Don’t believe mainstream interpretations of the gubernatorial election in Virginia. Pundits would have you believe the results were a referendum on Joe Biden and Donald Trump, the latter of whom the media treats as a legitimate contender, even though he sought to overthrow our democracy and is still doing so today.

The influence of big money on American politics cannot be underestimated. Major networks profit from advertising, including dollars from pharmaceutical companies that dominate morning and evening news cycles; and major outlets are conglomerates themselves that benefit from pro-corporate legislation.

Nationally popular Democratic initiatives to increase the minimum wage, provide paid family leave and negotiate reductions in the cost of pharmaceuticals will improve the economic status of average families — but they don’t increase the bottom line of corporate behemoths.

This wrangled tension influences decisions to frame debate about economic issues around Democratic politics rather than policy analysis. Yet the entire bloc of House and Senate Democrats supports the initiatives, except for Joe Manchin and Kristin Sinema, who towed the corporate line.

Networks seldom question Republican refusals to improve the economic lives of working families, nor ask why the party blocks climate change initiatives in lock-step fashion. With their singular focus on corporate profitability, it’s taken for granted that no support to improve conditions for ordinary people will come from them.

The shocking bias in coverage is driven by the interests of big money, now fostering political instability in our nation and threatening the long-term viability of the planet.

Virginia’s election was a referendum on the corporate status quo and how millions of Americans desire change. The Democratic candidate, Terry McAuliffe, had been governor, was running for the third time, and is strongly affiliated with the Clintons and the DNC wing of the party. McAuliffe was not an agent of change but a tired symbol of the old status quo that failed too many.

McAuliffe didn’t attack his challenger, Glenn Youngkin, for the millions in wealth acquired at the Carlyle Group, an investment firm born in the first Bush Administration, which derives untold profits from the military complex. If ever there was an argument to make about national priorities, between more spending for perpetual war or spending to improve family lives, this was it. McAuliffe never made that argument. 

Democratic turnout for Virginia's gubernatorial election was a full 33% lower than for Biden in the presidential election one year ago, when he won the state as a whole. The enthusiasm gap for Democrats was yawning. This was the final nail in the coffin of Clintonomics — Americans want to improve their economic status and McAuliffe could not deliver.

Babbling that election results were a referendum on Biden are off the mark. Independent voters who flipped Republican seldom endorsed Trump, but cast their votes due to ongoing COVID-19 frustrations, as well as school policies, an issue ginned up by dark money groups supporting Youngkin.

Biden, whose ratings declined the last few months, is still much more popular in Virginia than Trump ever was during his tenure. Biden not only won more votes last year than any candidate in Virginia’s history, he also won more votes than any president in American history. The constant besmirching of his status works to undercut national support for his policies.

The president’s expansive efforts to distribute vaccines saved thousands of lives. As economists predicted, growing confidence in our ability to contain COVID-19 is working to boost the economy.

More than 530,000 new jobs were created in October 2021 as the U.S. jobless rate dropped to 4.6%, the lowest since March 2020. Wages are going up, and the annual rate of growth for the nation’s GDP rose 4.9% last month, the most in a decade. Meanwhile, retirement accounts rose to record highs. These are markers of an economic turnaround.

What really is the cause of all the handwringing about the alleged lack of support for Democrats and their agenda to improve the economic lives of Americans, rebuild the nation’s infrastructure and move to desperately needed sources of alternative energy?

Maybe the right-wing propaganda that pollutes our airwaves with lies and misinformation receives too much mainstream coverage, becoming itself the topic of debate, creating stories that are not real, deflecting our attention. The nation can move forward by focusing on concrete improvements in our quality of life the past few months, and holding an honest debate about the substance of policies we need to improve our economic and environmental conditions.

Jeffrey Leverich, a former senior researcher for WEAC, is a member of the grassroots group Stoughton Area Democrats and Progressives.

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