Restore Our Democracy Radical Bleeding Heart image

The Nature of the Problem Dictates the Nature of the Solution.

As the previous page should have made clear, the problem is not specifically too much money, but not enough real information, thoughtful discussion, and informed opinion. We have allowed money to drown out genuine free speech.

We need to take our democracy off the money market and put it back on the idea market.

How Bad Is It? If you need to, go back and read the previous page. What we have is, or at least has the potential to become, worse than an ordinary oligarchy, such as monarchy or aristocracy. Established hereditary ruling classes create narratives that both justify their exploitation of others and satisfy their consciences. The former is achieved with stories about how the exploited are inferior and destined by their very natures to servitude. “The little people just love to take care of us!”, they gushingly exclaim.

But the privileged also like to tell themselves that they are divinely ordained to care for their inferiors. They are like loving (if strict) parents. To the extent that they actually take that story seriously (and that is always questionable), they can do some real good. Yes, historically that is true.

But in our system the ruling class pretends not to be the ruling class. They are, they assure us, merely a teensy part of our huge democracy. The trouble is that issues are inevitably decided, not by how they affect the population at large, but by whichever monied special interest will profit most by that particular policy. Public policy is torn up into bits and pieces which are individually sold off to the highest bidder.

As I said earlier, it is becoming a greedy free-for-all in which soulless corporate hyenas pick over the bleeding carcase of our once thriving civilization.

That is why it is so important to change to system.

So Who Is Trying To Change It? Unfortunately, the answer is hardly anybody. At least hardly anybody is doing anything very effective. Two groups that keep track of money in politics are the Center for Public Integrity's Opensecrets and the Sunlight Foundation. There are two groups attempting to change the system by allowing candidates to receive public funding if they limit themselves to small contributions from individuals. This is called the Fair Elections Act or the Fair Elections Now Act. The organization called Public Campaign is in the forefront of groups promoting Fair Elections. You can find details on their website. Another organization making a concerted effort to change the system is a group calling themselves “Rootstrikers.” Check it out; join them. It was started by Lawrence Lessig, an academic with degrees in economics, philosophy and law. He is a very smart guy, and he and his organization at least understand the nature of the problem, which seems to escape all of the politicians. But they do not go far enough.

Rootstrikers. The essence of his solution is to change the way that elections are funded. He (and many other like-minded souls) seek ways of funding elections by the people, not the few. They offer a number of ways in which we are all compelled, as painlessly as possible to provide the funding for our enormously expensive elections. If successful, that would end the power of K Street, would free politicians to do the work that they are elected and paid to do, and mean the issues are no longer for sale. We would no longer have government by the highest bidder. A good example of an attempt to achieve this is the American Anti-Corruption Act.

There is a lot to be said for this. You should check out Mr. Lessig's TED Talk, and read his book, Lesterland. (You will understand the title when you view the talk or read the book.) Talk and book are smart, thorough, thoughtful, clear, and passionate. You should view the talk and read the book, but at least check out the talk. You will be glad you did.

The Rootstrikers also ask people—politicians in particular—to take a “pledge”. This is it:

I support reform that would:

  • Provide that public elections are publicly funded.
  • Limit, and make transparent, independent political expenditures.
  • Close the revolving door between Congress and K Street.
  • Reaffirm that when the Declaration of Independence spoke of entities "endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights," it was speaking of natural persons only.

Now there is nothing wrong with any of these, especially the last, but they attack only the symptoms, not the true cause. This is ironic, since their name was chosen to mean that they intend to strike at the root of the malignant growth that is our pervasive political corruption, not just the branches.

Yes, they understand that the “root” of the problem is corruption but they do not seem to realize that our politicians are corrupt because we have created a system whereby vast sums of money are necessary to be elected to office. Those ginormous piles of loot are needed because, to a large degree, elections are decided by whoever can buy the most number of nasty, negative ads attacking their opponents. The system keeps the electorate ignorant, misinformed, and passionately angry at the people they are being asked to vote for. This is not an ideal image of democracy in action.

Would it not be better to change the system so that the way to be elected would be present a positive program for achieving things that the electorate wants achieved?

The American journalist Max Frankel pointed us toward a solution in an essay he wrote for The New York Times Magazine back in 1997.

[Next: Curing the Political Addiction to Corporate Cash]