The polls continue to show that Republicans will prevail in the upcoming congressional elections. It seems to be all about motivation. It isn't that their candidates represent the majority public opinion; it is simply that Republican voters are more likely to show up at the polls. What is it going to take to motivate Democrats or independents who support Democrats and change that calculus?
The majority of voters who elected the president in 2012 have ample reason to be discouraged. Little has happened in the past two years to warrant enthusiasm for the electoral process. Despite the fact that 56 million Democrats or their supporters voted for congressional representatives to support the Democratic political agenda, Republicans managed a 33-vote advantage in the House with a million fewer votes for their candidates. When elections can be rigged to that extent, it has to be discouraging.
And they can't be too happy with the leadership qualities of their president. He has not discharged his promises to end our ceaseless wars, to close the eyesore of Guantanamo Bay, to protect us from privacy intrusions or to unwind the libertarian offenses of the Patriot Act. His indecisiveness has made for vacillation on Middle East policy, the appearance of enough weakness to provoke the Russians and Chinese to aggression and now appears to be dragging the country back into Iraq with miscalculations on probable outcomes. Why go to the polls if what you get is what we have gotten?
Added to this is the realistic assessment of the country's mood, or more appropriately, an understanding of how the political process has been dumbed down and manipulated with overwhelming sums of money from vested corporate interests and rich donors. Worse still is that this money has been unleashed by an activist Supreme Court that seems destined for historical accolades as the most business-friendly in history.
And if this were not enough to discourage even the most intrepid, the thinking Democrat or moderate independent is faced with a communications system that no longer sees objectivity as its mission. Gone are the restrictions on news outlets to provide equal time for opposing positions and the historical pact in broadcast licensing that required time for objective reporting. We are faced now with sound bites orchestrated by networks controlled in the main by large corporations with very clear partisan leanings.
There is no question that Democrats have ample reasons to be depressed. The difficulty with this ennui is that it is part of a spiral. The more discouraged well-meaning voters become, the less they participate, the worse the circumstances become. As Kevin Phillips, author of The Emerging Republican Majority and strategist for Richard Nixon — hardly a "leftist radical" — stated, "Either democracy must be renewed, with politics brought back to life, or wealth is likely to cement a new and less democratic regime-plutocracy by some other name."
Despite all of the challenges that the political system presents and the current circumstances embody, it is not beyond repair. There hasn't been a military coup. There have been no riots in the streets, no martial law declared, no widespread jailing of political dissent and political power is still passed from one elected official to the next without election fraud, despite Republican paranoia.
Voting is a cherished right. If it is ignored it imperils, endangers or impedes the possibility for any change for the better. While it is no cure and I would be the last one to argue that we are represented well by those we vote for, all progressive thinkers have two challenges. First, how to preserve their shrunken influence and second, how to add to, create or contribute to the animation needed for structural change. Because, and it is a big because, the only hope in the future for reforms will come from mass outrage by disenfranchised workers, civil libertarians and small "d" democrats.
In a landmark book, Who Stole the American Dream, that should be required reading by all Americans, Hedrick Smith, former Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter for The New York Times and more recently author and documentarian, states the need quite clearly: "Changing the equation in Washington will take a mass movement at the grass roots to force the White House and Congress to listen to average Americans and to put the middle-class agenda into law. It will also require reforms in our political system to increase the influence of political moderate and independent voters by reducing the built-in advantages now enjoyed by partisan extremists." Since that movement doesn't seem to be coming anytime soon, the best we can do is keep our finger in the dam.
Russell is managing director of Cove Hill Advisory Services.