Thank you for being here and skipping the Pledge to America event in Sterling.
I'm going to try to be brief because I tend to be very long-winded answering questions, so I've learned to leave time for that. It may sound, as I speak, like I'm giving an overview of a lot of topics, so please keep in mind any that you want to ask questions about or raise concerns about.
I want to thank GMU and Dave Kuebrich for setting this event up and another event this evening set up with the George Mason Progressive Democrats of America and the College Democrats. If there's anything we don't have time to discuss here, we can continue it there. I'm assuming non-Democrats with the capital D are welcome, since I'm going.
Democrats with a small d are, I'm certain, welcome too, despite the fact that they would have to be revolutionaries, like the man this university is named for, not violent revolutionaries -- we're long past the age in which violence could make any sense at all -- but revolutionaries. If wars were expected to come to every capital in the world that lacked democracy and spread democracy to those places by blowing stuff up, I would think twice about living this close to Washington, D.C.
Eighty-six percent of Americans in a CNN poll in February said our government is broken. That's essentially unanimity. You can get 14 percent of Americans to say anything. At least 17 percent of those with jobs get their paychecks from the government or government contractors. Of course, they may all be among those who think the thing is broken.
It's odd that we would all think our government was broken, call it a democracy, and go fight wars to supposedly impose democracy on other countries, a concept that makes crystal clear how perverse our understanding of democracy is. Only, it's not odd at all, and not hypocritical on the part of Americans. A majority of us want to end our current wars. A majority even say the wars were wrong to begin with, even though a majority backed them at the time (when the argument had nothing to do with spreading democracy). Very likely a majority would think attacking Iran was a bad idea after we did it, assuming we all survived to share the regret.
A majority wants to substantially defund the military and to fund green energy, tax pollution, and invest in schools and jobs and housing. A majority wants corporations and billionaires to pay more taxes, and the rest of us to pay less. A strong majority opposes bailing out Wall Street. We are not at all inclined to give up Social Security, although a plurality would like people with large incomes to start paying into it at the same rate as people with smaller ones.
A majority would shed not a single tear if health insurance corporations were banished from the face of the earth rather than empowered to require that we buy their products. We want habeas corpus back and warrantless spying ended. We wanted Bush impeached. We see no need for putting weapons in space. We want to strengthen the United Nations. And we want election campaigns paid for publicly instead of merely purchased by wealthy candidates.
The same media outlets that produce all this polling information treat some of these majority positions as jokes. But our government treats them like the plague. And so we start to get the impression that something is broken. If it's a government of the people, why does it seem to be almost a matter of chance when the government occasionally does anything we want? Aren't we the people?
We have the wealthiest country in the world, but we're way behind and falling in measurements of health, infant mortality, job and retirement security, education, length of work week, and so on. We know our government's on a path that may someday be written about as a decline and fall, but we go through cycles of imagining the destruction has been halted whenever the president belongs to one political party or the other -- a fact that itself makes clear that our republic is in critical condition. People like George Mason took great risks to provide us a government where the opinions of one man alone could not guide the country. It was as well known then as now what a recipe for disaster that would be. And here we are tossing aside our inheritance.
Our congress members are expected to represent so many people now, about three quarters of a million each, that they can get away with representing none of them. Over in the Senate, one senator representing a half million people has the same vote as one supposedly representing 34 million. And a group of senators representing 11 percent of Americans can block most legislation in the Senate and the House through a disgusting invention called the filibuster, which we think is cool because Jimmy Stewart did it 70 years ago in a movie made by a guy who also made war propaganda films for the government.
We have so much freedom as a result of this wonderful system of government that we not only get countless choices of automobiles and toothpaste to choose from, but every two years we get to vote, in most cases, for the less offensive of two truly horrible and not terribly different candidates. And we don't have to concern ourselves any more than that, since whoever wins will ignore everything we say for a year and 11 months, our opinions no matter how well articulated are not permitted in the corporate media, and unless we're very wealthy or willing to please those who are we don't have to worry about running for office ourselves. What a bargain! It gives us a ton of free time, unless we want to -- you know -- earn a living.
I heard two statistics on the radio driving over here. Last month was the record for foreclosures. And the richest 400 Americans are doing better than ever and have piled up $1.4 trillion. Something is broken.
Early this year, the Supreme Court ruled that corporations can spend unlimited piles of cash on influencing elections. The idea was not, of course, to create fascism. There was no praise for bribery and corruption. Instead we're told that spending money is protected free speech, and that corporations are persons whose human rights should be protected. Congress members and the president expressed their dismay. Then they quickly went back to holding fundraisers and chatting with lobbyists about possible career moves after their government service. The Constitution doesn't explicitly say that calling money speech and corporations humans is lunacy any more than it provides a definition for the word 'is'. So, we probably will have to amend the Constitution if we keep it. The other option is getting a different Supreme Court. But other smaller steps are possible too.
Dave Kuebrich mentioned to me the Fair Elections Now Act, a bill with 164 cosponsors in the House and 24 in the Senate, that would follow the successful model some states have used of providing candidates with public campaign funding if they choose not to take private contributions. This would have to be voted on and passed by the servants of the corporations now funding our politics, and it would still not prevent unlimited spending on ads to influence elections. The spending just couldn't come from a candidate's campaign.
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Remarks at George Mason University, Fall for the Book, September 23, 2010. (Video available 9-24-2010 at
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