, but they can get a lot. And the Democrats are exploiting the fact that there is nowhere else for the left to go and so they can vacuum up money from the big money interests while doing little for their supporters. He gave as an example the labor movement. They supported president Obama heavily in 2008 and all they asked in return was that he would push for ‘card check’, the right of workers to more easily form unions in workplaces. This is fiercely opposed by the oligarchy. Obama promised to fight to establish card check but after he got elected, he failed to do so. But there was nowhere else for the labor movement to go in 2012 because they could not of course support Mitt Romney. They are hoping to get card check during Obama’s second term.
In the long term, as the Republican party slides into irrelevancy, the nature of politics to abhor a de jure one-party state (even though we already largely have a de facto one-party state) may result in a faction breaking away from the Democratic party as part of a political re-alignment. This kind of breaking away has happened already in the UK and Canada and Australia. The electoral system in the US is such that it makes it harder to have three competitive parties.
But all that is a long way down the road.