Sat, Oct 20, 2018 - Page 9 News List

Midterm elections in the US a battle of people against money

While statistics show that money matters enormously in US politics, support for candidates like Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is rising

By Joseph Stiglitz

Illustration: Lance Liu

All eyes are on the US as next month’s congressional elections approach. The outcome will answer many alarming questions raised two years ago, when Donald Trump won the presidential election.

Will the US electorate declare that Trump is not what America is about? Will voters renounce his racism, misogyny, nativism, and protectionism? Will they say that his “America First” rejection of the international rule of law is not what the US stands for? Or will they make it clear that Trump’s win was not a historical accident resulting from a Republican primary process that produced a flawed nominee and a Democratic primary process that produced Trump’s ideal opponent?

As the US’ future hangs in the balance, impassioned debates about what caused the 2016 outcome are more than academic. At stake is how the Democratic Party — and similar parties of the left in Europe — should position themselves to win the most votes. Should they lean toward the center, or focus on mobilizing young, progressive and enthusiastic newcomers?

There are good reasons to believe that the latter course is more likely to bring electoral success and stymie the dangers posed by Trump.

Voter turnout in the US is abysmal and worse in non-presidential-election years. In 2010, just 41.8 percent of the electorate voted. In 2014, only 36.7 percent of eligible voters cast ballots, according to data from the US Elections Project.

Democratic turnout is even worse, although it appears to be on the upswing this election cycle.

People often say they do not vote because they think it makes no difference: the two parties are as similar as Tweedledee and Tweedledum. Trump has shown that is not true. The Republicans who abandoned all pretense of fiscal rectitude and voted last year for a massive tax cut for billionaires and corporations have shown it is not true. The Republican senators who rallied behind the nomination of US Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, despite his misleading testimony and entirely credible evidence of past sexual misbehavior, have shown it is not true.

However, the Democrats are also responsible for voter apathy. The party must overcome a long history of collusion with the right, from then-US president Bill Clinton’s capital-gains tax cut, which enriched the top 1 percent, and financial market deregulation, which helped bring on the Great Recession, to the 2008 bank bailout, which offered too little to displaced workers and homeowners facing foreclosure.

Over the past quarter-century, the party has sometimes seemed more focused on winning the support of those who live on capital gains than those who live on wages. Many stay-at-home voters complain that the Democrats are relying on attacks on Trump, rather than putting forward a real alternative.

The thirst for a different kind of contender is evident in voter support for progressive candidates like US Senator Bernie Sanders and New York’s 28-year-old Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who recently defeated the fourth-ranking Democrat in the US House of Representatives in a party primary.

Progressives like Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez have presented an attractive message to the voters whom Democrats must mobilize to win. They seek to restore access to a middle-class life by providing decent, well-paying jobs, re-establishing a sense of financial security and ensuring access to quality education — without the chokehold of student debt that so many graduates currently face — and decent healthcare, regardless of pre-existing medical conditions.

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