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Those Other Elections

Posted on Dec 5, 2008

By David Sirota

A month after Barack Obama’s triumphant victory, we are still celebrating America’s only authentic national religion, and it isn’t Christianity—it’s presidentialism, the worship of the president as an all-powerful, all-knowing deity who is the only important political actor in our country.

This theology explains why both the public and the press corps seem far more interested in the Obama family dog and the Obama daughters’ choice of elementary school than what happened down ticket on Election Day. In our nation, presidential pooches and prep schools are front-page stories. Local democracy is, at best, filler surrounding classified ads and comic strips.

That said, the Founding Fathers would be happy to know that, though their efforts to constitutionally constrain presidentialism failed, we still go to the trouble of holding non-presidential elections. And those contests could mean as much policy progress as what happens at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.

For example, 2008 capped off a stunning string of state legislative victories that leaves one-third of Americans now living in 17 Democratic “trifecta” states—those where Democrats control the governorship, state house and state senate. Trifecta-state Democratic legislators and governors now have the unobstructed opportunity to play a pivotal role on everything from setting national energy and health industry standards to addressing rampant wealth inequality.

Chief among these trifecta victories was the one giving Democrats control of New York’s government for the first time since the New Deal. The Empire State is home to the financial industry and one of the largest economies in the world, meaning Albany Democrats can make a particularly huge impact with their state laws. They will need to be pushed, though—and that’s where the Working Families Party (WFP) comes in.


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The third party, which is organized around a narrow set of populist economic positions, has leveraged its ballot line in New York’s fusion voting system to help progressive Democrats win key elections. Because of the party’s decisive work in recent campaigns, Democrats “owe a heavy debt to the WFP,” as the Albany Times Union reports, and the WFP will be calling in that debt by demanding passage of priorities like a millionaires tax—a major revenue raiser in a place that domiciles Wall Street. With the party’s additionally important 2008 gains in Connecticut and Oregon, the WFP may be the model for a new kind of third party politics—one that isn’t defined by attention-hungry presidential gadflies, actually does the unglamorous work of local organizing and ultimately wields significant power.

Here out west, the election represented both legislative changes and paradigmatic earthquakes that bode well for the rest of the country.

As the Denver Post reported, Democrat Mark Udall’s resounding U.S. Senate victory in the face of Republican Bob Schaffer’s relentless criticism of him as a “Boulder liberal” has effectively defanged the entire “liberal” attack in a once reliable GOP stronghold. Additionally, not only did Colorado become the first state in history to elect both a state House and state senate headed by African-Americans, it saw a grassroots campaign led by the Colorado Progressive Coalition make it the first state to reject a ballot initiative that has gutted affirmative action and equal pay laws in other locales. According to the Ballot Initiative Strategy Center, that was one of 22 out of 26 national conservative ballot initiatives that went down to defeat in 2008.

These are just some of the structural shifts that happened beneath the Electoral College vote maps wallpapering our church of presidentialism. They may seem obscure, unimportant and small in comparison to the Beltway’s palace dramas. But they have set the stage for precisely the kind of nationwide “bottom-up” change that Washington’s filibusters and fighting all too often prevent.

David Sirota’s newest book, “The Uprising,” was released in June. He is a fellow at the Campaign for America’s Future and a board member of the Progressive States Network—both nonpartisan organizations.

© 2008 Creators Syndicate Inc.

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By elizabethe, December 7, 2008 at 10:07 pm Link to this comment

I agree with the bad view that “Presidentialism” is a mythology supported by American voters who let the media bestow almost deity-like wisdom that does not exist, corruption is the truth of the current 2000-elected and 2004 refused any “election” (the media even said, “this isn’t an election”) - the media has changed the rules and the entire result is against democracy and the obvious pith of democracy, the bums get voted out, the media does want the bums voted out, and the media perpetrates the mythological view of non-existent wisdom in a simple lower than proper President, incompetence demonstrated by their track records already-Bush and Obama both favor military offensives as if backbone, and the public is heinous in believing it has anything to do with justice.

Globally we have international law, and there is no legal authority for what Bush has done, and what Obama offers to follow as if it is God given, instead of majority lazy expecting results from labels of two major parties pre-screened by unseen wisdom, endorsed by the media, the pre-screening is not there.  The media is hyping claims of results as if some policy is behind what they call a “rescue” or a bailout, when indeed, there is nothing to hold any of it together.

I have realized politics is a “new” religion because it affects EVERYONE in the results.  Democracy at least, spreads the responsibility across the “majority rule” claim and the elections are supposed to insure sanity gets voted in, but the media doesn’t want democracy.

Congress abrogated their duty defined in the U.S. Constitution.  How many people vote in Congress?  We have 535 members of Congress.  One man is President.  The decision of war belongs not to ONE, but to MANY, and ONLY MANY.  Cause is required, and no cause was the ticket that for some strange reason, Congress gave their Congressional and Democratic duty to ONE man, as if he had deity wisdom, and the PRESIDENTIALISM was possibly their insane belief.

I do not share any belief in Bush.  I voted for DEMOCRATIC results in 2000. Ralph Nader and Green Party as the best possible choice, which was tops.

If you vote for the BEST candidate, and you are certain you are voting for the BEST, not the lesser of TWO EVILS, then certainly you are fulfilling the duty of the individual to net a majority composite result - “real” majority. IF all vote HONEST VOTES for the BEST, the majority nets a success, and appropriate WISDOM is a majority backed RULE. Dishonest votes for insanity, as if God rules is against good government.  We are not voting for any “God” we are voting for a “best” leader, human. Why insist on a bad, lesser of two evils, supposedly? EVERYONE KNOWS GORE was the LESSER of two evils, and BUSH was the frontrunner of EVIL in politics running on a corrupt party ticket that is a clear MINORITY of greedy elite, not the majority.

Bush did not offer truth, and the media did not offer democracy - that accounts for the majority voting for Gore, and, Gore was even acknowledged by the majority as representing CYNICISM not ideals, and THEY, the majority WANTED the cynicism!!!!

Cynicism is dearly loved in the majority view of democracy, as REALITY - against those of us who like TRUE DELIBERATIVE informed MAJORITY RULE of a wise leader who is understood as human, not a deity, and representing PEOPLE at a majority level, for the agenda, and the upholding of a U.S. Constitutional legally protected democracy.

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By KDelphi, December 7, 2008 at 2:48 pm Link to this comment

Big B—Yes. One thing—the “royalty of Europe” has never been given the power we give out “commander in chief”! In most countries, they are no longer the “executive”—not since the Magna Carta anyway.

Can you imagine Queen Elizabeth having the “power to declare war”?

The “unitary executive” means “the power of a king” plain and simple.. Examples of the “wise use of power” of George W. Bush are obviously not worth mentioning.

“Freedom in capitalist society always remains about the same as it was in ancient Greek republics: Freedom for slave owners.”—
Eugene Debs

“Under socialism all will govern in turn and will soon become accustomed to no one governing”—

Eugene Debs

“All our lives we fought against exalting the individual, against the elevation of the single person, and long ago we were over and done with the business of a hero, and here it comes up again: the glorification of one personality. This is not good at all…”—

Vladimir Lenin

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By Big B, December 7, 2008 at 7:40 am Link to this comment

It seems that in over 200 years we still feel the need to be ruled by worldly kings. Jefferson once suggested that to have a true representative democracy that we should not have a president because it would only lead to an office of unquestioned omnipotent power, just like the European kings our ancestors escaped from to the new world. Fast forward to now. Our president might as well receive a crown and golden septer on inauguration day, while taking his phoney oath, with a hand on the bible(like that has kept men honest)

Maybe all the despot leaders of the past were correct in their suppositions that mankind does indeed need to be led with an iron hand.

Maybe someday we will be evolved enough to accept the responsiblity of self determination.

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By KDelphi, December 6, 2008 at 11:48 am Link to this comment

prole—“To make any progressive change in our country, we have needed the “bottoms-up” change that has happened in this election…”

Yes, but, the “buck still stops” where? Doesnt the rest of your post rather belie your faith in that statement? I dont know—I may be midsunderstading. Of course, alot of people (especially “progerssives”) are feeling very conflicted right now. That is completely understandable.

nrobi—“It is high time that the people of this country, poor and working poor, rise up and show the power of the vote to those who discount their involvement in the political system. But there is work to be done to show those who fit into these categories, that they have the means at their disposal to change the course”.

Good! Where should I start? Because, we already know that neither party of the duopoly wants that. I know that, voting for “change” and then getting more of the same, will probably make alot of peole angry—but maybe not!

For all the “Hillary haters”, I hardly heard a Dem loyalist, “bat an eyelash” about her appointment to SOS.

I do understand the disgust with Dubya, and the desire to find a “good leader” who will “save us from the
likes of him”. But, no one can. If we had doubts before, no noe should have them now—the people will NOT be “assissted” (but resisted) by the govt, in attempts to force positive change.

There just isnt a way around it, as i see it.

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By prole, December 5, 2008 at 1:05 pm Link to this comment

So now Dear Leader has ascended into Dear Deity. America has many religions and many false gods, Barack the Obama, is the most recent but probably not the last, in the presidential ‘variety of religious experience’ Actually the founding fathers – or at least some of them – “would be happy to know…efforts to constitutionally constrain presidentialism failed”; many of them in fact, took a rather dim view of popular democracy among the plebs. As James Madison thoughtfully observed at the Constitutional Convention, ”The government we mean to erect is intended to last for ages. The landed interest, at present, is prevalent; but in process of time, when we approximate to the states and kingdoms of Europe; when the number of landholders shall be comparatively small, through the various means of trade and manufactures, will not the landed interest be overbalanced in future elections… our government ought to secure the permanent interests of the country against innovation. Landholders ought to have a share in the government, to support these invaluable interests, and to balance and check the other. They ought to be so constituted as to protect the minority of the opulent against the majority. The senate, therefore, ought to be this body”. It’s perhaps only fitting then that the new false god in the Oval Office should come from the Senate – as does his veep -  both, obviously are steeped in the culture and practice of “protect the minority of the opulent against the majority”. The same, of course could be said of their predecessors over the last century but if we’re to believe Dear Leader theory then this time it may be even more ominous, since according to that, “Obama alone gets to choose—that for all the talk of ‘bottom-up’ politics, his movement’s structure grants him a top-down power that no previous president had.”. But at the same time, for all the talk about “presidential pooches and prep schools” local democracy is still best for protecting the majority against the opulent minority, through “a new kind of third party politics”—one that isn’t defined by attention-hungry presidential gadflies, actually does the unglamorous work of local organizing and ultimately wields significant power.”  Obama, ‘top-down’ Dear-Leader power of the ‘opulent minority’ runs smack up against third party, ‘bottom-up’ power of the majority.  Take your pick.

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By Alan, December 5, 2008 at 11:16 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

>Yes , well I think it sells better.
>>What? You mean, “it might be necessary - likely to be necessary - to maintain a residual force to provide potential training, logistical support, to protect our civilians in Iraq,”
>It’s alliterative and catchy and it sounds
>>Yeah, Dubyah’s dumb rube act was wearing
thin.  The Nielsens are just so low on that
>Yeah, but Palin.
>>We’re working on the “new and improved
Palin” campaign now.

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By Chris Bieber, December 5, 2008 at 7:42 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

the GOVERNMENT Party..

the majority of Americans work for government..millions and millions are dependant on the government for food clothing and shelter….and like in Germany in 1932 they seek a wise and powerful leader to give them the bread and circuses they feel they are owed…...

the BiPartisan socialism of the past 100 years has now resulted in the 1 party state with a Hegelian Hobsons Choice of “choices” and “solutions” and “promises”...“Change” for MORE government controls/planning/regimentation/intervention or “Conservativism” for LESS government controls/planning/regimentation/intervention ..

the glassy eyed fawning adulators of Reagan in the 80’s(I was one of them..until I woke up) have been replaced with the BHO marching legion…..only the BHO legion is DEMANDING power and redistribution…NOT to be left alone….


how long will the house of cards(our Constitutional Republic and our few remaining NONgiven rights)stand in the face of the DHS and DoD crowdcontrol and the collapse of the dollar and US soveriegnty??

months? couple of years?????

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By Little Brother, December 5, 2008 at 7:21 am Link to this comment

Even a literary genius like Mark Twain, who rightly despised the Amerikan public’s sentimental and fatuous weakness for royalism, couldn’t kill that weed.

It’s not hard to understand how, after eight years of rule by a repugnant Usurper and his clutch of ugly and vicious ministers, desperate citizens flocked to the banner of Bonnie Prince Barack.

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By nrobi, December 5, 2008 at 3:19 am Link to this comment

Mr. Sirota, this article is right on the money.
For too long the neo-conservative, Far Right Wing Nut Christian ideology has held sway in the states.
To make any progressive change in our country, we have needed the “bottoms-up” change that has happened in this election.
Only a grass-roots movement can and will change the course of American politics. We are faced with crises of outlandish proportions exactly because of the State House political machines, grinding out yet another neo-conservative ideological bill that calls into question the role that is played by men and women who consider the poor and working poor, to be nothing that they should concern themselves with.
It is high time that the people of this country, poor and working poor, rise up and show the power of the vote to those who discount their involvement in the political system. But there is work to be done to show those who fit into these categories, that they have the means at their disposal to change the course America is taking with regards to the ideals that this country was founded upon.
We are our brother’s keeper and if we fail in the charge to help those in need, especially the most vulnerable in our country, then we will reap the whirlwind that we sow. 
Revolutions are based upon necessity and the extremity to which people rule out the working class and poor in societies.  Should the elite in our country continue the course which they have chosen, then there will be revolution of the extreme kind.
Should those same elite, listen to the needs and make efforts to ameliorate the grinding poverty and working class needs, then there will not be the kind of revolution that replaces the elite with people who will listen, but it will be a “soft” revolution of the kind that has happened in the Balkans area, which revolutions give the people voice and have not totally changed the political atmosphere of those nations.

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