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Elections: Circuses for political inequality

James Rothenberg.
August 2, 2018 06:23 pm

So much running and so little changing. Representative John Faso wants to hold onto his seat and why not? He earned it fairly over that carpetbagger, Zepher Teachout. You can’t move from one district to another and say you know people. There’s a line there.

And now a rapper, Antonio Delgado, née AD, who’s also a carpetbagger has drawn down on Mr. Faso. Rappers can’t leave the rapping district and say they know people. There’s a line there also. That’s a solid, double line. You don’t cross that.

One can empathize with the seasoned politician. Having to get down, once again, to the entry level of promising people how important they are in the decision-making process. How their input is desired, their concerns noted, their opinions respected and represented. And having to make your face sincere when doing it. Because that’s not the way it’s done.

Building on the work of themselves and others, Martin Gilens, Professor of Politics at Princeton University and Benjamin I. Page, Professor of Decision Making at Northwestern University published a study entitled, “Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens”. It appeared in the September 2014 issue of the academic journal, Perspectives in Politics.

Quoting from the paper: “In the United States, our findings indicate, the majority does not [emphasis in original] rule—at least not in the causal sense of actually determining policy outcomes. When a majority of citizens disagrees with economic elites or with organized interests, they generally lose. Moreover, because of the strong status quo bias built into the U.S. political system, even when fairly large majorities of Americans favor policy change, they generally do not get it.”

The authors are not saying that average people never get what they want. Rather, they get what they want when it positively correlates with the wants of elites and interest groups that do influence public policy, referred to as “democracy by coincidence”. (It’s necessary to point out, in relation to public wants, that the public is the constant target of elite strategies to shape the public’s preferences.) On their own, “the average citizen’s influence on policy making is near zero”.

The study’s findings come as no surprise to ordinary citizens who do not have to be told that, even collectively, they have no influence over the United States government. Yet they have no way out of this predicament. What can they do but leave it in the hands of political “specialists” in the vague hope that there will be shared interests? Who, among these specialists, is going to tell them that they are not trusted to determine their own interests because some will run counter to the interests of the classes above them?

The authors (not Marxists) quote, for its relevance, from Marx and Engels’ Communist Manifesto: “The bourgeoisie has . . . conquered for itself, in the modern representative State, exclusive political sway. The executive of the modern State is but a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie.”

Politicians pleading for votes from the little guy become the witting or unwitting agents of the capitalist interests they are to serve. As such, all claims and pretenses to the contrary, their role is strongly undemocratic.

The structure of the political system is designed to keep policy making in trusted hands. Efforts to produce viable minor parties are strongly resisted by our two monopoly parties. The two have the attributes of a monopoly because together they produce an end product for which there are no substitutes.

They even have direct means to control access to the presidency through their jointly owned and managed, Commission on Presidential Debates. This corporation sets the standard for inclusion in the debates, presently set at a level that excludes small rivals. This is behavior you would expect from a monopoly…keeping others out of your market.

But the system of control is not perfect. There are surprises. Sometimes someone slips through who needs watching. A most recent case is that of the 28-year-old Bronx woman, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, winning the Democratic primary in New York’s 14th Congressional District, effectively gaining a seat in Congress.

Ms. Ocasio-Cortez is a member of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), making her positions antithetical to the interests of the party she will soon represent. The DSA hopes to realize it aims through the eventual makeover of the mother party it has adopted, but it will not take long for Ms. Ocasio-Cortez to realize that she is the orphan on the door step. The party leadership, that considers the DSA a bad joke, will resist her at every turn, in every way. That’s the best case. Usually, she’ll be safely ignored.

James Rothenberg, of North Chatham, writes on U.S. social and foreign policy.

A couple of minor points. Please correct me if I'm wrong but John Faso was originally a carpetbagger too. So pinning that on Delgado as a negative label isn't fair. Something else that isn't fair is defining Delgado as a rapper. Not that he wasn't at one time, mind you. But he is also a lawyer and that's how he has earned his living in recent years. If you wanted to criticize him for having represented those large corporate interests as a lawyer then that would be fair. But just because Faso has been trying to define Delgado in terms of his rapper youth doesn't mean that you should buy into it.

As far as keeping "policy making in trusted hands," Trump has certainly made that assertion questionable, don't you think? I would grant you, though, that it's generally the case and there are certainly some large monied interests behind Trump. I suspect, though, that those monied interests are not as broad as one thinks they are.