I tend to avoid politics and religion in this blog, for obvious reasons. Both subjects seem to get peoples’ blood boiling. But it is an election year, so the temptation has become too strong to resist. Besides, reasonable people can discuss contentious issues in a reasonable and respectful manner, right? So here I go.
The title of this post might be considered a tad dramatic. But it is, nonetheless, not far from the truth. Sadly, our government is as corrupt as any third world banana republic. (In fact, elections in some of those third world countries are often much cleaner than ours. Just ask Jimmy Carter.)
So what makes our current system so corrupt? Two things:
1) Politicians require massive amounts of money to run for national office. The 2012 election cost over $7 billion. The 2014 midterm election was the most expensive midterm in history ($3.67 billion), and this upcoming election in 2016 will probably cost more than both of those previous elections combined.
Most of this money comes from large corporations and extremely rich people. When oil companies give a politician millions of dollars, whose interests do you think that politician will vote for? Simply put, campaign contributions are legal bribery, and the Supreme Court’s “Citizens United” decision only made the problem worse. The idea that “money is speech” is a grotesque misrepresentation of the Constitution. The Koch brothers (or a union) just have to hand over a few million bucks to a campaign without saying a word and the politician is in their pocket. No actual speech required.
This situation is absolutely no different that handing a politician a briefcase full of cash in return for a political favor. In a word, it is corrupt. And it is legal.
2) Our election system itself is corrupt. All of the major electronic voting machine companies are owned by avowed republicans. That, in itself, is not a bad thing. I have good friends who are republicans. But my confidence is not inspired when the owner of one of the largest companies stated publicly in 2004 that he was committed to electing a republican president. Nor is my confidence inspired by clandestine, last minute changes to the voting software, the companies preventing government officials from inspecting their software, evidence that the software is easily hackable, thousands of votes that mysteriously appear and/or disappear, municipalities where the number of votes exceeds by a large margin the number of eligible voters, or the propensity of votes for one candidate to switch automatically to an opposing candidate — while a person is voting. All of these irregularities are well documented.
If the benefits of these irregularities were equally divided across the political spectrum we could blame incompetence, but they’re not. In nearly every case, they benefited republican candidates. I believe it was Stalin who said, in effect, the voters don’t matter; what matters is the person who counts the votes.
On top of that are the myriad voter ID laws and voting rules passed recently in response to contrived fears of “voter fraud,” which is nonexistent (except for the institutional fraud noted above). The only purpose of these laws and rules is quite transparently to disenfranchise people of color, who overwhelmingly vote for democrats. (Example: Increasing the number of voting machines in affluent white neighborhoods and severely limiting them in minority neighborhoods, such that people in the latter must wait many hours to vote — or can’t vote at all because the polls close before they get off work.)
And then, of course, are all the stories of republican committees putting up billboards in minority neighborhoods or sending out flyers to minority voters that give the wrong voting date, or the wrong location, or contain a veiled threat that the voter will be arrested for some reason.
Honestly, I don’t understand how people get away with this stuff. But it’s all legal.
Obviously, the fix is in, as George Carlin once said. The idea that we live in a representative democracy is a pleasant fantasy, but no more than that. The question is: can it be repaired? Can the republic be returned to the people? (The government has only been “by the people” (mostly) for about half of our history, such as for several decades after the revolution, and for several decades after the depression.)
There are ways to fix our former republic. They won’t be easy to implement, because the moneyed interests are firmly against any such change. In theory, though, they are doable:
1) Get money out of politics. Period. Make it illegal for anyone, private citizen or corporation, to donate to a campaign. But then, how would candidates get their message out? Simple:
2) Free air time. Television and radio stations are given licenses by the government to use the public airwaves. Let me repeat that: public airwaves. The people of the U.S. own them, not the broadcast companies. Make it mandatory for each radio and TV station to donate an equal certain amount of air time to each candidate, as a condition of keeping their licenses. Make other aspects of a campaign publicly funded, and each candidate gets the same amount.
3) Limit actual campaigning to a maximum of three months before the election. No more of this ridiculous 18-month campaign. This will have the added benefit of reducing the media’s sophomoric tendency to treat the campaign like a horse race instead of a forum of ideas on the future direction of our country.
4) Go back to paper ballots, which can be recounted and are much more difficult to tamper with.
5) Repeal all those ridiculous voter ID laws, ensure that every person is given the opportunity to vote, and make voting day a holiday. Make it illegal to spread false information.
6) Finally, make it mandatory to vote. If you don’t vote and don’t have a reasonable, verifiable excuse, it’s a $100 fine.
Please note: there is absolutely nothing partisan about these suggestions. They benefit both parties equally. Nor do I mean to imply that democrats have never engaged in underhanded or even illegal activities, because they most certainly have (Daly’s Chicago comes to mind, as do the shady dealings of some unions in the past). But is it a sad fact that most of the shady stuff recently has come from the GOP and right-wing PACs.
I guarantee if these changes were made, this would once again become the republic it was designed to be. Benjamin Franklin, asked upon leaving the Constitutional Convention what form of government we had, famously replied, “A republic, if you can keep it.”
We lost it once before and regained it. Maybe we can do it again.