While the pundits speculate over exactly what the voters said in the elections of 2006, let's take a moment to consider what our elections should, but don't, uphold and refresh: democracy itself.
In Wisconsin, the Green Party's candidate for governor was not invited to any of three televised gubernatorial debates, and exactly one intern reporter showed up for his election night reception.
This after being ravaged by a newspaper editor as a "no-name lifelong government bureaucrat" without "anything significant to say that isn't already being kicked around in the Capitol in a more realistic way." The newspaper the author works for is owned by Lee Enterprises, Inc, which owns 51 newspapers in 22 states.
The candidate noted that he'd taken an unpaid six-month leave from his job to run for governor because he thought voters would benefit from hearing another voice. His question, when finally granted an interview after the election: "Shouldn't the media be encouraging people to participate in democracy?"
In a democracy, the people advance their political candidates based on how they weigh in on the issues that concern them. In the United States our choice is invariably between two nominees carefully vetted and drafted through the largesse of rich private interests. These Trojan horses of big business then tell us they feel our pain. Whether or not those thus anointed ever mention the issues of most concern to the rest of us is increasingly immaterial. The show must go on.
In California, 35 new legislators will head to the capitol in Sacramento, there to be dealt business cards as reminders from the private business interests that control their prospects for success. California Ballot Initiative 89, designed to provide public funding for elections, went down in flames, yet corporate entertainment outlets masquerading as news services noted scant connection to the massive corporate resources poured into defeating the measure. Never mind that a Public Policy Institute of California survey recently revealed that by a 66 to 27 percent margin, Californians believe state government is "run by a few big interests looking after themselves rather than working for the benefit of all the people." "Either the public buys the politicians or the special interests will," commented an observer.
Although discontent by voters on many critical fronts (not limited to the war in Iraq, routine corruption, threats to civil liberties, environmental decline, runaway defense spending, widening economic inequality, tax cuts for the wealthy in the face of massive national debt, the decline of security in health, employment, and retirement) ran deep in 2006, prospects for real reform, even with the seemingly dramatic change in government, is naive. This is because a nation that supports two and only two - political parties subject to the uncontrolled influence of organized private wealth cannot be called a democracy. It may be an oligarchy (rule by the few), or it may be a plutocracy (rule by the wealthy). But it is not a democracy (rule of all the people).
Our winner-takes-all elections render the values and ideas of a significant portion of the population silent. Discussion of a more representative parliamentary system, in which political parties would gain representation commensurate with their appeal among voters, is blocked by jingoistic scorn and phony reverence for "the American way."
The allegiances of first the Republicans and now the Democrats are firmly cemented not to the citizenry they purport to represent, but to wealthy individuals and corporations. Both parties now act not to support democracy but to protect the elite from democracy.
Do we consider the realities of our elections acceptable because there is no other way? Or are we habituated participants in a dysfunctional protection scheme of historic proportions?
Despite the patronizing sound bites of windup politicians, true genius for overcoming our challenges really does exist in America. It just doesn't get heard because of its tendency to step on the most expensive shoes. Without a revival of truly democratic elections, we will continue to gag on the impoverished air of corrupt privilege.