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How to fix US Democracy

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Sweeping changes have to be made to restore the faith of Americans in their system of government. Recent polls have found that only 18% of Americans approved of the performance of congress. Of course, these numbers reflect on the poor Republican leadership but there is also a sense of hopelessness that nothing will ever come out of a new congress.

The Democrats have an excellent chance of regaining control of the House of Representatives and they will have to live up to higher expectations from the American people. The issues that surfaced in this campaign are more structural in nature. They question the utility of the system. Campaign finance and low voter turnouts are the two most chronic ailments that ironically shield the system from the benefit of real change and rejuvenation.

Elected politicians have no incentives to level the playing field so that their potential foes can unseat them. Every member of congress is like a feudal Lord; they sit there for 20, 30 or even 50 years. My own congressman, Representative John Conyers (D-Michigan) has been in the House for 40 years. My stomach turns every time I go to the voting booth and punch or fill in the circle next to his name. I am disgusted of a system that calls itself democratic when I have to vote for the same person every two years.

My congressman does not need my vote to win the elections. I, the regular voter, have very little power to influence any decision in this system. I write to my congressman and I send him emails but his power had become so entrenched that he does not even need to answer me. And he never does.

Our congress is not accountable to the people. The President chooses a policy course that 70% of the people disagree with, and the Supreme Court is appointed by the President. The original ideas contained in the constitution have become empty words used by powerful politicians to inspire us (the na-ve masses) to give them contributions.

It is estimated that a record 2.4 billion dollars will be spent on this election season. This money will reappoint at least 80% of the same 435 feudal Lords we call the lower House of Representatives. They will spend 2.4 trillion dollars of our money as next year's government budget. Those who financed the campaign get rewarded by receiving a hefty return on their political investment. Small investments of $1,000 and under may receive a "thank you" note.

Judgeships and special legislations cost at least $100,000 in this system. It is a capitalist democracy. If you have money you can invest in it and you have to tell them what you want in return. The gun lobby represented by the NRA buys politicians to tell us that guns on our streets are the greatest guarantee against government tyranny. Then, they give them laws that expand their markets. Seniors represented by AARP pay politicians to tell us that our elders must live in comfort and dignity. Insurance companies, churches, energy companies, defense industries, and lobbyists for every type of imaginable business interest pay politicians to sing their tune. It is a free market where power and influence are sold to the highest bidder.

People who care about advancing their own agendas contribute money to politicians. If they don't care enough then they won't dig into their pockets. That's the way professional politicians see it. But the constitution gave equal participation to everyone. So, the idea of buying influence makes this democracy only accessible to people with wealth. The constitution did not make democracy a privilege. Equality of influence is supposed to be the right of every citizen. Democracy was intended to create a free market of ideas but because it can be bought and sold, it has turned into a massive marketing campaign of targeted ideas.

If you have no money then you can sit at home, receive the pamphlets in the mail, watch the TV ads, and then go out and vote for the lesser of two evils. If nothing else, it'll give you a thrill for a moment when you fill in the circle next to the name of the leader of your choice. But a feeling of disappointment sets in as soon as you leave the voting precinct. You already know deep down inside that nothing will ever change. The only two choices on the ballot got there in the first place because they were able to raise the money to become viable candidates. Their names appeared on the ballot not because of you but in spite of you. Incumbent politicians sitting in office have an advantage of filling up their coffers in exchange for favors years ahead of an election. That's why they will never abolish this system.

Money should have no place in a democracy. It enslaves society to a set of ideas and a class of leaders that serve the interests of special groups of people at the expense of the silenced majority. Contributions should be banned from politics altogether and all campaigns should become publicly funded. A qualified candidate who collects the required petitions to run for a public office can apply for campaign funds. Candidates competing for the same office will receive an equal amount of money to fund their campaigns. This will open the door of democracy wide open to every person who is willing to do the hard work of leadership. Free from the obligations of investors, a leader can focus on doing what is right instead of what gets him more money for re-election.

It is estimated that 28 billion dollars will be earmarked by politicians in this year's budget. This is unnecessary pork barrel spending reserved by elected politicians to reward the people who financed their campaigns. It is cheaper for the taxpayer to pay 2.4 billions to fund the campaigns instead of 28 billions.

Most people who don't vote fail to see a direct benefit coming to them from their vote. They view Government as a permanent monkey riding on the back of the people. It is a tool of taxation and a source of constant struggle for power between corrupt politicians. If conservatives are disappointed with their GOP they stay at home and if Democrats are excited they go out and vote. Politicians compete to suppress the vote of their opposition. The system works towards the goal of achieving a low voter turnout. There is a self-defeating mechanism in this system.

Then, politicians reprimand us the voters for not getting involved to change the system. But they won't listen to us unless we give them money. And if we have money to give to them it won't be in our favor to change the current system. Community leaders blame their communities for not participating and individual voters say shame on us for allowing ourselves to become so helpless.

If voting is a basic right guaranteed by the constitution then it should become a compulsory obligation of citizenship, just like jury duty. In times of war, young men are drafted involuntarily into the armed forces to defend their nation. We are now facing a crisis and a structural breakdown in the system of government. These times call for such measures so we can begin fixing the most glaring defects in our system.
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Neal AbuNab is a Michigan-based author of "The War on Terror and Democracy"- available on He is a commentator on Arab and Muslim affairs and he can be reached at:
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