Why Can't We Get the Government We Need? Radical Bleeding Heart image


How Do We Make Representative Democracy Work? If we are going to the roots, that is the real question. The type of voting system we use is just one aspect of that. We tend to take it for granted that as long as we can vote for our government officials, we ought to get the government we want. We obviously do not. Currently (2012) the American Congress gets approval ratings on a par with urinary tract infections. But we voted for those jokers. We chose them.

This is obviously not working. Let us be clear: simply allowing people to vote does not insure that the people they vote for will behave responsibly. Moreover, the history of representative democracy teaches us that it is not easy to make it work. But it is very clear that we should be thinking about what is going wrong, things we could do that might make them right, and then working to make it happen.

You are not going to get that from our presently elected officials, or from the mass media. Those folks like the present system just fine, no matter what ghastly damage it may be doing to our country or our civilization.

So why isn't the system working?

Are We Just too Stupid to Govern Ourselves? We really must ask this unthinkable question first. Almost a century ago, playwright George Bernard Shaw thought so and wrote a play (Back to Methuselah) proposing that our only hope was to evolve into a super-race of humans. We can succeed, he implied, only by superceding ourselves. Of course, when he wrote that play (1918-20), the spectacular incompetence and corruption of western democracy was in the process of breeding a remarkable crop of ruthless dictators in its place. The dictators are gone, but is democracy any better now, a century later? Have we learned a thing?

Apparently not. There is an old saying that no one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American people. We could add: Or lost an election. The Republican Party has, for several decades, been operating on the assumption that we, the people, are a bunch of imbeciles. And, so far, that assumption has been working pretty well for them.

Well, Some of Us Are. Actually, there is hope. But before we talk about that small glimmer of light, let us face the ugly facts that suggest otherwise. The two American political parties have become hopeless. The Republicans are wholly evil while the Democrats are utterly useless. On the right the rabid core of tin-hatted fanatics always referred to as the Republican “base ”(a term curiously never used for the plutocrats who actually run the show) have completely lost touch with reality and common sense. They are totally controlled by their masters, who find it useful to keep them in a perpetually state of frenzy and push them relentlessly further and further to the right.

They are perfect slaves; they might as well have rings in their noses. If their masters would tell them that the moon was made of green cheese, they would swear that that was an incontrovertible fact, yet if the next day they were assured that it was really Simba's litter box and the green cheese story a vile lie told by the liberal media, they would loudly and violently denounce the same tale of lunar dairy product that they were formerly ready to defend as gospel—without the least sense of guilty inconsistency.

If Rush Limbaugh told his army of ditto-heads (an appellation they wear proudly) that if they stuck lighted matches up their noses, their turds would turn into gold nuggets, millions of morons with bandaged honkers would be lined up outside assayers' offices screaming that it was only because of an evil liberal conspiracy that no one would give them money for their shit.

But seriously folks, those idiots are a minority. A sizable and terrifying minority, yet a minority. In theory, the majority of sane people should easily be able to defeat them.

Why don't they?

What about the rest of the population? When the Republican party is controlled by a coalition of ruthless plutocrats and insane wack-jobs who want to repeal the twentieth century and bring back the world of Charles Dickens, why on earth would anyone rational vote for them?

Dismissive cynicism is as comforting in its own way as is unwarranted optimism. It allows us to be irresponsible while feeling superior. Declaring all those other voters to be hopelessly stupid lets us feel oh so smart ourselves while letting us off the hook since there is now nothing to be done.

But it is more complicated than that. The system is based on unwarranted optimism: the assumption that just allowing people to vote ensures that the people will get the government they want. Anyone who has tried to get involved with government, even at the simplest, most local level, knows that it is complex and difficult. Voters have lives to live and have lots of other stuff on their minds. That makes them vulnerable. And the politicians know how to take advantage of those weaknesses.