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What American Democracy, Exactly, Are We Exporting?

By Dave Lindorff  Posted by Rob Kall (about the submitter)       (Page 1 of 2 pages)     Permalink

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Back in November 1991, when I was teaching journalism to a group of Chinese graduate students at the Fudan University Graduate School of Journalism in Shanghai as a Fulbright Scholar, I had an opportunity to show my class democracy at work. I had just received a ballot for the town election in my home back in Spencer, a small community in upstate New York.

The students were excited when I came to class carrying my ballot envelope.

It was only two years after the Tiananmen Square protests, which had also had their reflection in student demonstrations in Shanghai. Some of my students, undergraduates in 1989, had actually been on Tiananmen Square the night the tanks had come in and the shooting started. Others had commandeered buses and buildings in Shanghai in support of their comrades in Beijing. They had all been calling for just the democracy that I was holding in my hand.

I opened the envelope and pulled out the paper ballot, and passed it around the class.

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There were bewildered looks from students as the long paper strip was handed around.

I hadn't looked at it yet, so I wasn't sure what the confusion was all about.

Finally, one student asked me, "Where are the choices? It seems as if each office only has one candidate to select."

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I went over an examined the ballot. Sure enough, for nearly every office, except for tax collector (Spencer had just had a scandal with the incumbent tax collector arrested for embezzlement in the theft of several thousand dollars' worth of residents' tax payment checks), there was only one candidate, invariably a Republican.

I explained that in many parts of the country--upstate New York, which is almost entirely Republican territory, is an example--the voter registration is so overwhelmingly one party that no one from the opposing party bothers to run. The opposition party in such regions often cannot find anyone willing to waste time being a candidate.

"But that 's just like our elections," said one disappointed student.

It was, I confess, an embarrassing moment.

In fact, the situation is all too common in the United States of America. And it is actually worse than it looks. In many political races, the opposition candidate or candidates are really not serious opponents. They run, knowing that they have no chance of winning, but just out of either a sense of civic duty, or perhaps to raise issues and to try and force the inevitable victor to address them.

In Congress, we are told that of 435 seats in the House of Representatives, only some 27, or at best 30--well less than 10 percent--are "competitive." The rest of the seats are in districts that have been so carefully gerrymandered that opposition is futile. (Only recently, House whip-in-exile Tom Delay engineered a corrupt redistricting in Texas that predictably added seven new Republicans to the House by simply running new district lines through black or Latino neighborhoods to divide up their votes and create safe, white Republican districts.)

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Given that polls consistently show most Americans believe Congress is full of corrupt and self-serving crooks and charlatans, what this says about American citizens is that they are for the most part so unthinking, so gullible, so lazy or so resigned, that they can simply be counted on to either not vote or to vote for the incumbent that their votes are already known before they 're cast.

The reason third parties have so little success in US elections is not just that the system is constitutionally constructed to block them; it's that the electorate is too lazy to listen to their arguments, or to consider their candidates. In much of the country, citizens don't even listen to the main so-called opposition candidates. They don't even pay attention to the incumbents that they put in office before.

Democracy in the U.S., at least as described in high school civics books, does not exist today. We only go through the motions, and indeed, in elections like the coming off-year congressional election that will put all 435 House Seats and a third of the Senate's 100 seats up for grabs, it will be amazing if more than a third of eligible voters even go to the polls. Only half of them bother to go even in presidential election years.

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Rob Kall is an award winning journalist, inventor, software architect, connector and visionary. His work and his writing have been featured in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, CNN, ABC, the HuffingtonPost, Success, Discover and other media. He's given talks and workshops to Fortune 500 execs and national medical and psychological organizations, and pioneered first-of-their-kind conferences in Positive Psychology, Brain Science and Story. He hosts some of the world's smartest, most interesting and powerful people on his Bottom Up Radio Show, and founded and publishes one of the top Google- ranked progressive news and opinion sites, OpEdNews.com

more detailed bio: 

Rob Kall has spent his adult life as an awakener and empowerer-- first in the field of biofeedback, inventing products, developing software and a music recording label, MuPsych, within the company he founded in 1978-- Futurehealth, and founding, organizing and running 3 conferences: Winter Brain, on Neurofeedback and consciousness, Optimal Functioning and Positive Psychology (a pioneer in the field of Positive Psychology, first presenting workshops on it in 1985) and Storycon Summit Meeting on the Art Science and Application of Story-- each the first of their kind.  Then, when he found the process of raising people's consciousness and empowering them to take more control of their lives  one person at a time was too slow, he founded Opednews.com-- which has been the top search result on Google for the terms liberal news and progressive opinion for several years. Rob began his Bottom-up Radio show, broadcast on WNJC 1360 AM to Metro Philly, also available on iTunes, covering the transition of our culture, business and world from predominantly Top-down (hierarchical, centralized, authoritarian, patriarchal, big)  to bottom-up (egalitarian, local, interdependent, grassroots, archetypal feminine and small.) Recent long-term projects include a book, Bottom-up-- The Connection Revolution, debillionairizing the planet and the Psychopathy Defense and Optimization Project. 

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