Another endgame driven by money
Thomas Ferguson and his collaborators have warned us about an endgame surge by the Romney campaign, a possible leap in his popularity that might eventually bury the Obama presidency. In this respect the Romney campaign may mimic the Bush campaign of 2000. Both have been fueled by massive spending and guided by lying. These, to be sure, are core competencies of the Republican Party. It is because of this late cycle spending that G.W. Bush jumped over Gore in the last days of the electoral season, although his election victory was helped by a corrupted electoral mechanism and a most dubious Supreme Court decision. Additional political disasters followed the constitutional coup d’état of December, 2000. Campaign money brought the country to that situation.
This is the post-Citizen’s United age in American politics, and money collection and spending along with elite ‘generosity and civic mindedness’ are the true stories of the current electoral season. This fact does not distinguish the 2012 elections from its recent predecessors. The defining mark this year issues from the quantities of money spent during the campaign. Billions of dollars will be spent on the presidential race alone. The Romney campaign, according to Ferguson, et. al., lately seems to be spending large sums of this money in the battleground states to win a victory next week. This effort favors Romney, of course.
A Romney victory fueled by big donor cash would certainly prompt outrage by Democratic Party partisans, although their rage would obscure the massive amounts of money raised and spent by the 2012 and 2008 Obama campaigns. The Democratic Party lacks clean hands in this matter. It, like the Republican Party, serves as a tool of Wall Street, the security-surveillance apparatus and, in a word, the empire. Thus the cries of the partisans ought to be considered mere hypocrisy rendered into obscure sounds, wholly without intrinsic importance. The somewhat obscure significance of this kind and degree of campaign spending lies elsewhere. Ferguson and company rightly locate and identify the effect produced by this money:
Big Money’s most significant impact on politics is certainly not to deliver elections to the highest bidders. Instead it is to cement parties, candidates, and campaigns into the narrow range of issues that are acceptable to big donors. The basis of the “Golden Rule” in politics derives from the simple fact that running for major office in the U.S. is fabulously expensive. In the absence of large scale social movements, only political positions that can be financed can be presented to voters. On issues on which all major investors agree (think of the now famous 1 percent), no party competition at all takes place, even if everyone knows that heavy majorities of voters want something else.
The quoted passage neatly expresses the gist of Sheldon Wolin’s inverted totalitarian thesis, namely, that “Antidemocracy, executive predominance, and elite rule [form the] basic elements of inverted totalitarianism” (2008, 239). Or, to make the point using different terms, those who have the gold make the rules, as Ferguson suggested in his classic book. Despite the presence and use of these vast sums of money, the United States remains a democracy, albeit a highly qualified one. Elections occur, and candidates circulate in and out of office. Transitions are mostly orderly and elections are — now! — conducted without violence. But the demos at large cannot use elections and party politics to control or even hold its governors accountable for what they do or fail to do. Those fractions of the demos which sit beyond the pale cannot expect to win the next election, as electoral losers can expect in a functioning representative democracy. They will remain a political nullity. As a consequence, American citizens are principals without agents. The principals that count in American politics are the gold holders. The participation of the “lesser people” (Alan Simpson) in the creation of collective political power mimics that of a compliant and nearly mute Greek chorus. They may select only from all but indistinguishable options. They might speak, but are never recognized. The demos at large can therefore only replace one faceless face (or set of faceless faces) with another, doing so without, however, altering economic and security policy in a significant way. These policy choices are reserved for the gold bearing elite and oligarchs.
The democratic mechanism in the United States thus makes adverse selection an unavoidable fate for most voters. Only massive and mutually supportive social movements have the potential power needed to break the cash-government connection. As Wolin once put the matter: In the United States…it is the streets where democracy is most alive…”, a “fugitive democracy” much like the early demos (2008, 227), but a democracy nevertheless. At this time the citizen’s veto can be found only there.