WASHINGTON — It’s harder than ever to argue that voting matters when according to leading polls, the 2016 election is shaping up to look a lot like every other election in recent years, and this time even the candidate’s names are a repeat of past elections.
It’s that “silly season” again when journalists scramble to find ways to cover a presidential election that’s still 18 months away by pondering whether Voldemort, a Harry Potter villain, is more popular than the GOP frontrunners and pretending that anyone should take a Donald Trump candidacy seriously. Yet a disturbing picture of the next election is already becoming clear, and it’s a picture we’ve seen before.
A June 3 poll by the Washington Post and ABC News showed that if the Democratic and Republican primary elections were held today, Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush would likely be facing off for the 2016 election. It’s a presidential re-run that seems like it can only serve to build apathy in a country where only just over 50 percent of eligible voters bothered to show up in 2012.
It’s hard not to sympathize with the non-voting masses when a growing amount of evidence shows that democracy is dead in the United States. In a November study from Princeton, researchers write: “The central point that emerges from our research is that economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while mass-based interest groups and average citizens have little or no independent influence.” Citizens United, the 2010 Supreme Court decision which opened the floodgates to unlimited corporate spending in elections to the detriment of both federal and local elections, even allowing the wealthy to purchase state judges.
Indeed, Bush and Clinton are both prime examples of oligarchy in action, representing wealthy political dynasties while voicing messages of protecting the working class. The Clinton Foundation, a controversial charitable fund run by Clinton and her former-president husband, Bill, has come under fire for receiving funding from billionaire tax dodgers and exchanging a trade deal with Colombia’s repressive government in return for generous donations. Yet when Hillary Clinton made a few token jabs at the problem of inequality in her speech on Sunday, media sources from MSNBC to Politico praised her new populist credentials — the latter even going so far as to compare her to the outspoken anti-Wall Street Sen. Elizabeth Warren.
But Molly Ball, writing for the Atlantic, pointed out the ways Clinton’s speech ignored the true enemies of the working class:
“Here are some things Clinton didn’t say: She didn’t directly call for higher taxes on the rich. She didn’t directly blame Wall Street or financial deregulation for the economic crisis. (In fact, she mentioned Wall Street and banks just once in the speech.) She didn’t say, as Warren frequently does, that ‘the game is rigged’ against ordinary Americans. She didn’t mention the gap between rich and poor at all.”
Newsmax, a popular conservative news outlet, was also quick to praise Jeb Bush for his “populist message,” quoting his appeal to Right to Rise, a new political action campaign:
“’Millions of our fellow citizens across the broad middle class feel as if the American dream is now out of their reach; that our politics are petty and broken; that opportunities are elusive; and that the playing field is no longer fair or level,’ [Bush] wrote.”
The Washington Post agreed. “Former Florida governor Jeb Bush last week became the latest Republican to signal a readiness to engage Democrats on what historically has been their turf, putting issues of middle-class wage stagnation, poverty and shared prosperity at the forefront of their political messages,” wrote Philip Rucker and Dan Balz.
Yet Right to Rise’s biggest donors read like a glossary of powerful billionaires. According to The Intercept’s Lee Fang, contributors include $5,000 from a lobbyist who works for Wal-Mart and Exxon Mobil, and a generous $10,000 from a lobbyist representing the notoriously inhumane government of Saudi Arabia.
Hillary and Bill Clinton have collectively served as president, governor, attorney general, senator, and secretary of state. At the same time, the Bush clan has infiltrated American politics with arguably even more success, with two members of the Bush family already having served as president, an act Jeb Bush hopes to turn into a three-peat in 2016. Even Jeb’s son, George P. Bush, seems to be next in line for greatness, after taking control of the powerful Texas General Land Office in 2014.
Barring a surprise victory by Bernie Sanders or another rogue candidate, it seems likely that voters in 2016 will face a choice between the latest ruler from two near-identical oligarchical dynasties.