In Which Ryan Perry and Chris Bailey Discuss the Midterm Elections
R. Christopher, what do you make of the low voter turnout for mid-term elections here in Texas? The bitching and moaning from the Dem's and the celebrating by the Republicans are both stemming from this low voter turnout, as if a 57% turnout for the las Presidential election represented democracy in action. I guess voter turnout is only an issue if your candidate loses.
C. I think to answer the lead question, “what do you make of the low voter turnout for Midterm elections here in Texas?” We have to consider what voting really is. I mean, what is it really? Many people think that voting, as such, is the maximal power that a citizen may express. I think that many, many people have an intuitive understanding that it is not. While castigated for being “lazy” or “Cynical” etc, there is a deep understanding that a) voting doesn't mark any real change and b) that one vote, contrary to popular opinion, really doesn't make a difference. We hear constantly our fellows opine and moan that “the USA is a democracy” as if everything that happens to this society is due to the will of the people. This is manifestly false and any rudimentary knowledge of history and political science proves this point. The fair question, often met with ridicule, truly is that uttered by the average person: “what difference will it make?" The “bitching and moaning and celebrating”, as you put it, is by and large a complete and total misunderstanding of the disdain that many people hold for the process itself. It is true, there are those who really don't care one way or the other...as long as they get their Ipod, their six pack, and Monday Night Football. But there are just as many- many if not more- who are completely, intuitively, and cognitively aware that it truly is the choice between two polished turds in suits.
R. The process, presented as democracy, is becoming more and more recognizable as a red herring. This charade hides the oligarchical structure, which like any charade, requires belief in it, a suspension of disbelief, which works well for the theatrical nature of politics. It astounds me that some view their civic duty as simply reporting once a year, or even once every four years, and picking from choices given to you. From that one day we are ostensibly having an impact? Making a change? Having our voices heard? It is ridiculous. The other idea that interests me is that in addition to presenting the pageantry as democracy, there is another illusion, that of the government being a separate entity. The illusion of a government in America that is separate from the people is an unconscious Pavlovian desire to be subjugated, to allow the idea of authority to manifest in a way that oppresses oneself. It can be analogous to any relationship with authority.
C. Just look at the ream of broken promises from the Obama administration, many of which were broken early in his first term when his party still had control of the legislature. The sham has been splayed out for all to see, with the broken promises, the protection of criminals in banking, and the SCOTUS decision that came down in the Citizens United case. We are a piebald oligarchy and it has been a slow burn in this direction for at least the last 60 years or so.
R. You bringing up presidential politics is interesting, precisely because after eight years we should see that Bush to Obama was merely the passing of a baton, but some still view the thinly veiled tax (Obamacare) and it's blank check to the health insurance industry as a win for the regular guys. Or his 'saving' of the auto industry. Which of those victories did voting have any impact on? It seems to me that the supposed differences between W. and Obama, which people attempt to highlight, are as meaningful as the difference between voting or not voting.
Regarding Wendy Davis, it seemed to me like she tried to make a big screen spin-off of her filibuster last year and like many SNL spin-offs, it flopped. The trailers touted her as having the “most liberal voting record” and showed her wearing a Wu Tang shirt, stylish pink pumps, etc. For me that was a red flag signifying typical attempts to appeal to a younger, hip crowd. She seemed like the politician equivalent of the straight ticket voting democrat, toeing the line perfectly, a little too perfectly. After all this is a lady who supported Dubya, who has been accused of voting for bills that benefit her clients, basically a typical Texas politician.
C. As far as Wendy Davis, her campaign was the height of a cynical campaign. I mean, given what you have pointed out about her “supported Dubya”, “has been accused of voting for bills that benefit her clients” etc., but had the gall to show up in a Wu tang style t-shirt and thought that she could ride a single issue into the Governorship. The fact that she rode to the campaign on an 11 hour filibuster while having previously voted in legislation that was of direct benefit to her clients and benefactors, really rips the veil off the fact that it is always the privileged classes in this State and country who benefit.
R. So this begs the question of whether or not voting was an educated decision, whether not engaging in the either/or, zero/sum of party politics is a vote to opt out, and if this opting out should be acknowledged as such, should be interpreted in a way other than laziness, apathy. What are we voting for? Begging the government to pass legislation that would make gays equal? Marijuana legal? A bit more of our tax money back? It is absurd. “Oh please, Mr. candidate, can we please have equal rights, Mr. candidate, can we please have some of the money that we worked hard to earn, back?” We are beggars and they throw us crumbs. A method was created to lead animals to slaughter, a curved, circular hallway. What this was supposed to do is prevent the animals from seeing too far ahead, from seeing the big picture. The media seems designed in a much similar way, preventing the big picture by inundating us with facts and misleading topical questions.
C. We should not be asking, as the major media is “why did white women, or women generally in Texas break for Wendy?” We should be asking “why did women stay home from the polls?” And while many might be ejaculating words like “LAZY”,”INEPT”, “IGNORANT”, or at the worst “TRAITOR”, the fact is that there are many women and men who do not feel that the process is even worth the gas to get to the polls and I think they are right. It is simply a matter of division and dilution of voting power and that, in terms of run offs, there really isn't anything like a free and fair election. It is not just the end game that is rigged, it is the whole process.
Regarding your statement about the oligarchy being hidden by the dog and pony show of democracy, I would have to agree. Let us consider Walter Lippmann for a moment. For those who don't know him, Lippmann was a journalist, a media critic and an amateur philosopher who tried to reconcile the tensions between liberty and democracy in a complex and modern world, as in his 1920 book "Liberty and the News". He was also responsible for coining the term and pushing the idea of "manufacturing consent", in other words utilizing ad agencies and the media to sway the public in directions that are counter to their interest. Paraphrasing Lippmann there are two "functions" in a democracy: The specialized class of politicians, implement the executive function, meaning that hey conceptualize all policy and do all the planning. Then, there is the "bewildered herd", whose function is, according to Lippmann, is to be "spectators," not participants in action in any meaningful way. However, because it is a "democracy" they must *think*... No, they must *believe* that they have more of a function. Every now and again, usually every four years or so, they are permitted to exercise this power in favor of one or another part of the political class. These are what we know of as "parties." They are given a binary choice, "I choose A" or "I choose B." This is because the ostensible depiction of a democracy must be maintained. Your readers by now are saying to themselves "Yes, that is an election." And they are right. That really IS an election. Consider that, however, upon getting behind this person will all 1/300 some-odd-millionth of a vote for one or another of these politicians they're supposed to fade back into obscurity and become spectators of all that occurs. All that occurs now in THEIR NAMES! But NOT participants... NEVER participants. This is the idea that has been put forth for a "properly functioning democracy."
R. To draft off Lippman, the flip side of that coin is Edward Bernays, Sigmund Freud's nephew, who, a contemporary of Lippmann, used Freudian concepts in marketing and public relations. Bernays was the guy who brought the idea of “bringing democracy” to foreign, sovereign states. It sold well and still to this day sells well, because there is a correlation between massive indiscriminate murders via drones and bombings and your ability to buy a bag of skittles that has become slogan, that has become like a commandment. The Iraq war kept the terrorists off your yard because they told you as much, and whereas we used to be able to scoff at ridiculous advertising, we somehow are unable to see that advertising has branched off into news and media. This is thanks to Bernays, who, needing a follow up to the hit that was “spreading democracy” designed Public Relations that would work on the “cattle” during peacetime. That he was a buddy of Lippmann's is interesting, as we can see Lippmann's ideas, in conjunction with Bernay's interpretation of Freudian concepts, in most media of the post-war era. When he created the spectacle of women smoking in 'protest' he found the vein, and it worked straight to the heart of the American collective consciousness. Even in our era of irony, politicians have become these corny ad's, whether it is Mitt Romney posting up on some bales of hay, Obama landing a jump shot, or Wendy Davis with a Wu Tang shirt.
C. But let me ask your readers, readers who might be more familiar with how things dilute. If I vote in a population of say, 10 people. My vote counts for quite a bit 1/10. How many people vote in this country? Let's just take a round percentage of say 48 percent of registered voters. There are 206,072,000 people who are eligible to vote in the US. 48 Percent of that very large number is 98914560. So one citizen's vote cast counts for 1/98914560. In other words, not a lot. In a numbers game like that a persons vote just factually, in reality does not matter. Saying "every vote matters" is the equivalent of pouring a 12 oz can of tomato juice into the ocean expecting it to turn red.
What matters, and everyone really knows this, is money. And who has the money? The top economic tier of our society, corporations, and some Unions to a lesser degree. By definition this is an oligarchy. It cannot be anything else. As you said, " It is ridiculous."
R. This is purely speculative, but it seems to me that politics has become a more secular religion than ever. Take Christianity, for example, Jesus as a regular dissident just does not have the same ring to it as Jesus, Son of God. By creating this other supernatural level, it forces people to always accept their place as a few rungs down from the ladder. If Jesus was accepted as a regular man who spoke truth to power and brought the ruckus, perhaps more people would be inclined to do something. But for now, he is unapproachable, he is only an ideal. Similarly, I think authority and politics has relegated the regular person to the same level, subconsciously powerless, weighed down by the gravity of an illusory ideal.
C. I think in regard to your statement about that "politics has become religious" I think you are in part correct. But In my opinion it is far, far worse than that. We have taken in the dogma and faith of religion: the founding fathers, the power of voting, the inherent "rightness" of the system etc., and added the rabid vehemence seen in sports fanaticism. The fallibility of this is simple to understand. We continuously hear that people are greedy, petty, irascible, violent, selfish and on and on and yet, we continue to elect people into office thinking that they must be good because, after all, they have similar values that I espouse. It is the definition of insanity: we continue to do the same thing over and over again expecting different results. The fact that political cycles are so damn predictable is evidence of this and frankly, until we realize this and challenge our conception of the vaunted "power" of our vote, we will continue to get the government that we deserve