If 2013’s utterly wacky political developments have taught us anything, it’s that lasting democratic change is not going to trickle from the top down. The corruption of money-infused election and issues campaigns that never rest, the partisan gridlock that seems hopelessly entrenched in the House as a result of gerrymandering and the growing mistrust on the part of the American public (more than justified) is enough to engender forlorn feelings at the national level.
To offer an analogy, I find myself repeatedly returning to the behavior of the job market since the 2008 inception of the Great Recession. The simultaneous collapse of the stock and housing markets led to decreased consumer demand, which resulted in mass layoffs. An increase in the number of unemployed Americans further reduced spending capital, thus more layoffs. Though the stimulus package passed early in the President’s first term staunched a lot of the bleeding, we have yet to recover from those enormous job losses and if Republican policy continues to have sway (or the G.O.P continues to plant its collective feet and refuse to budge to help the country), we may still be years away from returning to pre-recession employment numbers.
And this pattern relates similarly to our country’s broken political discourse. The increasingly unproductive, shrill nature of the nation’s legislative branch is yielding a collective estrangement between elected “leaders” and the constituents they are purported to serve. The cynically-minded among us (count me a member of this group) might argue that populist disengagement is one of the explicit goals of some of the more nefarious lobbying groups, who may find it easier to sneak democratically harmful legislation through the back door when no one is looking.
Though it can certainly be argued that the movement toward complete inertia and recklessness at the Federal level has been decades in the making, the situation certainly escalated with the ascension of the Tea Party and its moneyed financial backers. And it’s very possible that no duo has prompted the Tea Party faction to wreak its irresponsible government havoc more than the Koch brothers. The brothers Koch have shielded their patently unpatriotic activities behind the ironically named group, Americans for Prosperity. It has been clear for sometime now that the “prosperity” this concerned body favors begins and ends with corporations, and the top one percent of the nation’s wealth holders.
But while Team Koch has a virtual stranglehold on Washington Republicans, Americans for Prosperity is finding it a bit harder to ram its agenda down the throats of voters at the local level – folks who have suffered in real time at the hands of a low tax, low personal freedom (for minorities, women and the gay community), low job creation agenda.
Monday morning’s edition of The New York Times carried a feature story entitled, Koch Group Has Ambitions in Small Races. At first glance this is a rather dispiriting headline. But a closer read carries a beacon of hope for those wondering when the predatory siblings might get their comeuppance. Writer John Eligon takes a look at the coming local elections in Coralville, Iowa, where voters are preparing to select their next Mayor and City Council members.
It seems Americans for Prosperity has been everywhere. Eligon writes that the group’s local chapter, “has jumped into the race…with an aggressive campaign, mailing fliers, advertising in newspapers, calling voters and knocking on their doors. Its latest leaflet hit mailboxes last week, denouncing the town’s growing debt and comparing it to the financial woes of Detroit.”
Marvelously, it seems Iowans have been largely unmoved by these efforts, to such a degree that they are turning from candidates who appear affiliated with the propaganda. Eligon continues, “Chris Turner, a first-time candidate for the City Council who has spoken out against the debt, said that although he disagreed with Americans for Prosperity on most issues, he could not seem to catch a break because his campaign platform aligns with the organization.
‘Every time I go to a debate or anything, I’ve tried talking about the budget, and then they just go, ‘Koch brothers, Koch brothers, Koch brothers,’ he said of his critics, adding that he wished Americans for Prosperity ‘would just go away.’”
While many more such repudiations of the Kochs’ expensive, undermining tactics will be needed before we can classify the local revolt as a full-fledged movement, this is highly encouraging. The thing about trends is that they can always be reversed. If Americans for Prosperity continues to repulse savvy municipal voters who know they are being had, that we can’t cut our way back to a thriving middle class, candidates will stop accepting Koch money and support. And then just maybe Chris Turner will get his wish and Americans for Prosperity will go away, taking their benefactors with them.