Monday, October 01, 2012

Democracy Denied


Republicans are able to steal elections because they have neither scruples nor a powerful opposition. Democrats, shaped by the same corrupting forces, rarely offer any genuine alternative to an authoritarian system dominated by the obscenely wealthy. Let’s explore why this is so.

Let’s begin with an understanding that democracy is merely an ideal. No large-scale democracy has ever been sustained through all of human history, to my knowledge. There have been indigenous systems in various places that did a pretty good job of recognizing and respecting differences and engaging each person in an acceptable role, but some level of exploitation has been a part of most governments, especially those codified by law.

The subversion of democracy has a long, inglorious history. Those who maintain inordinate power to manipulate others use that power to concentrate that power. Deception and coercion are easier to sustain than brute force, but the threat of violence is ever present.  The history of such manipulation can be traced through virtually every major institution – governments, churches, schools, etc. – at least back to the dark ages.

Thomas Paine, the pamphleteer who inspired the revolutionaries who founded the USA, made a study of the history of the disparity of power distribution in Europe. In Rights of Man he records how thugs became kings by cloaking themselves with religion.  While the founders were moved to demand justice, they continued to support chattel law that abused women, children, landless peasants, and non-Europeans.

Of course, there has also been a resistance, clinging to an ideal vision of justice and democracy, equal rights for all. Mostly we’ve won a lot of lip service from the oligarchs, but they have made some genuine concessions. Slavery has been limited to the prisons and out of the way places. FDR gave us Social Security to avoid a revolution. We got the AFL-CIO to avoid the IWW.

History aside, today probably 10% of Americans are openly bigoted. Racist, misogynistic homophobes who actually believe radical Muslims are the biggest threat to America today are a genuine force to contend with, but they could never win elections without a lot of help. They get that help from the likes of the Koch Brothers. The Tea Party gets funding because they’re enthusiastic and easily manipulated.  They will never be a threat to the oligarchs.

How does a party that only represents a radical sliver of the population win an election?  Well, by giving lip service to traditional conservative theory, they manage to drag along some old school Republicans who still believe in the party of Lincoln & Eisenhower. By running very negative campaigns, they scare voters away from their opponents. In a pinch, they cheat.

For several decades now, polls have shown that the higher the turnout, the more likely a Democratic win. So Republicans do all they can to keep people from voting, especially those from demographics with a high percentage of Democrats. They work to disenfranchise the poor and people of color.

Republicans have removed names from the registration roles unfairly and with racist intent. They have made it more difficult for urban voters to get to the polls and misinformed voters who are likely to vote against them. In fact, there is ample evidence that they have built a bias into voting machines and perhaps manipulated tallying computers to skew the results.

All of this should make you mad. In fact, it is designed in part to make you mad. Beyond making it easier for Republicans, the oligarchs are counting on their tactics to drive you into the hands of their other team, the Democrats.

Let’s follow the money. In the 2012 race for President, Mitt Romney’s biggest source of money has been Goldman Sachs. That’s the same Goldman Sachs that was Obama’s biggest donor in 2008, for which they were rewarded with choice appointments, policy decisions, and huge bailouts. Whichever way the race turns out, the banksters win and we, the people, lose.

Of course, Obama positions himself as the champion of the people. He says great things, which seem to have very little impact upon policies.  He came out in favor of gay marriage, for example, without mentioning that the President has no direct say in state laws governing marriage. He did, however, get rid of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” so gays can kill and die in the military. Hasn’t done much for sagging recruitment.

But what about health care? Obama managed to pass a bill, written by lobbyists from the insurance and pharmaceutical industries, which will cause more people to have health insurance. Just ignore the fact that most people who declared bankruptcy because of medical expenses had health insurance. 

The biggest resistance to that bill didn’t come from Republicans, who were a minority in both houses. It came from the people, a majority of voters by some polls, who were demanding single payer. Kucinich & Conyers proposed “Medicare for All”, but Democratic leadership made sure it never got a hearing. The bill that passed was almost identical to Romneycare, imposed upon Massachusetts by Obama’s opponent.  Obama has been consistently to the right of Nixon on this and other issues. There is every indication that he’s as eager to privatize Medicare as Ryan is.

Military spending has gone steadily up under both parties and more countries are being regularly bombed and/or occupied by US troops than ever before. The rights of people have steadily eroded. Obama is the first POTUS to openly execute US citizens, one of them 16 years old, without even bothering to file charges. The  Trans-Pacific Partnership, NAFTA on steroids, has been secretly negotiated, and promises corporations new ways to walk all over us.

How did we get to this? Remember the Koch Brothers? Before they funded the Tea Party takeover of the Republicans, they put big money into Bill Clinton’s Democratic Leadership Council, a restructuring of the party structure that introduced super delegates and virtually eliminated democratic processes.

Of course, none of the corruption of our government would be possible without the corporate lockdown on mainstream media.  I didn’t realize how bad this was until I read the reports on an international event I personally witnessed. Even sources I had considered reliable, like the BBC, spun the story so badly the truth was lost.

The media helps to contain any anti-corporate inclinations that pop up. Remember the way they replayed that scream by Gov. Dean until everybody was convinced he’d gone crazy. I’ve met people who were in the room at the time and said his behavior was completely normal when taken in context.

Or look at the way Dennis Kucinich and Ron Paul have been treated by the media. When they’re not being ignored, they’re being discounted. Their popularity was never in the news, because they don’t toe the corporate line.

We don’t have to play along with this game. When we vote outside the two corporate parties, we begin to build an alternative reality. Through radical localization, we can wean our communities from dependence upon multinational corporations. We can recharter our local governments into multiparty democracies, using tools like empowered neighborhood meetings, proportional representation, and ranked preference voting (like IRV).


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