2012: How U.S. Voters Can Wrest Control of Congress from Special Interests — Part I: The U.S. Electorate versus the U.S. Congress

11:53 pm in Uncategorized by letsgetitdone

By

Nancy Bordier

The majority of U.S. voters want to see most elected representatives in Congress defeated because they favor special interests over voters’ interests. But, voters face enormous obstacles in replacing the nation’s lawmakers with representatives untainted by special interest money and influence. These obstacles are the result of the electoral monopoly of the two major political parties, the gerrymandering of electoral districts, unfair federal and state election laws, and special interest-inspired campaign finance laws that favor private over public financing of elections. The recent Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. FEC exacerbates the influence of these factors.

These obstacles make the large majority of seats in Congress "safe seats". Incumbents and first time candidates running on the Democratic and Republican tickets with special interest financing have virtually insurmountable advantages over candidates running against them without major party support, or special interest financing. Top-down manipulation of elections is the result. Since voter dissatisfaction can’t be expressed through the dominant parties, grievances accumulate over time in feelings of frustration, anger and alienation.

From time-to-time however, these feelings morph into rage, and we see things like the recent surge of militant fringe groups of irate voters who are infuriated by government, both major parties, and their Congressional representatives. Front groups financed by wealthy special interests are co-opting these voters into a new 21st century form of hybrid voting bloc. It contains similar segments of voters as the bloc that enabled the Republican party and its special interest backers to dominate U.S. Politics.

Although these front groups claim to support fringe group agendas, they use their financial leverage to broaden these agendas to include fiscally conservative, pro-business stances. For example, after fringe groups operating under the Tea Party banner began receiving support from special interest-funded front groups, its members’ broadened their initial opposition to federal government bank bailouts, an anti-special interest objective, to include opposition to government spending, taxes and intervention in the economy, all items on the traditional agendas of fiscal conservatives and special interests.

To wean these voters away from government social programs like Social Security and Medicare, which they label "socialist", the front groups encourage fringe groups to embrace "individual freedom and responsibility" as the path to prosperity and security, and to oppose government intervention in the economy to spur economic growth. As social critics point out, this effort is the latest manifestation of the special interest strategy launched in the early 1930s to fight New Deal "socialism" embodied in Social Security and subsequent social programs like Medicare.

In the eighty years that have passed since the strategy was formulated, special interests have used it to dupe a significant portion of the American electorate into turning against the governmental institutions which the founders of the Republic created to protect them against special interests. The strategy of co-opting voters to embrace special interest agendas has allowed these interests to take control of legislative bodies like the U.S Congress and use them to pass legislation favoring private interests at the expense of the public interest. The special interests that have bought the votes of elected representatives with their campaign contributions have disabled the protections of the public that were built into the American system of representative government. In the process, they have turned the electorate against the government itself.

Fast forward to the new Millennium, the special interest-driven voting bloc that appeared on the horizon in 2010, appears to be part of a concerted fusion-oriented political strategy aimed at "melding the anti-government, anti-spending, anti-tax fervor of the Tea Party with the faith-based agenda of the religious right" — under the overarching themes of patriotism, support for U.S. Troops, and a dominant role for the military in protecting the U.S. from terrorist attacks. The early success of this special-interest backed political strategy for mobilizing irate and aggrieved voters was on display at Glenn Beck’s August, 2010 rally, which brought nearly 100,000 Tea Party activists to Washington, D.C.

This nascent hybrid voting bloc began to flex its electoral muscles in early 2010 with the decisive role it played in the election of Scott Brown on the Republican ticket in Massachusetts to take over the Senate seat long held by Democrat Ted Kennedy. In preparation for the 2010 Congressional elections, the bloc has elected unknown candidates on the Republican ticket in upset primary elections defeating long-time establishment incumbents. Special interest campaign donors, like the California-based Tea Party Express, which directly fund electoral candidates running under the Tea Party banner, have played a significant role in these victories.

The front group strategy of simultaneously mobilizing angry voters into the special interest fold via the new hybrid voting bloc and running special interest-funded candidates for Congress, while flooding the air waves with corporate-sponsored political advertisements, is proving to be an appealing proposition for primary voters in an era in which a majority of all U.S. voters wants to see most elected representatives defeated. It is also provoking speculation that the Tea Party movement, directed by the front groups, will take over the Republican party before the 2012 elections. This speculation is fueled by primary turnout rates (as of August, 2010) showing that 3 million more votes were cast in Republican Congressional primaries than Democratic, particularly in "anti-establishment" races featuring Tea Party candidates.

The hybrid voting bloc’s sudden appearance as a major contender to assume the reins of the Republican party coincides with the apparent eclipse of the enthusiasm of mainstream voters. who voted for a Democratic majority in Congress in 2006, and put a Democratic president in the White House in 2008. Neither the president nor the Democratic party’s Congressional candidates and their campaign organizations, have been able to come up with policies that address and defuse the voter anger fueling the growth of the special interest-backed hybrid voting bloc — or keep it from being directed against themselves.

On the contrary, polls indicate that a substantial portion of former Democratic Party and Obama supporters are so dispirited with their performance in office, that they do not plan to vote in the 2010 elections, or are planning to vote for third parties. This trend might well lead to a Republican takeover of the House of Representatives, alongside substantial gains in the Senate.

Such a shift, however, is unlikely to bring into office the lawmakers untainted by special interest money and influence that the majority of the nation’s voters are seeking. Most of these voters are likely to reject Tea Party candidates in the 2010 elections. But the large majority of the Democrats and Republicans they do elect will, in all probability, continue to implement special interest agendas at the expense of mainstream American voters. Neither party has come up with a job-creating economic strategy to stop the erosion of the nation’s job base, and the continuing erosion of working Americans’ standards of living. Voter impotence to hold Congressional lawmakers accountable at the ballot box is likely to fuel a continuing stream of special interest-inspired legislation at the expense of average Americans.

Incredible as it may seem, by the time the 2012 elections roll around, voters’ choices may well be even more limited than they are now. Special interest funders and front groups now backing the Tea Party movement, and the hybrid voting bloc they are building around it, will undoubtedly use their dollars and message machines to pull Tea Party members sufficiently back from the far right towards the center to enable the bloc’s Congressional candidates to emerge victorious in sufficient numbers to take control of Congress. If their strategy of co-opting infuriated anti-government voters succeeds, and they are able to use the hybrid voting bloc they are building around it to take the reins of the Republican party, they may usher in a prolonged era of special interest control of Congress and possibly the White House.

Although the stymied electorate cannot stop special interests from using Tea Party activists to build a formidable hybrid voting bloc, or compel elected representatives to change the laws they use to get elected and re-elected time after time, the large majority of U.S. voters who want to oust special interest-controlled representatives from Congress can get out of the electoral bind they have been boxed into by the two major parties and their special interest backers. They can leverage the large scale collective action power of the Internet, the web savvy of the 125 million voters who used the Internet in 2008 to influence the elections (who nearly equal the number of voters who voted in the elections) and web-based self-organizing tools and technologies described in this series.

These levers enable grassroots voters to seize control of electoral and legislative processes from special interests in 2012 by building winning transpartisan voting blocs in their local Congressional election districts around shared policy priorities which can elect a majority of untainted representatives. They can operate their blocs within existing political parties, across party lines, or within new parties they or others create. These blocs can use the application’s consensus-building tools to acquire the voting strength they need to win elections by forming electoral coalitions with other voting blocs, political parties and labor unions around negotiated policy agendas and slates of candidates.

See the series introduction here.

(Cross-posted at All Life Is Problem Solving, Fiscal Sustainability, and Reinventing Democracy)