The following is an excellent excerpt from the book “DOLLAROCRACY: How the MONEY and MEDIA ELECTION COMPLEX Is DESTROYING AMERICA” by John Nichols/ Robert G. McChesney from Chapter 1 on page 11 and I quote: “
“These damned consultants come in and say, “This is how you have
to run,” and it’s always the same: raise money, spend it on television,
don’t say anything that will offend anyone.”
–SENATOR BERNIE SANDERS OF VERMONT, 2012
During the course of 2011, the United States experienced the largest and most widespread public demonstrations in many decades. To the surprise, even shock, of politicians, pundits, and news media, countless Americans were so dissatisfied with the growing inequality in American life and with the corruption of a political system—and elections—that they were willing to take to the streets. They were standing up to protest a world dominated by the wealthy and by gigantic corporations. They were looking at a future that seemed to belong to a privileged few rather than the great mass of Americans, and they were declaring that they wanted another future—one that worked for everyone. As these often-heterogeneous crowds gathered and demanded attention, their self-referencing slogan was “This Is What Democracy Looks Like.” It was a direct challenge to the prevailing wisdom of those in power and the pundits who were so busy hailing America, circa 2011, as the greatest, freest, and most democratic nation in the world that they missed the evidence of political stagnation and democratic decline.
Suddenly, the politicians weren’t writing the script. The people were, or, at the very least, they were trying. This surprised the elites that imagined an “end to history” had occurred with the fall of the Berlin Wall more than two decades earlier. Even more surprising to the punditocracy was how it seemed that a significant percentage of Americans were sympathetic to the protestors and thought they were making accurate and important points. When the demonstrations subsided, the politicians, pundits, and journalists went back to sleep. They returned to regurgitating their bromides, but the sleeping giant of American democracy had let its presence be known. And it is this unruly mass, which wants democracy in reality not just in cliches, that most petrifies the proponents of Dollarocracy.
Nowhere is this lack of effective political democracy more apparent than in the election system. The United States, unlike most democracies, does not make an explicit guarantee of the right to vote in its Constitution. And the disregard for voting rights, as well as implicit and explicit efforts by the political class to suppress participation, has risen to crisis levels in many states. Americans see that crisis. Fifty-nine percent of those surveyed in 2012 polling by the Rasmussen Reports group believe our elections are rigged to produce results that are invariably beyond the control of mere voters. Rasmussen polling in 2011 found that 45 percent, a solid plurality, believe the U.S. Congress would be better chosen through random selection of members from the pages of a phone book than via the current election process. More than 70 percent are certain that the system has degenerated to such an extent that members of Congress trade votes for cash or campaign contributions. And the old trust that citizens once placed in their own representatives, the elected officials whom they knew and respected, has disappeared: 56 percent of those surveyed say their representatives and senators would sell them out for a campaign-contribution check. Two-thirds of Americans say their “trust in the political system has been weakened by the recent developments in political financing,” said Vidar Helgesen, head of the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance.
Americans have lost faith in the process. Voter turnout among eligible adults has plummeted since the second half of the nineteenth century, when a 75 percent turnout on Election Day was routine, and when the numbers pushed past the 80 percent level several times. Today, anything approaching a 60 percent turnout for a presidential election—a level not achieved since the 1960s—gets the pundits shouting for joy. The 2012 turnout fell to around 52 percent of American adults. This was down from a 58 percent turnout in 2008. (By comparison, in ten of the other twelve largest democratic nations in the world in terms of GDP, the voter turnout rate in the most recent national elections ranged from 61 to 81 percent; the laggards are Canada at 54 percent and India at 56 percent.) For America’s congressional “off-year” elections—the actual equivalent to many countries’ national elections, which do not have direct elections of the chief executive—turnout is a lot closer to 35 percent of all adults.
In the elections for the local school boards, county commissions, and city councils that frequently have a more definitional role in our lives than the federal government does, turnout goes from disappointing to dismal, as many communities report participation rates below 20 percent. It’s so bad that the U.S. State Department assures the world that “2011 U.S. State, Local Elections Important Despite Low Turnout.” If there were broad rejection of the franchise equally across all classes, races, and regions, that would be a subject of profound concern. But it should be even more profoundly concerning that disengagement from the process tends to be concentrated in particular populations—those frequently targeted by voter suppression initiatives of the politically and economically powerful. And voting is defied by class: people in the wealthiest one-sixth of the population vote at nearly double the rate of people in the poorest one-sixth. Not surprisingly, Pew Research polled non-voters before the election in 2012 and found that by a 5-2 margin those at the lower end favored Obama over Romney.
These figures reveal the extent to which popular support for current government policies in the United States is overrated. Even in 2008, with the highest voting turnout percentage since 1972, the median voter was in the sixtieth percentile for annual household income—meaning, 59 percent of Americans had lower incomes than the average voter—while the median nonvoter was in the fortieth percentile for annual household income. As far back as the 1970s, research by scholars such as Walter Dean Burnham lent credence to the notion that if Americans voted across income levels at the same rate as most Europeans did, the nation would be electing governments with far greater sympathy toward social democratic policies. Research also demonstrates—despite the repeated claims of conservative pundits and mainstream media commentators about the Untied States becoming a “center-right nation”–that Americans have not moved to the right on a battery of core political issues since the 1970s. Indeed, they may have become more progressive.
Dollarocray reigns in practice, as is well outlined in a series of recent trailblazing research projects by leading political scientists. These independent studies and analyses reach a stunning consensus that the interests and opinions of the great bulk of Americans unequivocally have no influence over the decisions made by Congress or executive agencies today, at least when they run up against the interests of either a powerful corporate lobby or wealthy people as a class. When the opinions of the poor, working class, and middle class diverge from those of the very well off, the opinions of the poor, working class, and middle class cease to have any influence. While there is a high likelihood that politicians will adopt the positions of their very wealthiest constituents, research confirms with eerie consistency that politicians will generally take the opposite position of those favored by the poorest third of their constituents. Dollarocracy, indeed.
Understood this way, the fact that tens of millions of poor and working-class Americans still vote is a testament to just how deep-seated democratic ideals are in this nation.
In discussing what ails American elections, we must recognize the structural challenges that go beyond money and media. For example, the two-party system itself contributes a good deal to political disengagement. The two parties have rigged the system—in a manner that has nothing to do with the U.S. Constitution—so that it is virtually impossible to launch a credible third party.” This means, as former Republican governor of New Mexico and 2012 Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson put it, that in American elections many—perhaps most—Americans “cast their votes for a candidate who doesn’t really reflect their views.”
Indeed, polling tells us that there are about as many “independents” as there are Democrats or Republicans, and the ranks of the politically unaffiliated are swelling. Pundits suggest that these folks are “swing voters,” bouncing back and forth between the big parties. But tens of millions of Americans swing out of the process altogether. They are not having a hard time choosing between the Democrats and the Republicans. They’ve made their choice: they don’t like either major party. But they have nowhere else to go.
The two parties also gerrymander (draw district boundaries) so that most congressional and legislative districts are one-party estates and only a minority are competitive, except in rare landslide years. In 2012, Democrats received 500,000 more votes in House races than Republicans did, but thanks to aggressive redistricting following the 2010 election and effective targeting of spending by Karl Rove and others, the Republicans maintained a whopping landslide-caliber 34-seat advantage. Why? “The Republican Party has significant structural advantage in U.S. House elections,” explained FairVote’s Rob Richie and Devin McCarthy. ‘That advantage was the most important reason why the GOP kept a comfortable majority of 54% of seats in the House despite Democratic candidates having an overall 4% advantage in voter preference over their Republican opponents.” Following the 2012 election, Mark Karlin explained the extraordinarily undemocratic consequences of modern gerrymandering, when a single party can draw the district lines with the aid of sophisticated datasets:
“Take Pennsylvania, for instance, the Democrats received 2,710,827 votes for
congressional candidates; the Republicans, 2,642,952. Although it was a slim
victory, the Dems won the popular vote in Pennsylvania as far as electing repre-
sentatives to Congress.
Astonishingly, however, due to gerrymandering from the Tea Party tsunami
election of 2010, which left the Pennsylvania legislature and governor in full
control of the GOP, only 5 Democratic reps to Congress were elected in 2012,
while the Republicans will send 13 reps to DC!”
“In a normal democracy,” The Economist observed, “voters choose their representatives. In America, it is rapidly becoming the other way around.”
As a rule, more than 90 percent of House members are in districts that have been gerrymandered to be “safe seats.” They rarely face a tough reelection battle, despite the strong generic unpopularity of Congress. In many states, the only federal races that are remotely in play are hyperexpensive statewide contests for senate seats, where gerrymandering is impossible. And at the presidential level, there remains the Electoral College, which effectively renders moot the votes of the vast majority of citizens who do not live in a shrinking number of “swing” states.
Elections take on greater significance because the rest of our democratic life has been so diminished.
We can gain some sense of how hollowed out American democracy has become by looking at the ways in which the notion of voting has changed. In democratic theory, and in more successful democracies, voting is a given, the ante to admission to the life of a free person and a citizen. As Thomas Jefferson put it, merely voting for representatives is far from sufficient. “Every day,” he wrote, a citizen must be a “participator in the government of affairs.” Today the act of voting is the epitome of civic engagement, and once the election has past, citizens are invited to return to their couches while the wealthy and privileged resume their central role in guiding the government and its policies, mostly in the dark. This, the contemporary American practice, is what political scientists politely call a “weak democracy.”
The wealthy well understand that democracy poses the great existential—and potentially practical—threat to extreme economic inequality. There is nothing new about this conflict. Indeed, the core problem was understood at the very beginning of democracy in Athens some 2,500 years ago. “Democracy is when the indigent, and not the men of property are the rulers,” Aristotle observed in his Politics. “If liberty and equality are chiefly to be found in democracy, they will be best attained when all persons share alike in government to the utmost.” This prospect has always horrified those with immense amounts of property; in Greece and later in Rome the powerful were able to quash existing variants of democratic rule.
In the United States, this conflict is a story as old as the nation itself. If there is one constant in the history of the American experiment, it is the struggle over the question placed at its founding by the author of the Declaration of Independence. Which would these United States be? Democracy or plutocracy? And as the United States became a corporate capitalist economy, the ruling elite became defined increasingly in terms of money wealth, or as a Dollarocracy. The battle to establish a credible system of “one person, one vote” instead of “one dollar, one vote” has been a running theme in American history. The stakes have always been the same: the less democratic our elections, the more corrupt and irresponsible our governance.”
(THE ROLE OF THE CONSULTANT OR LOBBYIST IS VERY EVIDENT IN THIS EXCERPT OF JUST EXACTLY HOW THESE SLICK-TALKING INDIVIDUALISTS ARE GOING TO DO THIS. NOT AS A DEMOCRACY WITH A BATTLE OF WORDS LIKE IT SHOULD BE BUT THROUGH “DOLLAROCRACY” AND BIG CORPORATIONS AND INDIVIDUALS BUYING OFF ANY AND ALL POLITICAL PARTIES TO TRY TO MAKE IT LOOK LIKE THEY ARE RUNNING IT AS A DEMOCRACY, BUT IN REALITY, IT’S LOOKING LIKE A MILITARY TAKEOVER. THIS WHOLE THING, I BELIEVE, STARTED HERE IN THE STATE OF WISCONSIN IN NOVEMBER 2010, WHEN SCOTT WALKER GOT ELECTED AS GOVERNOR BECAUSE OF THE OUT OF STATE MONEY THAT HELPED HIM GET THERE. ONCE THERE, HE PUSHED RADICAL IDEAS, THAT CLIMAXED IN MARCH, 2011, WHEN OVER 100,000 PEOPLE GATHERED AT THE STATE CAPITOL IN MADISON, WISCONSIN AND MARCHED AROUND THE SQUARE CHANTING “THIS IS WHAT DEMOCRACY LOOKS LIKE” WITH VARIOUS UNIONS AND OTHERS, INCLUDING FARMERS, WORKING TOGETHER, CHANTING AGAINST WHAT GOVENOR WALKER PROPOSED WHICH WAS TO ABOLISH UNION COLLECTIVE BARGAINING RIGHTS, AS WELL AS CUTTING WAGES and PENSIONS. THE BATTLE STILL GOES ON TODAY AND THEY ARE ARRESTING PEOPLE IN THE CAPITOL EVEN IF THEY SING ABOUT GLORY TO THE UNIONS.
LaVern Isely, Overtaxed Independent Middle Class Taxpayer & Public Citizen & AARP Members