Monday, August 18, 2014


  By Ronald Fox  

There was a time, not so long ago, when I lamented that America was in an extreme conservative moment. Now, I’m sorry to say, that moment appears to be much more enduring that I thought. Despite so many reasons why voters should turn away from ideological conservatives and their GOP brethren-- their declining appeal to women, Latinos, and young voters, hostility to policies that would benefit the overwhelming majority of Americans, such as healthcare, job creation, raising the minimum wage, a fairer tax structure, a greater investment in public works, and protection of the environment, and their blatant promotion of the interests of the wealthy-- conservative Republican fortunes appear to be on the rise with no end in sight.  

Recently three articles appeared in the New York Times that added salt to my oozing political wounds: outside group spending on political advertising is set to break $2 billion in congressional races, up nearly 70 percent since the 2010 midterm election; Republicans are now being given a 60% chance to take over majority control of the Senate; and, the Wisconsin Supreme Court upheld a law limiting collective bargaining rights for most public employees. Ouch! The future seems to hold only more ugliness for the left.  

It’s hard to imagine things getting worse. Let’s see: economic inequality has reached absurd extremes, poverty is growing, Washington hawks still talk about nuclear weapons as if they're actually useable,  too-big-to-fail, jail or curtail banks continue to engage in dirty deeds and escape criminal prosecution, big money is politically talking louder than ever, and labor unions have grown weaker in the face of numerous assaults. Wealthy right-wing political operatives, like the Koch Brothers and their Tea Party disciples, are pushing the Republican Party further to the right and bringing along many Democrats in their political draft. Right-wing governors are gutting public employee provisions and their legislatures are enacting measures to suppress voting. Republicans in Congress have redoubled their determination to oppose any meaningful reforms, even the most pressing and necessary, like on immigration.   Enough, enough!

Worse yet, the right-wing assault on progressive values appears destined to grow, given the sophisticated, well-funded infrastructure conservative ideologues have put in place, with think tanks, PACs and super-PACS, leadership foundations, independent “issue advocacy” groups, grassroots committees, and a proselytizing right-wing media, pushing right wing agendas often at odds with the GOP establishment.
 Tea Party Rally
Tea Partiers and fellow right wing travelers may not have their facts straight, and their political positions may lack substance, but, as Theda Skocpol and Vanessa Williamson found in their research for their excellent book, The Tea Party and the Remaking of Republican Conservatism, they are masters of political processes; they know how to get things done. Many on the left may impress with the depth of their knowledge of issues, but they seem inept in the political arena.  

Meanwhile the Democrats have shown themselves to be timid and defensive, offering tired programs rather than new directions. While conservative ideologues have launched a movement, Democrats offer little more than a partisan message, and a stale one at that. When they have come up with a bold idea, like a single-payer health care system, they quickly retreat in the face of attacks from the well-financed ideological right. They are no match in the money game.  

The Kochtopus
Political money is corroding our political system, possibly irreversibly. Outside groups have already spent $80 million on congressional races. Americans for Prosperity, bankrolled by the Koch brothers, has already spent $44 million. Such lavish spending shouldn’t really be a shock; many predicted it coming after the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision.

Consequences of the explosion of money in our politics are already being felt. Three trends are clear.  

1. Well financed outside groups are not just influencing voters, as they have for some years, they are dictating the terms and message agenda for our elections. Candidates themselves are becoming less relevant. Before candidates for the 2014 election began organizing and implementing campaign strategies, outside groups were already engaged defining candidates and campaign issues and setting the tone for the campaign, a tone that has been notably negative.  

2. Outside groups and super-PACS thrive on attack ads—after all, thanks to Citizen’s United the funders of such ads don’t have to be disclosed. This invariably imparts a negative tone to the general political discourse. This negativism is turning off so many voters it is likely to result in an extremely low turnout in November, which may be the real intent of the negative ad purveyors. Low turnout elections enhance the power of organized money to influence the vote. Since much more outside group money is being spent by groups, like Americans for Prosperity, that support conservative causes, this doesn’t predict well for Democrat, let alone progressive fortunes in November and in 2016 and beyond.  

3. Outside money is not only taking over our campaigns, it’s taking over our politics as well. Campaigning and issue advocacy is no longer confined to the election “season;” it goes on 365 days a year. This raises the cost of politics, further widening the gap between the money givers and big political spenders and everyone else. If political money giving is an expression of free speech, as the Supreme Court has ruled, then I, and millions of other Americans, have been rendered speechless. This plays right into the hands of wealthy ideological conservatives.  

While all these developments have deepened my despair, I still believe the left is far stronger than it asserts. Turning things around will require strong leaders, bolder ideas, political courage, and an organizational structure similar to what the right has put in place. The only way to defeat organized money is with organized people. The Occupy Wall Street movement signaled that perhaps there was life in the grassroots fertilizing the left, but alas while sparking an important dialogue about economic inequality, it seems stuck in the crawling stage.  

Establishment Democrats seem as addicted to the money game as Republicans. As long as they play this game, cozying up to fat cats and often the same special interests that back Republicans, they will continue their march to the center-right. This may help them grab some GOP seats, but it will impede the bold initiatives necessary for progressive social change.  

What have moderate Democrats done for us lately? Blocked some of the more extreme Republican initiatives? Is this is all we lefties can hope for? Democrats need to return to their roots as the party of working people. Moderation won’t cut it. As Jim Hightower has written, “there’s nothing in the middle of the road but yellow stripes and dead armadillos.” Amen!

1 comment:

  1. Of late the conservative strategy seems to be focused on creating despair to lower voter turnout. As you said, that maybe the real purpose of negative ads, but the strategy goes far deeper than that. The core of their strategy is to undermine and sabotage the government itself, creating an atmosphere of hopelessness. This is particularly effective when there is a Democratic President, because ineffective government ultimately damages the person on top and their party. It gives conservative candidates cover to run against government, stirring their ideological base and depressing everyone else.
    A byproduct of this strategy is that it damages the country, both psychologically and economically.
    Fortunately, this strategy is a two edged sword and likely to backfire. Despite all their "success" in undermining government and depressing turnout, it seems that during Presidential elections, their extremism/behavior turns off so many that they can't win the White House. This at least slows down their agenda and gives progressives a chance to retake the initiative.


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