Wednesday, November 3, 2010

"Vote or Die"

Turnout all over the country hovered somewhere near 40%. That means 60% of the country probably didn't feel that they had anything at stake in the elections. Given that our "representatives" in government are either rich business people themselves, or subservient to business interests, do you think they're upset by this low turnout figure? Hardly. They count on a large chunk of the population sitting out of the political process. They understand that doing things the way they get done in Washington requires the exclusion of 2/3 of the population given how antithetical public policy is to the interests of the many.

To moralistically bash people with stupid slogans like "vote or die", or "don't be apathetic" is to add insult to injury. Many people, indeed super-majorities (!) of Americans, grasp that the present electoral mechanism gives them no real choice- and to demand that they accept this lack of choice with a smile and go through the motions is absurd and politically reactionary.


-sf said...

This is the first election I've sat out since turning 18, although not on purpose (I thought I'd registered at the DMV, but alas no go). If I had voted I certainly wouldn't have automatically cast my vote for the Dem Congressman who's been the rep almost as long as we've been alive.

Personally I don't think this election could have turned out better. Republicans in the House can't push their agenda without the Senate and Republicans in the Senate can't say no for two years straight without seriously alienating the rest of the electorate. Hopefully Democrats see this as a wake-up call and not one that pushes them to the center. My favorite result was Arkansas. Although its profoundly sad when you think about it, I can appreciate the dramatic irony of Blanche Lincoln helping block on the public option and card-check legislation because she was afraid to lose, which happened anyway. We'll see how Ben Nelson fares.

Richard said...

Richard Seymour over at Lenin's Tomb has an excellent post on precisely how the right kind of people are discouraged from participating in electoral politics in liberal democracies, with his trademark erudition on display.

An excerpt: "Frances Fox Piven and Richard Cloward argued, in Why Americans Still Don't Vote, that the exclusion of the working class from elections is actively desired by politicians. They suggest that if politicians were interested in crafting a policy mix that would appeal to the poor, the poor would respond, and they would be able to command electoral majorities. Pippa Norris of Harvard University concurs: the evidence suggests that turnout among the working class will increase at elections if there are left and trade union based parties that are capable of mobilising them. But it is again worth stressing that the exclusion of the poor from the electoral system is not wholly voluntary. Thomas E Patterson, in The Vanishing Voter (2009), points out that the electoral system in the US has had a long tradition of seeking to exclude the uneducated and the poor, and Patterson argues that voter registration rules still work to limit the size and composition of the electorate. He notes that the US has a disproportionately high number of non-citizens among its total population (7%), and ineligible adults (10%). Thus, 17% of the total adult population at any given time is legally excluded from voting. The exclusion of so many voters is the result of deliberate projects: in one case to manage labour migration flows to benefit capital (non-citizens cause less trouble than those permitted to naturalise); and in the other case to construct a carceral state that imprisoned more poor and black Americans than ever before. On any given day, 1 in every 32 American adults is directly in the control of the criminal justice system, either through jail, parole, probation or community supervision. This only hints at the wider effects that this behemoth has on American society, but suffice to say that it deprives millions of the right to vote where it would easily make a significant difference to the outcome."

t said...

I generally agree with you, but I wouldn't go as far as to say that the election couldn't have turned out better.

I'm never pleased when republicans win elections, but I am consoled by the fact that they won with less than 25% of the voting-age population's support. If no republican ever won another election ever I wouldn't complain a bit.

But in my view the obstacles to progressive reform aren't primarily in the Republican camp, but in the Democrat camp. It is the fact that the Democrats are so close to the Republicans politically that makes our two-party system so stable, conservative and constricting. The Dems have already signaled that they are going to push further to the right now that they're power in Washington has been cut down to size. I'm worried that Obama and Co. will have a go at doing what Bush could not get done: eviscerating Social Security and Medicaid. They've already begun the effort- the election will just give the Dem leadership cover to completely fuck us over on grounds that "we MUST deal with the deficit", the "crazy republicans are forcing us to do it", etc. etc.

So I'm not holding my breath to see whether or not the Dems learned any lessons. My guess is that they will push right, and try to use the "lesser evil" strategy (their main campaign tool for turning out progressive voters) in 2012 to try to corral disaffected folks back. They do it time and time again. This isn't a new trick.

I think we need to break with the Democrats and talk about how to form independent social movements that can resist the coming austerity measures. Our model must be what the people have done in France, not this myopic "lesser evil" electoral strategy that throws away resources and energy by helping the tepid, conservative Democrats.

t said...

Richard- I linked the post you mention a couple of posts before the present one. ;)