Money and Elections in Washington: Pro Wrestling, but With More Respectable Clothes

By Dan Fejes, who lives in northeast Ohio. Cross posted from Pruning Shears

kayfabe: Term in pro wrestling. Kayfabe was the unsaid rule that the wrestlers should stay in character during the show and in public appearances in order to maintain a feeling of reality (albeit suspended) among the fans.

Urban Dictionary

National politics never feels as much like kayfabe to me as when Democrats talk about the awful effect of big money. The most recent example came last week, when Senate Majority PAC spokesman Ty Matsdorf talked to Mean Gene Okerlund Matea Gold about a TV ad buy from Americans For Prosperity: “It’s unprecedented. It means that groups like ours have to go up early as well. We can’t let those attacks go unchallenged.”

Greg Sargent helpfully translates (via): “What that really means is: Where’s the money, wealthy liberals?” That, and not changing the role of cash, is the point of charades like this. Washington Democrats will lob a few verbal brickbats at Citizens United, say the right things about public financing of elections, and darkly warn of the malign influence of the Koch brothers – but as soon as the latest episode is over, they are by all appearances as content with the situation as Republicans.

They don’t want to overturn the current big money system, just make sure it provides them something like parity with Republicans. A party that wanted to do the former would have responded differently to events of the last few years. Charles Pierce noted their coziness with the malefactors of great wealth and the nonexistent influence Occupy Wall Street has had on them. Digby linked to Pierce and then summed up the situation well: “They are astonishingly comfortable in that position. It is, after all, where the money is.”

If Matsdorf and company were truly worried about how to effectively respond to a deep pocketed conservative messaging machine, there’s an obvious answer. It would require breaking kayfabe, though. It is this: A simple, strong, and clear platform of economic justice. Identify popular stances that are also good policy and easy to communicate, unite behind them as a group and hammer away at the resulting platform to the exclusion of everything else.

For instance: Medicare is very popular. Raising the minimum wage is very popular. Taxing the rich is very popular. All are good policies, too. Here’s a simple, strong, and clear platform you could fit on a bumper sticker: Medicare for all; a living wage; tax the rich. A living wage being $15 an hour indexed to Congress’ cost of living increases, and taxing the rich meaning a new “super wealthy” top marginal rate of 70% starting at $5,000,000. (Look at all those zeroes!)

The “simple” part of the platform is important, too. Don’t try to bullshit people. Run only on those planks that have obvious and immediate benefit to citizens. Don’t talk about closing loopholes (after “reform” the tax code will be even more Byzantine and skewed in favor of those who can afford fancy tax lawyers), extending credits or creating God knows what kind of tax deferred vehicles to encourage saving. All that has the whiff of snake oil, and most people will be skeptical. Contrast that with the immediate and intuitive appeal of:

Medicare for all. A living wage. Tax the rich.

Do you know what that platform does? It negates money. People don’t need to be sold on it in any kind of marketing sense. They don’t need to be bombarded with it again and again. They just need to be made aware of it. You don’t need to saturate the airwaves with ads trying to persuade them. Just get the word out and the thing will sell itself. As an added bonus for Democrats, it is mightily antagonistic to those who are so lavishly funding their opponents. (And while we’re waiting for that corporate personhood amendment to get rolling, do you want to know the easiest way to get big money out of politics? Make being on its side a sure loser.)

I understand the idea of cutting oneself off from the big money base and living off the land is frightening. I also understand it’s easy for me to be cavalier about someone else’s job prospects. Still, uniting behind a simple and clear message of economic justice is such an obvious winner that it seems the only reason to reject it is out of devotion to the status quo. In other words, because all the caterwauling is just an act. Quick, before the cameras start rolling – who’s the babyface and who’s the heel again?

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  1. Bob Swern

    Thanks for sharing this, Yves. Truly awesome commentary!

    Yeah, this one’s getting emailed to ALL of my political “friends!” Last time I did that was when I originally read these two sentences from Matt Taibbi…

    “…In public, the parties stage a show of bitter bipartisan stalemate. But when the cameras are off, they f*ck like crazed weasels in heat…”

    –Matt Taibbi, from “Wall Street’s Big Win,” Rolling Stone (8/4/10)

  2. ChrisCairns

    You know a lot of money is passed under the table, Yves, and doesn’t go through the books. Self interest usually wins over what is popular.

    Less obvious here, but we still see both major parties opposing gay marriage, eg, which most Australians support.

    You could run small countries on what the Dems and Reps spend on electtions. Obscene…

    1. teejay

      Apparently you’re from the Nutmeg State too. This is the first I’ve seen of this web site. where’s it been hiding? Are you connected with it?

  3. Jim Haygood

    ‘Medicare for all; a living wage; tax the rich.’

    One plank is missing: kill the landlords!

    Also, to my irritation, they have not delivered my pony yet.

    1. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

      I would do these:

      Single Payer

      Social Security for all

      Teamwork GDP (i.e. GDP sharing).

      A Wealth Tax

    2. Jess

      Gee, Jim, thanks for wanting me dead. But I guess I deserve it; I just raised the rent on my tenant, after ten years of no increases, on my one little rental, the family home I grew up in. Maybe, instead of killing me, you’ll just let me give the place away and survive on my $1,380/mo Soc Sec check. Shouldn’t have any problem doing that. What the hell, last year I only had over $7,000 in co-pays, deductibles, and other uncovered charges from my Medicare coverage.

      Please, Jim, will you let me live?

      Aww, thanks.

  4. Banger

    I think we can safely come to some conclusions. Politics in America is largely determined by dedicated interest groups that play for keeps and show a take-no-prisoners approach to winning. Now what? Are we going to keep crying that “it’s not fair” and believing that politics is about “issues”? Politics is about power who has it and who doesn’t. Those that don’t have power get to be dominated by those who do–very simple. How that happens is always interesting but “exposing” the machinations of the political class has become less interesting over time. How about actually “doing” something?

    Personally, I have given up on leftist politics. Nothing is happening there. I believe real solutions will come from some amalgam of forces yet to coalesce. The right has shown us that it has the enthusiasm, the smarts, the techniques to dominate the political scene. The Democratic Party “left” will continue to prosper by doing nothing and watching Comedy Central make fun of the right.

    1. j gibbs

      I didn’t realize there were any leftist politics around to give up on. Which ones have you abandoned?

      1. psychohistorian


        Thanks for that point of clarity.

        And thanks to Yves/Dan Fejes for a clear, concise and powerful posting.

        I would expand it slightly to say Medicare and jobs for all; a living wage; tax the rich.

          1. psychohistorian

            I agree with the addition as long as we call it what it really is, INSURANCE!

            Please and thank you!

        1. j gibbs

          With a nod to F. Beard, I would add a Per Capital Bailout for all. The wife of a friend suggested in December 2008, while TARP was the hot debate subject, ‘why don’t they just give every individual $100,000?” They should have made her Chairman of the Fed.

          1. skippy

            The planet cant take more rabid consumerism, better have a plan that does not just act as a magnifier. Decades of consumerist indoctrination is a gift that will keep on giving imo for generations.

            skippy…. more iholes will only make things worse.

        2. hunkerdown

          Ugh, no, let’s *not* emphasize jobs. Too much busywork and deference to authority is a big part of why people are engaged with kayfabe politics and mildly hostile to power politics.

          1. psychohistorian

            I cringed a bit when I wrote that. Let me put it in the context that I have in other comments on this web site.

            There are not now and won’t be going forward enough jobs for all who want them. We need a redefinition of social responsibility, contribution and base support for everyone. How we evolve to make that as open as possible means that some will have to make contributions that may not always fit their “passion” but still contribute to the “common good”….along with no free lunch there needs to not be repression of human aspirations… may be a hard nut to crack but I would much rather strive towards those goals than live with the shit sandwich we are forced to eat currently.

    2. hunkerdown

      I wouldn’t quite say that, Banger. It’s just not really happening so much in Anglophone countries, where rank and deference are deep cultural norms. I saw this amazing series of tweets this morning from Eleanor Saitta. The third section is most germane here, but the first makes for an excellent one-paragraph explanation of the credibility, in spite of the poor ROI, of mainstream attempts to engage and influence the kayfabe state:

      One of the interesting things in that HNSJ paper on the double state is how it all-but demonstrated the requirement for liberal activism.
      In order for existing structures to maintain credibility, some periodic change is required to show the system still works, but not too much.
      Hence, a set of incentives comes into being that rewards liberal activism that doesn’t threaten fundamental order and punishes radicalism.
      It’s important that we all see people fighting and winning the reforms that won’t solve the problems lest we demand ones that would.
      The System Works™.

      (Another tweep observes, “cf. Lean in and feminism.” Yves isn’t the only one Paying Attention, thank Bob.)


      (Yet another tweep suggests “Small wins are still good, but small wins won’t always get the job done. See also local gay/trans rights actions vs national.” Emphasis mine.)

      Social issues are the single biggest area that doesn’t threaten the state, which is why we see wins there
      The structures that bring small wins won’t bring fundamental change; liberalism is a hill-climbing optimization error.

      (Yet some other tweep asks, “what’s a more successful approach?”)

      In optimization a breadth-first search estimates where likely real maxima lays, e.g. determines the field’s structure
      Radical responses start by looking at deep problem structures & power, then change the roots instead of easy wins.
      It’s necessarily harder work & easy wins for morale are fine, but only when moving from the real power structure.

      “Change the roots.” Leftist politics isn’t dead; it just needs four million volts through it to VOOM through the cage bars.

      1. psychohistorian

        The one structural change that would make the biggest difference is to neuter the global plutocrats by ending ongoing accumulation of wealth through inheritance…..not necessarily end inheritance but hobble it enough so that none accumulate enough to effect social policy.

  5. Jackrabbit

    A new Abolitionist movement.

    That’s the scale and scope of what would be required to make people aware of the abuses that the love-for-money is prone to and the concomitant degradation of humanity. And in many ways its already started. When they can, people fleeing ‘the system’ for credit unions, coops, etc,. And systemic abuses like NSA, fracking, climate change, are opening more and more eyes.

    “Atlas shrugged”? What if ‘Prometheus shrugged’?

    (Note In Greek mythology, Atlas and Prometheus are brothers. Prometheus was supposed to have created humans/humanity and gave them fire.)

    1. Vatch

      Thank you! I did not know that they were brothers. I know that Prometheus had a brother Epimetheus, but I did not know about the connection to Atlas. I never know what I’ll learn when I read this blog!

  6. NotTimothyGeithner

    This is of course why Deans 50 state strategy had to be stopped. If one follows it to its rationale conclusion, candidates/parties with positive messages don’t need expensive ad buys or the Carville/Begala class to win elections. The size of districts necessitates an up front cost, but it’s miniscule to what Democrats spend on losing efforts.

    Local media, national media, the loyalty of voters to parties really just means making sure democratic voters feel a need to vote on election day and are aware of an election. So much infrastructure already does what the money claims to do. What would the lovers from the Gore or Kerry ca mm pains do without party patronage?

  7. diptherio

    I like this article a lot, with one exception: it’s addressed to the Dems. Obviously, this is not a platform that the DLC is ever going to get behind, and since the internal politics of the Democratic party are themselves undemocratic, convincing anyone else but the DLC doesn’t make a dime’s worth of difference. Indeed, as the author points out, all of these policies are already highly popular, which isn’t a big secret. The Dems are run by kleptocrats, same as the Repubs. Making arguments to kleptocrats on the basis of what is socially desirable is bound to fail. The only arguments that get through to them are ones that result in them getting richer.

    This essay, rather, should be addressed to the Skunk Party and the Greens, since we’re the only parties not controlled by kleptocrats. As a Skunk party policy-platform, we could do a lot worse.

    I have another suggestion for us Skunks (or anyone else interested in running for office against the Kleptos): all on-line, don’t accept donations over $200. Taking a page from the Italian 5SM playbook, our advertising, educating and other PR should be done largely on the interwebs to maximize reach at minimal cost.

    Refuse outright to accept large donations. The Dems take the line that one must “fight fire with fire” and money with money. If you believe that, then there is no other way to counteract the massive Repub war-chest but by gathering your own. I was always taught, however, that you should fight fire with water (unless it’s a grease fire).

    On every possible occasion, point out that while both the Dem and Repub candidate, if elected, will have to spend much of their time in Washington fundraising for the next campaign, whereas the Skunk candidate, having never formed an addiction to big money in the first place, will be able to spend their time actually reading and writing legislation; which is, afterall, what they are hired to do. And, of course, such a candidate will obviously not be as susceptible to the financial considerations of donors when considering policy.

    I think we could actually salvage our political system through the ballot box, but we’re going to have to think outside the box, since the kleptocrats own the box. While we still have a wild and free internet, we should try some counter-intuitive thinking and see if we can’t leverage this tool to do something important.

  8. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

    Money and elections.

    Perhaps here we can understand what money is – Money is for buying elections.

    And who gets it first is of paramount importance.

    As no one talks of the four branches of government (the 4th = the people), we also ignore the obvious solution to money creation:

    When we need money for the economy, the government just prints it and distributes equally to all taxpayers (the 4th branch of government*).

    And what if there is too much money in the economy (concentrated at the top)? We simply remove it and burn it.

    * When properly accounted for, big government is good, if only the 4th branch is big.

  9. Waking Up

    When the majority of Congressional representatives are millionaires (and obviously not representative of the public at large), it hits too close to home to “tax the rich”. They may make noise about it during the election season, but certainly will not follow through. Where is the Skunk Party with this simple platform when we need it.

  10. Jeff N

    I haven’t watched wrestling on a regular basis in over ten years, but I do know all these terms and definitions, haha!!

  11. steelhead23

    Yves, this was an outstanding piece – but here you are thinking more like an egalitarian, and less like a management consultant. You appear to believe that the decision-making power in the Democratic Party rests in the hands of its elected legislators and president and the reason the party fails to attack the plutocrats is because a) many legislators are millionaires, and b) picking a fight with the plutocrats would result in low campaign finance contributions and lost elections. I do not doubt that these factors matter, but I think the power behind the party’s decisions actually come from its paid consultants. It is those paid consultants that spend the party’s money. Absent the system we currently have, they’d be out of their jobs. It is my guess that these guys have cowed party leadership into believing the paradigm that votes follow money. If this is so, how did a socialist get elected to Seattle’s City Council? In essence, I believe the party has been co-opted from its egalitarian mission by money. The money in politics has created a professional cadre whose salaries depend on them NOT believing in the power of the people.

    BTW – I know some people in this business. Nice people who I mostly agree with. But I stand by my arguments above. No offense intended.

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