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November 10, 2014 - No. 93

2014 Mid-Term Elections in U.S.

Republican Majority: Dysfunction,
Extremes and More Executive Rule

2014 Mid-Term Elections in U.S.
Republican Majority: Dysfunction, Extremes and More Executive Rule - Voice of Revolution
Two-Party System in Shambles
Two-Thirds of Eligible Voters Did Not Vote
Money Spent in the Elections


2014 Mid-Term Elections in U.S.

Republican Majority: Dysfunction,
Extremes and More Executive Rule

The Republicans gained seats in the House of Representatives in the U.S. 2014 mid-term elections, where they now have a 243-176 majority, up from 234. The Republicans also gained a small majority in the 100-member Senate, currently 52-44 with two independents. This compares to the Democrats' previous majority of 53-45 and two independents. Alaska and Louisiana are still undecided. Alaska only counts the absentee and questioned ballots one week after the election; on November 11, state officials are expected to begin counting as many as 40,000 ballots. Meanwhile, Louisiana's Senate seat will be decided in a December 6 runoff since no candidate won more than 50 per cent of the vote. 

The majority in the Senate is not enough to block filibusters (60) or vetoes (67). The number of Republican seats in the House of Representatives is also not enough to prevent a veto by the president (291). This means that even if Republicans succeed in passing legislation in both houses -- which remains to be seen given the infighting within and across party lines -- President Obama can veto the legislation. Such a situation would likely be seen as worse than the current one, further justifying executive action on Obama's part.

A change in majority in the Senate does not limit the president's ability to take executive action. Indeed, given the existing broad anger with government and Congress, it could facilitate the ability of the president to justify the need for executive rule. At least then "something" could be accomplished. Obama has already shown his readiness to do just that, bombing Syria and continuing aggressive efforts at regime change there without Congressional authorization.

In general, there is little reason to expect Congress to become more functional in the coming period, as conflicts within the ruling circles and their representatives in Congress continue to intensify. This is evident from comments by Republican Senator Ted Cruz (Texas), who said he will challenge the leadership of Senator Mitch McConnell (Kentucky) -- who won re-election and is expected to lead the new Republican majority. As already seen, even with a sizeable majority in the House of Representatives the past two years, Republicans were often not able to pass their own legislation.

It is possible Obama and a bloc of Republicans and Democrats, led by McConnell and Democrat Senator Harry Reid (Nevada), will join together to secure further anti-social attacks, such as those against Medicare and Social Security. The next debt-ceiling debate, for example, coming up in March 2015, could be such an arena. There could be an effort to target "extremes" in both parties and bring forward a bloc that together imposes the cuts. Similarly the sequester budget cuts are due in January and may be another arena for such moves -- which will likely be done in the name of "bipartisanship" and overcoming gridlock in Congress. Most tea party Republicans were eliminated in the primaries so those elected are more likely to follow McConnell and those that remain are more vulnerable as "extreme" targets. Obama can use the so-called mandate of the elections to demand that Democrats submit and similarly target those who refuse as being "extreme." The elimination of such "extremes" will be seen as the way to end gridlock. In fact, it will be the means to impose yet more vicious anti-social attacks.

A change in majority in the Senate will not eliminate the problem of Congressional dysfunction because the source lies elsewhere. The ruling circles have put in place arrangements of governance of executive rule, greatly undermining the power of Congress and effectively rendering it a consultative body at best. The parties no longer function as political parties but rather as gangster-like cartels, constantly at each other's throats. Private interests, concentrating power in fewer hands while fiercely vying with each other for more power, have directly taken over public institutions. In doing so they have attempted to eliminate the concept of government for the public good. It is a vehicle in their private hands to guarantee their narrow private interests. This includes securing the entire public treasury, public pensions, public lands and buildings, like public schools, and so forth. To whatever degree Congress, or legislatures at any level, stand in the way of such maneuvering, their powers will and are being curtailed and executive rule consolidated.

The danger that presents is not the Republican majority but rather the strengthening of this executive power and the continued elimination of the public, and the public good, from governance. This direction is very dangerous, as the violence, chaos and anti-social character of the Obama administration has already shown, abroad and at home. It is reflected in the broad anger of the public with these elections and with government in general. Blocking this anti-democratic direction demands stepping up the fight to build independent politics of empowerment. It means organizing to oppose executive dictate and demand decision making of, by and for the people themselves as we together defend the rights of all. A democracy of our own making that puts the rights of all, abroad and at home, at the center is the battle of today.

* Voice of Revolution is a publication of the U.S. Marxist-Leninist Organization.

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Two-Party System in Shambles

To divert from the fact that the U.S. two-party system is in shambles, the monopoly media has presented the Republican gains in the elections as a referendum against President Obama. While it is true that Americans are fed-up with Obama, the newspaper Voice of Revolution points out that the exit polls, and those shortly before the election, all indicated something else -- "voters are angry with government, consider that the country is headed in the wrong direction and do not think their votes matter."

VOR points out:

"This was expressed by Democratic, Republican and independent voters. Polls indicate, for example, that six in 10 say they cannot trust the government in Washington to do what is right. In another, 74 percent said they were dissatisfied with the way the nation is being governed. Similarly, 68 percent, or two-thirds say the country is headed in the wrong direction. This is up from about 50 percent who said that in exit polls in 2012. People targeted President Obama and Congress, Republicans and Democrats, the big-money outside contributors and the Supreme Court decisions that opened the financial floodgates for negative advertisements.

"The large majority expressed their anger and rejection of the current political set-up by not voting, with turnout in most areas about 40 percent and in some only 25-30 percent. The majority stood firmly with "None of the Above!" Others expressed their anger by refusing to vote for incumbents. Voters across the country uniformly denounced the billions being wasted on the elections and the unending negative ads. These served to discourage people from voting when elections are supposed to encourage participation in political affairs.

"Many commented that while they were voting, there were no candidates they wanted to vote for. There was no one that represented their interests and stood for principle. This reflects in part the fact that the system is rigged against having our own worker politicians. Overall, 8 in 10 congressional seats were locks for the incumbent. This stems mainly from the way voting districts are drawn, with both big parties of the rich agreeing to carve them up so one party's chances are close to zero, and challengers face huge obstacles to participation.

"Voters are not the ones choosing the candidates. They are not the ones deciding to have billions spent on advertising. Given the power, people would undoubtedly spend the funds for more important matters, like education. They would also demand that the public airwaves serve the public, by informing the public about the content of a given candidates proposals and outlawing the negative mud-slinging.

"The change in majority in the Senate is not going to change a set-up that is designed to keep working people out and rich people in. We need a new direction for political affairs, one that puts empowering the people themselves front and center. We need a set-up where we decide, at our workplaces, universities, senior centers, the agenda and we choose candidates from among our peers to represent that agenda. We need our own worker politicians accountable to us, not the mega donors and monopolies. We need a set-up where elections are a time to inform the public about social problems and engage the public in discussion on their solutions. We need a democracy of our own making, where we, the people, decide! Organizing together today to build these independent politics of the people and a unified fighting front in defense of the rights of all can and must be done!"

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Two-Thirds of Eligible Voters Did Not Vote

Voter turnout for the 2014 U.S. mid-term elections was about 36.4 percent, meaning almost two-thirds of voters did not vote. It is estimated that only 13 per cent of voters were under 30. About 40 per cent of non-voters are estimated to be African American or Latino.

In the large majority of races, this means that the candidate who won not only did not win a majority of eligible voters, they won with less than 25 per cent of the vote. In places like New York, it was more like 15 per cent or even less. It can hardly be considered an election representative of the population in each state.

The turnout was lower than the 2010 midterms in all but twelve states. This despite voters being inundated with a record almost $4 billion in campaign ads and materials of various kinds. Some states, like California, lost more then 10 percent in voter participation. (The comparison is made to midterm, non-presidential years as there is always greater participation when the president is being elected.)

Across the country voters expressed their anger with all the negative ads, with government as a whole and with the lack of candidates they wanted to vote for by not voting. Big states like New York and Texas had among the lowest voter turnout with 29.5 per cent and 28.5 per cent respectively. Five other states had between 28-30 per cent: Indiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Utah. Many other states had 37 per cent or less, including Georgia -- 34.1 per cent; New Jersey -- 30.4 per cent; Ohio -- 36.2 per cent; Pennsylvania -- 36.1 per cent; South Carolina -- 34.9 per cent; and Virginia -- 36.7 per cent. Even states that were branded as ones with "contested" races were low. North Carolina, where record millions of dollars were spent, had only 40.7 per cent voter turnout. Florida, also with record spending, had 43.1 per cent. Similarly Illinois had 39.5 per cent voter turnout, Michigan 42.7 per cent, and Kansas 42.8 per cent. Only six states had more than 50 per cent: Colorado, Iowa, Minnesota, Maine, Oregon and Wisconsin.

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Money Spent in the Elections

A record almost $4 billion was spent on the 2014 federal mid-term Congressional House and Senate races which included the governors' races in 36 states, including California, Florida, Illinois, Michigan, New York, Ohio, Wisconsin and Texas. Florida's governor's race topped $104 million, Illinois' a record $100 million and Texas $90 million, much of it on negative ads. These funds do not include the tens of millions spent 60 days prior to the election by outside groups not required to report to the Federal Election Commission (FEC).

Total spending by candidates themselves is reported to be about $1.66 billion in all, down from the $1.79 billion they spent in 2010. Super PACs (Political Action Committees) and other political groups -- commonly forces that do not even live in the state or district -- are reported to have spent close to $1 billion, with about 80 percent of it on negative ads. Six of every 10 dollars in reported spending by outside groups came from Super PACs.

An additional $100 million and more was spent on "issue ads" that do not name a candidate. These are often done by astroturf groups, i.e., fake "grassroots" non-profits posing as advocates for a given cause but actually campaigning for particular private monopoly interests and the candidates they back, conservative and liberal alike.

In most races spending by forces other than the candidate, such as Super PACs, astroturf groups and party committees, far exceeds that of the candidate. In many races this spending amounts to double or more than that of the candidate. This is an indication that candidate spending caps does not solve the problem of massive amounts of campaign spending and negative ads.

These outside spenders are also indicative of the change in the role of the parties. The state-level parties, which used to be the bulwark of the Democrats and Republicans, play almost no role. And while the Democratic and Republic National Committees still function, they have been surpassed by the role of Super PACs and other outside spenders. This is evident in spending by both, which is down in 2014 compared to 2010. Of the almost $4 billion the Democratic National Committee was predicted to spend about $148 million, a decline from the $176.5 million it spent in 2010 (the last midterm, non-presidential election). The Republican National Committee was predicted to spend about $164.9 million, down from the $185 million it spent in 2010.

Expected presidential candidate for 2016 Hillary Clinton did 45 events in 54 days coming into Election Day, in part to build up her machinery. Current head of the Senate, Harry Reid, who is not up for election, has the "Senate Majority PAC," which he controls. It was among the top five groups buying ads in the last two weeks of the election. The astroturf non-profit Crossroads GPS and the Super PAC American Crossroads were also among the top five. Both are machinery for Karl Rove and the Carlyle Group (a "global asset management firm") interests that backed the Bush presidencies. The Koch brothers, representing oil interests, have a new Super PAC called Freedom Partners Action Fund. They have also donated more than $196 million in the last several years to dozens of astroturf advocacy organizations that intervene in elections, commonly with negative "issue" ads.

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