Professional and amateur elections analysts are scrutinizing the elections and the major party candidates promising change. Many have theorized that the Democratic Party is too immersed in the past to win; others believe that the Republicans use of tears and fears over terrorism and their torrential fire-setting against democratic opponents will be enough to curtail significant wins by the party of the 'left'. Unfortunately, none of these analyses scratch very far beneath the surface. We all understand how effective the right wing polemic machine is, what a genius the 'architect' Karl Rove is at shuffling reality to make it appear illusory. Yet these ideas don't really get to the heart of the matter.
Our Constitutional founders instinctively understood how easily a Thin Democracy could be established. It's why they included duties along with rights for the American people. Without an attentive electorate, incumbent leaders work easily behind the scenes to ensure they remain in power. It really doesn't matter if they are democrats or republicans. Power unchecked is a recipe for disaster regardless of which party holds the majority of seats. Abuse of power becomes easier still with special interests luring our representatives away from their duty to the electorate by way of sustained campaign funding and perks in exchange for votes on legislation which cedes power away from the electorate and into the pockets of the special interests. We've seen it happen many times, most recently with lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Whenever legislators get caught we hear calls for reform, but somehow the reforms never take place. Yes, leaders promise to be good when we're watching-but once our attention gets diverted, they go back to business as usual.
A Living Democracy is not a hedge against corruption. However, an engaged electorate working in tandem with their representatives to create policy makes corruption much easier to detect sooner. More importantly, in a Living Democracy policy is created from the ground up rather than the top down, so we have a vested interest in making sure how our interests are represented don't become skewed.
Living Democracy requires a commitment from the people it serves. It asks for commitments of time and energy and frankly, Americans don't want to make sacrifices anymore. During World War II, Americans were asked to ration food, gasoline, and copper. They bought war bonds. When men were called into service, women took their places in factories. A sense of community was engaged. That sense of community was created because Americans in the 1940's believed they knew what democracy represented to the rest of the world and that our effort was needed to propel our idealism to stave off fascism. In 21st Century America, the idea of community for the most part has been eradicated. We come together during times of national crises-the World Trade Center attacks and Hurricane Katrina come to mind, and do our best to aid those who bared the brunt of those tragedies. But it doesn't last. Once we're told the crisis is over, we go back to our daily lives without another thought to those receiving our support. Without a continuous sense of community and the willingness to make sacrifices to form the society we want, America will continue under the rubric of Thin Democracy.
We get the kind of government we think we deserve. Without the constraints of a scrutinous public, leaders place the will of the electorate far behind the priorities of cash-heavy interests vying for their attention. If we want change, it's up to us to create the catalyst for it. It isn't necessary for our country to relive the mistakes of history over and over again. While the status quo may appeal to our penchant for having it all, without a direction for our country to follow, we truly have nothing.