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Whither Democracy, Part 2

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Message Fred Gohlke
Corruption pervades our political system because the parties control the selection of candidates for public office. Candidates are not chosen for their integrity.  Quite the contrary, they are chosen after they demonstrate their willingness and ability to dissemble, to obfuscate and to mislead the electorate.  They are chosen when they prove they will renounce principle and sacrifice honor for the benefit of their party.

The result is a circular process that intensifies over time:

* Candidates for public office cannot mount a viable campaign without party sponsorship, so they obtain sponsorship by agreeing to support the party.

* The party, assured of the loyalty of its candidates, attracts donors because it can promise that its candidates will support the objectives set by the party, i.e., the goals of the donors.

* From the donors, the party obtains the funds it needs to attract appealing candidates and bind them to the party's will.

This cycle makes political parties conduits for corruption .  The organizations they target for funds are not altruistic.  They demand - and get - the laws they demand in our state and national legislatures in return for providing the resources the parties need.  Businesses, labor unions and other vested interests give immense amounts of money and logistical support to political parties to push their agenda and to secure the passage of laws that benefit the donors.

The political parties meet their commitment to the donors by picking politicians who can be relied upon to enact the laws and implement the policies the donors' desire.  The politicians so selected are the least principled of our citizens, but are the only choices available to the American people in our 'free' elections.

The result is a system that renounces virtue and is ruled by cynicism.

None of this is a secret.  The parties conduct their business with our knowledge and tacit approval.  We know, full well, how they operate.  We know about the 'party bosses', 'pork barrels', 'party loyalty', 'slush funds', 'party whips', 'soft money' and the whole lexicon of political manipulation.  Since we know these things exist and do not prevent them, we are responsible for the very corruption we decry.

The Corrosive Effect Of Campaigning
The high cost of election campaigns makes conventional democratic systems susceptible to the influence of money.  Even worse than the inherently corruptive nature of soliciting funds to finance a campaign, which invites demands from the financial backers, is the corrosive effect of campaigning on the candidate's psyche.

Candidates must appear to stand for something but, to attract support, they continually adjust their assertions to appeal to the diverse groups whose votes are required for their election.  Their personal beliefs must be subordinated to the interests of their audience.  By campaigning, they gain expertise in avoiding direct answers to important questions and diverting attention from unwelcome topics.

Campaigning is the antithesis of open inquiry, it is one-way communication centered on deceit, misdirection and obfuscation rather than integrity and commitment to the public interest.  That is why the term 'politician' is pejorative.  The process of campaigning produces people adept at appearing to champion some idea while standing for nothing but their own success.  Political campaigning is a training course in the art of deception.

To make matters worse, candidates are incessantly lionized by their supporters.  This, coupled with the insidious effect of repeatedly proclaiming their own rectitude seduces them into believing their own press clippings.  These things have a debilitating effect on the candidate's character, and, since morality is a top-down phenomenon, choosing political leaders by this method destroys society.

It is frustrating that the people already know these things but have come to believe them unavoidable.  If we wish to improve our political systems, we must acknowledge the adverse effects of campaign-based politics and devise a better way to select our political leaders.

The Myth Of Corruptibility
Some people say we cannot remove corruption from our political systems because humans are corruptible.  Why should we believe such a canard?  We are misled by the high visibility of deceit and corruption in our culture.  The idea that it is inescapable leads to the self-defeating notion that trying to correct it is futile.

The reality is that the vast majority of humans are honorable, law-abiding people.  They have to be, for society could not exist otherwise.  By far, the greater percentage of our friends, our relatives, our co-workers and our neighbors are trustworthy people.

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I was born just before the Great Depression. I learned our country's virtues in a one-room schoolhouse and it sickens me to see them trampled as they have been. My perceptions of "right" and "wrong" have been strong motivating forces in my life (more...)
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