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Sunday, April 26, 2015

You can't argue with the climate, and have not much chance of changing it.

Bob Mercer reports on the continuing decline of the Democratic Party in South Dakota with the voter registration numbers as they have changed from January to April:

Republicans grew by about 1,100 to 242,163;
Democrats declined by more than 200 to 175,514;
Independents rose by more than 1,900 to 105,784;
Constitutionalists increased by 6 to 582;
Libertarians increased by 41 to 1,443; and
Americans Elect added 2, rising to 12.

The proportions of registered party members break down like this:

Republicans:         46 percent
Democrats:           33 percent
Independents:        20 percent 
Constitutionalists:    .1 percent
Libertarians:             .27 percent
Americans Elect:      .002 percent

The Democrats are the only party losing rather than gaining  registrations.  While Democrats may ask the obvious question of why, most political observers bemoan the single party dominance in state governance and are concerned about the absence of viable opposition in the affairs of state.  The venerable political reporter Kevin Woster, who now operates out of Keloland, says,  "I think the state is a better place with some degree of two-party balance. Three or four would be better."

Woster notes:  "But Democratic influence is almost non-existent in South Dakota these days, beyond the initiated-measure-referred-law process that relies on grassroots signature collection and issue-oriented statewide campaigns."  And he says, however, "the South Dakota Democratic Party could do a lot worse than its recent use of ballot issues for influence."

Over the years, the Democratic Party has taken the lead in a number of initiated referendums on subjects from abortion to raising the minimum wage which have successfully countered legislation or the lack of it in the Republican-controlled state legislature and state administration.  There is a dissonance between what people vote for when they are confronted with an issue and the kind of people they vote for. Put more directly, the question is why do people vote for representatives who do not represent what people want?

South Dakota is undergoing a demographic shift.  The root of that shift is in the displacement of the family farm by large corporate-allied agribusiness.  It is facilitated by a growing majority of people who down deep believe in inequality as  the preferred social order.  They believe in social stratification in which society forms layers from the superior to the inferior classes,  rich to poor  classes, high to low classes.  Even though South Dakota has been Republican-leaning during its history,  it was composed of rural people who worked the land and struggled on farms to provide for families and build communities.  They believed that for those not on the reservations to achieve their goals, they needed to be treated equally, fairly, and without discrimination. They regarded the people consigned to the reservations a lower, inferior class to whom the concepts of liberty, equality, and justice did not apply. In their own quests for equal and fair treatment, they often voted for Democrats, such as George McGovern, James Abourezk, and Tom Daschle.  Despite the current rage against liberals,  which produces much downright error about what liberalism is,  people have elected liberals to federal offices in South Dakota when concerned about fair treatment, equal opportunity, and justice.  

But as social psychologists point out, people often want the full benefits of liberty, equality, and justice for themselves while viewing society in terms of that social stratification mentioned before.  They tend to define themselves in the upper layers of that social strata and regard most  other people as in the lower.  Even if in  fact they are in the lower economic, educational, or social categories,  they associate themselves with those in the upper categories of wealth and power.  This is an old phenomenon in the way people perceive themselves.  During the peasant revolts in Europe when people began to resist domination by the ruling class,  many peasants sought to obsequiously ally themselves with the lords of the manors and their oppressors as the way to obtain favor and gain some advantage in life.  They identified themselves with the gentry, not with their fellows in labor and struggle.  

Today, many people see that the way to survive and, perhaps, even succeed in a country ruled de facto by large, global corporations is to toady to  their masters.  As agriculture has been absorbed into the ways of corporate life,  the demography of South Dakota has shifted to the right and is dominated by those who accept the concentration of wealth and power in the hands of the very few as a natural stratification.  They think that their best opportunities lie in sucking up to the wealth and power and they regard other people as a mass to be controlled, exploited, and reviled. The voter registration numbers reflect strongly the shift of people who accept and accommodate corporate dominance as a way of life.  The South Dakota legislature, in its alliance and complicity with business schemes, demonstrates the degree to which it and the people who elected it are subservient to corporate power.  The handling of the EB-5 investment finagle demonstrates the dominant value system now operating in South Dakota.  Honesty, justice, and liberty are not even in the vocabulary except as terms of deception.

The GOP operates on three principles: 
  • inequality
  • subjugation
  • malice toward all except those in control
"If Abraham Lincoln were alive today, he would not only find his beloved Republican Party unrecognizable, he would find himself unwelcome in it," one blog so aptly puts it.  The GOP has adopted an attitude of benevolence toward none and malice toward all.  In its quest for ruthless social stratification, it promotes the concentration of wealth and power as anti-communist patriotism.  It questions whether the the lower 80 percent of humanity have any worth at all, although  it insists on the human value of fetuses so that it can subjugate women into brood sow status.  Mitt Romney memorialized the GOP rationale for dismissing the worthiness of the lower strata with his infamous 47 percent dismissal of it. 

John Thune and Tom Daschle prepare for a televised senatorial debate in Sioux Falls, S.D., on Oct. 17, 2004. (Jason McKibben, Argus Leader)
The John Thune -Tom Daschle  debate
The declining number of Democrats, the growth of independents, and the difficulty South Dakota has in maintaining a labor force (which includes intellectual workers) is a matter of the disaffection with the political attitudes exuded by the dominant party and the corrosive social climate they have created.The political climate in South Dakota changed with the campaign between Tom Daschle and John Thune in 2004. The Thune campaign engaged in massive character assassination with advertising and paid bloggers making frenzied defamation the main objective of the campaign. A signal moment came when Thune during a televised debate said that Air Force veteran Tom Daschle's questioning of the Iraq war "emboldened the enemy," the definition of what a traitor does.  People involved with the Daschle campaign thought the ironic absurdity of Thune's utterly stupid charge would not be lost on the people and would work against him. In a conversation I had with a prominent Republican,  he thought that Thune's campaign tactics would clinch Daschle's election, because people reacted against negative campaigning, particularly when it impugned the patriotism of a veteran with honorable service.  The election proved many people wrong, and it sent a signal that the South Dakota electorate had changed. It no longer reacted against negative campaigning, but enthusiastically embraced it and supported it.  Much of the electorate had joined the Limbaugh hate campaign against liberals, and they sacrificed any critical intelligence they had to any tactic that could rid the land of the liberal scourge.

Their gullibility, or raging animosity, or whatever it is, proved triumphant when Kristi Noem portrayed Stephanie Herseth Sandlin as a puppet-disciple of Nancy Pelosi.  As a Blue Dog Democrat,  Herseth Sandlin departed from the party stance on gay marriage, health care, environmental protection, and other issues.  To claim Herseth Sandlin was a Pelosi puppet was stupifying..  But the message found favor and a number of former Herseth Sandlin supporters were swayed by it.  Although her loss was also the result of the defection of significant portion of the Democrats who simply gave up on being represented in the House of Representatives.  Still, it was another sign of how the South Dakota electorate was changing.  That change was further indicated when the Democrats did not offer a candidate to run against Jhhn Thune in 2010.  The commentators railed against the party for failing to find a viable candidate, but it was not a failure of the party.  It was a triumph for the mean, defamatory, destructive, and insidious kind of campaign that the GOP in South Dakota engaged in.  The people endorsed it,, and potential candidates of ability, integrity, and principle could not subject themselves or their families to the destructive effects of the malice that is now the currency of South Dakota political campaigns. 

The latest signal of how the obsession with enforcing inequality and subjugation and conducting campaigns of character assassination in the state was evident in the Rounds-Weiland campaign of 2014,  Rick Weiland conducted an impeccable campaign of  visiting every town--at least twice--and actually talking with people about issues, while Mike Rounds rode the huge EB-5 ripoff scheme and the proceeds of corruption to a relatively easy victory. That says one heck of a lot about the  electorate in South Dakota.  The majority is more interested in allying itself with the power structure, no matter how crooked and corrupt, than in caring about such things as equality, liberty, and justice.  They avidly embrace the inequality, the subjugation, and the character assassination.  

Some may deny the shady and insidious political climate in South Dakota, but one cannot argue against the evidence of corruption and oppression.  At one time, some of us thought the Democrats could win by concentrating on the feckless and often inane Congressional records of John Thune and Kristi Noem, but fecklessness and inanity are just what the electorate wants as long their representatives don't make any noise about equality, honesty, and justice for the people who work in the state.

If some huge economic disaster hits the state, the people might look to a different party to provide some relief, but the state is getting mired more and more deeply in the prejudice and hate and joys of corruption promoted by the "conservative" movement.  

To wait for the political climate to change is foolery.  Why would a promising young teacher sign on where the pay is low and insult and abuse are all but guaranteed?.  Why would any person with talent, ability, and high expectations choose to work in South Dakota?  Why would anyone choose to waste their life in a place that is not Mars yet, but is hell bent on creating just that oppressive and desolate environment?  There are places that want to give equality, liberty, opportunity, and justice a chance.  What does South Dakota have to offer?

Expect the Democratic registrations to plummet.  There isn't much reason for hope in South Dakota. 


1 comment:

M Larson said...

Depressing, but detailed analysis. To me the issue reminds me of Kenneth Burke's idea of scapegoatism. We have so long been focused on placing all vague evils onto scapegoats of the "other" that we have lost sight of the real goals needed for change in the system.

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