Thursday, November 8, 2012

Lesson Of Election: The Big Money Lost! . . . Or Maybe That's Pretty Far From Perfectly True

Which Times article to believe?  No effect from money or a shift to the right?
People still haven’t got it sorted out: One way you know . . . conflicting headlines in the same edition of the New York Times!  Everybody’s busy proclaiming victory or trying to deny actual defeat.  Fact is, they're both right.

One perfectly good take on this election is that the big money unleashed by the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision lost.  Upper left hand of its front page the Times today chose to run a story making exactly this point: Little to Show for Cash Flood by Big Donors, by Nicholas Confessore and Jess Bidgood, November 7, 2012.

After what the Times notes was the “most expensive election in American history drew to a close this week with a price tag estimated at more than $6 billion” it comments that “the nation’s megadonors returned home with lighter wallets and few victories.”  Indeed, just as the Times observes, “President Obama will return to the White House in January, and the Democrats have strengthened their lock on the Senate.”

But contrast that with the message conveyed by other articles the Times featured in the same edition.  One picture is worth a thousand words and the message bolstered by Times data graphics proclaimed “most counties shifted toward the Republican side in Tuesdays’s vote, partly reversing large steps to the left in the 2008 election” and “Counties Blue and Red Move to the Right.”   See: Over the Decades, How States Have Shifted, How Obama Won Re-election, Obama Was Not as Strong as in 2008, but Strong Enough.

The Times supplies the above, illustrating a shift to the right, in the form of an animation at their site
And let’s not forget that the House of Representatives, seized by the Republicans in 2010, remained in Republican control.  So Karl Rove’s perspective reported in that first mentioned front page Times article is very important: Without the huge amount of spending by the megadonors, “the race would not have been as close as it was.” *  Among other things the Democrats might have taken back the House.  And this doesn’t even begin to consider what the effect of big money might have been in smaller, more easily bought local elections.
(* Notwithstanding, this philosophical point of view, Rove reportedly melted down on the Fox News set the night of the election unwilling to admit Obama had won Ohio.)
So if there is solace to be taken that the influence of big money can be fought and counteracted, that isn’t to say that its influence isn’t mightily felt.

With big money in play this election was fought very strategically on both sides.  It’s already been mentioned that Republicans “have lost the popular vote in five of the last six presidential elections.”  That Republicans have won presidential elections while losing the vote is an indication that money was spent strategically with the most important goal being the winning of the election, not the winning of the hearts and minds of the populace.  But Obama was also willing to play strategically and for a while it was viewed as possible that Obama might have won the all-important electoral college without winning the popular vote.

Perhaps the biggest surprise is that with a little campaigning in North Carolina, a state the Obama campaign apparently wrote off due to importance of electoral collage math, Obama probably would have shifted a lot of voters in his favor, adding to his popular vote and electoral collage tallies.

Big money also probably forced the Democrats to play a strategic game concentrating on keeping a balance of power with majority in the Senate rather than devote resources to taking back the House.

How did big money assert itself in this election?  The best analysis will come in time.  Since much of the money invested in political candidates now stays secret, utilizing 501(c)(4) organizations, organizations that are ostensibly formed for charitable and public purposes but these days are abused for political purposes, it may take a long time to figure out whose money was going where, notwithstanding that there are some donors, like Sheldon Adelson, who actually seem to like to attract attention to the money they are giving as well as to whom it's going.

Before we discount the influence of big money too quickly let’s remember that Romney was the Republican candidate because he was the product of the big money.  In the Whac-a-Mole Republican primaries it was the powerful effect of Romney money that was whacking down that long string of anyone-but-Romney alternative candidates.  Speaking of "anybody but Romney," the phrase can be inverted and turned to say that analysts keeping their eye on the money never gave anybody but Romney a chance of being the Republican candidate, consistently and for more than a full year in advance.

The irony is that the other potential candidates taking on Romney were those favored by those in the populace stirred up by the Tea Party.  Consider that the Tea Party, while it masquerades as grass roots, is actually a top-down movement.  It is top-down and well-funded because it is largely the creation of big money.  It served to siphon off and engage a lot of the national anger coming to the surface about privileged elites that would have been channeled more rationally in a direction like the Occupy Wall Street movement.  While most of the establishment's big money wanted Romney, the big money funding the Tea Party couldn’t and didn’t tightly control the free-for-all preferences emerging for for candidates like Herman Cain, Michele Bachmann and Newt Gingrich.

What the donors behind the Tea Party have been buying with their focus on extremism and their picking off of moderates is an intransigent resistance to compromise, leftward movement, and any sort or rational debate and discussion about issues.  Gridlock is acceptable, likely desirable, to them.  Their strategies of creating new out-lying poles of "political" thought parallel the strategies of those spending heavily to create doubt about climate change and to remove from office politicians willing to take steps to deal with it.  This is not surprising because a lot of the money to fund the Tea Party and to fund creation of doubt concerning the scientific conclusions on climate change is actually coming from the same places.

I recently offered a teaser which I will offer here again: This may be the last presidential election where the fossil fuel industry will ever be able to spend this kind of money to buy politicians.  Why?  I’ll have to set that aside and deal with it in a future National Notice article.

Provided that big money is disabled in the future the shift to red that money bought in this election is likely to be counteracted by the changing demographic that favor Democrats in future years.  That's provided that the money, being done with this election, doesn't figure out how to buy new set of voters in the future.

Was big money also spent on the Democratic side of the election?  Of course.  There was some balancing out.  Big money on the Democratic side helped defeat big money of the Republican side, but there was much more of it on the Republican side.  Big money unleashed in politics was exactly what Republican strategists wanted when they pursued the Citizens United case.

There are those who will correctly point out that because there was big money spent on the Democratic side we should expect Obama will inevitably behave with a certain deference to the establishment entities where the money came from as a result.  True, but by virtue of that analysis we can also expect Obama to be less beholden to the Wall Streeters who abandoned him this time around and less beholden to fossil fuel industry that threw so much support to Romney.

Another set of data maps in today's Times showing a shift to red
Did the big money win?  Yes, in part: The House is still Republican.  The Republican’s are proclaiming that the results of the election mean that the people of the United State don’t want higher taxes on the rich.  If that is believed or treated as true that's a win for them.  Also, as mentioned in the last National Notice article, it’s the Republicans in the House of Representatives who won’t even talk about their positions about climate change.

Yes, big money is having a lot of influence.

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