Sunday, November 24, 2013

Democracy's Ills

How does that quote go again: "These are the times that try men's souls"? There is a frustrating duopoly at play; in our elections, in civil discourse, in our constitution, and certainly in our strained sense of democracy. We have come to learn, again, that our constitution is flawed and limiting. We, or most of us, say we support democracy, but we can't avoid the question as to why democracy and free elections have led us to the abyss. We speak of equality, think of ourselves, naively, as a classless society, and insist on such time-tested homilies as equal representation, or no taxation without representation (yeah, that's a good one). We have created or inherited a political system that we once urged, or sometimes forced, upon the world but which is now badly failing us.

On the one hand we continue to espouse boilerplate straight from civics class: freedom of expression, free markets makes for free people, a free press is the bedrock of a free society, all this freedom wrapped in a proud belief that minimum government yields maximum democracy --but it's all painfully juxtaposed against the urgently felt need to take back the public arena from the oligarchs, the corrupt, and religious fanatics. We, most of us, value freedom of speech; some of us still venerate the oh-so-learned Supreme Court for protecting our rights, but how many of us really believe Citizens United was a good decision? Or that denying the hyper-wealthy--or corporations--the right to buy elections, politicians, and the media is an affront to their free speech? 

On the other hand, do we know, or care to know, how much voter ignorance and apathy have contributed to our condition? I didn't vote for the jackasses that say we need to cut social security and food stamps from the poor because that's a good way to balance the budget. But millions did.

We may lament that people vote for selfish or irrational reasons, but we must remind ourselves that in the formative years of our republic, universal suffrage was seen as a horrible idea by the aristocracy and most of the founding fathers. The argument always given was that commoners, the illiterate, women, the melanin-enriched, the unpropertied, all of them would make poor voting choices. Specifically, they would vote themselves goods and services that were economically unsustainable, and would destabilize government. They usually left unstated their fear that the power and privileges of the upper class would be threatened by true democracy. 

So it might seem ironic that the most powerful and privileged in society, and among the best educated, are now the ones pushing and protecting policies, practices and legislation that are selfish, reckless, and demonstrably unsustainable. The middle class largely supports the same stabilizing policies of the past, including responsible taxation, support for the self-funding and efficient social security system, regulations that return us to the decades of stable banking we once enjoyed, and more.

And yet just enough people vote for politicians who have made it clear they don't want Americans to have better health care, have no intention of reining in Wall Street, will forever feed the military-industrial gravy train, and consistently vote for the interests of the wealthy and against the poor and working class. 

The real tragedy of American democracy is not just that so many politicians, mostly Republicans, actively support a Dixified nation with a small ruling class at the bidding of corporations. It is that many others, mostly Democrats, claim to support working class folks, but end up going along with the money train; it is they who will settle for scraps and claim progress; it is they who will support legislation so weak, toothless, and watered down as to be useless. They, not all, but too many of them, want you to believe they are fighting for middle America. 

What is depressing about this is though there are many politicians who want to and try to do the right thing, there always seems to be enough politicians, either outright reactionaries or compromised "moderates" who either bitterly oppose anyone who tries to do anything that most Americans actually support, or quietly insist-mostly at election time--that they are for you, but cannot or will not actually promote legislation that is, in fact, popular. Who do they think votes them into office? Why don't they get behind legislation that their base supports? You would think that far-right Republicans would abandon bills that even their Republican base is cool to, just as Democrats should be more enthusiastic about, say, a minimum wage increase. How politically popular does something have to be before Democrats will come out of hiding and publicly support it? It's as if they would rather dodge the attacks from Republicans and right-wing media, and chase Wall Street dollars, than respond to the voters who actually put them into office. It is little wonder that so many of America's poor and working class are disaffected and don't bother to vote. 

But hey, congrats to Harry Reid on filibuster reform; you too Diane Feinstein. It took you a while, but you finally decided that after years of record obstructionism that you should step in and actually do something about it. Too bad it took you five years to notice what Republicans were doing to the economy, the political process, and your party's president.

No comments:

Post a Comment