Requires Purging Dishonorable Corporations from our Political Process
I’m not afraid to admit it. I was inspired by the “Restoring Honor” Glenn Beck rally. In fact, I agree with Beck that The United States has fallen into disrepute not only in our international relations, but with our own citizens as well. The reality is that our government does not represent the citizens any more than it stands for the best interests of individual rights and freedom all over the world. The United States is looked at as a colossus driven by corporate greed. Whereas I do not agree with Beck’s proposed solutions for restoring honor, there is no question that honor must be and can be restored. I will dedicate a number of observations toward the goal of restoring American honor and its rightful place as the world’s greatest proponent of human freedom, achievement and potential.
The first step to restoring honor is to establish a political system that is up for the job. I’ve always said that we have the best government that money can buy
and it has been bought, paid for, sealed and delivered to the corporate elite. It has gotten to the point where I, among others, have abandoned reference to the United States as a democracy for a truer description of the nation as a corporatocracy.
The truth of this statement is increasingly obvious. The government of the United States at almost every level, from local city councils, county commissions, through state legislatures and executives to the US Congress and the White House acts as an arm of the myriad and interconnected corporate boardrooms. The “government” of our nation, once the vanguard for representative government throughout the world, the brainchild of the founders, the result of sacrifice and blood-shed among soldiers and activists and dissidents, has been sold off piecemeal to the least deserving among us. We no longer have a representative government, at least not a government that represents the interests of common Americans. Indeed, we really don’t have a government to call our own. The United States government represents only those who can pay for it in cash. Hence the concept of American democracy is a laughing stock throughout the world.
If there is any hope in restoring American honor then the first step must be to restore the one institution that is the backbone of that honor. We must end the predominance of corporate influence in our government.
It is in this area that we have lost the most ground. The Supreme Court has ruled that, in essence, money is speech. This is, of course, insane. Money is not the same as speech. Money is an extrinsic, quantifiable object. If money is by its very virtue a “right” then those who have the most money have, quantitatively, more rights. But by virtue of our most revered canon, The Declaration of Independence, rights are endowed by “a” creator and are inalienable. Money, to my knowledge, is neither divinely endowed nor inalienable (I have personal experience with being “alienated” from my money). Indeed, as far as corporations are concerned, money is “endowed” by unwitting and unwilling taxpayers at their own expense. This taxpayer funded corporate welfare frees up vast coffers of campaign contributions (read “bribes”) to our so called representatives to vote against our own best interest. This is the system our Supreme Court has legitimized, and I can’t conceive of a less legitimate system for perpetuating a democracy. Money politics has bypassed working Americans.
Restoring honor means restoring accountability of our representatives to the people whom they are supposed to represent.
The first order of business is to purge the system of mammon. We can start by simply making it illegal for corporations to donate to candidates or to campaigns. This is not a denial of free speech. Listen carefully. ONLY PEOPLE HAVE rights. Corporations are not people; therefore they do not have rights. Corporations exist at the whim of the government and the public in which they exist. Indeed, they often exist at the expense of the government and said public.
The suggestion that a corporation is a collection of individuals with rights and, therefore, has rights as such is ludicrous. Human beings have no more rights as a collective than as individuals. What they have more of is power, and power should never be confused for rights. No individual is being denied their right to speak when a corporation can’t spend its money. Each individual within the corporation can express himself or herself as freely as anyone else, by writing letters, editorials, participating in interest groups, assembling with like minded people, etc. One’s corporate status does not affect that.
A corporation does not have a family, will not get sick and require health care. A corporation will never lose its job. Most dramatically, a corporation will never lose its life on a battlefield for the sake of freedom. To equate a corporation with human qualities is a slap in the face of every working American, every sacrificing activist, every soldier who ever deployed knowing he may never return to his family. Rights belong to those who have something to lose.
Of course, there’s the option for a corporation to invest in political advertising or political motivated programming that would be difficult to regulate. This really can’t be restricted in any fair way. However, it can be taxedheavilywith regard to corporations. Serious consequences can be put in place to discourage corporate financing of elections, candidates or the propaganda that goes with it. Indeed, many innovative ideas have been proposed.
Also, disclosure must be enforced under such circumstances. Full disclosure. Americans should know immediately who is funding their candidates. They shouldn’t have to dig through byzantine jumbles of FEC reports to know if their politician is beholden to coal companies. A coal company shouldn’t be able to hide behind a “Clean Energy” PAC that they created and present that as the funder for an advertisement extolling the virtues of mountain-top removal. Full disclosure should require parent companies and affiliates to take responsibility for their own ads in the ads themselves. This also keeps politicians from hiding behind a benign sounding PAC. If a politician wants to be endorsed by BP, he or she should be forced to run on that decision. Similar legislation has been proposed, but it is vigorously opposed by corporate lobbyists. I wonder what corporations have against disclosure.
Publicly Financed Elections
Many states have created public financing programs for their elections. They have, since, been under attack by corporate lobbyists. After all, it’s understood that seats in offices should be reserved for the wealthy or for those beholden to the wealthy. A robust public financing, however, allows teachers and activists and common, working people to run for office. All they have to do is show they are legitimate candidates by securing signatures and/or a significant amout of small contributions. Such programs have demonstrated that they can increase competitiveness in legislative races.
Publicly funded elections can also allow opportunities for third party candidates to come into the race. Imagine a politics with a diverse discursive contextradical ideas, innovative ideas and mainstream thought battling it out for legitimacy rather than the same milquetoast, warmed-over sound bites that pass for political debate today.
Strict limits can be placed on the amount of money individuals can spend on candidates. Perhaps a tax can be placed on all political financing over $2000, the money to be placed in the public financing coffer. Again, this is not restricting speech. Wealthy individuals can speak exactly the same way poor people do, letters to the editor, phone calls, blogs, etc. Being able to call a candidate and threaten to pull your funding if he doesn’t vote your way should not qualify as speech. It should be considered exactly what it isextortion. When a candidate can draw on a neutral funding source, she can vote her conscience rather than be burdened with potential campaign shortfalls in her next election.
The law can be written that all candidates must take public funding and private contributions cannot surpass the amount received through public funding. Or it can be mandated that in all campaign appearances or advertisements it be made clear that the candidate has refused public financing.
As a corollary to public financing, time should be set aside in electronic media to express a platform. All such media function through exploitation of the Electro-Magnetic Spectrum. The EMS is a natural resource, no different than air or water. The public often has to pay for information that travels through this medium as private companies require market incentive to provide this service. That’s fine. But the EMS still belongs to the citizens. Mandated time should be set aside for the public good, including access to mainstream, prime-time media for all viable candidates.
All candidates on the ballot should participate in televised debates. This is something that the Republicans and Democrats fear more than anything. The last thing in the world that these two anemic entities want to do is contend with a vibrant, new challenger with real ideas. They made that mistake in 1992 when they opened the debates to a third party candidate, the pugnacious and extremely wealthy Ross Perot. His campaign was a deciding factor in the election, most likely lifting Bill Clinton to the presidency.
Since then, both parties have been complicit in locking the debates to all but Republicans and Democrats. Presidential candidate Ralph Nader was not only blocked from participating in the debates, but wasn’t even allowed to be in the audience despite the fact that he had a ticket to attend. He was barred from debate hall by police officers. American voters were never allowed to discern how Nader’s platform held up to the lame the offerings of Al Gore and George Bush.
If a candidate can get on the ballot in a majority of states he or she should be allowed to debate and put their platform against the limp planks of Republicans and Democrats. Candidates who are on a minority of state ballots should be allowed advertising time during the debates to help increase their exposure. If the United States really is a democracy and a marketplace for ideas, then why should we be limited to just two options? This should be a mainstay of conservative thought.
The corporate funded, Republicrat monopoly on the electoral system and over the marketplace of ideas must end. Currently our representatives include 237 millionaires. The median worth of senators is about $1.8 million while in the house it’s over $600,000. Over 400 of our legislators are lawyers or businessmen while over 250 refer to themselves as, in essence, as professional politicians. So what part of this representative government actually represents us, ordinary Americans? When a group representative of less than 2% of the population, millionaires, takes up over 40% of the seats in the legislative body can we really call that body “representative?” It’s certainly not representative of the people, rather than certain very wealthy people.
Probably the most profound conflict of interest in modern politics is in the drawing of political boundaries. How do we justify giving politicians the power to define their own districts? The consequence of this indiscretion is called gerrymandering, the creation of absurd districts that follow the course of party distribution rather than reasonable population variables.
Congressional districts should be drawn by professional demographers based on legitimate and reasonable democratic concerns, not the best interest of a particular party or politician. Population factors such as ethnicity, socio-economic status, age cohorts, even predominant industries or occupations should influence the drawing of contiguous boundaries around districts. The goal should be to maximize representation. When a district looks ridiculous, as does Illinois’ 4th, then it probably is ridiculous. Such districts can be minimized through the same peer review process that any scientific study must undergo.
Term Limits: An Idea We Should Reject
Over the years I’ve entertained the possibility of term limits for legislators. I saw it as a way to get the entrenched, professional politician out of the chambers of government in favor of new and more sincere, even idealistic blood. After all, almost half of our legislature self identifies as professional politicians, or “public servants.”
I would love to limit my own so called representative, Connie Mack, to two terms. I lament the fact that he will most certainly be re-elected until he dies. However, after considerable thought on this subject I must admit that I have changed my mind. I no longer believe in term limits as a viable solution to our political malaise.
I simply don’t see a reason to assume that a politician limited to, say two terms, will be replaced by someone of a higher quality once his terms are over. The system, as it is established, is designed to assure the assumption of elite groups to the echelons of power. Unless that system is changed, it is unrealistic to assume term limits would be effective. The process by which we elect someone like Connie Mack, or some kook, idiot, con-man, etc is exactly the same as the process of re-electing Connie Mack or some kook, idiot, con-man. The possibility of being duped by professional politicians and spin doctors exists in every election, whether it involves an incumbent or not. In the event that one is lucky enough to have a representative who is actually effectual and honest, why limit that person’s terms in office?
Also, there’s the philosophical argument against term limits. In a democracy, should the people decide who they elect? Why should the people be limited in their choices when they have a representative whom they wish to re-elect? As much as I dislike Connie Mack, he’s very popular in this district. The people of this district should be allowed to vote for him, even if I don’t understand the appeal. If a candidate I liked, a Dennis Kucinich or a Russ Feingold, were elected in my district (shortly before hell freezes over), I would want to support them indefinitely. After all, that’s what a democracy is about
for better or for worse.
Restoring honor to the United States will be a long, arduous, political process. It won’t come from a faith in God or a strict adherence to the Constitution and the supposed will of the Founders. Restoring honor means addressing the very real, tangible, problems that tarnish the national pride. As will be elaborated in this series of commentaries, most of this tarnish can be traced to the demands of elite interests. A politics beholden to the moneyed classes is inherently undemocratic and ultimately dishonorable. Take a look at the track record of corporate America. How can we assume that these people, serving only their own greed, will finance a reputable and honorable system that represents anypone other than their shareholders.
If we want our democracy back we must defeat the corporatocracy that stifles it. Then we can begin to restore honor.