There is no doubt that class polarization has increased in US society. The massive widening of the inequality gap is accepted barring a few nutcases, the same types that might deny that global temperatures are on the rise, or that label climate change as a hoax.
In the electoral arena we have a dictatorship, a monopoly of the electoral process by the Democrats and the Republicans, the two political parties representing the corporations and Wall Street. They have mapped out the electoral turf and designed it so that there are fewer and fewer areas that might be called “swing” states so that, as the Wall Street Journal points out, Republican areas are growing “darker red” while Democratic areas “darker blue.”
This is very useful in that there is no need for politicians of either party to waste much time in these “safe” areas. The name of the game is to simply increase the number of “safe” areas for each party and battle it out on a much smaller scale for the rest. Their media will reach the others; that's what ads are for. That's one reason why elections cost hundreds billions of dollars really. Outside of these safe areas, the red or the blue, the so-called “swing states” are rapidly declining in number. “The number of states that are so clearly red or so clearly blue that they aren’t seriously contested in presidential races, is climbing while the number of swing states in the middle is falling” the Journal reports. In 1960, 20 states were tight races, with the outcome decided by less than 5% of the votes. In 2000, only 12 were considered competitive states and this year only 4.
The Journal explains (something we all pretty much know) that there are many states, “..that have become so clearly aligned in presidential politics…..that neither parties presidential contenders seriously compete in them.”
This is all interesting stuff. But there is a very stark and obvious statistic that doesn’t find its way in to the mix and that is those who have withdrawn from the political process altogether. It’s hard to determine that but we can get some idea. According to the Elections Project and leaving out the 5 million or more felons denied the right to vote because of felony disenfranchisement, there are 240,926,957 Americans of voting age. Although the turnout for the fall election has not yet been calculated, the Bipartisan Research Center estimates it at 57.5% of the eligible voters. I am assuming “eligible” is the same as voting age minus felon disenfranchisement, those living abroad etc. By my estimation that means that 138,000,000 Americans able to vote chose not to.
How can a figure like this be ignored? It’s not hard to figure that out. If we take the right to vote, it was won from the capitalist class through a long heroic struggle. White men without property were unable to vote, blacks were unable to vote, not even considered citizens, women etc. Full enfranchisement was realized in 1965 with the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and the ratification of the 24th Amendment in 1964. (See here)
One hundred and thirty eight million possible voters are ignored because the political parties and their representatives have nothing to say to them that might inspire them to. In some of these local elections, candidates are endorsed by the local trade Union movement (which means the leadership), as well as the Chamber of Commerce. This is absurd when you think about it. The US Chamber of Commerce supports the Right to Work (for less) laws and is anti-Union.
Some people argue that these people don’t vote because Americans are “apathetic” or we “don’t care”.
But this is the wrong conclusion to draw. They have simply drawn the conclusion that in the main their lives will not change that much, certainly on the issues that matter most, food, shelter, a job that pays the rent, health care, etc. Because the two Wall Street parties both agree that the burden of the capitalist crisis will borne born by workers, the poor and sections of the middle class, people who feel they must vote (for the right reasons) tend to vote on “moral” issues of importance to them personally, identity politics is the result: abortion or gun rights, prayer in school gay marriage etc. It’s not that these issues are not important to people but the issues that matter most are food, shelter, security, health a job etc. If you’re going to earn $8 an hour no matter who gets in, then the other issues take on a greater importance.
The unfortunate aspect of this is that millions make the mistake that all politics is bad, all politicians are corrupt. Many young people are completely opposed to political activity due to this view that is strengthened with the absence of a genuine mass workers party. That we have no party of our own is primarily the fault of the heads of organized Labor who are wedded to capitalism, the market and the Democratic Party.
This absence of a political alternative for workers has meant huge and at times violent battles in the streets and workplaces. We have seen a resurgence of this side of our heroic traditions with the Occupy Movement, that with all its weaknesses used direct action and open defiance of their laws while the Labor officialdom bow down to their laws, their courts and legality; the capitalist class responds to this with violence. And despite the success of the Democrats and their allies atop organized labor to derail it, we saw 100,000 workers, many fresh layers, on the streets of Madison Wisconsin. It’s clear that organized labor has been working inside Walmart and other retailers and the fast food industry trying to organize as recent actions in this sector show. The Union hierarchy sees tremendous revenue potential here. But, as is always the case, regardless of the intentions of those that initially give it life, a movement can get out of their control.
These 138 million people, and those that felt the need to vote if just to keep the nastier and most openly racist of the parties out of the White House, are not the conservative mass that the mass media would have us believe. The continued attacks on basic Union rights is likely to intensify clashes on the streets and in the workplaces in the period ahead, especially as further economic crisis looms, and it is most likely out of such movements the workers’ independent political voice will be born.