Thursday, March 30, 2006 6:16 PM
4 Comments »
The problem the Abramoff scandal highlights is not a new one, only the most recent (and perhaps most egregious) example of a process gone amok of “buying and selling” votes that has been going on for a long time. The GOP has been in power since Newt Gingrich–remember “the Contract with America”?–led a resurgent, reform-minded Republican Party to victory in 1994 (in the wake of ethical questions and other issues that largely discredited the then in-power Democrats). Some good things were indeed achieved, but, as Lord Action once said, “power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Both parties (and this time more particularly the GOP) are guilty of manipulating the system for gain. The system, sadly, invites such manipulation.
Unfortunately, the abuses visited upon the American people will not get any better until there is a thorough reform at all levels of government. What we have today, at most levels, is most definitely NOT the limited, open, republican form of government that the Founders envisioned or what James Madison in The Federalist Papers hoped for. Nor, even, is it the kind of “republican” government that Americans a century ago–and without TV and radio 30 second ads–once knew. As I am sure both Carter and Gary would admit, money drives just about all politics: no money, no ads, no election victory. When was the last time, on a state or national level, that a candidate was able to barnstorm around the country, cash poor, and still win an election? Hmm…I’ll bet we can count such instances on one hand. And, worse, most efforts aimed at reform are either half-hearted, or crafted to carefully exempt the individual or group doing the proposing. The problem is that the two dominant political parties don’t really want reform, and neither do they want real competition (witness what they did in the year 2000 to sabotage the Pat Buchanan campaign, of which I was a part). What we have in the United States presently is a politico-financial oligarchy, and if you don’t submit yourself to one or the other oligarhs, you might as well give up any hope of having much of an effective political role.
We all believe–or should believe—in the right to contribute to the political candidate and party of our choice. The problem in our so-called “democracy” is that large business concerns, unions, pressure groups, and others can and do literally “buy” candidates lock-stock-and-barrel, and then, without the vast majority of citizens EVER seeing the candidate face to face, convey an image over TV that candidate X is the greatest thing since sliced cheese. As the polls consistently show, many, if not most, Americans are more or less hoodwinked by the TV glitz and the promises of Utopia (and then vote like sheep); others simply feel they have no say in the system.
So, what to do? The question is a thorny one. I’ve heard no one give a real plan that would do anything but window-dressing. Okay, federally-financed campaigns can raise constitutional issues, although we certainly need to look at ways to insure that all funds raised are done so legally, publicly, and with no “quid pro quo” understanding between donor and candidate. Laws already exist touching on this, but they need to be enforced and strengthened. “Soft money,” where limits are less stringent than money given to particular campaigns, should fall under the same stringent ceilings as direct contributions. The major networks must continue to offer ample free time to all major candidates prior to elections, both primary and general ones. I would halt ALL campaign-sponsored TV/radio ads 30 days before a presidential election–except for the ample free time given to each candidate. My most radical idea is this: instead of making voting easier and almost a casual affair, we need to raise voting standards, make voting harder to do, and make it a much-desired “privilege” (which is what the Founders clearly intended). Too many of our citizens are like sheep when it comes to voting, too many are easily swayed by the glitzy ad, catch-words, or the visuals of a smiley John Edwards or war hero John McClain. Although I suppose the re-imposition of “literacy tests” wouldn’t pass constitutional muster, I’d would like to see some sort of combination of constitutionally-acceptable literacy requirements with, or example, participation in the IRS, as a basis for voting. And before I get hit over the head for uttering the inutterable (which I surely expect!), let me say that I don’t think that such an application would favor any particular party, group, sex, or race over any other party, group, sex, or race. I just believe that an informed citizenry is an absolutely necessary piece of this puzzle if we are continue to have any semblance of a representative system.
Dr. Boyd Cathey 1/15/06
Comment by Dr. Boyd D. Cathey — January 15, 2006 @ 10:01 am
“I would halt ALL campaign-sponsored TV/radio ads 30 days before a presidential election–except for the ample free time given to each candidate.”
And the First Amendment be damned, then.
I agree that voting should be made harder, not easier, and that networks should be made to provide some public use time in exchange for using the people’s frequencies. However, the solution to insipid, misleading TV and radio commericals is MORE speech, not less. Sure, require full disclosure of every dollar spent on a campaign–from where (and from whom) it came and where it went. But you can’t restrict what people do with their money and still call this a free country. So what if a company, or a union, or some idiot millionaire like George Soros dumps money on a candidate to fund a gazillion commercials? As long as the people know that’s happening and are free to make up their own minds as to how they feel about it, our democracy works. LIMITING speech by limiting who can give to campaigns (and how much) is un-democratic and ultimately counter-productive.
Comment by Jim Stegall — January 16, 2006 @ 8:18 pm
The First Amendment is, perhaps sadly, not absolute, and court decisions over the past two centuries have indicated just that. “Free speech” is not unlimited. Just as I cannot scream “fire” in crowded theater, so I cannot with impunity give a million bucks to Al-Queida (and expect no retribution from the Feds!). The difficulty is maintaining and safeguarding “reasonable” and constitutional limits. The solution that says “just let the people decide” sounds great, but in practice it presumes that you have an electorate that is rationally capable of deciding. This was indeed Madison’s caveat about our republican system. The system we have today actually prevents and inhibits the “people” from freely engaging in a real decision process. Our “democracy” does NOT work when money determines what we hear and see. Rather, our “democracy” has become a financial “oligarchy,” with money deciding what we think and how we vote.
Comment by Dr. Boyd D. Cathey — January 19, 2006 @ 10:40 am
Your view of the First Amendment and its role in our civic life is quite disturbing, as is your dismissal of the people’s ability to make rational choices. I certainly don’t agree with all the choices our electorate makes every cycle, but shutting down campaigns and cutting off debate doesn’t make anyone smarter or more capable of making wise choices.
Comment by Jim Stegall — February 3, 2006 @ 10:45 pm