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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 7/18/13

Let's Treat Mainstream Pols as Guilty Till Proven Innocent

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Human life would be unbearably complicated if we had to think out every little decision. Like, for example, whether it's safe to ride subways or airplanes, or to walk by day or night in certain sections of town. Based on what we know through experience (ours or other people's), we make general rules of thumb about such things, sometimes relying on analogous experiences (or simply hunches) if we must act without enough information for a good rule of thumb. And based on new experience--like whether a neighborhood we walk through has "gone to the dogs"--we sometimes have to revise our rules of thumb.

Tweedledum and Tweedledee
Tweedledum and Tweedledee
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Tweedledum and Tweedledee by Iburiedpaul

Tweedledum and Tweedledee by Iburiedpaul

Mainstream politics has never been Mr. Rogers' neighborhood, but it was once tolerably safe to walk through. Under the influence of ever-worsening economic inequality and corporate bribery, it clearly has gone to the dogs--but we've been insanely slow in revising our rule of thumb concerning this daily more treacherous neighborhood. We clearly need a political movement--the equivalent of a national Neighborhood Watch--dedicated to alerting Americans to the growing danger and steering them away from mainstream politicians. Who, with corporate-payola deals like the Trans-Pacific Partnership in the works, deserve as much trust as drug lords.

I've already proposed a new movement, tentatively called Democracy Unchained, based on this changed rule of thumb. While I don't insist on the name--that should be up to movement participants--I hope people will take its central principle of distrusting the political mainstream VERY seriously. Since the political mainstream consists of the corrupt Democrat-Republican duopoly, the quickest way of framing this is an "anti-duopoly" movement. In fact, it's because the initials DU of Democracy Unchained are the first two letters of "duopoly" that I've become so attached to the name. I've also grown quite fond of "Undo the Duopoly" as a slogan--and it doesn't take much of an advertising mind to transform that first word into "UN-DU."

So how would the new principle of distrusting the "mainstream political neighborhood" work in practice? Quite like the rule of thumb we follow in regard to bad neighborhoods: we simply don't go there. In other words, the new movement would be based on participants taking a pledge NEVER to vote for mainstream Democrat or Republican pols UNLESS specifically endorsed by the movement. And movement endorsement would be based largely (though not exclusively) on a candidate's refusal to take donations from anybody but individuals EXCEPT as specified by the movement. Let me explain the exceptions.

The point of the new anti-duopoly movement is NOT to make statements about political purity but to get candidates elected who'll serve "We the People." Of course, it's also to forcefully pressure duopoly politicians to initiate reform by proving we're ready to inflict heavy political pain on them for not doing so. To be sure, serious campaign (and lobbying) reform must be a central part of our agenda. But until reform purging the influence of corporate dollars from politics is in place, we must realistically accept infusions of corporate money that AREN'T likely to corrupt our policy. Consider, for example, what I call the "green money is clean money" exception. Since a rapid phasing out of fossil fuels is essential to arresting deadly climate change, this will be a policy commitment we'll demand from our candidates even if we don't receive a penny from renewables-industry companies or venture capitalists. But it's hard to believe they WOULDN'T wish to donate to a movement whose agenda so favors their products. And as long as there are no quid-pro-quos involved (like, say, favoring wind over solar or vice versa), I see no harm in accepting this money, since our policy is already inflexibly pro-renewables. But science and economics alone must decide the renewables mix.

I'd likewise entertain making an exception if someone enduringly public-spirited like Ralph Nader, pursuing one of his own pet ideas, were to persuade some civic-minded rich people to donate to the movement. But this would have to be on a no-strings-attached basis. Their ability to influence movement policy would have to be the same as everyone else's--based solely on the merit of their ideas for fostering democracy. Limiting the influence of such donors would probably be trickier in practice than in the renewable-industries case, so I advise caution in allowing this exception. But nor would I reject it out of hand.

Much detail remains to be decided about such a new movement; for example, whether it would seek to form its own political party or simply support a broad nonpartisan agenda and leave participants free to work out the politics from their own place in the political spectrum. I personally favor the second approach, since I see the movement's foremost purpose as raising consciousness--in a nonpartisan way--about how bad the duopoly is and the real power we have to change that. For a rough sketch of how this second approach--a nonpartisan movement with partisan branches--would work, see my earlier OEN article "Democracy Unchained--Blueprint for a Revitalized Occupy."

Anyone who reads that article will see that the proposed successor movement to Occupy intends to improve on Occupy by making political demands and pursuing electoral strategies for enforcing them. So another issue to be worked out is the nature of the demands, like whether the anti-duopoly movement focuses on the single issue of corporate money in politics, or whether it pushes a small, coherent platform. (Obviously, if this movement is to attract bipartisan support, the range of demands MUST be small.) Myself, I favor the small, coherent platform. By that I mean the central issue of corporate money in politics--both campaign finance and lobbying money--and two other absolutely crucial issues that are practically corollaries of undue Big Money influence: clamping down on the fossil-fuel industry and the military-industrial-surveillance complex. The almost incestuous relationships of these two industry complexes with government are obviously branches of the "money in politics" problem--branches we'd better lop from our national tree before they strangle our climate and environment (fossil fuels) or our privacy and democracy (the military-industrial-surveillance complex.) And in the latter case, we're also talking a VAST, unnecessary waste of resources that would be far better spent improving our domestic lives and infrastructure than making foreign enemies.

Anyway, those are my latest practical thoughts on enforcing a "guilty till proven innocent approach" toward our deeply dysfunctional political mainstream. These thoughts are my own and not the official position of Time to Restore Democracy, but anyone interested will find the TTRD Facebook page ( ) an excellent, nonpartisan place for discussing our lost democracy and practical schemes for restoring it.

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Patrick Walker is co-founder of Revolt Against Plutocracy (RAP) and the Bernie or Bust movement it spawned. Before that, he cut his activist teeth with the anti-fracking and Occupy Scranton PA movements. No longer with RAP, he wields his pen (more...)

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