This is How Democracy Dies

I’ve got to admit feeling politically hopeless lately. I’ve always felt that electoral politics had a chance to make the US progressively a better place. I thought Barack Obama would usher in a new progressive era in American politics.

But now it all just seems rigged. I mean, I knew Obama was in full support of capitalism, and wasn’t planning on moving us closer to a European/Canadian style socialism, as much as I’d hoped. But I thought we had truly turned a page. And since I know the Gen X and Y voters are so much more liberal than the baby boomers, it all just seemed a matter of time till his election was seen as a start of slow but steady shift towards the left, rationality, non-violent internationalism, and a more European-style bent to our politics.

And now I feel hopeless. Firstly, and most egregiously, there’s the US Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling, the one which allows unlimited donations by corporations, under the argument that they are people and allowed the right of free speech, even if these corporations are front organizations for anonymous donors, wealthy billionaires, or non-American citizens. So now corporations, a few wealthy individuals, multi-nationals, or whoever has cash can effectively buy US elections. Granted, you could buy US elections before, but there were at least a few hurdles. But now its as simple as pie, and it seems the midterm elections of 2010, a few days off, are the first fruits.

I blogged about this court case when it first happened, and I hoped that Democrats, knowing that if they didn’t do something immediately, would realize they stood no chance in the midterms against this, and needed to pass laws right away to mitigate this disaster while they had the chance. Seems they tried and failed. Though I never even heard they tried. It should’ve been a massive PR campaign, pulling out all the stops, as big as the healthcare debate, and it should’ve started immediately, as soon as the decision came down.

Now its too late. The election has been bought. And if/when the Republicans settle into the Congress they just purchased, they will never allow these laws to be repealed. The president an many democrats called this decision a fundamental threat to our democracy. But why didn’t they fight like our democracy was at stake? Because it really and truly is. Did the democrats think that unfettered spending by unions would mitigate the onslaught of Republican billions?

What can bring about change? My sense is only a grass-roots surge of protests so massive that the politicians HAVE to listen. But to bring about campaign finance reform?! “Get money out of politics.” I wish I could see the American masses taking to the streets over that. But even in the lead-up to the Iraq war, when half a million people hit the streets of NYC to protest (and I was there), along with a supposed 10 million worldwide on one particular day of action, nothing happened. The war still occurred.

And I thought that electing Barack Obama and getting a Democratic majority in the Congress would actually change things. There hasn’t been this much of a majority in the Congress for the Democrats in forever. This was the ‘best chance’ to get reform through, so we were supposed to make use of it to pass massive change. But the health care bill is so watered down, its hardly the socialism decried by the right. And if this was governmental power, why did it seem to pale in comparison to when the Republicans had power under Bush? When the democrats lined up to agree with them on a variety of things against their own stated principles? And yet, the Republicans never cave, they filibuster to the end. Always afraid to look extreme, Democrats do anything to seem ‘rational’, while the Repubs walk all over them.

I wish I could realistically predict a popular groundswell to overturn Citizens United. But most Americans seem blithely ignorant to the fact that even the simulacra of democracy in this country has just been sold.

To slightly modify quotes by T.S. Eliot and (I can’t believe this) George Lucas: “This is how Democracy dies: not with a bang, but with a whimper.”

Is Citizens United really a turning point? Is it the point at which electoral politics truly ceases to matter in this country? Have we just become a plutocracy, the country run by mega-corporations, as portrayed in so many dystopian sci-fi flics?

I’ve always felt that electoral politics shouldn’t be considered hopeless. Which is why I felt that electing Obama was the surest way to bring about the end to the Iraq War, as well as so many other abuses perpetrated by the US on itself and the world.

Boy it seems I was wrong.

Now it seems that instead of having bipolar country that swings between left and right, seems we now swing between right and barely center. When will the pendulum ever swing left? Its bad enough we have to be so freakishly bipolar, inflicting our mood swings on the rest of the world. But when so much of the population, especially the young, swings leftward, when will our government match that?

My fear is that this can only ever happen again if we truly start mobilizing massive street-level and grass-roots protests for campaign finance reform, to get money out of politics. My personal preference is for publicly funding elections, and getting ALL fundraising out of politics. The fact that ANY politician has to raise money EVER seems like an erosion of democracy, no matter how regulated it is.

But will the young of this country, and those who cherish freedom, really mobilize around such an unflashy sounding issue?

In our age of the society of the spectacle, it would seem that philosophers and cultural critics should be the ones who have answers on how to cut through the media hype and find ways to make social change possible again. But what have we to offer against Citizens United?

My philosopher/cultural critics brain has been pummeling this problem for weeks now, and increasingly so as the mid-term elections near. And I don’t have an answer, though I wish I did.

If the American public doesn’t wake up from reality TV, and mobilize to save the democracy that’s just been sold out from underneath it, we’re sunk.

How can we start to wake America up to realizing its democracy has just been finally sold?

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~ by chris on October 25, 2010.

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