The pundit class has offered a slew of postmortems in the attempt to extract meaning in the aftermath of the 2012 elections. Missing from the majority of these analyses altogether: the real winner of the 2012 election.
No, not Democratic Party President-elect Barack Obama nor Republican candidate Mitt Romney, but rather what Portland State University Professor of Urban Studies and Planning called the “Global Electioneering” industry in his 2005 book of the same name.
“Corporate domination, centralization, and professionalization of political space have eliminated almost all but limited symbolic participation of ordinary people” in the electoral politics, Sussman explained in the first chapter of his book.
On Nov. 10, The Washington Post reported that tens of millions of dollars were made by private consultants during the 2012 presidential campaign alone, writing,
In the presidential race alone, the two main media firms working for President Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney earned profits for handling more than half a billion dollars of campaign advertising, according to disclosures and ad tracking data. Neither company is required to report how much it received in compensation for that work, but their combined cut could easily be $25 million or more at standard industry rates.
Other big earners were the digital strategy companies, telemarketing firms, air charter services, pollsters and consultants who saw a spike in business in a presidential contest that cost at least $2.6 billion. The surge in spending was a financial boon for everyone from the specialized producers that make political commercials to the local television stations that broadcast them.
Political campaigns are seen as a marketing opportunity for public relations and political consulting firms, a major space via which they can achieve profit margins.
“Political marketing is the offspring of product marketing. Candidates (and voters) have become commodities in the production of the election spectacle…In a highly mediated and entertainment-oriented public culture, political marketers have to work assiduously to capture the attention of likely voters,” Sussman explained.
“Commodities” is a good way of putting it. For example, in 2008, the Obama campaign was rewarded with Ad Age’s “Product of the Year” award.
A Growth Industry and Export Commodity
The American economy is suffering badly, with an unemployment rate of 7.9-percent and many more not included in the official bean count, amounting to a real unemployment rate of 14.7-percent. Global electioneering, on the other hand, is a booming sector, growing hastily in the post-Citizens United era of “dark money.”
“The number of political consultants over the past twenty years has grown rapidly,” wrote Sussman in “Global Electioneering.” “There is a symbiotic, mutually constituting and benefitting aspects of the money-driven election system…[T]here are certain groups such as consultants…that always stand to benefit from money-driven elections.”
Importantly, the “electioneering industry” knows no boundaries and has been exported around the world.
The best example of this – but far from the only one – is Bolivia, as featured in the film “Our Brand Is Crisis.” As the film documents, in the run-up to the 2002 election, Democratic Party consultants James Carville, Stanley Greenberg, Jeremy Rosner and others out of Greenberg Quinlan Rosner took their product to Bolivia and helped the right-wing candidate Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada (“Goni”) defeat the leftist candidate, current President Evo Morales.
Glenn Greenwald of The Guardian explained what happened after “Goni” prevailed in a recent post:
In October 2003, the intensely pro-US president of Bolivia, Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada, sent his security forces to suppress growing popular protests against the government’s energy and globalization policies. Using high-powered rifles and machine guns, his military forces killed 67 men, women and children, and injured 400 more, almost all of whom were poor and from the nation’s indigenous Aymara communities. Dozens of protesters had been killed by government forces in the prior months when troops were sent to suppress them.
“Killing Hope: U.S. Military and CIA Interventions Since World War II” by William Blum also points to a wide array of instances in which the CIA stepped in and inserted “dark money” to influence the result of an election in favor of the more right-wing candidate – often but not always – at the 11th hour.
“Dollarocracy”: Not what Democracy Looks Like
Despite the months theatrical performances, when push comes to shove, as Robert McChesney recently concluded in an essay appearing in the Monthly Review, “this isn’t what democracy looks like.”
“The most striking lesson from contemporary U.S. election campaigns is how vast and growing the distance is between the rhetoric and pronouncements of the politicians and pundits and the actual deepening, immense, and largely ignored problems that afflict the people of the United States,” wrote McChesney.
Paralleling the concept introduced in Sheldon Wolin’s book “Democracy, Inc.: Managed Democracy and the Specter of Inverted Totalitarianism,” published in 2010, McChesney introduced the concept of “Dollarocracy,” which he defines as “the rule of money rather than the rule of the people.”
Dollarocracy, and not democracy, prevailed on Nov. 6 and once again, it was electioneering elites that came out ahead.
“The carefully cultivated belief that we live in a society governed by the demos (the popular classes) is patently absurd in the face of the reality of Dollarocracy,” concluded McChesney.
It’s not a stretch of the imagination to say that no one understands this better than the profiteering electioneers cashing in on Democracy, Inc.
Photo by Ramberg Media Images under Creative Commons license.