Why The Big Issues Are Missing from the 2012 Race

Matt Stoller is a fellow at the Roosevelt Institute. You can follow him at http://www.twitter.com/matthewstoller.

One of the reasons I loved Neil Barofsky’s book Bailout is because it is a clear explanation of the incentive structures in our political system. One element of his story that you might find surprising is how rarely elections actually come up among policymakers. Careerism, intellectual capture, subtle forms of bribery, institutional embarrassment, intimidation, bureaucratic jujitsu – all of these have a massive impact on policy outcomes. But elections? Yes, they matter as well. But they aren’t that important. And if you read Bailout, or really just pay attention, what you’ll find is that policy simply didn’t change when Obama took over from Bush, which is a fundamental challenge to our notion of democracy, perhaps even more so than corporate money flooding into our elections.

That is, the idea that all politicians want to do is get elected, and therefore they are worth despising, is actually untrue. If it were true, then you would find politicians constantly proposing and implementing popular policies, like free universal health care, high taxes on corporations, jail for Wall Street bankers, and higher minimum wages. But they don’t do this. The reason, as I wrote in June of 2011 in Beyond Elections – the Hedging Theory of Political Elites, is that political actors are only interested in winning elections to the extent that strategies for winning don’t jeopardize their place in the political class.

Political analysts tend to gloss over what I would call hedging behavior on the part of political elites. While elections are somewhat random, the fact that you will be on the losing side of an election at some point is guaranteed. So politicos don’t ask: What’s the best way to win an election? Rather, they ask: What’s the best way to preserve my risk-adjusted position in the political ecosystem of influence and money? This means setting yourself up to win an election if possible, but not in an especially populist manner that could increase the downside of losing or falling into the minority.

I spent some time pointing out going over one example out of hundreds, as an illustration of standard operating procedure. Congressman Chris Van Hollen staffer Doug Thornell, while working for Van Hollen, railed against special interests in the health care space. PR specialist Doug Thornell in 2011 then railed against unfair tax penalties on corporations that wanted to repatriate and bring home their profits. And even today, Thornell tweets and writes pieces lambasting Republicans for their poor policy choices. Is there any doubt that someone like this is going to return to a staff position in government, and then cycle back out to earn huge sums of money yet again? Of course not. What is valuable to Thornell, therefore, is not making sure that Democrats win, it’s to preserve his sinecure regardless of whether they do. Populism or left-policy policy implementation and communication is the way to jeopardize his position, so that’s what he (and people like him) avoid like the plague. It’s why Iran hawk Elizabeth Warren, who in her book The Two Income Trap equivocates on the government subsidizing child care, is seen as a left-wing ideological extremist (ha!).

Another example of this is Bill Clinton’s $80 million payday after he left office.

On December 21, 2000, President Bill Clinton signed a bill called the Commodities Futures Modernization Act. This law ensured that derivatives could not be regulated, setting the stage for the financial crisis.  Just two months later, on February 5, 2001, Clinton received  $125,000 from Morgan Stanley, in the form of a payment for a speech Clinton gave for the company in New York City.  A few weeks later, Credit Suisse also hired Clinton for a speech, at a $125,000 speaking fee, also in New York.  It turns out, Bill Clinton could make a lot of money, for not very much work.

Clinton, who had scandals as significant as Eliot Spitzer, is a beloved figure worth enormous sums of money. In a country opposed to US interests, if the husband of the Secretary of State was taking large sums of money from entities all over the world with vested interests in that country’s foreign policy, the US would be the first country to scream and cry “corruption”.

All of this is a way of saying that most US politicians by and large would like to win elections, but they aren’t going to jeopardize a future revenue stream or even their membership in the club of the global elite to do so. This is true for all parts of the political ecosystem, from politicians to staffers to campaign operatives to pollsters to consultants. While losing a race isn’t fun, if you rock the boat and lose, you’re done. And the structure of how political consultants make money – similar to cost plus government contracting where the more they spend the more you make – means that you aren’t rewarded for outcome, you are rewarded for not being worse than the other consultants. The only people who are desperate to win elections are activists that have a strong ideological stake in electoral outcomes. With that in mind, it’s worth looking at a post by Redstate publisher Erick Erickson called The Con$ultant Cla$$.

We have all these GOP Super PACs sucking up millions and millions of dollars to help Mitt Romney and now in the summer lull? Nothing. But I bet some consultants are getting rich. It’s like the GOP consultant class learned all the wrong lessons from Bob Shrum…

In the meantime, the GOP Super PAC ads continue to be mostly forgettable while the Super PAC’s themselves continue to raid the pockets of GOP multi-millionaires.

Now add two more data points.

David Dewhurst of Texas spent $25 million of his own money to lose badly to an upstart named Ted Cruz who only a year ago was polling at 3% in the polls. It was reminiscent of Charlie Crist’s collapse.

Last night in Missouri, Todd Akin, a man with a congressional record with much to go after, beat John Brunner. Brunner spent $8 million.

Note to GOP multi-millionaires: when consultants are circling you, plying you with compliments, and telling you how awesome you are, understand that what is going on is that you are roadkill and they are vultures. They will pick your carcass clean.

So, Republican SuperPACs are raising hundreds of millions of dollars, and Romney himself is going to have a few hundred million dollars as well to spend. But are their ads actually resonating? Does the money matter? As always, it’s hard to tell. You can’t run a control election with certain ads and an experiment election with different ones. The incentives, though, align well with Republican operatives running a race that panders to billionaire donors, who will keep funding their lavish careers, rather than a race in which ads actually persuade voters. After all, when Republicans in the primary ran anti-Bain ads, their donors became upset, and threatened to cut off the money spigot. Establishment Republicans and their corporate allies, because they don’t really fear a second Obama term, are willing to let the 2012 election be dominated by grifting billionaires and gratifying Romney’s ego about the importance of the capitalist class.

Anything could change, of course, and Romney might win regardless. But the messaging that would be devastating – on housing, unemployment, incompetence and corruption on the bailouts – hasn’t been used systematically. There must be a reason.

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About Matt Stoller

From 2011-2012, Matt was a fellow at the Roosevelt Institute. He contributed to Politico, Alternet, Salon, The Nation and Reuters, focusing on the intersection of foreclosures, the financial system, and political corruption. In 2012, he starred in “Brand X with Russell Brand” on the FX network, and was a writer and consultant for the show. He has also produced for MSNBC’s The Dylan Ratigan Show. From 2009-2010, he worked as Senior Policy Advisor for Congressman Alan Grayson. You can follow him on Twitter at @matthewstoller.

106 comments

    1. monday1929

      Yes, well put Matt. Picture two vultures sitting on the Body politic. They may squabble over some choice tid-bits, but are just as apt to share them- the left eye for you, the right eye for me. Or two lawyers sharing a drink after a “vicious” courtroom battle- sharing a drink and laughing at the fate of some hapless client.
      I don’t follow politics much, but wasn’t it clear that picking Ryan almost assures Romney’s loss? Could part of it be basic strategy; let Obama preside over the Impending Collapse and have a good chance for 12-16 years of Rule starting in 2016? And an open field to eliminate any remaining remnant of the Social Safety Net?

      1. Milton Arbogast

        You’re missing it. They don’t care if Obama is President for 100 years. That’s the point. Of course, I missed it too. During my entire career.

        1. monday1929

          I agree, and Obama is the perfect person to advance the Police State even further. It is a little harder for the repubs to push that agenda. But the two “opposing” teams do like to alternate and share the spoils every so often. The larger looting continues apace either way.

          1. Jack Lohman

            Look, most R’s and D’s are diverted when it comes to politics. The only people that understand how congress works are the 1% that fund our elections. While the voters are diverted to the “little fires,” the Fat Cats are bribing the politicians who make the rules. And the politicians they share in the loot.

            So now they’ve entered the mode of “starve the beast.” Give away all of the nation’s assets (via tax breaks, defense spending, subsidies, et al), and then claim “We are broke. We have to cut entitlements and schools and fireman to survive.” But they won’t touch the cash machine that funds them.

            And the little people go into panic mode trying to save their “little fire.”

            These politicians should be jailed, yet we re-elect them. But get used to it, or throw out all incumbents in November.

            Jack Lohman
            http://MoneyedPoliticians.net

      2. James Shannon

        “The Big Issues….”
        There is only one issue and it will never be discussed by the Media!
        HOW DO WE STOP CENTAMILLIONAIRE$ AND BILLIONAIRE$ FROM CORRUPTING OUR GOVERNMENT!
        Like Fight Club we never talk about the real cost we all are paying, by allowing them to keep doing what the wealthy have always done with the money We The People allow them to keep!
        Can’t fix deaf dumb and blind!
        Read more at http://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2012/08/the-real-rationale-for-the-romney-campaign-a-consultant-money-grab.html?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+NakedCapitalism+%28naked+capitalism%29#SZqycMTc8wrwYE4X.99

  1. Capo Regime

    Nicely done!

    Perhaps a great illustration of the bankruptcy of the U.S. party system–a.k.a the narcissism of small differences!

    Despite the goings on in Europe it is odd that few americans (even here in D.C. among staff) have any clue as to parliamentary systems and the advantages it has in insuring party differences and solid policy–shadow ministers are a great idea for example and having ministers still standing for elections is a great idea–can you imagine geitner or big sis standing for elections in home districts while engaged in their current role? The us system is superior in guaranteeing control of elites and minimizing accountability to public. The eurpoeans/aussies/canadians are no more “socialistic” than americans its just that a parliamentary systems compel leadership to give more concessions to the little people–and force party coherneces as well.

    1. James Shannon

      “The Big Issues….”
      There is only one issue and it will never be discussed by the Media!
      HOW DO WE STOP CENTAMILLIONAIRE$ AND BILLIONAIRE$ FROM CORRUPTING OUR GOVERNMENT!
      Like Fight Club we never talk about the real cost we all are paying, by allowing them to keep doing what the wealthy have always done with the money We The People allow them to keep!
      Can’t fix deaf dumb and blind!

  2. MrColdWaterOfRealityMan

    The big issues are absent from the campaign for the same reason they are absent from the mainstream media. They’re scary. Nobody has any solutions. It profits neither party, nor the media ownership, to talk about reality.

    So, expect little to no rational discussions about peak oil, societal over-complexity, deteriorating personal freedoms and rights, aging and dangerous nuclear plants, nuclear proliferation in South asia or any real issues.

    1. YankeeFrank

      No. The big issues are missing because their solutions would hurt the status quo, and might temporarily interrupt the money flows, and the gravy train might alter its route somewhat, and that would mean these parasites actually having to do some real work and take a little risk. The real reason Obama was elected, and will win again, is because the people he has working for him actually believe in him. Or at least they believe in being the cool dudes who got our cool black preznits reelected. That and he knows the money game, and the money mind, very well.

      Big money is nothing if not very conservative, only making moves when they have “certainty”. The recent piece in TomDispatch about Iraqi oil shows this phenom in the energy sector: once Iraq’s oil infrastructure was relatively secured in 2003, early 2004, the Bush admin invited the big oil companies into Iraq to begin their plunder. They held back, however, demanding that the contracts they entered into would hold up at a later date — demanding the contracts be signed by an actual Iraqi government as opposed to the American provisional one. They also wanted the old Iraqi oil infrastructure destroyed so they could rebuild it. They waited and waited, and Bush couldn’t get it done (except for the destruction bit, that worked out fine). The Iraqis outmaneuvered him at every turn (competence wasn’t the Bush/Cheney hallmark after all). So finally they went in with illegal contracts anyway, figuring its better than getting nothing. Their conservatism cost them a lot of money in the short term… their greed caused them to hold out for better, and they lost. But they don’t care really, they’ve got the contracts now and are wallowing in the dough anyway, for now. I think they will be hornswaggled actually — the Iraqis will let them rebuild the entire infrastructure with all new shiny equipment, and then boot them again. It will be fun to watch.

      My point is that big money likes the comfort of the money they know, and anything new needs to be set in stone or they aren’t generally interested. That’s why it took Obama so long to convince the “health insurance” industry to get on board with Obamacare even though to a casual observer it was an amazing deal for them.

      And that conservatism means the MSM doesn’t ruffle any feathers, toes the line, and the politcians do the same. Regardless if they could earn more some other way (such as owning the solar panel industry). There is risk in change and disruption, and the last thing they want is risk. That is why no big ideas get aired in our system anymore — why there is no air in our system in the first place. The pols, as Matt states so clearly, do their best to keep the waters steady for the corporate planning of their overlords. The risks Obama took were basically of a marketing kind — convincing certain industries that “hey, you’re doing great over here, but if you’d just refocus over there you could do even better. Change is good!” He had to drag them kicking and screaming to their next boondoggle. That is the nature of big money, and thus it is the nature of the theatre of politics to convince us democracy is being perpetrated here when it is most assuredly NOT.

        1. LeonovaBalletRusse

          In fact, they have managed to OUTSOURCE ALL RISK to the “wrong side” of the .99% market, thanks to “TopDogBanks” – and to the 99% thanks to Pols.

    2. James Shannon

      “The Big Issues….” Are not Scary – they exist!
      There is only one issue and it will never be discussed by the Media!
      HOW DO WE STOP CENTAMILLIONAIRE$ AND BILLIONAIRE$ FROM CORRUPTING OUR GOVERNMENT!
      Like Fight Club we never talk about the real cost we all are paying, by allowing them to keep doing what the wealthy have always done with the money We The People allow them to keep!
      Can’t fix deaf dumb and blind!

  3. Jim Haygood

    ‘Clinton … is a beloved figure.’

    Speak for yourself. The crooked old roué, who was on TV yesterday shilling for Obama, makes me heave.

      1. LeonovaBalletRusse

        LS, can there be any doubt that Bill was sexually abused as a (chubby, sensual) child, long before he was drafted into the Maelstrom by Rhodes Scholarship?

        These “poor Southern boys” are red meat to the Round Table + Royalty Set.

    1. James Shannon

      It could be but even he won’t talk about the “The Big Issues….”
      There is only one issue and it will never be discussed by the Media!
      HOW DO WE STOP CENTAMILLIONAIRE$ AND BILLIONAIRE$ FROM CORRUPTING OUR GOVERNMENT!
      Like Fight Club we never talk about the real cost we all are paying, by allowing them to keep doing what the wealthy have always done with the money We The People allow them to keep!
      Can’t fix deaf dumb and blind!

  4. Middle Seaman

    Survival in any form is part of life. Politicians have to be reelected to survive politically. OWS raises big issues, the great depression helped FDR raise many big issues. 10% unemployment is not a depression; therefore, business as usual means no big issues.

    Nothing here is new or important.

    1. Capo Regime

      Thinking there are direct solutions to pressing problems of human nature is a uniquely american cultural trait. For many things there are no solutions only the turns of time and inevitabilty of change. Solutions as simple as electing a new leader, putting together a commission or launching a study and or raising awareness are all things americans cleave to and typically useless…

      1. Wat Tyler

        Problems can be solved but dilemmas can only be managed and all serious issues are dilemmas. After all, it is double entry bookkeeping; my excessive medical bill is a doctor’s yatch payment. If life ends as tradegy, then we are all just managing the process – not really solving any problems. Kicking the can down the road is not a failure of politics it is the objective.

        Jim

        1. Capo Regime

          The problems of baldness and old age are never solved–only managed. The problems of human nature are also never solved–just managed and or accepted. The PR machine in the U.S. has for the last 100 years worked overtime to create the fantasy that most of humanity’s ongoing problems can be solved. Hell, advertizing is all about solving things like your weight, health, sexiness and so forth. Political religion is U.S. is about how special and wonderful we are and goodness the polticians are crooks and bankers venal! Oh my gosh how can this be!!!

      2. first comment

        Your comment is nonsense, to put it bluntly. Nothing unusual about that in a comment section. I only reply because your tone in making it is so arrogant and prejudiced.

        “Thinking there are direct solutions to pressing problems of human nature is a uniquely american cultural trait.”

        Where to begin? First of all, what is the problem “of human nature” that Wayne asked about it? It obviously isn’t clear from his comment. Is it a poorly designed government, i.e. one lacking a parliamentary system that you described in your previous comment and linked to the failures of the American state? That’s not a problem of human nature, at least not as people commonly use it. Even if it were, it would contradict your (asinine) contention that only Americans bother thinking about the flaws of humanity, since presumably the parliamentary systems of other nations were implemented precisely because they offer particular advantages (and if you doubt that, read something about their histories).

        “For many things there are no solutions only the turns of time and inevitabilty of change.”

        This is vapid. I guess you like the sound of it, and I guess you think it refers to some “presing problem of human nature” that Wayne asked about. I don’t think it could possibly be clear to anyone reading the post and the comments to discern just what it is to which you refer.

        “Solutions as simple as electing a new leader, putting together a commission or launching a study and or raising awareness are all things americans cleave to and typically useless…”

        You throw this in, and it is admittedly hard to deal with because it doesn’t fit your prior sentences. At first, you speak of human nature and eternity. Now you jump into politics. As mentioned above, maybe we can find the connection by looking to your prior comment, but that was unconvincing. My best guess is that you are saying that whatever political problems Americans face, their political system provides offers no solutions–indeed, probably even no mechanism to influence it taking seriously your suggestion that we must wait for the disruptive turns of time–since you list only internal means. I would say history proves you wrong; but you could say that whatever changes were inevitable… which brings us back to the emptiness of your comment.

        1. Capo Regime

          Hmm–ad hominens are so easy to deal with.

          Well do provide your solutions (and where in history are they) that if adopted by the folks in Washington and all the worlds capitals would deliver Utopia to us all? Do tell, and do stick to facts……

          Do show me the utopias delivered by policy solutions at anytime in U.S. history–keep it short as its clear you do like to rev on when somebody assails your fantasy world.

          1. Capo Regime

            Comment is based on well trod ideas of polical and social history. History and politics and human nature are not separate but of a piece. The comment is not empty–the emptiness is in your head.

          2. taunger

            the reply does contain some attacks on you – but is largely a good critique of the substance of your comment. Nice strawman!

            perhaps, rather than solutions, you could accept that a course of action could be proposed? or is everything too zen for that?

          3. jim beene

            The lessons learned from history gave the nation respite from boom and bust cycles from the 50s to 70s and even paid down some national debt and gave tax relief to citizens the nation could afford.

        2. Capo Regime

          Eek–arrogant and prejudiced! What next I will be sexist and racist!!!!

          Your attitude is indeed all the way americano!!!! You most be Van JOnes or a junior college poli sci instructor

          1. Capoisright

            Capo is right. Nice turn of phrase capo. Pearls before swine… Coupled with inability to think in the abstract.

    2. James Shannon

      This is THE SOLUTION!
      “The Big Issues….”
      There is only one issue and it will never be discussed by the Media!
      HOW DO WE STOP CENTAMILLIONAIRE$ AND BILLIONAIRE$ FROM CORRUPTING OUR GOVERNMENT!
      Like Fight Club we never talk about the real cost we all are paying, by allowing them to keep doing what the wealthy have always done with the money We The People allow them to keep!
      Can’t fix human greed – but it can be TAXED!

  5. Lambert Strether

    +1000.

    Beautifully succinct. In a way, term limits were sold as solving the issue of an entrenched political class, but were based on impoverished notion of class: Institutional memory simply passed from elected officials to lobbyists (i.e., was privatized) and we ended up even worse off.

  6. Schofield

    Today there’ll be no self-transcending behaviour on your behalf only self-enhancing on my part. I am after all your political representative. Follow the money! Tra-la-rol-de-rol.

  7. Hugh

    The three great issues of our times are kleptocracy, wealth inequality, and class war. The primary weapon of class war is distraction. Hence the great issues and other issues that flow from them will not be discussed. Instead we will be encouraged to talk about whether Romney is cold or what he is hiding in his tax returns or whether Obama was born in the US, or where the candidates are in the horse race.

    1. Capo Regime

      These issues are new and recent? Really there was a time when kleptocracy, corruption and class warfare did not exist? What in 1830 with slavery and murdering native americans? The issue at hand is the fantasy that good ol americanos had “solved” these mainstays of reality. Many things are insoluable you can at best manage human nature and the u.s. compared to a few times and places has done a lousy job. When did these halcyon days of a paucity of corruption, kleptocracy and class warfare exist in the U.S.A?

      1. Neo-Realist

        Granted, those issues have been with us for a long time. But, unlike then, the elites have molded the corporate media into a stealth weapon of distraction against the mob with all the circuses and blame deflecting provocateurs all over our social networks, our radios, our CGI movies and our TVs giving us other things to consider and plug into other than who’s plugging us.

        1. Capo Regime

          Good points! Technology has not made us better off–we are more distracted for sure. Yes, the advances in technology, communication and even psychology and marketing have reduced us into little more than chimps plugging away at our phones and having our will zapped in front of TV or some corporate training retreat. Yes–technology has indeed tightened control over the masses. What with PR, Flouride, monitoring and so many other yokes its a wonder we can do anything at all.

      2. Hugh

        Aspects of kleptocracy, wealth inequality, and class war have existed throughout US history, but what is new is that about 40 years ago these elements began coalescing into a system that now encompasses all of our elites and institutions. In the past, there was always a counterweight: small holders in the time of Jackson, abolitionists leading up to the Civil War, a rising labor movement in the Gilded Age, multiple and very broad social movements with the Great Depression, the civil rights movement in the 1960s. And today we have nothing, despite the largest frauds and heists in human history.

        What is different is that all the politicians, government and the regulators, the judiciary, academia, the media, the police forces are in the service of the kleptocrats.

        It is a kind of know-nothingism and do-nothingism to say that because these traits have manifested elsewhere in our history, nothing is new, nothing is changed. Kleptocracy, wealth inequality, and class war provide the only real consistent and predictive analysis of what is going on in our country and the world. But if you wish to continue to play smug deadend reductionist games, that is certainly your prerogative. You, and more importantly we, gain nothing from them.

        1. Capo Regime

          Good points-there are no more countervailing powers as Galbraith used to say–unions coopted, political parties bankrupt etc…..The problems have always been there but indeed things are now far worse.

          1. Capo Regime

            Not a reductionist game. Just reality. What can we gain? Well we gain a sense of reality and not taken in by magical thinking and hope. How is it kno-nothing ism if one knows how reality opperates? Do nothingism–damn straight what bold actions are you taking? Voting for Jill Stein or signing a petition? Common–the world is a cold harsh place for most of humanity and sure the us was exempt for a few decades (well not if you were black or native american). Where does the know-nothinism manifest? I don’t belive in public school fed public religion and the cult of hope–reality. I guarantee you and yours will be worse off in the future and there is not a damn thing you can do about it other than accept or adapt–but it aint goin to change.

          2. Nathanael

            There will be countervailing powers. The current elite has failed in rule #1 of parasitism (don’t kill the host), as noted below, and the result will be the creation of countervailing powers.

            This will be an ugly painful process and it will get worse before it gets better.

          3. Nathanael

            To be more clear: the elite is making people desparate enough that they will be willing to try desparate measures to get rid of the elite.

            It will take a while for enough people to be desperate enough, but eventually there will be enough (because the elite will not have the sense to buy off the little people), and then revolution will become inevitable. I expect it to happen sooner rather than later.

            More worrisome is what will happen after the revolution. We could get a series of rotating warlords, with continuous chaos, but I think that’s unlikely (it usually requires foreign intervention to maintain that level of mess, Zaire aside).

            More likely is that we get a new elite which has the sense to provide bread and circuses. That would in fact be an improvement.

    2. LeonovaBalletRusse

      Hugh, the eternal .01%DNA wins every which way. They love war for material profit and sexual excitement, as the genocides set up .01%DNA Lebensraum.

    3. James Shannon

      Finally – a thinker – a purveyor of truth – attesting to observed reality!
      “The Big Issues….”
      There is only one issue and it will never be discussed by the Media!
      HOW DO WE STOP CENTAMILLIONAIRE$ AND BILLIONAIRE$ FROM CORRUPTING OUR GOVERNMENT!
      Like Fight Club we never talk about the real cost we all are paying, by allowing them to keep doing what the wealthy have always done with the money We The People allow them to keep!
      Can’t fix human greed – but it can be eliminated – by taxing its reward out of existence

  8. dirtbagger

    Once an elected politician goes to Washington, they turn native very quickly. Poachers now turned gamekeepers.

  9. Accrued Disinterest

    What you’re saying is all politics is biology. The parasite has to draw as much as possible from the host without killing it.

    1. guydetrop

      You’re right. Law #1 of successful parasitism is Don’t kill the host. That being true, one wonders how successful the macroparasites in Washington will turn out to be. One more big financial shock and the macroparasites in Washington may make the microparasites they are carrying around in their guts look pretty smart.

  10. Doug Terpstra

    Great post, but for one offhand statement: “. . . policy simply didn’t change when Obama took over from Bush.”

    Didn’t change? In fact it got measurably, dramatically worse over three-and-a-half years. We got the Patriot Act 2, Obamney Care (Death Panel Profiteer Bailout Act), de facto amnesty for war crimes and financial fraud (fewer prosecutions than under Bush); NAFTA enshrined, plus three more rigged-trade “SHAFTA” deals AND the TPP; the fascist NDAA; expanded, unauthorized wars; and the drone-war cyber death squads, with Obama selecting US-citizen targets personally, including. We have to get clear about this: Obama is not the lesser evil, or even the equivalent evil; he’s far worse — in part, because he puts a friendlier face on it — and exploited it to go far beyond Bush with the Neocon agenda. His second term is certain to be even more catastrophic for the 99% than Romney.

    Stoller’s conclusion about hedged outcomes is on target. But billionaires dropping millions (a factor of 0.1%) on odd-couple “opposition” and conspicuously lame messaging is mostly optics — distracting eyewash (as Hugh notes) for a democracy-theater audience that is mainly contrived to legitimize Obama’s preordained victory. Why would gazillionaires want to change Trojan Horses during such an effective campaign in an epic class war? They don’t, and if the corny Romney-Ryan team actually gets anywhere close to victory, it will be torpedoed.

    1. Accrued Disinterest

      I’m gonna go out on a limb here and suggest that invading an entire country, on facetious grounds, is droning gone to critical mass. Sorry, but the cry that things are worse is teenage melodrama. Don’t make me dig out my list of travesties from the eight lost years.
      And no, I’m not an Obama supporter.

      1. Hugh

        Yes, so what if Obama waged an undeclared and unConstitutional war against Libya or conducted military operations in Somalia and Yemen, or drone strikes in these and Pakistan, so what if he surged troops in Afghanistan, or tried to keep them Iraq, so what if he is waging Cheney level saber rattling with Iran? Obama is so much better than Bush because, because … oh wait, he’s not.

        I stopped adding to this last November and so don’t have all the examples Doug Terpstra refers to but here is a list of some of what Obama has done:

        http://obamascandalslist.blogspot.com/

        There are just over 300 examples. There is also a link there to my previous Bush list with some 400 entries. Of course, that one was over 8 years.

        1. Carol Sterritt

          Thank you for the fact that you offer a link to the 300 items that offer major indications on how the President, who is supposedly a Constitutional Law Scholar, Nobel Peace Prize winner, and also from the same party as FDR, has embraced endless war, allowed for Monsanto and other GM food producers to take control over the food supply here in the US, such that each day, more of our grain crops are fusarium-contaminated garbage, and given a free pass to the Big Bankers. “Sixty Minutes” was spot on when they announced how Obama’s DOJ has prosecuted FEWER WHITE COLLAR CRIMINALS, than any other administration in the last 20 years. The only thing separating him from Rmoney is the women’s birth control, reproductive health issue. But in the end, regardless of who wins, the nation has taken a turn toward the fascist side of the political realm. Big difference between our nation and Nazi Germany – their police went after Jewish people, while our police system is now designed to take out people with bad credit and other markers of poverty. Inadvertently leave out some minor payment received while on food stamps, and you will be threatened with 16 years in prison. Manipulate the entire financial world, so your friends at Goldman Sachs and at AIG receive trillions, you end up in an office down the hall from the Oval Office, with the President merrily letting everyone know how you, Tim Geithner, are his “good buddy.”

      2. Doug Terpstra

        Hey, Disinterest, I deeply represent your comment! And I’m rather enjoying my teens . . . again. You will too . . . if you get through adolescence :-)

        Seriously, though, it surprises me how willfully blind people are WRT Obama, due largely to tribalism, racial aesthetics, I suspect — and of course fear. His track record is long and abysmal, especially on substantive issues like military adventurism, habeas corpus, torture, murder, health care, Social Security, banksterism, and so on. Beyond Hugh’s long and detailed (but not exhaustive) “scandals list”, spend a bit of time at The Black Agenda Report. It’s an eye-opener, with clear-eyed analysis of the racial politics that Obama so deftly exploits.

        “Fletcherism and Fakery: Guarding Obama’s Left Flank” by BAR executive editor Glen Ford

        “Obama’s key apologists on the Left have released their 2012 position paper, in which ‘the facts of the Obama presidency – his actual behavior on war, austerity, and civil liberties – are deemed irrelevant.’ We need four more years of Obama, they say, to open up ‘space’ for progressive action. In reality, Obama’s ‘great legacy has been to create vast political space for Wall Street and the Pentagon.’”

        “Fletcher and Davidson want Blacks and progressives to respond with hysteria to GOP ‘irrationalism,’ keeping the traditional Democratic base in the Obama camp through raw fear.”

        http://www.blackagendareport.com/content/fletcherism-and-fakery-guarding-obama%E2%80%99s-left-flank

        1. Nathanael

          Doug: that *is* all “more of the same”. Very little of it is qualitatively worse than Bush II, and very little of it is quantitatively worse than Bush II.

          The only sense in which Obama is clearly worse, is that he is causing far too many of the people who protested when Bush did the same things, to not protest because they worship Obama like a minor God. In that sense he is truly worse. In every other sense he is:

          “Meet the new boss, same as the old boss!”

          1. Doug Terpstra

            Yes, the Trojan Horse is the far more effective evil. That’s exactly the point of the Black Agenda Report, and I would argue that the Death Panel Profiteers Bailout Act, aka Obamneycare, among many other acts of velvet-glove fascism, is both qualitatively and quantitatively worse than anything achieved by GWB, and the second act for Wall Street’s dark horse quisling is Social Security. Count on it. The austeria setup is already in place, including the bogeyman-terror team of Romney-Ryan to ensure Wile E. Obama’s re[s]election (see Taibbi’s latest on the crony cult-capitalist welfare king, then shiver and pull the lever for the lesser evil).

            Meet the new boss; WORSE than the old boss.

    2. James Shannon

      What is the first casualty of War – The Truth!
      “The Big Issues….”
      There is only one issue and it will never be discussed by the Media!
      HOW DO WE STOP CENTAMILLIONAIRE$ AND BILLIONAIRE$ FROM CORRUPTING OUR GOVERNMENT!
      Like Fight Club we never talk about the real cost we all are paying, by allowing them to keep doing what the wealthy have always done with the money We The People allow them to keep!
      Can’t fix deaf dumb and blind!

  11. emptyfull

    I’ve got to admit, I’m still surprised the Romney campaign isn’t going after Corzine. You’d think they could find one financial fraud to bang Obama over the head with, while winking at everyone else and reminding them that their policies will be awesome for the “industry.”

    1. monday1929

      The only one safe enough to go after is Madoff. Or Martha Stewart for her multi-trillion dollar insider trading scheme. (That is sarcasm).
      On the positive side, Obama’s regulators have cleaned up the Banks- a lowly old man who used a slug in a vending machine in 1963 was purged from Wells Fargo today. This may have a chilling effect on Financial Innovation by Money Center Banks. Please, Jamie, don’t go all Atlas Shrugged on us.

  12. readerOfTeaLeaves

    Great post.
    I’m intrigued that it’s about the best thing that I’ve read regarding the 2012 US election, and the other best thing that I’ve read on the topic showed up today at Ritholtz’s The Big Picture:
    http://www.ritholtz.com/blog/2010/09/you-vs-corporations/

    Maybe the stars are doing something weird today, but the convergence of these two posts is striking.

    1. readerOfTeaLeaves

      Correction: the Ritholtz post is nearly two years old; however, Jesse (Jesse’s Cafe Americain, from Yves’ blogroll) linked to that post today. And it’s striking how that post is even more relevant than when Ritholtz first wrote it in Sept 2010.

      Dylan Ratigan was savvy to the dynamic of individualist – vs – corporatist, as well as the way that American national politics has become almost a cottage industry of corporate lawyers.
      Damn, I miss Ratigan!

    2. Nathanael

      It’s a good post. Thanks for linking to it.

      The first problem we have in the US is that our rigid two-party political system is *very bad* at adapting to changes in the political dynamic. The second problem is that we have a lot of effort being put into preventing people from voting and preventing votes from being counted, which makes it even harder.

      Parliamentary systems with party-proportional representation — and even some of the parliamentary systems without party-proportional representation — are capable of handling this type of political shift gracefully, without war. It works by having parties which were formerly minor and obscure rise to become major parties, while the old major parties shrink into oblivion.

      With hand-counted paper ballots and an electorate which refuses to be disenfranchised, this can actually happen in a parliamentary system, and it does.

      But in the US system, which is subject to Duverger’s Law, biased against the majority and in favor of Big Money due to the electoral college and the US Senate (which allow money spent in Wyoming to have an outsized impact), and where the two major parties have been legally entrenched for decades, making the situation even worse, it is *very hard* for the old parties to just go the way of the dodo, as they would in a healthy democracy.

      If our democracy were healthy enough, we would soon have a Corporatist and an Anti-Corporatist party fighting each other. A few countries in Europe have already made that shift, and I expect that more will do so. It will take the US a long time to do so.

  13. LAS

    “But the messaging that would be devastating – on housing, unemployment, incompetence and corruption on the bailouts – hasn’t been used systematically. There must be a reason.”

    Perhaps they don’t want to kill the gravy train they’re milking (to mix metaphors)?

    1. Capo Regime

      Hear hear. Indeed reading this blog or being awake for the last 40 years you can conclude that humans have changed much and that for the most part large scale politics and government are all by their very nature corrupt. The cries for reform are evidence that hope does indeed spring eternal but history shows the reforms all end up going awry. to this reader NC is a chronicle of reality and cries for reform are added for comic relief.

    2. Nathanael

      And please rememeber the fate of Crassus!

      Such is always the fate of the financial manipulator who helps remove the system of laws. He is left behind, dead, as the warlords (Caesar and Pompey) move on.

      I have been saying for several years now that the systematic removal of laws by the rich banksters, together with their political lackeys, is opening a giant window for a genuine warlord to take power. The first thing the warlord would do is to execute all the banksters.

      And no, the generals in the Pentagon have no chance of being such warlords; these are the generals who deliberately manipulated the results in the Millenium Challenge 2002.

      The competent generals who were shoved out by Bush, on the other hand, theoretically could become such warlords. They probably won’t, though, due to training. It’ll be someone new.

      Like Napoleon was.

  14. Greg T

    This is another excellent post from Matt. The notion that politicians simply want to win elections is clearly untrue. Winning is worth it only if you can remain in the political class afterward, which means you can’t alienate yourself from moneyed interests while in office.

    This is why, in the midst of an economic emergency- 15 % U6 unemployment – in a presidential election year, is not even on the radar. Nothing of import to the population is even considered. Why? There’s no money there.

    1. Ms G

      “Why? There’s no money there.” Or taking it even further, the national economic emergency of unemployment is itself the source of “the money.”

    2. Because

      15% is a emergency? Give me a break man. It was estimated to be 37% at the height of the 1930’s bust. 10% in 2003.

      Posts like these represent the problem.

      1. monday1929

        If measured the way it was just 20 years ago the unemployment rate would be about 22%. And my understanding is that the peak rate was approx. 33% during the ’30’s.
        Read some facts on the unprecedented persistence of unemployment during this “recovery”. This Depression is just getting started. It will surpass all measures of misery from the ’30’s before it is over. Many measures already are worse.

        1. Nathanael

          I believe the fact that unemployment is only 22% rather than the 33% (or more) of the Great Depression is what is allowing the banking fraudsters to continue to get away with the same old garbage.

          However, they are playing a very risky game, as their policies are quite likely to shove unemployment back up into “time to join the Wobblies” levels.

  15. marche de petit pas

    True, we live in a kleptocracy. And true, consolidating elite power is secondary to keeping up the looting and predation, just like in patrimonial-patriarchal African shitholes. But this is just a phase. Kleptocracy isn’t a steady state, it’s a process of collapse. Its signature behaviors are drift and chaotic adaptation. (Believe in America, has any slogan ever captured drift more perfectly? And US foreign and domestic policies are chaotic to a degree that’s not appreciated.) The Russians call Obama “America’s Gorbachev.” They’re too optimistic there, he’s America’s Andropov, but they recognize the dynamic. We can count on them and their interlocking blocs (who outnmber us) to help it along.

    1. Nathanael

      After doing my research, you’re right, the Andropov parallels are eerie.

      However, we have a severe disadvantage. Several disadvantages. Dmitri Orlov has talked about the “collapse gap”, which is real. Another important disadvantage is that the Soviets *had* Gorbachev. I don’t see a Gorbachev in waiting for us. The final disadvantage is that we have a powerful, openly fascist group itching to seize power (the Republican party leadership). Those didn’t really exist in the late-period Soviet Union.

      So, unfortunately, we could be in a situation a lot more like Weimar Germany than like 1990s Russia.

  16. steelhead23

    Matt, if you keep bashing your friends on the Hill, Ariana won’t invite you to her next Bash the Elite bash (attended by political elites only). BTW – I like to think that there are (or were) a few politicians who weren’t buying indulgences for their careers hereafter while doing the people’s business in Congress. Sadly, the media, which actively controls public opinion, termed Grayson, Feingold, Kucinich, and Paul loons, out of touch, or even (gasp), extreme. To be honest, I don’t know precisely how all this happened – this propagandizing of information presented as news, but I believe it has interrupted the effectiveness of democracy by breaking the feedback loop between bad policy and public anger. I miss Walter Cronkite. I much prefer learning how it is to being encouraged to believe trivial or wrong things – for the good of my country.

    1. DANNYBOY

      If you miss Walter Cronkite then watch The Newsroom. Jeff Daniels plays out some propaganda lines, so that we can believe that Democracy is being restored…on Television.

  17. LorenzoStDuBois

    Matt – What happened to your twitter feed? It was a great way for me to catch a lot of important geopolitical developments…

  18. Greg T

    This is the game the President is playing as well. He’s governed to benefit the financial oligarchy. Even if he loses to Mitt Romney in November, he will cash in. Speaking fees, books, board appointments. The spigot will be opened for him. He may lose an election, but he governed ” correctly ” and so the fruits of labor shall be bestowed upon him.

    1. LeonovaBalletRusse

      GregT, he can hardly wait to get off the hot-seat and “cash in” – free to smoke.

  19. Because

    Obama is the definition of Mr. irrevelant. No matter who you vote for, they are irrevelant. It is all about who controls the capital. Nothing more or less.

    They took away the federal help from states away in 2011 and 12. They can give it back as just one example.

    You need to stop looking at the system.

  20. VietnamVet

    This post exactly explains the lack of attention by the federal government for its citizens. DC is just about the money; cash to be siphoned from never ending wars to hush money paid to media owners for negative campaign ads.

    Future entitlement cuts are a fact; no matter Paul Ryan’s “Protect and Strengthen Medicare” banner, payroll taxes are no longer a surplus that can be transferred to the politicians’ crony capitalist paymasters for this or that purpose.

    1. Because

      Yes. Another example of a “scam” is states rights. Biggest fraud of all the fraud. Literally.

      Take Medicade. “Give it back to the States”…….only for the states to give it to the County’s where it will die. Hence, Medicade gone and Congress didn’t have to lift a finger.

      The final goal is liquidation of America into capitalist totalitarianism. The selling and liquidation of all public assets to wealthy old men(and maybe now, women). At that point, right wingers will figure out that whole communist sheet was a scam, but it will be to late.

  21. Rob

    This was a great post.Too bad it is not in a forum like fox tv where millions can watch every night….and all day…every day…Sure,we all knew this already,but I still like to see it coming from somewhere other than my own head….
    The revolving door of public/private/academic employment is as pervasive a lifestyle as addiction.the blurry line is older than our republic.
    as long as I don’t know any better,i”m going to say America is better than anything that has come before…just because the whole thing was a horse and pony show from the beginning,so what?Just because the inside game is to swindle for you and yours and everyone else be dammned,so what?
    The thing is our big problems do have solutions,or at least courses of action that ought be tried…the reason why there cannot be any discourse in public forums is because people will come up with ideas that don’t rely on per-ordained scenarios.out of the mouths of babes,come all sorts of things that can’t be done.That is what education is for,to limit the scope of what is possible in sensible discourse.That is so a bunch of people who don’t know any better ,don’t cook up the cash cow and feed the hungry.
    What we have here in America is a class system that is not as entrenched as it is in ,say,Britain.there the class system is engrained in the society.That is the goal of this political class.They want to be aristocracy.the real kind.after your family doen’t make money for five generations,and just HAS money….then you are aristocracy…when the sin of political parties becomes as trite as a parliament system….to being the bone thrown to the masses…we in America are being dragged down to the depths of the British political system.this inbuilt advantage money begets privilege,privilege begets education,education begets networks,networks beget careers,careers beget appointments,appointments beget money….

    1. Susan the other

      Funny. Those Mormon videos are sure to backfire. That crowd probably only stays together now by the bonds of embarrassment.

  22. Milton Arbogast

    Or study the NFL. They hand out one Super Bowl trophy per year. Most fans know their team doesn’t stand a chance. Yet it is the most profitable and popular sport in America.

    The difference between the NFL and professional soccer is that professional soccer doesn’t even pretend that the teams are even (that’s American idealism). George Steinbrenner was a European.

    Lotteries are wide at the bottom and narrow at the top. The trick is to work for the lottery, and ass-kiss your way up the corporate hierarchy.

  23. Carol Sterritt

    In the past 72 hours the website Common Dreams carries an article about how Desmond Tutu recently refused to stand on a stage with Tony Blair, as he knows how corrupt Mr Balir is. I found it of great interest to read in the comments section that it is believed that in return for getting the UK aligned with The USA in terms of waging a war against the Iraqi people, Mr Blair then received some six million dollars from JP Morgan. And some believe Mr Blair has also received that amount each year since. The politicians care little about anything as long as their lucrative and usually “secret” contracts are honored. So does Obama really care if he’s re-elected? I believe he probably cares more about the contracts he has made with Monsanto, Goldman Sachs, AIG and JP Morgan than whether he is re-elected or not. After all, what little difference in terms of policy is there between him and Romney? The only difference that matters is in women’s health and reproductive health matters. But in the end, the nation has become totally dominated by Corporations, which is exactly what the definition of fascism happens to be.

    1. Doug Terpstra

      Right on, Carol. We are priviledged to witness the zenith and nadir of crony capitalism/cannibalism, the pinnacle and bottomless pit converged, where everything is a rational commodity with a price, an intersection point on the economists’ supply-demand chart.

      You need legislators, Supine Court justices, black emperors? A war? A bailout? New legislation? Compulsory coustomers? Permanent tax cuts? Offshore banking? Chinese slave labor? Dispossessed grunts willing to kill women and children, urinate on corpses? You need someone killed? We can do that by remote control. We can get anything you want, even the human soul itself.

      So everything has a price but no real value, no joy or intrinsic beauty. In the end, Tony Blair’s price was a counterfeit pittance, dross pulp. What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his soul? Thus, in the midst of miraculous abundance, we are invited to witness bloody hell on earth . . . for a time . . . so that we may, finally, truly appreciate its opposite.

  24. Geojos

    What did Rosa Luxemburg say, ” If elections changed anything, they would not hold them.” And we know who the ‘they’ is.

  25. Jill

    I think elections do matter to the elites. In 2008 they tried out 3 iconic candidate images to see which would work best for them: 1. a decorated Nam vet who’d been tortured 2. a woman and 3. a black man The elites carefully watched the electorate, pumping us with propaganda designed to erase each person’s flaws and building up “a story” around them. Elites gave freely to each fictional character but by the summer it became clear who would best serve their interests. At that point campaign money shifted to their candidate of choice. Media was called on board to make certain their guy was elected.

    This is happening right now. It’s not that Romney wouldn’t do as he was told, just like Obama. The election of Obama matters because people cannot wrap their minds around him. He certainly has engaged in much worse than Bush, yet people love, respect and adore him. If you want to institute depraved policies with near complete compliance of your population, you want Obama not Romney in place.

    (I refer people to Glenn Greenwald’s discussion of a CIA political officer acting as editor at the NYTimes.) No, candidates don’t need to care about elections, but their elite owners do.

    As to what to do. A matter of personal integrity calls us to resist injustice. Whether we are successful is no reason not to try. Without trying, the outcome is assured–100%. There is no reason to vote for your oppressor, or as one person said, “freedom is dying and we are being asked to vote for who will be the undertaker”. Voting is also not an answer in and of itself. We face problems that can be solved. There are answers. It is implementing those answers in the face of overwhelming elite force that is difficult. I don’t know if we can overcome this force but if we don’t try, we will never know if we may have made a difference.

  26. Susan the other

    We clearly need a new system of political representation. I once thought in one of my previous incarnations that science and technology would reduce all our big differences into little ones. But it hasn’t worked out that way. If our system was interested in democracy it would have devised a way to adjust the cost of living before it served up all this trickle down poverty. Why didn’t it? Because corporations can make a lot of money in the meantime. And pretend like they didn’t see it coming.

  27. James Shannon

    “The Big Issues….”
    There is only one issue and it will never be discussed by the Media!
    HOW DO WE STOP CENTAMILLIONAIRE$ AND BILLIONAIRE$ FROM CORRUPTING OUR GOVERNMENT!
    Like Fight Club we never talk about the real cost we all are paying, by allowing them to keep doing what the wealthy have always done with the money We The People allow them to keep!
    Can’t fix deaf dumb and blind!

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