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What is the Message of the Midterm Election? How About Dirty Money Well Spent?

RP Siegel | Friday November 5th, 2010 | 5 Comments

In the aftermath of Tuesday’s shellacking of the Obama administration, pundits are busy trying to interpret the message that the American people were sending through their votes. Was it fears of big government, lack of black voter turnout, discomfort with President Obama’s leadership style and high rhetoric, or perhaps discontent with the state of the nation’s economy. No doubt there were lots of reasons, but it’s really not that complicated. It seems to me it’s all about messaging.

Obama got shellacked because he was out-messaged. He lost the propaganda war. Of the roughly 100 million people who turned out to vote, how many of them do you think were familiar of the contents of the health care reform bill, or the financial bailout? How many truly understand the science behind climate change?

Not many. Most got their information through intermediaries: bloggers like me, or radio talk show hosts, TV news or political ads. And ever since Ronald Reagan did away with the requirement that news be balanced, we now live in a world of selective facts and opinions. And in a world of selective facts and opinions, those parties willing to spend more money to air their selective facts and opinions will win.

People are upset because of high unemployment and so they blame Obama.

But how many people saw this recent graph from the Bureau of Labor Statistics which shows that unemployment in the private sector reached its peak under Bush and has been steadily decreasing ever since Obama took office.

People voted based on what they believed and believed what they listened to. What they listened to was primarily what was paid for. They were told that the bailout was an inside elite socialist back room deal that gave Wall Street tycoons millions  for screwing up while workers were handed pink slips. In fact, that’s not entirely wrong. But what they weren’t told is that most experts are now saying that the plan helped avert a complete meltdown. It wasn’t popular but appears to have worked. Yet all I keep hearing from Republicans is how reducing spending is going to create jobs. How exactly is that supposed to work? Isn’t that the same as saying that if I stop feeding my children, they will grow bigger, faster.

We all know that more and more money is being concentrated in the hands of fewer and fewer people, primarily those who are major stockholders in large multinational corporations. After the conservative Supreme Court ruled in the Citizens United case, despite a clear conflict of interest on the part of Clarence Thomas, that corporations could put as much money into elections as they wanted, that really opened the floodgates.

As just one example, the energy industry spent $69.5 million on TV advertising attacking clean energy and climate change. That’s ten times the amount raised by environmental groups, much of it filled with distortions and outright lies. A great deal of that money went into support of tea party candidates who are, in most cases, ardent climate change deniers. All together the energy industry spent $247.5 million on advertising. It’s not like people don’t have to buy gas anyway. Just imagine what other more beneficial purposes a quarter of a billion dollars could be put to.

What’s is truly bizarre is that you have right wing ideologues blaming Obama and his Wall St. bailout for the fact that America is creeping towards corporatism, while their own candidates are accepting corporate donations by the truckload. At the same they blame excessive regulation for all of our economic woes. You can’t have it both ways people!

Regulation is the only mechanism by which governments can forcefully counteract, when necessary, the narrow interests of corporations and bring them into balance with the interests of the people at large.

Combine all this with the fact that the Obama administration has done a terrible job of communicating their accomplishments. The fact that the president is apparently too noble to dwell on the myriad catastrophically bad decisions his predecessor made, was a gold-plated gift handed to his opponents on a silver platter. Nice guys finish last. Why the jobs graph I’ve just shared with you, wasn’t hung from every billboard in America baffles me.

But now that the floodgates are open, we can expect more of the same. The money will win. That’s a reality we’re going to have to either get used to or do something about.

RP Siegel is coauthor of Vapor Trails. Like airplanes, we all leave behind a vapor trail. And though can we can easily see others’, we rarely see our own.

Follow RP Siegel on Twitter.


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  • Sundance

    I agree with you on many of your points but in my nonpartisan view I see no difference in how big money swayed the midterms than in how it swayed the presidential election in 2008. Obama was the greater benefactor of corporate and Wall Street money including oil money.

    http://sayanythingblog.com/entry/obama_gets_more_money_from_big_oil_companies_than_mccain/

    Also candidate Obama leveraged that advantage with an unrestricted use of his campaign funds.

    “Nevertheless, down the stretch run of the general election campaign, McCain was outspent by Obama by a four-to-one margin.[391] In the end, from September 1 to the end of the campaign, McCain spent directly the $84 million alloted to him by the public financing rules, while Obama, having opted out of that system, spent $315 million directly during the same period.”

    I’m not arguing your point but wonder if you were as upset when the Democrats benefited from such “dirty money”?

    • http://www.triplepundit.com/author/bob-siegel/ RP Siegel

      My concern is not so much Democrat or Republican, as the fact that increasingly, the money is running the show and in the process is transforming our democracy into something much less representative of the people.

      • Sundance

        Then I completely agree but if Obama raises a billion dollars for his 2012 run do you really think he would not use it to influence his bid for reelection? It’s as if it has become the reverse of MAD during the cold war. You have to have an arsenal larger than your political opponent and you had better launch the entire arsenal if you want to survive politically. How do we stop the MADness?

  • Dorian Aruh

    One thing that the Democrats have failed to address, but which is a part of why they lost is the fact that they are owned by corrupt labor unions. People on the left complain about military spending all the time, but pensions and labor benefits are a MUCH WORSE problem. In fact almost 1/3 of military spending is actually pensions.

    If they could have addresssed this, they might have won!

    • http://www.triplepundit.com/author/bob-siegel/ RP Siegel

      I wasn’t aware that the military was unionized.