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Pestka vs Amash: An example of the election distraction strategy

October 7, 2012

We are one month away from the 2012 election and it is always instructive to look at how political races are framed in the local news media or in some cases mostly ignored.

In the race for Michigan’s 3rd Congressional district, most of the news coverage since the August 8 Primary has been about polling, which tells voters virtually nothing about the political platform of each candidate or their voting record.

If one wanted to find out where the candidates stood on the issues they could find some information on their respective websites. Incumbent candidate Justin Amash has 15 separate categories on his Issues page, but none of the positions he provides are more than 100 words.

All of the issues are complex and carry a sense of urgency, but Amash does seem to provide much substance on the issues he has identified. For example, here is his statement on Energy:

Our country is blessed with many options for producing energy. All forms of energy production should be allowed, and none should be given special benefits. Energy subsidies—whether for oil, wind, electric, or otherwise—make no sense. Subsidizing inefficient energy production in the hope that it will become efficient in the future is wasteful and ineffective. It requires higher taxes, locks in old technologies, and unfairly punishes entrepreneurs and inventors who do not have friends in government. Energy sources that truly meet the demands of consumers will thrive in the marketplace over time and do not need government handouts to be viable.

Such a statement is purposely vague and gives no indication on where the Congressman stands on issues such as subsidies to Big Oil, regulating the coal industry, environmental protections or the viability of renewable energy.

The same vague statements can be found on Candidate Steve Pestka’s website as well. In fact, Pestka’s Issues page only has 7 statements and his are even shorter than those provided by Amash. Here is one example from Pestka:

Creating good jobs – Getting a good job is crucial to strengthening our families and the middle class. Steve Pestka recognizes that we need to continue building a diverse economy with good-paying jobs in West Michigan. We need leaders in Washington who will embrace policies that support Michigan’s employers and which lead to higher wages, better jobs, and a more educated and stronger workforce.

What exactly does such a statement mean? It provides no context of the current economy, any clarity on what “higher wages” means, nor does it take into account current corporate tax policies or foreign trade policies, both of which determine a great deal in terms of jobs.

Pestka has nothing about his position on the US wars in Afghanistan, Libya or any number of US foreign policies. He says nothing about the US military budget, the states of Guantanamo, the use of torture or foreign aid to countries like Israel and Saudi Arabia. The Democratic challenger takes no public positions on major civil rights issues such as racial discrimination, LGBT issues, immigration or government spying. Pestka also has no information on Wall Street and the financial sector’s pillaging of the national treasury, housing foreclosures, corporate subsidies or social security. The former State Representative also says nothing about the rush by oil and gas companies in Michigan to use hydraulic fracking or the crisis of global warming.

Pestka does provide some critique of Amash’s voting record, but just on 5 legislative pieces and leaves out any number of major policy decisions that Amash has made in the last two years, such as his vote for US trade agreements with South Korea, Panama and Colombia. (All three of these trade policies were passed in the fall of 2011.) One would think with all the union backing Pestka has received he would make foreign trade an issue.

On the matter of campaign contributions, Pestka and Amash are nearly equal on amounts raised, with Amash raising $902,418 and Pestka raising $798,522, according to the last filling deadline of October 1, 2012. Major donors to Amash are Michigan Industrial Tools, Amway, Windquest Group, Autocam, Wolverine Oil & Gas and Bank of America. Major donors to Pestka are H&H Management & Development, International Association of Fire Fighters, UAW, United Food & Commercial Workers, Yesterdog and the NEA.

In the contributions area it seems there are some clear differences in where their money is coming from, but that is not overtly reflected in their platforms. Many people think that there are substantial differences between the Republicans and Democrats, but those differences tend to be around social and cultural issues, what are often called wedge issues, but not on structural issues. Both candidates operate within the framework of their respective political parties and that means that neither of them are going to challenge the business as usual policies of militarism, capitalism, environmental destruction, White Supremacy, imperialism, violence against women or the push to privatize public services. Until these issues are addressed or even debated, such elections will continue to be a staged showed to distract the public from real participatory democratic change.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. Mateo permalink
    October 7, 2012 4:06 pm

    Nicely done article, cheers!

  2. Scott permalink
    October 8, 2012 4:03 am

    I hope you are aware that Amash, as a libertarian, is very much against militarism and imperialism. I agree that there are not many differences between Republicans and Democrats, but you are going after the wrong guy here.

  3. October 8, 2012 11:13 am

    Scott, if Amash was against militarism, why does he support a massive US military budget? If he is not an imperialist, why does he support $3 billion annually to Israel in its illegal occupation of Palestinian land?

  4. mary permalink
    October 8, 2012 1:43 pm

    (this didn’t work earlier)

    So, if we just had candidates that addressed, or even merely debated, the issues you list in the last paragraph (white supremacy, militarism, capitalism, etc) we’d be alright?

    There’s no problem with the whole idea of representation and governance?

    I think you are really missing the boat here. Elections will always be a distraction as long as they exist. It doesn’t matter if we have “better” candidates (impossible, cuz we’re still talking about empowering others to act on our behalf) , “better” discussion of the issues, or a “better” system (like socialism, parecon, or some other distraction). We’d still be left with a crap system where we’d be choosing people to act on our behalf.

  5. October 8, 2012 2:00 pm

    Mary, I didn’t say that if these issue were just debated that things would be alright, as you suggest. I do state that both parties do not address structural issues or the list of issues like militarism, etc. When I say until those issues are debated, I am referring to the public. When those issues become part of the public discourse, then all kinds of change can take place, whether it is more people not participating in the electoral system or more people forcing the existing system to make changes. I prefer the former, but the article wasn’t designed to offer what I think people should do, it was designed to critique what is wrong with the electoral system. If you have ideas about what people can do beyond the current system, then please share those ideas.

  6. mary nardini permalink
    October 8, 2012 9:26 pm

    The article was very unclear in its wording, hence the comment.

    I think that the way you wrote the article and the way you responded above, is easily co-optable. People who think we need better candidates, better debates, better parties, better election coverage, etc, etc, etc can just take what you wrote and run with it. If you don’t want people to participate in the elections, say it. As it stands, I’d hardly say you presented a critique of the electoral system as you claim.

    That would be a great start to challenging the current system. What you wrote is too muddled and too easily absorbed by those who just want to reform things.

    Also, you again mention “both parties” in the comment, but it’s all parties ( Green, Socialist, Communist, etc) and the very notion of representation. If you get that, cool beans. Why not say it?

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