Democracy and elections

The United States is not a democracy.

A population that’s free to pull the lever to the left or right is not necessarily a population that’s free to govern itself. And, while many Americans insist that democracy simply means free elections, we should remember that poor notions of “democracy” are symptomatic of non-democratic systems.

In the U.S., elections only serve to legitimize candidates who have been pre-selected in more important centers of power. Without extensive financial support, a candidate cannot possibly hope to compete on a national level. So he or she must turn to those who hold concentrated wealth – Wall St. and the leaders of corporate America.

It’s inconceivable that these wealthy parties would fund any candidate who seriously threatened their interests. In this way, they hold veto power over our elections.

Until public financing is instituted, we will see the same sets of faces rotate in and out of the White House and Cabinet.  Reagan, ReaganLite, Clinton, ReaganRedux, ClintonRedux.

What’s worse, the office of president will descend further into empty imagery. It has already become a competition between front men – actors who hold our hands as they force us to swallow the bitter pills of state capitalism and American empire.

Elections, therefore, must be considered as mechanisms geared toward the primary goal of democracy: rule by the people. If they only exist to mask the inequities of power, they might as well not exist.

10 Comments

  1. Chris

    From Greenwald today:

    Remember all the talk during the presidential campaign about how, when it came to national security, John McCain was such a dangerous maniac, a war-monger, an extremist hawk? This was the exchange McCain had with George Stephanopolous last month:
    STEPHANOPOULOS: Would we be fighting these two wars any differently if you were president now?
    MCCAIN: Not now.

    We desperately need real choice in our elections. But in order to break the two party monopoly, we’ll need someone extraordinarily charismatic or personally wealthy.

  2. Andrea

    I hate having only two choices (democrate or republican) in elections. I still think that in the 2004 election, peopled either voted against Bush or against Kerry, but not actually for one candidate over the other.

  3. Chris

    Andrea,
    I fear many people actually did like Bush, although I think you’re right about Kerry. Kerry won the primary because he was considered more electable than folks like Howard Dean, not because he was an energizing figure. Ultimately I think the situation was reversed last fall. Democrats loved Obama and Republicans had no other choice than McCain.

  4. Clint

    “But in order to break the two party monopoly, we’ll need someone extraordinarily charismatic or personally wealthy.”

    Or a mass democratic movement.

  5. JM

    Yes, one has to think there’s something missing that half the voting population can’t stand behind one or another candidate.

  6. Ian

    I have a hard time judging your tone Clint. Are you really serious when you write: “What’s worse, the office of president will descend further into empty imagery. It has already become a competition between front men – actors who hold our hands as they force us to swallow the bitter pills of state capitalism and American empire.”, or are you being semi-ironic? “Empty imagery” “Bitter pills” “American empire”? Yeesh…

    As long as we are in the business of stating the obvious, why not lay the blame on the people rather than the President or corporations or whatever?

    First coporations:
    Where do corporations get their money? They sell goods and services. Who buys them? Either other corporations, the government, or consumers. The government gets its money from taxes (or from the consumers again if you will). So basically, all the big evil corporations obtain their wealth from the people. People buy crap from corporations, and corporations ::gasp:: use that money to try and ensure that they can make more money.

    Next the two political parties:
    JM’s comment brings up an interesting idea. He claims that our low voter turn out is due to the fact that there simply aren’t candidates who get people to the polls. I think that’s a bad idea. “Democracy” shouldn’t mean voting is mandatory. Oh sure, it makes you a “good citizen” to vote and pay taxes, whatever the hell that means. Face it, people willfully go and vote for either the Repulican or Democratic candidate. No one forces them to.

    The PEOPLE are complicit with the current system. It would not exist if the wide majority of Americans were not OK with it. It is the people who purchase goods and services from corporations. It is people who vote and legitimize our current government. Think about what it means that money is what is required to win an election. Money is just paper and it only has value as long as we as a society agree that it does. Nothing separates a rich man from a poor man outside of the fact that the rich man possesses more of something with an entirely abstract worth. Society agrees that the rich man has more value than the poor one, even if that value is entirely imaginary.

    Certainly you pay your taxes Clint. You use a computer made by a major corporation. You have internet service so you obviously pay some kind of telecommunications bill. You willfully support this “American Empire” while you curse its name. The people of this country don’t want change. They are dependent on this system and they will fight for it. Look at the last election. The Republicans were arguing that we shouldn’t “cut and run” from Iraq and they also were talking about “Main Street values over Wall Street values”. Funny how the leading up to our starting the Iraq War can be traced to an attack on the biggest symbol of our financial prowess.

  7. Clint

    Ian,

    “As long as we are in the business of stating the obvious, why not lay the blame on the people rather than the President or corporations or whatever?”

    My whole point is that democracy has been suppressed by the small concentration of interests that dominate the government, the financial institutions, the Media and so on. You could raise a grievance against the People for this situation, but only to the extent that you can blame someone for losing.

    It’s clearly true that the People have been unable to seize power from the small interests that hold it. Yes, they have been lazy, stupid, negligent and ignorant. But can you really lay the blame on them, considering that they’re losing to a group with vastly more power and influence? They are the ones in control of the money, the information and the weapons. To push it to an extreme, could you blame someone for being enslaved? I don’t think you could.

    “So basically, all the big evil corporations obtain their wealth from the people.”

    Large corporations in the U.S. have major advantages given to them by law and government. They have rights beyond those of a human being, for instance. Their lobbying influence on Congress earns them preferential legislative treatment, including tax breaks. For some, failing isn’t even a serious worry because the government will bail them out without imposing safeguard regulations.

    “Face it, people willfully go and vote for either the Repulican or Democratic candidate. No one forces them to.”

    I agree. Elections can affect some very limited political changes, so even if you’re disillusioned about the difference between candidates, you still might cast a vote. It’s kind of like Pascal’s Wager – it couldn’t hurt.

    “The PEOPLE are complicit with the current system. It would not exist if the wide majority of Americans were not OK with it.”

    I don’t think the wide majority of Americans are OK with it. Look at Bush’s approval rating, look at Congress’ approval rating. Watch as Obama’s approval rating drops.

    There’s significant disaffection with government. It’s basically built into the culture at this point. There’s also a lot of resistance to corporations, to war and to all sorts of these things – in polling and in protests.

    People buy things from corporations, pay taxes and do these things because it would be unreasonably burdensome to completely go without them. It’s a Capitalist system, which means it depends on having capital, which means in order to survive outside of jail you have to work, pay taxes and occasionally buy from some asshole’s company.

    Again, I think you can’t blame Americans just because they’re losing.

  8. Ian

    A quote from “V For Vendetta” (book version):

    “And it’s no good blaming the drop in work stands upon bad management either, though to be sure the management is very bad. In fact, let us not mince words… the management is terrible! We’ve had a string of embezzlers, frauds, liars, and lunatics making a string of catastrophic decisions. This is plain fact. But who elected them? It was you! You who appointed these people! You who gave them the power to make your decisions for you. While I’ll admit that anyone can make a mistake once, to go on making the same lethal errors century after century seems to me nothing short of deliberate. You have encouraged these malicious incompetents, who have made your working life a shambles. You have accepted without question their senseless orders. You have allowed them to fill you workspace with dangerous and unproven machines. You could’ve stopped them. All you had to say was ‘No.’. You have no spine. You have no pride.”

    Cheesy though it may be, it hits the language better than I. As I said, corporations only have wealth because we agree they do. If everyone agreed tomorrow that the dollar was simply worth the paper it was printed on, well, things would be a little different. But what would that mean? It would mean everyone else would have to agree that their money too was worthless, and that isn’t a step the average person would be willing to take. People accept this system and fight to protect it. Just because there are partisan politicians, it doesn’t mean Americans don’t love this country and love its system of government. They just hate the politicians not playing for their side.

  9. Clint, re: corporate regulation:

    Obviously I’d prefer that the legal advantages that corporations hold were simply abolished. However, if corporations are to exist, and the subsequent regulatory structure, then there are multiple ways of approaching such a scenario. It seems to me like the U.S. method is to disregard — or even subsidize — size, preferring to regulate behavior & allow the government to serve as a safety net for entities large enough to drag down the rest of the system if they fail.

    I’m not sure if this was decided for ease of enforcement (reasoning that it’s easier to make a few market players comply than a lot of small ones) or it just plain emerged, but the fact that such rescues allegedly have to be done at all seems to defeat the purpose. Speaking pragmatically, a regulatory approach that instead enforced decentralization appears to make more sense: break up the giants, then make rules that discourage expansion beyond a certain point, so that competition remains a reality & failure is not a system issue. If “either we give these rich people billions or our economy collapses!” is anything beyond a joke, then by definition the regulators are doing it wrong.

  10. Clint

    b-psycho,

    “It seems to me like the U.S. method is to disregard — or even subsidize — size, preferring to regulate behavior & allow the government to serve as a safety net for entities large enough to drag down the rest of the system if they fail.”

    I think you’re right, and basically what you’re describing is a complete disregard for any meaningful regulation. I think that’s a result of the steady rise of corporate power, especially in the realm of candidate lobbying and funding. It’s irrational to think, for instance, that Obama would support major reform of our financial institutions considering they were his primary backers during the ’08 campaign. It’d be political seppuku.

    “Speaking pragmatically, a regulatory approach that instead enforced decentralization appears to make more sense”

    Absolutely. I think it’s clear that it’s not in our society’s interest to have a handful of businesses in control of such a large share of resources, workers and services – especially when we know their ultimate motive is simply profit. That seems to be a consistent tension in American society, particularly during the Progressive trust-busting era.