On the one hand, you have a governor who did not hide his desire to divide and conquer the unions, eliminate collective bargaining, decimate government services and serve a small cadre of wealthy, powerful and shady corporate interests. He was bought by Karl Rove, the Koch Brothers, and other criminal organizations. There’s even a possible federal indictment for him on the horizon, in connection with an embezzlement investigation that has already ensnared six of his associates and aides.
Yet, despite all this, Walker survived the recall, and it wasn’t even close. Plus, he did it with the support of 38 percent of union households – you know, the people Walker wanted and still wants to crush. Various explanations have been given for the election results, including the notion that the people simply didn’t like the idea of a recall, or that the Super PACs flooded Wisconsin with money for their boy Walker, giving him a sizable financial advantage over the Democratic challenger and handing him victory. And he did it without the help of the Jim Crow-style voter ID bill he signed into law.
So, what’s going on here? No one can question the corrupting influence of money in politics, particularly since the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision. Money is a big factor in elections, and when a few billionaires can decide which jerk to put in office, their money trumps the votes and drowns out the voices of the common folk. But still, the 1 percenters require voters to get their candidate in office and seal the deal. These people, known as “low information” voters – a charitable and technical sounding term for uneducated, ignorant or gullible – are the real problem.
In the Wisconsin recall election, and countless elections throughout the country, both state and national, these low information voters vote against their economic interests and derail the democratic system. A democracy works only with an educated, informed populace, which the United States lacks and desperately needs if it will have any chance of overcoming its dysfunction.
White working class voters have made a pact with the devil – in the case of Republican Party, this should be taken in a literal sense – and now they (and all of us) are paying for it. Convinced that government programs are welfare – translated to mean the blacks and Latinos are getting freebees they don’t deserve – they will oppose them if doing so will hurt blacks more than whites. It is the legacy of the Southern Strategy that has allowed conservatives to politically capitalize on white resentment of black progress. That resentment is summed up in a scene from the 1997 film, Rosewood, a film depicting the massacre of a prosperous black Florida town by a white lynch mob. The following is an exchange between two white men in the film:
Man #1: You know he’s [Sylvester] got a piano? A ni**er with a goddamn piano. I’ve been working all my life, I ain’t got a piano.
Man #2: You don’t know how to play one.
Man #1: That ain’t the point. Old man Cummer, up that house of his, he’s got a piano. That ni**er’s got one, and I don’t.
The Rosewood massacre of 1923, like the Tulsa race riot two years earlier, was precipitated by claims that a black man raped a white woman. But the racial tensions in these massacres and others reflected an underlying social and economic competition.
While some working-class and poor whites have been content with being one rung above people of color on the totem pole, still they have remained on a very low rung and out of luck. There is a reason why the U.S. does not have a vibrant labor movement. And there is a reason why America maintains the flimsiest social safety net and the worst economic inequality of the advanced nations. It is because white members of the 99 percent – or enough of them, at least – have acted not in their own interests, but in the interests of the 1 percent. It is oppression by remote control, and the oppressed are made to feel like winners even as they emerge empty handed.
And the culture wars, including gun worship, abortion bans, homophobia and immigrant bashing, become substitutes for concrete policies of economic uplift and social progress.
Faced with hard times, people have clear choices. Either they join forces across racial and ethnic lines and fight their common adversary, or they double down on the dumbness, thrive on misinformation and assign scapegoats.
The Tea Party, which now prevails in national politics and owns a major political party, represents the latter of the two choices. It is this mindset that gives us creeps running state houses throughout the country – not just in Wisconsin. For example, the governor of Michigan is dismantling and disenfranchising majority-black cities, while the governor of Florida, the largest Medicare fraudster of all time in his old job, is purging 182,000 Latino and black voters from the rolls.
And yet, once again, someone out there is voting for these people. Until we resolve this, America will never get any better.
Posted: Saturday, 16 June 2012