What began as a “class warfare” red herring paraded by Republicans as an alleged indictment of the administration and the underclass became, in the 2012 election, the country’s very unsettling flirtation with money equals power as a political equation. President Obama’s insistence that the path to reducing the federal deficit must include increased taxes on the wealthiest Americans, along with signaled intentions to close various business-sector loopholes, gave impetus to a Republican/Tea Party no-holds-barred power grab for the moneyed interests that at once revealed which class was seriously about the business of warfare.
Aiding and abetting this bull rush to seize power the fat-wallet way was of course the Citizens United decision of the Supreme Court, or more specifically, the conservative element of the court. That ruling, enabling the sources of soft campaign money to go undisclosed was the kind of boost that emboldened right-side chieftains to think that all of Washington was ripe for the shaking – the presidency and the Senate surely poised to be added to the control the GOP already held in the House. Or so they believed.
In wake of the election results, much attention has centered on how dumbstruck the outcome has left major players on the right, their funding agents, sycophants and misguided minions across the country. But attention in appropriate measure needs to be directed to the commendable pushback mounted by the electorate’s rank and file in the face of a cash-powered juggernaut. The over-the-cliff metaphor for Washington’s impending day of fiscal reckoning dominates political conversation today, but turning back the major land grab by big money was an over-the-cliff disaster averted by the masses that ranks with, or perhaps out-ranks, any fiscal Armageddon.
We’ve just been through a situation in which an amalgam of big-money forces actually thought themselves perfectly entitled to spend whatever was required to acquire control over what policy was hatched in Washington. One of the marquee right-side demagogues, Grover Norquist, smugly declared that the president whose election he and his confederates would mastermind would be in place not to make policy, but to sign into law the policy they ordained for him! In America in 2012 there were individuals standing on “money is power” ground so firm as to inspire rhetoric like that.
Small wonder that the election results produced all those episodes of surreal reaction from some of the right wing’s leading lights. Karl Rove challenging even the Fox News call of the presidential race in Ohio that put the president over the 270 electoral vote threshold. Once and future court jester Donald Trump threatening to march on Washington. Amplifying Mitt Romney’s celebrated “47 percent” spiel, Bill O’Reilly concluding that the people who voted for Obama are people who want “stuff” or “things.” And Rush Limbaugh, that disaster area like no other, offering Clarence Thomas and Herman Cain as evidence that the Republican Party is indeed one of inclusion.
To their credit, Democratic Party strategists, from the presidential contest on down, zeroed in on the one sure force that could rise to the challenge posed by the fat-wallet onslaught, people power. Arriving at a meticulously laid out ground game became the party’s number one priority, and organizers delivered. The case of Senator Sherrod Brown, who retained his seat in Ohio, is typical of the thorough organizing job done in the state, that benefited both the senator and the top of the ticket. In Connecticut Linda McMahon had funds enough of her own to throw into her effort to obliterate her Democratic opponent, Chris Murphy, with (mostly negative) advertising. McMahon still lost, having now reportedly spent $100 million in two attempts in this seemingly obsessive quest of hers to become a senator.
Had things gone swimmingly on the GOP side, we wouldn’t be hearing all the voices that have chimed in, even among GOP partisans, about what’s wrong with the party. A defeat that the party’s high command says it absolutely didn’t see coming would make for the sort of second guessing that followed the people having their say. Dick Cheney once publicly dissed Colin Powell to the extent of referring to Rush Limbaugh as a much more respected leadership figure in the GOP than was Powell. And that perhaps says a mouthful about why the Republicans’ chickens may have begun coming home to roost. If Limbaugh, Trump, Norquist, O’Reilly and Rove are among the party headliners designated to walk with a big stick, how sustainable is that formula for winning may well be very open to question. That in the election aftermath the biggest GOP story to emerge gives one further pause, the fact that the entire party brain trust was unified in its allegiance to its own poll results, which contradicted just about all other independent polling. In keeping with the image of lunatic behavior so often associated with extremist antics on the right, there obviously was some malady laying siege to the brain trust in the run-up to the election.
All of that alternate universe carrying on notwithstanding, democracy as the big winner in 2012 is no story to be hidden. Long lines of voters waiting for several hours is the takeaway from Nov. 6 that will remain a proud American moment. And anachronistic as that is as an American happening, democracy in this country was never better represented.