This is a special updated edition of an article that lays to bear the problems with government that have been all too evident in the “debt crisis” talks. Not only have the latest talks shown that public opinion means less and less to our federal government, but it demonstrates how the wealthy classes are the protected class in our society. They are protected from taxes to pay for what they receive from us, responsibility to protect the environment, workers and customers, and accountability for the mistakes they made to get us into this recession. Instead of laying out the debt crisis and the problems with the talks, what others have done better than I could, I have laid out what must be done to start the path toward democracy in the United States.
Defending the Power Elite in America Against the Interests of the People: The Case of the United States Government
The form of our government in the United States is one that is not conducive to change and radicalism. It is set up to prevent big sweeping changes and thus promotes the interests of those in power, the moneyed and political elite. Elections for political office do little to change the underlying body politic, changing one face for another, and are only cosmetic in nature.
There are several ways the status quo, government run by the powerful and not the people, is protected in the United States.
1. The Two-Party Monopoly
Many democracies have multi-party systems. Having more parties means more competition. But apparently the two parties in charge only like the mythical competition of the economic markets and the competition on the football pitch. When it comes to political competition, they want to limit it as much as possible.
While I believe that many Tea Party supporters are deluded and extreme if they feel the Republican Party cares about them, they are challenging the two-party monopoly. I support that even if it comes from the far right. The complaints from the left of Obama’s own party makes it clear we could have a more liberal party than the Democrats. But in the United States you have two flavors of political ice cream, vanilla and vanilla bean: same basic corporate flavor with a different name. (link)
Another thing that the two-party monopoly does is limit the acceptable background of politicians in the United States. At the moment, it is unlikely we would have a candidate, let alone a president, from the lower classes like Lula Da Silva of Brazil. To become President in the United States you must be religious (not atheist or agnostic), Protestant (with the exception of President Kennedy thus far), and you must a have college degree. Being a lawyer is a major advantage and having a business degree is also helpful.
Furthermore, out of our forty-three Presidents, only one has been not all white and there have been no women. There are no blacks in the current Senate. That is not representative. There are, however, forty-four blacks in the House of Representatives. Which is the approximate percent of the population (close to 10%). This amplifies my arguments that the Senate is undemocratic. What about Hispanic representation? Two in the Senate and thirty in the House of Representatives. While the Senate is ruled by wealthy Whites, the House is much closer to what the United States actually looks like. (link) The two political parties in the United States are richer, whiter, and more educated that the rest of the United States. How could they ever have the interests of the working classes at heart when they aren’t one of us? It’s possible, but Congress demonstrates more clearly by the day how out of touch they are.
2. The Constitution
You might be wondering why I put the Constitution on a list discussing the barriers to a more democratic society. There are several reasons, some of which I discuss throughout this article. To put it in broad terms, it is a barrier because it codifies some of the problems with our democracy such as the Senate and the process for electing our presidents. The other reason is the sacred nature of the document. Like the Bible, the Constitution is taken as gospel, until you disagree with it. “But it’s in the Constitution” or “But it’s not in the Constitution” are oft used phrases when one wants to end political debate. However, like the Bible, the Constitution accepted slavery and even made allowances for it with the 3/5s rule as well as containing other undemocratic policies. (link)
The Bill of Rights, if we adhere to it, is what’s best about our secular/holy document. But the plan of government needs updating. We need to add amendments protecting people’s voting rights and ending corporate personhood to improve our failing democratic institutions.
3. Winner Takes All
In a winner takes all election, you can win a congressional seat by one vote. The loser gets nothing. For example, the Senate candidate in California could win a seat with 6,000,001 votes while the loser gets 6,000,000 votes. That means there are 6 million voters who have no representative of their choosing. If we had a proportional representation system in the Senate (a body I want to dismantle as you will see later), the losing party would get the number of seats in proportion to the votes they received. In the case above they would get half of the seats, minus one. Thus the “loser” would have a say and those views would be represented. Some people say that the system we have works. So why change it? Take a look at Congress and tell me if it’s really working. (link)
Sociologist G. William Domhoff has made a career studying elections and political systems. He discusses the advantages of a proportional representation system:
In contrast to a system based on districts and pluralities, countries with systems of proportional representation usually have four or more parties, and would have even more if there wasn’t a minimum vote that has to be reached to receive any seats at all. Although the centrist parties soak up most of the votes, these countries are often governed by a coalition of two or more parties. Roughly speaking, there are left-of-center, center-left, center-right, and right-of-center coalitions. In this kind of system, everyone’s vote counts, and voter turnout is therefore very high. (link)
In Domhoff’s book, “Who Rules America”, he reviews statistics comparing winner-takes-all systems versus proportional representation. It is clear, from the data, that proportional representation systems have much higher voter participation while providing more choices. Thus they are more democratic. The two ruling parties in the U.S. will not allow a proportional voting system that would interfere with their two party monopoly.
The positive side to the Tea Party ideology is that is shows a split in one of the major parties that could, over time, lead to a sustainable third party in America. We could also sustain a left of center party to compete with the corporate Democrats. Until the rules on elections change to allow more third party challenges, rules from registration requirements to costs for entry and proportional representation, citizens are doomed to vote between two inadequate parties.
4. Money Dominated and Not Vote Dominated Elections
Money controls politics to a large extent in the United States. Those that defend this say that it has always been this way, and that it would be undemocratic to not allow unlimited money from the wealthy to be used in elections. That means Congress is for sale.(link) By allowing unlimited campaign donations for corporations, the Supreme Court has moved the already corporate dominated U.S. Government even further toward a day when one just need buy a seat in Congress without the pretense of voting. Until we limit this money in elections, end the lie of corporate personhood, and treat everyone’s money as equal our elections will be corrupted by those that can pay the most to have their candidate elected. Read my post about this here.
Post on the Supreme Court “Citizens United” ruling that gives corporations unlimited donation power.
5. Presidential Election System
Our presidential primary system starts in two less populated states, Iowa and New Hampshire.
The Iowa primary is not even a vote by the people. It has a caucus (group meetings with the party faithful) that favors party insiders and not candidates with alternative ideas. The primary in New Hampshire has a very small turnout. For example, only three to four percent of voters nominated McCain in New Hampshire. (link) So a few thousand votes in a small state decided who would represent the Republicans in 2008.
Furthermore, many state party primaries block those not registered with one of the two major parties from their primaries, and thus they promote the two party monopoly. Independents, non-aligned voters, don’t have a say. Thus, voters are coerced to sign-up with one of the two parties or have no vote in the primaries that determine the choice for president. And by the time the Iowa and New Hampshire primaries are over most of the candidates, often those with the most interesting ideas, have been eliminated. Iowa and New Hampshire, with about 2.5% of the U.S. population, have more say about the nominees than other states.
New Hampshire is mostly rural, so is Iowa. They are also states that have a higher percentage of white people than most of America. So why are those the first two presidential primary states? If Brown of California, Scott in Florida, and Cuomo in New York (Governors of three populous and diverse states) pushed for a change and asked their legislatures to move up their primaries, the primary system would have an outside chance of changing.
Other problems with the primary process are the debates that limit participation of candidates (even those on the ballots) and the system of super delegates that allows only party insiders votes. These groups are by nature about uniformity and not rocking the boat; and they ensure that no reformer gets on the ballot to challenge the fundamental power of the ruling elite. If a candidate outside the mainstream of the Democratic elite gets a lot of popular support; if they might challenge the neoliberal and imperialist model of our nation state, the super delegates can override the popular vote. So while people say we have a democracy, the choice of candidates is severely restricted by party insiders, money, and the election process.
6. The Electoral College System
We should of course rid ourselves of the undemocratic Electoral College system that allows candidates with fewer votes to win the presidency. (link) The electoral college was set up because the founding fathers believed that the average citizen was too easily manipulated and couldn’t be trusted with the direct election of the president. “Hamilton and the other founders did not trust the population to make the right choice.” We are not trusted with democracy, so we can’t directly vote for president and have to rely on the college. (link)
7. The Senate
The Senate is a “representative” legislative body that gives inordinate power to less populated states that skew toward more traditionalist, conservative politics. Because they are over-represented, less populated states take more resources per capita than more populous states and can block policies that would help the more urban states. It is counter to our stated ideology of one person, one vote. One vote in Montana for Senator is equal to the value of 70 votes in California. It also skews the Electoral College, based on the number of representatives in Congress, toward the less populated states. Before rejecting this unusual idea of eliminating the Senate, read my complete criticism here. (link)
We vote every fall or spring hoping that it might make a difference, and sometimes it does. But As long as we have a two party system in the United States run by money and limited choice, we will never have a government by the people and for the people. Our presidents will also continue to be beholden to corporations such as Big Oil, Big Agra, Big Pharma, Wall Street bankers, and investment firms like Goldman Sachs, AIG and Bank of America. Until the rigged game changes the people of the United States will always have inadequate representation. And the voice of the majority of the population will be subverted by corporate money and ideology.
Edited By: Alexis Atherton