Have you got it yet? The Surreal Season Headache-and-a-Half? I start to feel my SSHH! when the presidential election campaigns ramps up during the summer before the election, and the pounding doesn’t usually stop till November at the earliest.
It’s an overdose of surrealism, plain and simple: while this over-the-top waste of time and money takes place, critical policy questions go begging. Climate change? Later: we’re busy till November slinging expensive lies and slogans that insult intelligence. While Obama and Romney are trying to top the all-time record for campaign fundraising, a sum equal to 10 days of what the U.S. has spent on war since 2001 would eradicate world hunger, according to the last estimate from the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization. The cognitive dissonance between what really matters and what is enacted in the United States during the Surreal Season—Ouch! Just thinking about it makes my head hurt.
Let me say this upfront: I am going to cast my vote for President Obama, despite my disappointment in his administration, and I will also urge everyone I know to do likewise. But as a recent Gallup Poll suggests, I may not be the only one responding less than enthusiastically to this election.
There are vital issues at stake, including core human rights. For instance, this recent New York Times column by Charles Blow (appropriately titled “Where’s The Outrage?”) lays out the meaning of Republicans’ cynical and vicious Jim-Crow voter-suppression drive. A vote for Romney equals an endorsement of these racist tactics, not to mention the unbelievable lengths to which to they are now taking the suppression of women’s freedom: look at today’s Times editorial “Republicans vs Women” for a concise description.
Blow also quotes Senator Bernie Sanders—thank goodness for the few uncolonized minds in Congress!—on the rise of a monied oligarchy:
According to a report by Senator Bernard Sanders of Vermont, “So far this year, 26 billionaires have donated more than $61 million to super PACs, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. And that’s only what has been publicly disclosed.” That didn’t include “about $100 million that Sheldon Adelson has said that he is willing to spend to defeat President Obama; or the $400 million that the Koch brothers have pledged to spend during the 2012 election season.”
During a Senate Judiciary subcommittee hearing on Tuesday, Sanders put it this way: “What the Supreme Court did in Citizens United is to say to these same billionaires and the corporations they control: ‘You own and control the economy; you own Wall Street; you own the coal companies; you own the oil companies. Now, for a very small percentage of your wealth, we’re going to give you the opportunity to own the United States government.’”
In The Progressive, Sanders names the “26 Billionaires Buying the 2012 Elections.”
Adelson and the Kochs, far-right Republicans, may be the biggest donors, but Democrats are playing the same big-money game. As the Open Secrets blog reports, “Conservatives still account for nine of the top ten donors to super PACs this cycle, but 12 of the top 30 contributors have now written seven-figure checks to liberal super PACs.”
I am not a campaign donor, but every day brings first-name-basis emails from Barack, Michelle, and others, and thick begging envelopes from candidates and former elected officials. Today’s email brought this from my friend Joe Biden, addressing me as Arlene: “If we don’t win this election, it will be because we didn’t close the spending gap when we could.” I seldom read more than a line of the emails and never open the envelopes; I just add them to my mental tally of how much money candidates and parties are spending to ask for money.
Few people are going to advocate outright allowing money to shape—and often determine—public policy. Even the mega-donors steering this travesty try to cobble together some kind of rationalization grounded in the notion that their wealth is merely the byproduct of meritocracy: they’ve earned the right to own the country.
Instead, the problem seems to be a failure or refusal to see alternatives to the done thing. Most of the conversations I have about this go as follows:
AG: I describe my SSHH! headache, listing the contributing factors. I offer up public campaign financing as an antidote. I suggest things like Move to Amend as steps toward that end.
Friend: Yes, it’s terrible, but what can we do? The Republicans aren’t going to stop, so we have to beat them at their own game. Wait till Obama is re-elected, then he’ll do the right thing.
AG: I’m dubious, but: may it be so!
They made him do it is pretty much the all-purpose argument now to cover every one of the administration’s many shortcomings and excesses: putting the foxes in charge of the economic henhouse; epidemic unemployment without public-sector job creation schemes; failure to act on climate change; bailing out banks and corporations while turning a blind eye to families losing jobs and homes; and so on.
Back in February, I quoted from a Bob Herbert column that greatly impressed me with its clarity and truth. I think it bears repeating now:
While millions of ordinary Americans are struggling with unemployment and declining standards of living, the levers of real power have been all but completely commandeered by the financial and corporate elite. It doesn’t really matter what ordinary people want. The wealthy call the tune, and the politicians dance.
So what we get in this democracy of ours are astounding and increasingly obscene tax breaks and other windfall benefits for the wealthiest, while the bought-and-paid-for politicians hack away at essential public services and the social safety net, saying we can’t afford them. One state after another is reporting that it cannot pay its bills. Public employees across the country are walking the plank by the tens of thousands. Camden, N.J., a stricken city with a serious crime problem, laid off nearly half of its police force. Medicaid, the program that provides health benefits to the poor, is under savage assault from nearly all quarters.
The poor, who are suffering from an all-out depression, are never heard from. In terms of their clout, they might as well not exist. The Obama forces reportedly want to raise a billion dollars or more for the president’s re-election bid. Politicians in search of that kind of cash won’t be talking much about the wants and needs of the poor. They’ll be genuflecting before the very rich.
Clear away all the slogans, recycle all the mailings, and this, friends, is what is happening in the US: the fact that we have longest and most expensive campaigns on the planet is true because we have allowed this nation to devolve from one of the most equal (albeit highly imperfect) on the planet to the most unequal, with the consequent suffering largely unchecked. “Every nation gets the government it deserves,” wrote Joseph de Maistre (though the quote is often misattributed to de Tocqueville). If that’s true, if this is our just deserts, we have a lot of repenting and redeeming to do.
No matter how much my head hurts, I’m voting for President Obama again, because I will never endorse Republican policies grounded in racism, anti-women feeling, and economic droit de seigneur. And because despite my dismay at Obama’s eagerness to compromise with the wrong people and positions, a Romney presidency would only increase the distance we must travel to achieve real democracy in this country. But the sound of money is getting so loud, it almost drowns out freedom. SSHH!
This Ronnie Earl-Duke Robillard song, “A Soul That’s Been Abused,” is for the soul of the nation, but if you want to hear a version commensurate with the outrage of the occasion, click on the one by Diamanda Galas.
Time heals all the wounds
That’s what the people say
But for all your wrong doings
Someday you’ll have to pay