Twenty fourteen marks yet another year where we Democrats are wringing our hands over whether enough of our supporters will turn out to vote this November. According to FairVote.org, voter turnout is about 60% in presidential elections, but plummets to about 40% in midterm elections. Why is it that every off-year election sees a precipitous drop off in voter participation when compared with presidential years? It seems that in midterm elections, the Democratic Party’s most reliable voters - young people, single women, people of color, low-income people - largely stay at home. Midterm electorates tend to be older, whiter and more affluent. It’s a conundrum, one that adversely affects our success as a party and our ability govern effectively when a Democrat is in the White House (see 2010). Already, Beltway prognosticators are predicting that the Republicans will keep their hold on the House of Representatives and have a better than average shot at retaking the Senate. So what explains the midterm slump? Theories abound. Some say it’s apathy. Others blame misinformation. Still others blame anger at both Democrats and Republicans. Some point to the fact that many people feel their votes don’t count. The relative difficulty of voting in the United States when compared with other democracies is another reason cited. All of these explanations have some validity. However, here’s one reason I’d like to see get more attention. Since presidential races are given the highest profile in our electoral system, most voters are going to pay the most attention to them and make picking the President their highest priority. Congressional, state and local races are secondary, even though Congress is a co-equal branch to the Presidency, and local issues directly affect people the most. Ask Americans who the President is, and 99% of them will say Barack Obama. But ask them the names of their congressperson, U.S. Senators, state representatives, county supervisor and city council people - many may greet you with blank stares. When people complain about the problems in America and want a politician to blame, it’s usually the President. The people who tend to know the names of all of their representatives are those who are the most politically active in their communities. They are also more likely to be homeowners, less likely to have moved frequently, and they have established roots in their communities. And these people tend to be, yes - older, whiter and more affluent. I believe the lack of understanding about how our government functions, the less value many voters place on congressional, state and local elections, and the indifferent attitude our society has toward the act of voting, all play a role in depressing turnout in midterm elections. This is the result of a massive failure of civics education in America. This is why Democrats must work doubly hard to ensure other Democrats know what’s at stake and that they get out to the polls in November.
Culver City's new Mayor, Meghan Sahli-Wells, has kindly agreed to talk to our Club about her views and plans for the City Council this year. Bring your ideas and questions to the meeting. Of course we can help to implement her agenda, or at least take notice of the issues as they arise before the Council. For instance, the public has been invited to attend the City Council meetings on Monday, June 9, and Monday, June 23, at 7:00 pm, to present questions or comments concerning the proposed Budget for Fiscal Year 2014-15. The City Council meets at City Hall, 9970 Culver Blvd. There will be public comment periods, and the Budget will be presented for adoption at the June 23 meeting. A copy of the City Manager's Proposed Budget is available on the City's website at www.CulverCity.org. I thought the Culver City News did an outstanding job of covering the Measure CC campaign, especially the many letters from citizens, which were thoughtful and full of important information. At our June 11 meeting, we will also have time for a discussion of the June 3 election results. There may be some surprises, and we can begin to plan for the November General Election. Also, the State Legislature has been very active recently. The Appropriations Committees were reported to have tabled 195 bills on Friday, May 23, so there is much to sort out. Those who are following this may wish to report on the fate of their favorite bills. I have wanted to tell you about my favorite sources of political knowledge. My activist parents subscribed to several liberal magazines, which I sometimes read, so my education went far beyond what was taught in school. I currently subscribe to eight magazines, which I list in order of how much I read them: The Nation (a weekly published since 1865), The New Scientist (a British weekly), The Washington Monthly, The American Prospect, The New York Review of Books, Book Forum, Harper's Magazine, and The Atlantic. Some of them are very active on-line, so I get frequent email updates. I need to transition to more awareness of electronic media, so I hope some of our Club members can supply recommendations of the best websites that provide similar information, as well as quick- response activism opportunities. In The Nation during the last month, I have found three articles which may be landmarks of political thought. Thomas Piketty's best selling (!) book, Capital in the Twenty-First Century, has had universally good reviews, notably by Paul Krugman and Eric Alterman. Timothy Shenk's review in The Nation of May 5, entitled "What Was Socialism?", goes beyond book reviewing to provide a very useful history of the subject. Social science and early socialism began to develop in the Eighteenth Century, and included the concept of capital, but the word capitalism was not used until Karl Marx wrote his book. In The Nation of May 12, Christopher Hayes writes about "The New Abolitionism". He addresses the problem of forcing the fossil fuel companies to part with at least $10 trillion of wealth, by comparing it to the only problem of similar magnitude in American history, forcing slave owners to part with the extremely valuable free labor that amounted to a comparable level of accumulated wealth before the Civil War. Both cases involve morality, coupled with the ability to fight. As the great abolitionist Frederick Douglass said, "Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will". In The Nation of May 26, Kim Lane Scheppele writes about "Hungary and the End of Politics". We see the Republican far right trying to end majority- rule democracy in America, and growing right-wing parties in England, France, Italy, and other parts of Europe, but the logical extreme of what the Koch Brothers and Republicans are planning for our country may now be found in Hungary. The Fidesz party first came to power in 2010 with a clear majority of the vote. They proceeded to change the election laws to favor themselves. In the April 2014 election, they got 45% of the vote, but 67% of the Parliamentary seats. The coalition of five left parties got 26% of the vote, but only 19% of the seats. The far right Jobbik party got 21% of the vote, but only 12% of the seats. Fidesz will now be free to amend the Hungarian Constitution at will. This undemocratic result spells misery for the Hungarian people and poses a threat to the European Community, but it can best be explained by the incompetence of the five left parties and the great political competence of the two right parties.