President Obama’s approval ratings are at an all-time low for his tenure in office. The Mississippi Tea Party is in an uproar after its U.S. Senate primary candidate lost to mainstream Republican opponent Thad Cochran—who in turn appealed to a non-traditional base of African-American voters to beat the T-Party’s candidate. Democrats are set to use populist wedge-issues—immigration and a potential raise in the minimum wage—to beat back predicted Republican gains, while walking on broken egg shells on other issues to protect endangered Democratic candidates. And the list goes on…
What can I possibly say, reveal, or speak to in terms of the broken state of politics in contemporary America that most clear-thinking individual don’t already know? The political—as well as the voting—process has been corrupted by the influence and infusion of money; we know this. The ideological and political gulf between opposing belief-holders has never been wider…much to the detriment of the legislative process. The disdain that many of us Americans have for our political leadership finds most of us ranking their appeal generally somewhere between toilet film and a root canal. And the few optimists who remain loyal to one side or the other are more adherent to party-lines, talking points, and platforms than to rational thinking and objectivity. Why is the American political apparatus so broken?
To list a complete analysis of why politics in America is at such a level of unproductive impotence would take bandwidths of terabytes of Internet bandwidth; even a summary would take volumes. However, the conclusion—as painful as it might be for those wishing otherwise—is that America’s system of politics is broken because we are a nation moving toward an oligarchy rather continually engaging in the ”great experiment” of (a) democracy. What’s more, the basic reasons for the emergence of government by the powerful (and not in fact, “We the People”) can at least be listed inasmuch as those with clearer minds would be open to considering both their reality and validity.
The Voting Electorate.
I will be blunt here; the American voting electorate is pretty dumb. This is to say that we are very uninformed as a people responsible for picking and choosing our leadership. Most of us do not bother to engage in objective research on the issues in any given election…and those of us who do bother to do what passes for research only look up “facts” that support already-held positions. Those who identify with Republicans (or conservatives) will usually refer to Fox News, The Daily Beast, The Drudge Report, The Bible, or any number of “objective news” sources, while liberals (i.e., Democrats) will go to Mother Jones, The Huffington Post, NPR, or other similar news sources considered “unbiased.” Most American voters start our approaching any issue with a liberal or conservative foundation, and then “research” the “facts” from that point. The problem is that most of these “sources” are little more than platforms for ideological talking points and/or already established beliefs. In other words, most Americans obtain their beliefs of certain issues from propaganda rather than objectivity. We don’t seem capable of suspending our preconceived beliefs and ideas to approach an issue based on the merits rather than their ability to support our individual political ideologies.
What’s more, there are simply too many nuts running loose in our country who lack psychiatric supervision. This is to say that many of the things that “informed voters” believe are beyond the pale. September 11th was a government conspiracy. Abortion is part of a planned genocide against the black community. The female body has mechanisms to “protect against that sort of thing.” Obama is not an American. Political correctness reflects “cultural sensitivity.“ There were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Global warming is a hoax. Money is “Free Speech.” The Constitution protects abortion. Universally affordable health care is akin to slavery. …and these are the “rational” thoughts. We believe anything our elected “leadership” tells us, no matter how insane, how irrational, or how counter-intuitive to reality. These virtual lunatics on both the political left and right share the same voting booths as you and I, and are able to pass themselves off as part of the “informed” electorate, who share the responsibility for putting into office other such “rational” individuals who are only too happy to polly-parrot these extreme beliefs in the name of voter support (just listen to the things that come out of the mouths of Michelle Bachmann or Barney Frank).
We’re also fickle to no end. We have a “Mac-Mentality;” we want “solutions” hot, fast, and now…forgetting that it took years for many of the issues facing the country to make themselves known. We are quick to overlook the fact that our politicians are not magicians…they cannot fix any problem as fast as we would like. Because of this, we will vacillate between election-year political party candidates as often as we change underwear. And quite understandably, our politicians don’t know what issue to support or where people actually stand on a given issue—unless said issues are being spoon-fed to the voting electorate. So they too bounce back and forth between “for” and “against” certain policies. Our political leadership’s inability to stand on one particular aspect of an issue may be irritating, but it’s also a reflection of our own ability to stand still on an issue in a realistic sense. We tend to take sides, as if either side wears the white hats. As I’ve often said on so many occasions, we are too quick to attack the other guy, and reject the worst possibilities of our own political affiliations.
Big Money Influence
In the last few years, Supreme Court decisions have all-but eviscerated the notion that the voting public effects both legislation and voting rights. Rulings like Citizens United have opened the floodgates for the infusion of endless amounts of cash “donations” into the political process by both private and political interests seeking to influence who makes the laws and how they are made. Under the veneer of “Free Speech,” connected political, financial, and organized private interests groups—those usually tied to business—are now able to purchase public policy (and/or its handlers). Private and moneyed interests are not able to shape and mold a government virtually according to their own design.
And since most of us, the voting electorate, tend to accept and heed the talking points of our political affiliations rather than reason and individual thinking, we buy into this dynamic. Too many Americans—who we only have our votes as an instrument of gaining a say in the political process—are too quick to defend the Big Money interests who have more sway over our lives than we like to think because they can influence how our legislators think and behave. We are literally voting and supporting a status quo that works against our self-interests when we protect and defend the infusion of [the] obscene amounts of money into the political process. This is true whether it be in the legalized form of bribery we call “lobbying,” or when we allow shadowy political groups to throw tons of money into campaigns that call for voting for an issue or candidate that we support simply because it reflects our political affiliations.
The Changing Economy
Oddly enough, when America had a stable Middle Class, and when we were a nation that actually produced manufactured goods, we had a stable voting electorate. There were fewer socioeconomic and political divisions by which our politicians could drive a wedge through to exploit for personal gain. In fact, quite the opposite; we were more willing to overlook both the political decisions and indiscretions of our elected leaders because the effects of either didn’t seem to have an overt consequence to the public at-large. Iran-Contra didn’t turn into a general clamor for impeachment (except from the extreme Left). Former Washington D.C. mayor Marion Barry’s conviction for drug use during an FBI sting—one caught on video—didn’t affect his eventual re-election to that same position. And despite his allusions that his contentious congressional confirmation had racial overtones, Clarence Thomas was eventually confirmed as a Supreme Court justice.
Our tolerance for decisions weak and/or questionable political decisions was far greater, relegated to the “all politicians lie,” or the “It doesn’t affect me and my family” ethos. As long as gasoline was cheap, jobs that actually paid the bills were still available, financial institutions were not overtly greedy (and corrupt), and our economy was still the envy of the world, why would any of us have complained…much less organize enough to take sides. But along the way, the economy and our political sensitivities started to change. While good-paying manufacturing began moving offshore in an effort to compete with the invasion of cheaper foreign-made products, a lower-paying service-based economy took over. Organized labor—unions—was assaulted from two points; the reduction in their numbers due to the off-shoring of jobs, and an assault on laws meant to protect union practices by business-friendly Republicans. This assault included curtailing laws that made it easier for Democratic-leaning to fund Democratic candidates and worker-friendly legislation. With unions (and their political money) weakened to historical levels, a supportive money supply to the Democratic Party was dried. This forced the Democrats into bed with the same kind of Big Money and private interest groups that the Republicans had cozied up to years earlier in order to raise party fund money (see: Lobbying Spending By Sector). Although many of those supporting legislation responsible for weakening organized labor will usually make references to “election fairness,” “economic concerns,” accusations of union “corruption” as justifications for doing so, make no mistake about it—attacks on unions were more about securing political advantage for benefitting political parties (and candidates), and not for the greater good (although one would be hard-pressed to deny that denials of such provide for the most elegant of rebuttals).
What's worse, many rank-and-file Americans have started to buy into the political narrative (put forth in part to defend the actions of those jockying for political fund-raising advantage) that "union greed" is what was responsible for the transformation of the American economy rather than the natural and inevitable drive by manufacturers to drastically find a way to increase profits in the face increasing global competition. We have forgetten that it was the labor-friendly demands of unions—higher wages, benefits, and reasonable hours to name a few—that helped to create a stable Middle Class in the first place. This leads into the final factor contributing to our sad state of politics in America...
The Political Class
When I talk about the political class in America, what I am generally speaking to are not only career lobbyists, but career politicians, elected members of both major political parties, 501 (C )(4) political organizations (associated non-disclosed donors), and regular corporate economic entities—all of which/who form what can be unarguably considered the new ruling oligarchy in America. This is the say that these groups and individuals are so politically active and themselves informed about the inner workings as well as the mechanics of the legislative process that they can literally shape laws that benefit each entity and individual within this ruling political class. Our politicians are merely a means to this end. In most cases, these people and/or groups can be recognized by their constant presence in politics, their last names—especially in the cases of political “dynasties” (e.g., families that constantly produce career politicians)—and the influence they wield in affecting the legislative process.
Regardless of political party affiliation, most of the ruling oligarchy tends to be mainstays in the halls of power in this country, with some 50% of retiring or electorally defeated Congressmen taking up with lobbying firms in continuing to influence the legislative process on behalf of the highest bidder.
Even in the case of the few who aren’t as personally motivated by monetary gain, they are too beholden to their ideological (and by extension, their political party’s) beliefs to be effective legislators. This means that they tend to embrace party-lines and baseless thinking in order to appeal to their respective bases and remain in power for the sake of careers in “public service.” This is why climate change deniers, race-baiters, proponents of immigration “reform,” and those who think all taxes are “bad” tend to maintain their popularity among their respective supporters. This means that many of our elected leadership will literally say and promise anything in order to protect their political positions. Many have conned the American voting electorate into thinking we actually have a choice—via our votes—over which direction our country should go when it comes to the legislative process when in reality, the politically-connected ruling oligarchy makes these decisions.
Admittedly somewhat cynical, our American oligarchs have designs to pull the strings of political system in order to suck as much wealth as possible from the nation (and its people) by ensuring cheaper labor, government subsidies, and other favorable legislation that ensures greater profits and the free flow of capital among and between each other. Additionally, political oligarchs in this country seek to hoard the wealth they collect by saving money in the form of tax cuts and favorable tax rates. To enable these designs, political oligarchs employ a army of lawyers, image consultants, and public relations too sculpt favorable images of politicians who work to protect the wealth of their fellow oligarchs.
Politicians and other members of the political class all-but crippled the Middle Class by sucking all the wealth and promise out from it via usurping the political and legislative process. And without a strong middle class, America cannot offer its citizens a chance to improve their lives, to maintain the infrastructure required for commerce and growth, or support those citizens that need a safety net thanks to lower-paying employment (See: “How the Middle-Class Got Screwed”). The political class cheats the system as it was meant to be in order to steal the wealth of our nation and hoard it for themselves.
But in order to keep attention off of themselves and their designs, oligarchs will often sow the seeds of dissent among competing groups of Americans. Liberal vs. conservatives. Immigrants vs. native-born citizens. Ethnicity vs. ethnicity. We blame each other for “ruining the country,” while the political class benefits. The fact is, when you look at the military, you will find both liberals and conservatives in uniform. I would like to believe that both liberals, conservatives, as well as those in between love that the American Constitution is supposed to reflect the will of the people, not the special interests, and certainly not the interests of the political (and economic) ruling class in America. However, as much as we would like to believe that our vote counts, it seems that our country is being controlled and manipulated by the moneyed and politically-connected elite—and not We The People!