Broken Democracy: Republicans poised to take Senate, Americans Reject their Platform

(By Juan Cole)

A lot of political analysts think it is entirely possible that the Republicans will take the senate next November. This development won’t change much, in all likelihood, if it does occur. The Republican majority in the House of Representatives can already block most legislation, and in 2013 it dedicated itself the the proposition that the country must be punished for re-electing Barack Obama, by being denied virtually any new needed legislation at all. The Republicans won’t have a two-thirds majority in the Senate, and so won’t be able to over-rule an Obama veto.

What is odd, and damning of the current American political system, is that the Republican Party’s major platform positions are roundly rejected by the American people. That is, they are ideologically a minority party. And yet they manage to win elections.

The Republican Party stands against gay marriage. But some 55% of Americans have begun saying they support it.

The Republican Party wants to overturn Roe v. Wade and outlaw abortion. But a majority of Americans say they support abortion in some or all cases, and only about a fourth want to forbid it altogether.

The Republican Party, with the exception of a libertarian minority, wants more interventionism abroad. Republican leaders denounce President Obama for getting out of Iraq, denounce him for being willing to get out of Afghanistan, denounce him for not getting involved in Syria and for not launching a war on Iran.

But 51 percent of Americans think the country is already too extended abroad. 52% say that the US should “mind its own business” abroad, and only 38% disagree.

The Republican Party officials stance is not worried about income inequality. But that view represents only 40% of the Republican Party rank and file. Moderate Republicans and all Democrats think that economic inequality is increasing, that it is a problem, and that the government should do something about it.

The Republican Party stands against marijuana legalization. 55% of Americans support it.

Republicans blame Hillary Clinton for the Benghazi tragedy, where an ambassador and other Americans were killed by extremists at the consulate there on September 11, 2012. But substantially more Americans trust Hillary Clinton on Benghazi than they do congressional Republicans.

The Republican Party has a problem with immigration reform and can’t get an act together on the Hill. In polling, a majority of Americans identify with Democratic Party stances on immigration reform, rather than with Republican Party ones.

If the US were ruled by referendum, it would have Democratic Party policies. That so many US policies are set by Republicans, and by the most conservative Republicans in the party, is a betrayal of the general will of the American people, who want an entirely different set of policies. The Republican Party advantage, as the party of Big Business, in campaign funding probably accounts for some of this disparity. Small numbers of billionaires like the Koch Brothers are extraordinarily powerful in the United States, which is obviously undemocratic and more like feudalism. The backward custom of letting partisan state legislatures gerrymander districts is also partially to blame.

Whatever the reasons, the American public is not getting the government policies it says it wants. Republicans are always slamming me as “far left.” But the opinion polling shows that my positions are solidly in the American mainstream. We are a center-left country and the majority of Americans takes the same stance as I on most controversial issues. It is the House of Representatives that is extreme, far more right wing than the country it says it represents. And now it seems likely that the Senate will go in the same direction.

The system is obviously broken. Cutting down the role of big money in our politics, and reforming our districting processes, is key to fixing it. Until then, our politics will continue to lurch to the right even as the public is left of center, and that is a recipe for trouble down the road.


Related video:

The Young Turks demand an apology from the GOP for slamming Cenk Uygur for opposing the Iraq War, given that a majority of Republicans now finally agree that the war was a bad idea.

28 Responses

  1. Broken Democracy? The late George Carlin cynically observed in one of his comedy routines that Americans really have only two choices to consider as options in their daily lives, Do they want paper or plastic when their food items are being bagged at the check-out line in the local grocery store? The only time average Americans really are part of the political process is when their sons and daughters are being conned into joining the armed forces and becoming cannon folder for the elites to prosecute their next meaningless war overseas for the military/industrial complex. The elites in both parties don’t send their sons and daughters to Afghanistan and Iraq. They send them to Princeton, Harvard or Yale. And after the debacles in Afghanistan and Iraq, the country may just have to bring back the draft. Even average Americans have finally wised up to how they’ve been conned in their overwhelming opposition to an intervention in the Syrian civil war. My generation of baby boomers have really screwed the country up, which is highly ironic, given they were the generation that came of age during the Vietnam War and protested against it. But now they’ve become just as corrupted and shamelessly expedient as the fearless leaders in Washington D.C. that had no moral qualms about marching us into the quagmire of Vietnam. Just look at Hillary Clinton, John Kerry, Chuck Hagel or even John McCain, though he’s a bit too old to be considered a boomer. They all voted for the resolution to go to war in Iraq. They’re no better than George W. Bush or Dick Cheney. I wonder from time to time, How can they look at themselves in the mirror in the bathroom when they get up in the morning? They have so much blood on their hands. So at least from my disheartened perspective as a Vietnam veteran, the political process has definitely crossed over the red line – of course not to be confused with Barry’s or Bibi’s red line.

  2. Well and moderately said. The standard right wing scams are false claims of patriotism and piety and self-reliance while destroying the nation, robbing the public, and falsely accusing true patriots. Such hypocritical demagoguery has worked since Plato and rules us today, a radical revolution against the Constitution.

    The plutocracy here cannot even be challenged without a free press and free elections. Greater awareness and activism are a hope, but a very dim hope. It would be encouraging to see real militancy against the rich and their mass media infrastructure, but unlikely. The future of democracy is elsewhere.

  3. Maybe Republicans are in the majority in the 55% of Americans who get out and vote?

    So many Americans claim they should not be held responsible for the attack on Iraq, NSA spying, climate change denialism and other hallmarks of the Republicans. Time to stop blaming Fox news and start blaming lazy liberal voters.

    • No, House Democrats won 50.5% of the overall vote in 2012, but nevertheless won only 46% of the seats.

  4. Wealth- and power seekers are like parasites, pathogens and cancer cells. Your body’s plain old somatic cells just want to go about their business, homeostatically and more or less efficiently, carrying your perceptions and spirit forward through time and space. Creatures like the Kochs and Netanyahu and Stalin and Cheney and Gadhafi and Assad etc. are driven and organized very differently, to dominate, subvert, consume, and by making more of themselves, to eventually own the organism and even more eventually to kill it. Ordinary people are oblivious to the adenoma or tapeworm or fluke or entrepreneurial bacterium or virus, until something starts to hurt or bleed or seriously malfunction — meanwhile, all covertly and beyond the wisdom of the immune system or by actually co-opting all those T-cells and leucophages and antibodies, the organized little entity has been doing its dirty work even more efficiently.

    Where’s the vaccine or antibiotic or robotic surgery that will cure that state of the speies?

    • If a free press is an immune system against the selfish right wing, and the truth its weapon, then we need the antibiotic, perhaps the internet. The surgery might be political campaigning, and the vaccines are perhaps scandals so plain and injurious as to build a public immune response to right-wing scams. But if Snowden and the Iraq debacle have not done it, the patient needs more radical intervention.

  5. This is really not that complex, and it has less to do with ‘big money’ in politics than old-fashioned hard politicking.

    Back in the 70’s conservatives started doing the hard work of becoming a political power: running for office, dog catcher, school board, city council, on to state legislators and up. They build a powerful coalition based on getting their own out to vote when it mattered.

    Meanwhile the center-left were not “members of any organized political party, they were Democrats”, to quote a famous populist Democrat.

    You have to start at the grass roots, and run people in every election for every office. This should be the goal of any progressive political group: “Every office, Every election.” They will lose. A LOT. Over and over again. But people will start winning, and more to the point, people will hear those opposing views, and if they resonate as much as opinion polls do, they will start winning elections.

    It’s a long, hard slog, but imagine what we could do with state houses full of people like Elizabeth Warren. Our side hasn’t really had to do this since the turn of the last century, but this is what’s needed.

    • Centrists are the ones opposed to what you say. Centrists are worse than right-wingers in my opinion, because they sabotage from within, centrists care more about their struggle against the liberals than they care about struggling against conservatives.

  6. Obama is Republican-lite. His “war of necessity” in Afghanistan was a failure. That’s the real reason we are withdrawing. Obama’s drone wars continue as does his expansion of the NSA surveillance state started under POTUS Bush. Obama has done more to weaken the rights of the average citizen than George Bush ever did.

    Obama’s Republican-lite presidency continues with climate change-lite. He’ll delay giving a thumbs up to the Keystone pipeline until after the midterm elections. Can’t wait to hear his artsy-fartsy speech making Keystone sound like the right thing for America to do.

    “We grieve for the planet, but I feel this pipeline is the right thing to do because it will help the economy and create JOBS, JOBS, JOBS right in the heartland of America.”

    Obama dramatically softened his position on Gay rights and recreational marijuana use after it was OBVIOUS the public favored both–VOTES, VOTES, VOTES.

    Actions speak louder than words and never was that more the case than with Obama.

    • Jack, you said it! Whereas GW Bush’s philosophy was “my base, right or wrong”, Obama’s philosophy is “My base? Oh that’s just for winning elections.”

      Obama, the 2008 campaigner, was an abstraction. He came into office with what could have been a huge, intelligent, and industrious base, ready to support the progressive agenda. But the real Obama didn’t want any part of that. He is most comfortable with the wealthy and powerful elite. That left the progressive agenda dead in the water.

      In Obama’s defense, no President has had to come into office with a significant portion of the public regarding him with visceral hatred. It had nothing to do with is politics and everything to do with his skin color. The Republicans have long experience in exploiting that hatred. (Muslim, Kenyan, socialist, dictator).

      • “He came into office with what could have been a huge, intelligent, and industrious base, ready to support the progressive agenda.”

        Obama, like most politicians especially those in the higher echelons of their respective oligarchies, came into office with obligations to power players who funded his campaign and those who promoted him to the national stage.

      • Wrong: FDR had a MOST “significant” part of the electorate hating him as a “traitor” to their “class” from the very beginning, and JFK was viscerally hated in the South for being a Catholic and a “race-mixer.” Obama’s problem is–and always has been–that he has the mindset of a parvenu meritocrat in the insidious American class system; he CRAVES acceptance by the traditional elites, whereas FDR could say, with supreme self-confidence, “I WELCOME their hatred…”

  7. Title should read
    democrats aren’t even putting up a fight to save their senate seats or win the congress.

  8. .
    from my take,
    elections are also a form of polling.
    Elections putting a GOP majority in office seem to challenge some of your sweeping generalizations about what Americans want and believe.

    If one assumes that most voters are easily misled to vote against their own values, then the Koch brothers thing works. Without it, your point is undermined.

    I believe that folks want to think of themselves as tolerant and loving, and answer your cited polls in ways calculated to allow them to think thus.
    But they are then allowed to vote in private, where concerns about the future can find expression in voting against abandoning traditional values.

    I believe you support homosexual marriage, Dr. Cole, because you don’t know what’s at issue.
    I cannot fathom why you support killing humans just before they are born.
    You seem so smart on issues in your core competencies.

    • Voting in private? Not really a form of honest, accurate polling, since gerrymandering and the success of expensive attack-ad strategies and managed-media messaging based on clear falsehoods and distortions tips the scales. Folks may want to think of themselves as “tolerant and loving” maybe to their immediate families and tribe, but do you attend a church? You got anything to say about church politics at the parish level and on up? Speaking of sweeping generalizations, yours in favor of “conservative” preferences require assuming that all that polling the post refers to is wrong, and the that the gaming of the electoral process (which since de Toqueville has been known to be subject to capture and distortion by tyrrany-of-the-minority) is, I guess, “honest polling.” Have “conservative” positions and platforms made this a better, more decent, even more “successful” nation? Not a lot of evidence for that, except as to the blessings conferred on (or stolen by) a very, very few of the landed gentry types… presumably the current situation has been berry, berry good to you, personally?

    • Hello, Brian.

      Surely elections are the ultimate polls as they are decisive.

      But, a vote is not necessarily an informed expression of a person’s legitimate *interests*.

      The Republican Party has two wings, yours and that of the corporate interests. The corporate guys’ extremely counter-intuitive political marriage to you folks is one of convenience only, not principle. Without you they would never be elected. They don’t take you seriously at all because in fact the two of you are as different as oil and water. Their women will always have access to abortion and contraception. Their gay kids will always be protected and comfortable, and you will never know the history of their failure of actual commitment and loyalty to your personal values. For them such matters will always be private. And you will never know anything about them.

      The fact that voters can be easily led to vote against themselves has been understood by social scientists and studied systematically by political operatives since the 1920s. The techniques used to accomplish it are carefully cultivated and kept rigorously up-to-date.

      It is easy for professional political operatives to finesse the dialogue away from what people need, e.g., occasional periods of peace, health care, employment and decent wages, retirement, education, opportunity and a level playing field. If you don’t care about such things the Republican Party is just right for you. It doesn’t either.

      You use the term “values” without reference to “interests”. A person’s values are just that, personal, and must remain so if we are to continue as a free people. You may recall, for example, that our Constitution separates government and religion.

      There are respectable differences of opinion and it is coercive to impose values congenial to you upon others. You can promote your values in day to day life encounters with others. But to attempt the imposition of them is coercive and demeaning. In short, other peoples’ values are none of your business. American Liberties are senior to your personal values.

      How can you “tolerantly and lovingly” deny to others the right to live their lives according to their values? That after all is what your alliance with the Republicans actually means. It’s an opportunity for an imposition. When you take your personal values to the political level this is exactly the intent you signal.

      “I believe you support homosexual marriage, Dr. Cole, because you don’t know what’s at issue.”

      What’s at issue? How about individual liberty in a world without arbitrary discrimination? In WW II gays were murdered by governments They are still discriminated against almost everywhere. Aren’t these things at issue? How about your inability to imagine a world wherein the institution of heterosexual marriage is not put at risk by the fact that it co-exists with a right of gay people to marry too?

      “I cannot fathom why you support killing humans just before they are born.”

      I won’t dignify that with a response.

      “You seem so smart on issues in your core competencies.”

      What is it which makes these issues somehow within your core competence? Have you evaluated that closely? Is it a “traditional value” to have no access to health care or to be driven into bankruptcy when you get sick? Is it a traditional value that there are no full time jobs and that the part time ones are minimum wage and have no benefits? Is it in support of traditional values that the American working class must send mothers into the work force to make ends meet when they should have the opportunity to be nurturing their children in the home? If any of that stuff troubles you at all, you’re in the wrong party.

      • Hunter,
        I distinguish between the prohibition of establishing a state religion,
        on the one hand,
        and “separation of church and state,”
        which I don’t find in the Constitution or Bill of Rights.

  9. It is amazing how our government can do what it wants. The voter comes in second almost always. Whether gerrymandered or out moneyed the majority of people are overwhelmed into a complacency that the average person finds impossible to overcome.

    The sixties I believe was a huge turning point, and not for the better. This was an era of assassinations which took away any hope of the US having meaningful leadership. Seriously, how could a politician feel safe after seeing what happens to those who do attempt to make needed change?

    When 85 people can have half the world’s wealth that is saying a lot about what the common folk are up against. Money is the driver in American politics. We must deal with this going forward, but how?

    I believe that younger voters will make the difference. They weren’t around when JFK, MLK, RFK, and Malcolm X were killed, and this lack of experience might help them press on towards reform. The younger voter right now is getting the worst end of this new world order. Younger people are faced with the same problems their ancestors were faced with 100 years ago. Now like then these up and coming citizens will have to make the difference. One can only hope for the best.

    • “It is amazing how our government can do what it wants.”

      It really isn’t that amazing. If someone in a position of authority has a lot of power and wields it with authority he or she can get away with it. They will be supported by their courtiers and the masses will remain mute until power is abused to excess. If the public is sufficiently docile, as appears to be the case in the US, excess is often a long time in coming.

  10. “If the US were ruled by referendum …”

    “But 51 percent of Americans think the country is already too extended abroad. 52% say that the US should “mind its own business” abroad, and only 38% disagree.”

    A system of referendum could be an improvement, but the polling data excerpted above doesn’t suggest that public participation in a referendum would be that much of an improvement. With the people split so close to 50-50 on many issues, a referendum could be a crap shoot. Then there was the war on Iraq that was initially supported by around 70% of the people.

  11. This proves there are many problems with income inequality and more so, concentration of wealth into the hands of the few. It is this power elite, through the use of their capital, who have strategically secured the political redistricting, the political surrogates, the courts (to a great extent), and the media to tilt the political landscape. The “checks and balances” Constitutional strategy of preserving democracy and preventing the political processes to be captured by a power elite have not simply failed but have now been embedded in legislation and legal decisions that have allowed democracy to evolve into a plutocracy of the wealthy. It is the cruel hand of historical evolution that is being felt in the US at present.

  12. This apparent contradiction in voters’ policy choices vs. voting behavior does not represent a “broken democracy” so much as it represents a schizophrenic electorate.

  13. You can thank cooperate and special interest owned media, including Hollywood and the empires prerogative for dumbing down of America which explains their ignorant world view and inconsistency of the electorate.

  14. Gerrymandering is an important reason for the excess Republicans in Congress. A more important reason is voter suppression in Democratic leaning precincts, and computers counting the vote. As a software engineer, I do not trust computers to count votes. They are too easy to hack. Before computers took over our elections, exits polls were extremely accurate with the results; they no longer are because the vote is being stolen. For more on this see,, and

    • “…..[t]hey are too easy to hack…..”

      Yeah, seems like hackers can break into any computer.

      A few years ago, someone figured out a “jackpot code” existed on a Las Vegas slot machine and engineered a scam to take advantage of that; they were caught and prosecuted, but voting machines that are computerized are a scary proposition.

      Remember how easy it has ben historically to rig elections in America. The Daley, Sr. machine in Chicago and “Landslide Lyndon” Johnson beating Coke Stevenson in Texas for a U.S. Senate seat. Remember tiny Pima County, Arizona in 1972 where the Socialist Labor Party got over 30,000 votes in a presidential contest?

  15. The reason for the “democracy” farce is that it’s the system under which the peasants will sit still for the most looting.

    If it didn’t they wouldn’t even pretend.

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