Friday, January 27, 2012

Do the 2012 Elections Matter?

A common liberal argument is that Obama was "punished" in the 2010 elections because he drifted too far to the Left in his first two years in office. The argument often uses the fact that the 2010 elections brought a return of Republicans to power as a premise to argue for the conclusion that Obama went "too far to the Left".

But, of course, this argument misses the mark by a wide margin. A cursory glance at Obama's first two years in office evinces a deep conservatism, not an excessively "left-wing" trajectory. And, as far as 2010 is concerned, it's clear that the Democrats were "punished", but by whom? For what reason?

The most obvious thing to say is that turnout for the 2010 elections was abysmally low. A sizable fraction of the large, energetic crowds of people who enthusiastically voted for Obama in 2008 did not turn out to vote in 2010. The Right did not increase its share of the vote in absolute terms between 2008 and 2010. And, if you'll recall, there as a lot of talk in 2010 about the so-called "enthusiasm gap". Democrat voters were harassed and berated by high-ranking Democrats (and their apologists) for not being sufficiently "enthusiastic" about rushing out to vote in 2010. Some liberals fretted about this and participated in various "scare out the vote" campaigns.

Of course, ordinary people had good reason to be "unethusiastic". They took Obama at his word in 2008 when he said he wanted substantial change that would fund increased access to healthcare with increased taxes on the rich. But Obama's first two years were remarkably continuous with Bush's last two years in office. Nothing really changed. Hence, many people quite reasonably concluded that they didn't have much of a stake in the two-party horse race in 2010. The results bear this out.

But what of 2012? If we take the media at face value, the amount of coverage they devote to the upcoming elections should mean that 2012 is a momentous event of enormous political significance. But is it?

If polls are any indication, the American people don't seem to think so.

When asked, less than 13% of Americans say they approve of the job Congress is doing. Over 70% say they disapprove. Less than 26% say they approve of the Democrats, with 65% saying they disapprove. For the Republicans, it's even worse: 19% approve whereas 70% disapprove. Almost nine tenths of the population has no confidence in Congress, which is an indictment of both the Dems and the GOP. And disapproval of both corporate parties stands between 65 and 70 percent.

Why isn't that front-page news?

It shows that there is a massive gap between the concerns and interests of the population and the choices on offer in the electoral arena. It shows what many in the Occupy movement know first hand, namely that there is widespread discontent with the corporate two-party system. The capacity of the two corporate parties to pretend that they represent the interests of the population is being eroded daily. Yet, the media hardly takes note. Instead, it continues to barrage the population with excessive coverage of the 2012 elections, thereby grossly inflating their significance.

To shoe-horn people into pretending that they have stake in the 2012 horse-races is to do little more than paper over the widespread discontent bubbling beneath the surface of corporate media headlines. To get worked up over Obama's current populist posturing is to help aid in this effort to keep anything from actually changing.

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