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This is the final piece on elections consulting as an overly instrumentalized technology. I briefly (yes very briefly indeed!) explained in the previous two posts how I came to this issue and what I think is fascinating, yet alarming, about it. I ended my last post with Emma Goldman’s famous quote, “if elections really mattered, they’d make it illegal”, suggesting that elections consulting is a technology that makes sure that, among other things, important things are not discussed and thrown out of the mainstream discourse. Let me elaborate on this point.

My point, finally, is that election consulting or campaign management is part of a larger elections machine, which is run by experts such as campaign managers, but also, less visibly by media people, and also, not surprisingly by the people (voters) who participate in this system. Sınmazdemir is right on point in his recent intervention: election consulting, or campaign management technology cannot work without people’s active participation. In this sense, we are part of a larger system (of power). But that doesn’t mean that some people’s words are not more important than others. They are. In this sense, for instance there is a class of people, pundits, managers, etc. who are out there making money out of this endeavor. This is their market, so to speak and they have the power to run, influence, shape, or shake the market they are working in. Similarly, they have a power to set the agenda. By claiming the power to represent what people think (and by claiming that they are doing this as neutral experts) these people in fact contribute to the shaping of the very preferences they argue they are representing. The medium, so to speak, constitutes the message.

They have specific tools to do their craft. In this last primary season, for instance, they relied heavily on polling, electronic representation of the primary results. These tools, if we follow Foucault, are not just neutral tools but they do participate in the making of the power they are used in. In this sense we are faced with a fully computerized system presenting itself as cutting edge, exact and predictable. Statistics is similarly devised to further strengthen the scientificty, or scientific appeal, of the election coverage. (ABC is now ready to predict XXX as the winner of this primary, please log on to www.abcnews.com to learn about how we predict the outcome.) The whole system revolves around prediction yet an informed prediction, appearing very scientific. Calculability, and prediction appear to be the essential selling points of the system. 

Most importantly, there is no where outside of this system. There is no place to evaluate whether this system is a successful representation of the reality out there. (That place does not exist for anything, anyway).  But we can see that this is a closed system where evaluation of the system is also being done by the people who earn their living from this system. So eventually, even though there may be problems with individual campaigns, the system works well. Not to mention, of course, that this system is closely related to the dominant two party system of the country. It makes sure that debates are framed according to the logic of that system. It makes sure to downplay the importance of radical politics, makes sure to picture Ralph Nader as a grumpy old man who stole the election from Gore, etc.

The comparison between Turkey and Sebahat Tuncel’s visit was important because it showed  that election consulting machine, or basically elections machine in the United States, cannot work elsewhere if this market, or this machine is not set up as it is set up here in the US. Of course there are great many differences between nations and the first rule of comparative politics is that nothing works the same in another country. But that’s exactly the interesting thing about elections consulting people going global. Normally, they are not supposed to be masters of politics in other countries, but I assume thanks to technology, globalization and the exporting of everything American to the rest of the world, now the idea that American style elections consulting can work in other parts of the globe is being exported elsewhere. So we can say that the campaign consulting people contribute to the creation of the individual subjects and politics they are supposed to find. They are, in other words, institutional entrepreneurs who not only find the demand, but create the demand. Certainly, this is a much more complex process but we see the beginnings of process of homogenization of the language in which politics is being talked about. We will see how far this new trend will continue, but it is apparent that one of the many influences that create such homogenization is the elections consulting people.

Lastly, following Foucault, I can say that this is a system of power with no real sovereign.  Sınmazdemir is right again: none of this is a conspiracy. I’m not suggesting that, “they” are running everything. They, the ones at the commanding heights of this system, are part of the machine, too. But they are more equal, so to speak and their discourses more authoritative. But, in response to Sınmazdemir’s point, I still think that there is a “they” out there. Not in the technological sense, these pundits, journalists, etc. are not the “real power” and yes we are all in this system and we all participate in the creation of this visual democracy. But I think due to reading too much rational choice, Sınmazdemir seems to have forgotten all those great things he mentioned he had read before. 

At the very least, we know that elections have lost their meaning in the post 1980 period. (Even Fareed Zakaria, himself one of those from the “pundit class” wrote about these things –Democracy without Democrats, etc.). Except for maybe a couple of places such as Venezuela, or Bolivia, elections do not mean much anymore. In Turkey for instance the governing party got an overwhelming support from the poor and lower middle class. Yet it is the party that is following, most ruthlessly, the neoliberal agenda that further impoverished the already poor segments of the population. In the United States, it is claimed that a majority of the population is against the war and Obama started his campaign with a promise to end the war in Iraq. But recently it is becoming all too clear that his withdrawal from Iraq would not mean much because he plans to expand the wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan. (http://www.alternet.org/story/91645/) This is yet another story in which elections do not seem to change things and things are going back to things as usual.

The point is, and I will finish with this, elections become about appearances, flagpins, etc. more than anything else. Unimportant issues, little problems… Scandals, juicy stories about politicians sell, and while they are sold by the election people that I was talking about, “real” issues are not discussed. Now you can say of course that what is real is what is manufactured by those people in the media, etc. So if there is no outside to this system, then there is no criticism of what’s being discussed on media because it is the reality. I disagree. The fact that this system does not have clear sovereigns does not mean that it is beyond criticism, and if social science is about anything, it is about changing something (next to understanding of course). Even the recent mortgage crisis is discussed in a very distant way as if it does not touch people’s lives and this is a problem, a big problem. I’m not even talking about the lack of any deliberate discussion on the problems with this whole economic system and how it drains life out of people. There is no language even for important things. Now this is the wonderfully elusive but very explanatory and strong notion of “ideology”. And election consultants as well as the elections industry (maybe this is the name) contribute to the construction of this ideological hegemony systematically.  

 

 

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