Explaining Democratic midterm losses by pointing to President Obama's performance confuses cause and effect. While many voters are tired of Obama and voted Republican to register their protest, what really matters is that people are also disgusted with members of Congress from both parties. There is a historical tendency for voters to blame the President and his party and to vote accordingly, hoping that a change in party leadership will fix the problem. There was a time when politicians responded to the will of voters. In the post-Citizens United era, campaign contributions by special interests carry more weight than the wishes of the electorate. That is why voters support Democratic policies yet vote Republican.
America has divided along ideological lines, yet neither party is really guided by the basic principles they espouse. Republicans are arguably more honest, since they claim corporate profit is the source of America's prosperity despite all evidence this has not led to economic benefit for workers. Democrats acknowledge the economic disparities resulting from unchecked corporate power, but fail to challenge the chief source of their campaign contributions. Both parties kowtow to a Wall Street oligarchy focused on short-term profits. This rewards corporate executives who put immediate gain over the long-term interests of their companies and the national economy. Since CEOs have a responsibility to produce maximum profits, only regulations designed to protect the public interest can reverse the disastrous economic trends of recent years.
The root problem of corruption of campaign finance is obscured not only by partisan rhetoric but by a corporate-controlled media earning billions selling commercials marketing candidates like toothpaste. Given this incentive, broadcasters and newspapers largely owned by the same corporations are unlikely to highlight the problem. The result is voters who want to go with a winner choose between the well-funded candidates of the two major parties. Third party candidates are assumed to be incapable of winning. As long as this remains accepted wisdom, it will be a self-fulfilling prophecy.
With an electorate evenly divided between red and blue, elections are decided by the small minority of truly independent voters. Their votes swing control of Congress back and forth between the major parties in a vain attempt to change the outcome without addressing the real problem. Presidents beholden to powerful individuals cannot stop Congress from putting business interests over those of the rest of us. Only when a Presidential agenda aligns with that of the interests of powerful corporations does it succeed. There is rarely gridlock when corporate interests collide with those of the People.
Faced with a choice between candidates whose important policy positions are getting more difficult to tell apart in congressional races funded by the same business interests, more voters walk away in each election. Those who remain tend to be the hard core partisans who feel they have no choice but to go along with their corporate candidates, lest the country fall into ruin even faster. Despite the obvious truth that it's the corrupt system that is responsible for our dysfunctional Congress, they continue to assign blame solely to politicians of the other party. This tendency is reinforced by a corporate media that does not question the false framing of major issues by candidates to justify their corporate-friendly positions. Treating election coverage like horse racing leads to confusion among voters about who might be willing to put their interests over those who control the strings of puppet politicians in Washington.
The only solution is to be found in making willingness to deal with corruption the litmus test for voters in 2016. Move to Amend's Pledge to Amend campaign is an essential step in that direction, calling on candidates to take a position on a constitutional amendment to declare that money is not speech and corporations are not people. Over the next two years, statewide coalitions such as Oregon Democracy Coalition, WAmend in Washington State and Money Out-Voters In (MOVI) in California will be organizing locally around the country to raise the prominence of the issue among the electorate with a goal of making support for a strong amendment the deciding factor in determining who they send to Congress. When we educate enough people about why they need to make this the most important issue to consider when casting their votes, we will elect a Congress that will pass the amendment. The time it will take to succeed will depend on how many are willing to get involved in the campaign. With global climate change setting an upper limit on how long we have to accomplish the goal, we have to start building those coalitions now.