Jim Bridenstine beat incumbent John Sullivan in last Tuesday’s Republican Party primary in the 1st congressional district of Oklahoma, which includes the city of Tulsa. In accordance with the political winds of our times, Bridenstine was the so-called “Tea Party favorite” over Sullivan, although in practical terms, all signs indicate that this doesn’t actually mean anything other than that Bridenstine ever-so-slightly tailored the aesthetic of his campaign to more closely approximate whatever it is that people are jabbering about on conservative talk radio these days. More likely, the result represents a simple knee-jerk reaction against Sullivan, given that he has proven himself remarkably unremarkable during his five terms in the House of Representatives. Although the result was close, 54% to 46%, those who voted, so it seems, were simply tired of Sullivan, and couldn’t be persuaded by the catchphrase used in the signature of his campaign emails: “John Sullivan, Oklahoma’s Most Conservative Congressman”. (See the screenshot on your right, and click to enlarge.) In this context, naturally, the word “conservative” doesn’t really carry any meaning whatsoever, except for it to, presumably, appear nebulously as “something good” to the people whom Sullivan hoped would vote for him. As most people secretly know but all too often remain unwilling to admit, it’s all a show of smoke and mirrors. This time the magic hat delivered a slightly different white rabbit. I wonder if the 25% of the eligible electorate who turned out feel like they’ve accomplished something.
There are, however, a few things about the election that are interesting, not just for northeastern Oklahoma, but in general terms. The larger national press, such as the Los Angeles Times, presented the story in a rather predictable manner, as yet another “Tea Party favorite” beating the “status-quo” Republican candidate. The LA Times article notes that Sullivan massively outspent Bridenstine during the primary campaign, even though Bridenstine won in the end. This was, of course, an unlikely outcome. The real question, though, is this: Why are we so accustomed to greater fundraising corresponding directly with an election’s outcome? In all the talk on television news these days about Romney and Obama, it is simply assumed that the candidate who raises the most money will be the candidate who wins. The job of the voter, then, is to accept this miserable fact and smile about it. For Oklahoma’s primary elections, the Tulsa World nonchalantly reported that “Most winners of both parties raised more money”. Gee whiz! In the case of Bridenstine, the mere fact that he beat the odds may well position him to fool a few more people into believing that he is somehow an “underdog” fighting the Powers That Be, and that’s quite unfortunate.
Again, the voter turnout was about 25%, according to the Tulsa World. So I think we should focus on the 75% here, the majority. As the online comments to the article indicate, most who did vote certainly noticed that they were in the minority. Perhaps, then, “majority rule” is on to something here, and maybe the commenter going by the name Lucky Ed has it all figured out: “Does it really matter which candidate you vote for? … These candidates represent the people with big bucks and influence that back them. We get to choose between this puppet or that one..what difference does it make?” To add to the whole sham, we have the controversy over photo ID requirements at polling places. As reports the Oklahoma Workers’ Monthly, it seems that even those who want to vote may well be prevented from doing so, based on “old-fashioned” criteria, such as, say, skin color. Welcome to American democracy, right here in the twenty-first century! In the end, Lucky Ed needs only to take the implications of his comment a little bit further.
Am I making fun of people for voting? No, not really. I’m just reflecting the sentiments already expressed in the online comments of the Tulsa World from a bit of a different perspective. But don’t the pages of Selecting Stones often mock American [and other] electoral politics? Well, yes. Does this mean that the editorial stance of Selecting Stones is somehow against democracy? No, not at all. The point, rather, is that whatever it is that we see in American politics these days is not “democracy” at all. It is quite clearly not the “rule of the people”; it is instead the rule of the market, the rule of capital, the rule of money, and therefore the rule of things rather than of people. You can hear this same criticism of today’s politics from the Tea Party or the Occupy Movement, namely, that American democracy “isn’t working” because of the influence of various moneyed interests, but in this case, I am coming from a completely different position.
Democracy is not something that America “once had” and has now “lost”, as Tea Partiers and Occupiers would have it. Real democracy — the actual “rule of the people” — is something that has not yet been achieved, and is something that must be strived for, something to be realized in the future. “Democracy” means so much more than the procedural games of electoral politics — so much more than mere voting, that is, and it has nothing to do with a popularity contest between people like Bridenstine and Sullivan. This much should be apparent, even to Occupy and the Tea Party. American history makes the point even more obvious. It is common to say that the type of political system created by the George Washingtons and Thomas Jeffersons of the world was a democracy, and yet it was clearly and unambiguously the rule of property owners, and, therefore, of property. The electoral system of the time made this explicit, as does the Constitution. While the idealistic Declaration of Independence may have spoken of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”, the much more mature and sober Constitution guaranteed “life, liberty, and property”. (Property, such as, for example, slaves.) The abolition of slavery changed things. The suffragettes changed things. They didn’t change all that much, though, or else the Civil Rights Movement, for example, wouldn’t have been necessary. What has also remained the same is the rule of property. The main difference today is that property is no longer in the form of slaves, but instead in the form of hedge funds.
Hopefully one day we will achieve democracy, and then people will rule over things, rather than the other way around. A Bridenstine or a Sullivan or an Obama don’t “rule” anything; there is a thing called capital that rules over them. Lucky Ed knows this.