The Worst Part of the Post-Election Analysis   Leave a comment

No, it’s not the cascade of bland cliches pouring forth from every media orifice.  This is just as good as any.  We’re a divided nation!  Colorado legalized pot while Oklahoma’s getting rid of affirmative action!  Truly America is the new Habsburg Empire.  I also love that the piece just peters out with a dozen random quotes from people in swing states.  One of them, in its entirety, is someone from New Hampshire saying “I have two moms.” And they say journalism is a dying industry.

No, it’s not the “won’t someone PLEEEZE think of the children” scolds complaining about America finally moving toward some semblance of sanity on marijuana. Harmless, if annoying. (Although for tickles and giggles, it’s fun to see “I’m a lifelong partisan Democrat, but I’ve also spent 25 years as a doctor treating drug abusers, and I know their games. They’re excellent con artists.” in the New York Times.  The New York Times: where Newt Gingrich is an ideas man but people who get high are never to be trusted.)

No, it’s not even the absolute bollocks of “the voters in their wisdom voted for the Republicans to retain control of the House of Representatives, which means there’s a mandate for deficit reduction that rejects tax increases” peddled by David Brooks and other organ grinders.  That’s stunning in its mendacity but it can’t do much harm.  It’s wrong for so many reasons that even fairly comprehensive take-downs of it can avoid the dark shade of gerrymandering which played a slightly more real role in the Republicans retaining power in the House, which is not helpful.

But my stars, that’s not even close to the worst thing.  The absolute worst thing is people crowing about how hundreds of millions of dollars were spent by billionaires and companies, thanks to the Citizens United Supreme Court ruling, didn’t seem to deliver any of the races that got showered with gold.  Our political system has shown itself able to repel the onslaught of trucks full of plutocratic cash, and we’re all the better for it.

The Times ran a story headlined “Little to Show for Cash Flood by Big Donors”, choosing to pull its “focus on people instead of news” routine on this topic and documenting how very sad the billionaires who spent all that money were that it did not usher in the Randtopia.  Rachel Maddow was less restrained and pranced about last night with a fife, going on about how if that money were lit on fire it would have at least provided heat; Kevin Drum was more circumspect but also concludes that the “flood of SuperPAC” money ultimately won’t amount to much.

No.

“They didn’t win so it doesn’t matter” is the exact wrong lesson to take away from the first Citizens United presidential election.

– “Pandora can’t put all that money back into the box.”  Find one single person thinking about running for office in the United States who is not going to try and out-do the fund-raising efforts of this election.  You can’t.  No one has ever heard of a one-sided arms race, because people tend to forget a one-sided arms race after the absolute annihilation that inevitably comes afterward.  This money is now baked into the political cake, a disgusting cake full of plums and sawdust, and that means fundraising will take even more of a central role in American politics.  That is the story here, and that is what needs to be focused on, not “hurf durf rich people”.  Two billion dollars were spent in 2008; six billion were spent this year, all told.  Money in politics just became a much bigger problem.  But go ahead and laugh at how Sheldon Adelson lost a month’s worth of upkeep for his fleet of private jets gambling on politics.  That’s what’s important.  Speaking of,

– “The horse-race is over.  Shut up about the fucking horse-race.”  Comparing totals of money spent and by whom is just an extension of the “who’s up, who’s down” mentality that drives election coverage at the expense of things that actually matter.  Meanwhile areas in which that money makes an enormous difference are left quietly untended.  The amount of money spent in Michigan on non-presidential campaigns about doubled, and almost $150 million was spent on ballot proposals.  What a fine and glorious democracy we shall have when it’s routine for a few people to drop one or two dozen million dollars and get voters to approve their pet political agendas themselves, without wasting all that time having to fart around with politicians.  Even if God starts to give a fuck on what happens on this pale blue marble and prevents that from happening, the postdiluvian political landscape is one where state legislatures are going to wear NASCAR suits with their benefactors’ logos on them.  This is the way that a conservative movement faced with the grim specter of electoral irrelevance will retain an enormous policy influence: drowning state races in cash, which lets them gerrymander districts even further, so they can spend even more money.  It’s beautiful, in a way, like looking at the springs of a cuckoo clock that uses racial epithets instead of bells on the hour, and its enormous potential ramifications which are beginning to play out should be treated with the respect they deserve.  Finally,

– “Please just stop trying to deflate momentum for every good government initiative under the sun.”  The media tries to present itself as above the tug and pull of politics, but of course everything they do is political.  The way they cover stories, the anecdotes that get press about different personalities, etc.  But one of the more powerful and subtle ways media coverage affects politics is by feeding narratives of which political issues are important, alive and kicking, and which are insubstantial, dead, and just sitting there doing nothing like David Gergen.  Deficit reduction is a live issue because the media allows it to be instead of rejecting en masse as an utterly inappropriate response to one of the worst economic disasters in history.

And in the same way, the political effort to restrict the effects of the Citizens United ruling is given short shrift by this kind of coverage.  It can only be overturned by a constitutional amendment, which not only requires supermajorities in the House and Senate but votes of 3/4 of the state legislatures.  Such a political effort is starting to pick up steam, but a goal of that scope requires the media to recognize its existence; portraying Citizens United as “fizzling out” because a couple billionaires didn’t hand-pick the president undercuts the momentum of that project and helps make unlimited corporate spending a background and unremarked feature of our system.  The impression that is set now soon hardens to concrete, and will make future efforts that much more difficult, requiring even more effort, time and money.  And why?  Because some media folk have an inaccurate understanding of the scope and mechanisms unleashed by that Supreme Court decision, because they have airtime and space to fill, and it’s easy.

No.  It’s not ok.  It’s the worst part of the post-election analysis.

Posted November 8, 2012 by Ben in Uncategorized

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