Fix Democracy First Radical Bleeding Heart image

Making Government Work for the People, not the Plutocrats

What Democracy? Those of us in the United States have come to take democracy for granted. We should not. We are not in danger of losing our democracy; we are in danger of never getting back the democracy we have already lost.

We sometimes hear heated discussions about whether or not we should promote democracy abroad; we should rather be talking about restoring democracy at home.

The United States is not a true democracy; government by the highest bidder is not a sensible definition of democracy. The cost of running a political campaign is so insanely expensive that only the wealthy or those beholden to the wealthy can afford it. Regardless of party, politicians spend far more time raising funds than they do either tending to the business for which they were supposedly elected or talking to voters. So they do not want to do anything to offend the big money donors. They listen to them even if they do not to you. That means that issues are for sale. Those who should be public servants are terrified to do anything that might offend a rich donor. And since there is no public discourse that is not tied to money—i.e., television advertising—money becomes the only thing that matters.

Money Matters. People will tell you that money does not really matter, and to “prove” it they will point to instances where the candidate who spent the most amount of money did not win. Believe it or not, that is irrelevant. Money matters because all of the candidates, win or lose, care more about raising money than anything else. They are conditioned to think about raising money before all. That means they are conditioned to think well of the people who give them lots of it. So they listen to those people. They are inclined to think their ideas are good ideas.

And finally, if money does not influence politics, then why are those smart business men, the rich bankers, oil corporations and other mega-conglomerates so anxious to pour billions of dollars into political campaign coffers every year? Either money buys influence or they are wasting their money. The evidence of the legislative record supports the former.

The situation is extremely grave but not utterly hopeless. We do have the vestigial remains of a representative democracy, and we can build on that. And of course the idea of democracy is not controversial. We all claim to believe in it — including even its secret enemies. We need to demand that people live up to what they claim to believe in.

But that is not enough. It is of the utmost urgency that we understand what the problems are and find ways to correct them. The problems are a lot easier to define than are the solutions.

There is some hope and there is great danger. The hope lies in the fact that this is an issue that has the attention of many people, unlike many of the questions the Radical Bleeding Heart believes must be addressed, some of which are never discussed at all. The danger lies in the fact that the enemies of democracy are powerful, highly organized, and intensely motivated, while relative few are committed to the restoration of our democracy, and their resources are sadly meagre.

False Answers. We must beware of supposed solutions that are facile but false. What we must have is a functioning representative democracy. Every once in a while we hear proposals that a more direct form of democracy, like the “teledemocracy” promoted by Ross Perot in the 1990s, would bypass special interests and take the corruption out of politics. They cannot work.

Another simplistic solution that is often proposed and has been occasionally implemented with disastrous consequences is term limits. If the underlying problems are not first corrected, term limits only make them worse; if the underlying problems are first corrected, term limits merely force out effective and responsible leaders.

Two Necessary Requirements. Democracy is not simple. And it is not easy. But two things are indispensible for representative democracy to work the way it is supposed to work: intelligent and responsible politicians who implement the values of the voters who elect them, and a well-informed and involved electorate. We currently have neither.

In a representative democracy elected officials and legislators do not simply do what the voters tell them to do; but they should be responsive to the values and interests of their constituents. And to be well-informed, the voters need not understand the issues as well as their representatives. When you hire a plumber, you expect him to know more about plumbing than you do. On the other hand, it helps to know enough not to be scammed. We should expect the people we hire (i.e., elect) to know better than we how to go about getting the results we want. But voters need to know enough so that they are not deceived by false promises and meretricious lies.

So what are the problems? What is keeping us from having a functioning democracy? In order of importance, they are:

  1. The money and media election complex.
  2. Gerrymandering. Election districts that are drawn to keep incumbents in power.
  3. Election fraud. Every vote should count. Once.
  4. Attacks on the independent judiciary. The judiciary is the last and most vital defense of the rule of law.
  5. Our terrible voting system. There are many different voting systems. Ours is probably the worst.

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