The President's Column: Money Matters In Our Elections, But Our Votes Matter More

August 11, 2015

With so much at stake for working people it’s time to start thinking about 2016.

There are 15 months to go before next year’s Presidential election. It may seem strange to be talking about the election now—and it would be in any other country. But the United States is unique in our never-ending political campaigns. The day after one election is the first day of the next. Some Presidential candidates have already been running for several months, some for years. Does democracy really have to be this way?

British law allows its elections to last no more than 17 working days. In 2005, for instance, the election season began on April 11 with voting held on May 5. The 2008 Canadian election began on September 14 and ended on October 7. Elections in Italy that year lasted about seven weeks and in the Netherlands about 10 weeks. The French allow two weeks for a first round of elections, and two more weeks of campaigning in a runoff between the two highest vote-getters.

Why should American campaigns take 40 times longer than the British—and getting longer still? Follow the money. In 1996, Bill Clinton spent $42.5 million, Bob Dole, the Republican candidate, $44.9 million. By 2004, George W. Bush spent $270 million to be re-elected, John Kerry, his challenger, $235 million. Eight years later in 2012, President Obama’s reelection campaign in 2012 cost $1 billion. Analysts are now predicting that the 2015 Presidential race will cost a combined $6 billion.

About two-thirds of that money will go for television ads. Democratic countries like France and Denmark don’t allow paid political advertisements. They allow each candidate an equal amount of time during the campaign of 2-3 weeks to make their case to the voters. Here, campaigns are hugely profitable for an army of consultants, ad agencies and TV and radio corporations, etc. We American working people are the losers, for the most part, because until now only candidates who are themselves wealthy or can tap into great wealth are considered viable. Obviously— and thanks to a right-wing Supreme Court majority—the ultra-rich have an outsized influence on who will be elected President.

Which brings us back to why it is not too early for us 1199ers to start figuring out how to protect ourselves and to advocate for the needs of our families and our communities and to begin considering which candidate will best speak for us for the next four or eight years.

The President of the United States may be the most powerful person on earth, with the power to take our country to war or wars (or to take us out of them); to be chief executive of a government that runs everything from Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security to immigration policy, veterans affairs, environmental protection, the Dept. of Justice, The Dept. of Labor and much, much more.

The President nominates U.S. Supreme Court Justices. In recent years, we have seen the Court, with its right-wing majority, dismantle the Voting Rights Act and allow corporate billionaires to take over the political process. (In 2000, the Court actually chose George W. Bush to be President even though Al Gore received more votes.) More recently, good sense and widespread public opinion helped the Court decide in favor of the Affordable Care Act and marriage equality.

In the next four years, four of the Court’s nine members will be in their 80s. Remember, a Supreme Court appointment is for life. So it matters greatly who becomes President. And because it matters so much, it is important for us 1199ers to decide what our priorities are and which candidate we can elect to help us.

As always, working people fight an uphill battle. We’re told the economy has recovered from the 2008 financial crash, but it hasn’t gotten better for most workers. The bulk of new wealth has gone to the one percent and even the one percent of the one percent.

Jobs, even whole industries, continue to flow overseas where labor is cheaper and raw materials closer. College education is now unaffordable for the children of most workers. Minimum wage workers, like our heroic home health aides and attendants, live in or near poverty. For most working folk, it now takes two jobs to bring home what one job provided a generation ago. Employer resistance—aided by anti-labor politicians and, again, an anti-worker Supreme Court—has destroyed collective bargaining rights for millions of workers.

Next year, we will be working mightily to elect a new worker-friendly Congress. It is now firmly under right-wing control. If a right-wing Congress and a right-wing Supreme Court were joined by a right-wing President, we would be in a world of trouble. The world itself would be in a world of trouble.

So it’s not too soon to put on your thinking caps about 2016. Before long, we’ll be putting on our walking shoes as we campaign door-to-door in the fight of our lives.

Read more from the official 1199SEIU magazine ‘Our Life and Times’