Saturday, 1 November 2014

The pointless mid-term elections

Our network airwaves here in New York are full of the hateful, mind-numbing political ads that pop up as Election Day approaches and make any sane person hate “politics” as thus represented. The parade of clich├ęs is stunning: the winsome family portraits (with dog), the grainy images of the opponent with the horror-movie voiceover, the Mr. Sincerity shot of the candidate looking into the camera to recount what a reformer/upright guy/defender-of-all-that’s-right he is.

Like clockwork, our local politicians or their surrogates appear at the subway entrances as well, an activity they never engage in during the rest of the year when they are serving as our representatives. That’s because they have no interest in mobilizing us for collective well-being or raising our consciousness about issues (as opposed to about themselves). Sure, they’ll attend our civic activities and even support them—in exchange for a chance to get their hands on the microphone and remind us of their careers. But this is merely piggybacking on community mobilization that has already taken place.

At the national level there is a lot of election parsing among the increasingly narrow band of insiders who remain interested in electoral outcomes and care whether Mitch McConnell takes over from Harry Reid in the Senate. But the average voter, who may be fairly accused of apathy, ignorance and general selfish disinterest in the polity as a whole, also may correctly conclude that the differences on offer are not meaningful. The examples multiply.

For example, our supposedly liberal governor, Andrew Cuomo, has made lower taxes a centerpiece of his campaign. Tax demonization is key to the right-wing worldview: we should NOT pool our resources to help the weak but rather starve government and let nature take its course, i.e., the rich and powerful get to keep everything and toss crumbs to everyone else through charity. Obama has tracked this ideology faithfully by enabling the bankster mafia and “sequestering” non-defense spending, driving down progressive government activities as efficiently as any Reaganite. So Cuomo’s adoption of this rhetoric legitimizes the anti-state worldview—why should anyone rush out to support that?

Our turncoat Attorney General, Eric Schneiderman (whom I once admired), is showing ads of himself handing weaponry and equipment to the cops. This in a city plagued by repeated acts of police violence and deeply entrenched structural racism that turns every black kid into a ready target for arrest and saddles him with a criminal record as a matter of course. (A 20-something acquaintance was just jailed overnight for a cycling violation—something that would never happen to me.) Meanwhile, Schneiderman had a golden opportunity to use his office to go after Wall Street crimes left untouched by the Justice Department and the national Democrats, and if he had done so, he could have run on that.

But instead, he sold out for a seat next to Michelle Obama at the State of the Union address and a phony task force appointment that quickly disappeared down the memory hole. (Check out these fancy promises from 2012—did anything come of them?)

On pretty much any political issue of substance, the two parties manifest varying degrees of horribleness. In some cases the rhetoric from one side is superficially more reasonable until one stops to consider what those spouting it are actually doing. Inequality has suddenly become a big deal, and the Republicans are almost gleeful about it. But the Democrats have been much more efficient in actually generating the gross disparities in income and the financial sector’s seizure of growth gains. So would you rather be stabbed in the chest or drowned in a bathtub?

Nonetheless, I will exercise my right to universal suffrage because if there’s anything worse than electoral politics, it’s their complete absence, and I’ve experienced that, too. Elected officials ignore us, for the most part, and then bamboozle us when they are forced to pay attention. That’s in the nature of our rapidly collapsing system, but their biennial servile posturing, distasteful as it is, is one of the few ways they actually need us to do something, as opposed to passively watching them behave with impunity. It’s important to cling to this slight power, fragile as it is, and utilize it attentively.

[Next: my secret votes revealed!]

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