Voters have become an endangered species. The fundamental control mechanism in politics has waned to the point where very few appear to care, still fewer take the time to vote, and only a tiny minority actually votes responsibly (by researching the candidates and the issues, and thereafter make a calculated and intelligent decision).
According to The Aspen Institute, “less than 33% of those aged 18 to 24 voted for President in 1996 and less than 20% voted in the 1998 elections.” For eligible voters, 63% voted in 1960, but by 1996, this number had declined to only 49%. In the state of Colorado in 1998, the Governor was elected by less than 5% of the registered voters voting for him (And even fewer of the eligible voters). Elected officials may, in fact, be placed into office by only 1 to 2% of the population which is entitled to vote.
An important question is why? One possible reason appears to be a consensus among increasingly disinterested voters, that if you can’t make a difference, why bother? This view is one of: a vote means nothing, if it’s not backed with a sizable donation.
Fundamentally, the issue is money. If you can’t afford to buy a politician with a donation of $1,000, or $5,000, or $20,000 (or a great deal more), the assumption is you can’t be part of the political process.
In many respects, this assumption is absolutely true. Because, as things stand now, no matter how you vote, the politicians are still going to pass laws favoring the people who provided the greatest bulk of their campaign funds, a fact which in any other world would be called bribery, graft, and/or corruption.
Political Action Committees -- known as PACs (aka “Politicians are Corrupt, Crooked, or Criminals”; depending upon your preference) -- are the most notorious organizations for laying out dollars to purchase favorable legislation. These PACs, in turn, are routinely created by corporations, organizations, groups, and combinations of all three to “push for favorable legislation”. An alternative phrase would be to “purchase favorable legislation by contributing to a politician’s campaign.
But there is also “soft money” where vested interests indirectly support one of their paid employees (i.e. the politicians). This can be in the form of “concept ads”, which attempt to convince voters of the desirability of a particular idea, but which also conveniently dovetails with the goals and platform of one or more particular politicians. Furthermore, the recent election reform efforts to control soft money has run up against the inevitable loopholing and end runs of politics as usual.
Meanwhile, the reason education, crime, youth, environment, and so many other important issues are taking a back seat is because these issues do not have well-heeled contributors to the political process. Conversely, supporters of huge defense budgets, corporate farming subsidies, and other big ticket corporate welfare items have very deep pockets, and these organizations are not loath to use their money to purchase favorable legislation.
One might assume that corporations have a right to express their opinion in political matters, but that’s really not the scenario in Corporate Politics. Corporations invariably invest heavily in both sides of the contest -- What’s good for the Republicans is good for the Democrats.
The idea is that one can’t always be sure who will win a close contest. Therefore, what is important or absolutely essential is not whether the candidate whose political views most closely approximate yours becomes the winner, but that whoever wins will be indebted to those organizations providing the campaign and other funds to that candidate. The fact that a particular corporation or organization might provide greater funds to a Republican than his Democratic opponent in a particular race means only that the Republican was more likely to win or his fund raisers did a better job.
But much more importantly, the question of Corporate investments in politics is not an issue about First Amendment Rights. Corporations have no business being considered a person -- and thus entitled to such things as the right of Free Speech -- in the first place! Furthermore, the contributing group or corporation really doesn’t care about having its say. The issue is to ensure the indebtedness of whichever candidate wins.
Adding insult to injury is the cozy arrangement between government and industry where a “revolving door” policy exists. The standard of this corruption is where so-called public servants initiate lucrative schemes for industry, after which they join the companies they have so richly benefited, and thereafter share in the wealth. One case in point was a high ranking member of several administrations who facilitated the granting of enormously lucrative contracts to a single company, and then later joined that company as its president for a salary of some 27 million dollars a year. A decade later, that same individual received a $20 million separation package from the same company, and lo and behold is now serving as Vice President of the United States. There’s one corporation out there whose executive staff is one bunch of happy campers now!
Another classic example is an executive of a major corporation (a lawyer), who wrote a draft of a proposed legislation which was highly favorable to his company’s bottom line. He forwarded the proposed legislation to the appropriate federal agency for their review (and, hopefully, future implementation). Almost immediately, he went to work at the same agency, where the powers that be handed over his proposed legislation to the same person who wrote it, ostensibly for his review! The ex-corporate lawyer, who had written the proposal, not unexpectedly, found the legislation brilliantly done, and quickly recommended its immediate approval. Once the approval was obtained, the lawyer went back to his company to receive his rewards.
Another aspect which many voters find dismaying is the lack of impact that their elected representatives often appear to have. This stems from what in Corporate life would have been one of the basic tenets: i.e. the hierarchical structure, where the real power is in the hands of a very select few. Government, on the other hand, has taken this example to extremes, even in the case of the Congress, where the members supposedly have equal powers. The latter has been destroyed by what is called congressional seniority.
As virtually anyone with an active interest in politics should be well aware, congressional seniority carries with it considerable power and gives to select members of congress excessive privileges and authority. Seniority ensures a majority of members are treated as second class citizens, who must in turn often do the bidding and act as lackeys for the committee chairpersons and other so-called congressional leaders in order to accomplish their constituents’ goals. The leaders then control the legislation: what is actually taken up in committees, and what reaches the floor for debate.
Both major parties in the United States Congress have selected members with the titles of “Majority Whip” and “Minority Whip”. Whips! In other words, one senior member whose only job is to keep the rank and file... well... in ranks and files. The idea is to ensure that just because a State sends a Congressman or Senator to supposedly represent the people of that State in the Congress, this does not presuppose that these representatives can be allowed to cause Anarchy in the halls by actually having the power to do things for the people they represent! The Corporate hierarchical structure simply does not work that way.
Term limits are often suggested as a means to reduce the effectiveness of congressional seniority and partially reign in its inherent abuses. (And some States have instituted the idea -- much to the chagrin of professional politicians! <g>) But why simply reduce the problem, when the problem could be eliminated?
All it would take would be for a courageous group in congress -- i.e. the vast majority who have been effectively disenfranchised by the seniority system -- to vote to eliminate seniority as a means of selecting congressional leaders. A follow up to this idea would be to elect committee chair persons and other leaders on the basis of their leadership abilities!
At the same time, the unwarranted and counter-productive power of committee chairpersons to select which congressional members’ bills are acted upon (and thus not “buried in committee”) could also be eliminated. Currently, the power to pick and choose which bills will be considered by the relevant committee and the congress serves primarily as a tool for the “Whips” to keep the lesser members of Congress in line.
Obviously, all proposed bills cannot be immediately considered -- there simply isn’t the time. There has to be a priority system in place as to which is considered first. The question of prioritization of congressional bills, however, could be based on the number of co-sponsors, i.e. the more co-sponsors, the more obvious the interest and support of the bill, and thus the higher priority for receiving active consideration. This would encourage coalition building for important issues, and reduce the number of pork barrel projects for the so-called ranking members of Congress.
The critical need for campaign finance and procedural reforms is enormous. The very concept of a viable democracy in a Republic is at stake. The rush of politicians to provide corporate welfare in so many ways is simply intolerable.
The interesting point is that much of the problem could be solved with:
1) The elimination of all corporate, PACs, and vested interests’ contributions (in any form) to appointed and elected officials (i.e. other than individual human beings having a limited ability to financially and otherwise support any candidate),
2) The elimination of the ability of individuals to routinely move between government and industry employment, and
3) The elimination of the corporate inspired seniority system in Congress.
In specific contradiction to the United States’ Supreme Court’s decision to install the concept of a Corporate Person, First Amendment Rights should be denied to each and every corporation (and in fact to any entity which is not a living sentient human being). Federal election laws could also be modified to provide equal and inexpensive access to radio/TV time (as well as the ballot box itself) to all viable candidates, and thereby limit the excessive dependence upon money in campaigns. Finally, enforceable conflict(s) of interest laws for all public servants could be instituted as a matter of law.
It’s not all that hard to solve the problem. And with a modicum of honesty instituted into the system, voting might once again become a fad! The democracy might actually become a viable possibility. It might even be possible to return to having a Republic. Wow.
2003© Copyright Dan Sewell Ward, All Rights Reserved [Feedback]