The dictionary definition of democracy is: the free and equal right of every person to participate in a system of government.
The ability of each American to have their one vote is the most concrete example of that “free and equal right”. The decision of the Supreme Court in the Citizens United case allowing unlimited amounts of money from undisclosed sources to flow into political campaigns, which has resulted in less than two hundred people putting up 80% of almost 300 million dollars in Super-PACs is; the most concrete example of the abrogation of that “free and equal right”.
It is obvious that the vast majority of Americans do not have the economic wherewithal to pony up millions of dollars each to influence and perhaps even control the person that gets nominated and/or elected. 99.9+% of us do not have the freedom or are the equal in our ability to the very few who can use vast resources to determine who represents us in our government. And without that freedom and equality; we do not have a democracy.
A few true believers, who have not thought very much about the reality of modern politics, feel that their representative in government have their constituencies best interest upmost and foremost in mind. The rest of us know that our elected representatives owe their positions of power and their allegiance to the few big contributors that control their destinies.
A look at every major and even virtually every minor vote in our legislatures, at every level, clearly show that the best interests of those who fund our politicians are what is favored, protected and taken care of; almost always at the literal and figurative expense of the vast majority of the electorate.
In Washington the Republicans have their middle and working class supporters convinced that the government will save money by denying preventative medical services to the poorest American citizens. However a small short term savings in the current budget achieved by this policy will inevitably result in increased long term expenditures for medical services that go undiagnosed until they are much more serious and costly to treat. What is falsely presented as a boon to ordinary taxpayers (and a mean spirited punishment for those thought to be unworthy of assistance) is in reality an absolutely guaranteed increase their future tax burden and a boon only to those who fund the U.S. Congress; like the for-profit medical industry.
The Democrats also have their bosses to whom they are beholding. Wall Street has been a major contributor to both political parties and the Democrats have done their share to shield and protect the villains who caused the current economic downturn from losing their huge incomes, bonuses and serving the prison time they truly deserve. Recent events have shown that despite claims of putting proper controls in place; due to the money they pump into politicians coffers, the still allowed combination commercial/investment banks are bigger than ever and still up to their schemes, scams and tricks.
The money Wall Street, Big Medicine, Big Oil, Big Agribusiness and others have brought to bear to achieve virtual control over tax and spending policy, regulatory policy, trade policy, etc. in this country have increased the wealth of the top less than 1% greatly; while creating un and under employment, wage stagnation and a decrease in the standard of living and net worth for 99% of Americans, unprecedented since the Great Depression. The effect of this money buying power, wielded by so few is the de facto all but loss of democracy in the United States; because the free and equal participation by the vast majority of American citizens in our government is all but lost. However fortunately it is not completely lost. The 1% has the money and influence; but the 99% still have the vote.
The solution to the problem, the righting of the wrongs, the reclaiming the power of the majority of the citizens of this country in deciding who represents them lies in our ability to demand the absolute banning of all private money in the conducting of public business, including all elections. The first step in the process is the public financing of all election, exclusively. No contributions from anyone to anyone running for public office. People will still have the freedom to speak their mind and their choices; but this speech must be entirely separate from the campaigns of those running for office and the complete source of all funding must be made entirely transparent. Everyone still has the right to privacy, but once information is put out in order to influence public opinion; the sources and the money behind that information must be made easily available to the public whose governance it is meant to influence. Otherwise we are dealing with some unseen and thus unaccountable “wizards” behind a curtain of secrecy; and this secrecy is the most dangerous enemy of public democracy.
Eliminating the power of individuals and industries to finance public officials will eliminate the power of lobbies and all but eliminate lobbyists. If they can’t have cash to give and only have nothing but self serving advice to offer; our public officials will be free to slam the door in their faces. Our public officials will also be able to free up all the time they now spend hustling campaign money and apply that to serving their constituents at face to face and in their respective legislatures. They can devote all their time to doing the job they were hired for; to do the public’s business in the best interest of their constituents. Absent the corruption of the lobbies, the concept of transparency in public business will also be easier implement. Without the conflict of having to do favors in exchange for campaign money, our public officials will only be responsible to the voters in order to keep their jobs. They will therefore have to conduct public business in ways that truly benefits their constituents, not help themselves or any private backers, secret or otherwise.
The effect of this necessary honesty in conduct of all public business will reflect itself in virtually every aspect of life in this country; from an open, honest and fair tax policy in which everyone pays a fair share of the cost of what this country does, to a future facing policy on everything from clean energy production to fair and equal trade and labor practices. Absent graft, corruption, unnecessary and unwise spending, our country can reduce its debt and still maintain all the obligations it has to the public safety and welfare required in the Constitution of our democracy.
How do we actually accomplish the goal of defending and retaining our democracy? Step by step as we always have. We can begin by finding honest and candid people to run for public office and by supporting them with one thing that ultimately counts; our vote. It will take time for we the many, to regain control of the government from the few; but it can be done. From “all men are created equal” to the true equality of “all people are created equal” including for minorities and women took almost two hundred years. But to move from the discrimination in acknowledging but quasi-banning same-sex relationships of “don’t ask – don’t tell”, to abolishing it as a law, took less than twenty. The government can’t force change in attitudes regarding civil rights; but it can make laws eliminating prejudicial behavior in public matters. The government can create public good through laws regarding public health and safety regulations such as eliminating child labor, instituting the eight hour workday and creating OSHA. Regulation is necessary because some individuals or entities would take advantage their power to increase their wealth by the subjugation of others. Our Revolution of 1776 was against a feudal monarchy and to create an egalitarian democracy. And today the fight continues.
Today small but determined groups of dedicated individuals sounding alarms and offering solutions are gaining membership and public awareness through diverse means. The communications revolution of the past two decades has enabled an ever growing greater number of people to participate in the defense of democracy that is so needed. In a clear example, the occupy movements are increasing public concern and knowledge on social, political and economic issues of consequence. A few singular strong voices are entering the political arena to champion public interest causes. The progress may seem slow at times, even daunting; but political change of incredible significance has been a hallmark of the American experience. Washington beat the world’s largest empire; Lincoln committed everything this country had in terms of lives and treasure to preserve the Union; Teddy Roosevelt, back by the people, beat the trusts and FDR, supported by the people, held the nation together during the worst of times.
If we are not optimistic or confident about our ability to defend and enhance the best of what we have achieved and stand for as a nation; then there is little chance of democracy being more than a small, failed experiment. But America is nothing if not a nation of hope, dreams and optimism. Our history has taught us that this country, with its enormous physical and human resources, has the ability to create and control our destiny as a nation and a people when have needed to. We have faced potential destruction or control by strong and determined enemies before, and found the will, the way and the leadership to overcome all forms of potential menace. The idea of American greatness isn’t just the words of a self serving pep talk. We have lived it out in our lives and made our form of democracy the goal of people the world over. And now, as we always have; we need do what we must to keep it alive and well.