Sunday, January 12, 2014

U.S. No Longer a Democracy

 I was sitting at home, trying (unsuccessfully) to claim my weekly unemployment benefits when it struck me: the U.S. is no longer a democracy. In fact, this may be a worldwide phenomenon (I think it was Naomi Klein who first suggested in her book The Shock Doctrine that nation-states no longer exist, only international corporations), but let’s concentrate for the moment on the United States.
Here I was, once again, siding with the majority of public opinion (in this case, to extend unemployment benefits) and our duly elected government was, once again, failing to do what we elected them to do.
This was not the first time this had happened. As we have seen before with gun control and countless other issues, public opinion is worthless when it meets the big dollars of the lobbyists and the corporations who really run this country. (This Town by Mark Leibovich is a must-read on this topic.)
Today’s front-page story in The New York Times confirmed my belief once again: “A National Strategy Funds State Political Monopolies.” The story details how various political action committees all over the country are funneling money into state political campaigns (often not even in their own state) due to the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision.
In my part of the country, New York, people are currently fuming over Chris Christie’s abuse of his power as governor of New Jersey to extract political revenge on the mayor of Fort Lee, New Jersey by blocking traffic on the George Washington Bridge. But what I find really shocking is the culture that allowed this to happen. Like many others, I was naively wondering how Chris Christie not only won the governor’s race, but did so by a landslide. He did this by a culture of intimidation where even local Democratic mayors were afraid to speak against him, and that made it almost impossible for even a viable candidate like Barbara Buono to raise money. Because politics in America, like everything else these days, is all about money. And if you don’t have money, it doesn’t matter if you’re Abraham Freakin’ Lincoln, you are dead in the water.
And that takes us back to today’s front-page story in the Times and the larger story about why the Worst Congress EverTM has passed fewer bills and had more filibusters than any other Congress in history. Because if you’re not waving a $100,000 check in front of their face, they couldn’t care less. We’ve seen it time and time again, whether it’s unemployment insurance, food stamps, health care, education, gun control, gay marriage, women’s reproductive rights, you name it. Money talks, bullshit walks.
I’ve seen this personally, as I’ve been on the phone trying to call members of Congress every day while this unemployment battle has been going on. I’ve gone on television four times, I’ve been on the radio and in the press talking about the need to extend unemployment insurance, and Congress continues to go on about their business as if nothing ever happened. And that’s just me.
There are hundreds, if not thousands, of people all over the country who have been writing and calling their members of Congress and are being met with a deafening silence. And we have a President who can talk the talk, but (at least so far) doesn’t walk the walk.
So, God help me, if we ever get through this unemployment battle, our next battle is going to be campaign finance reform. Because as long as our elected officials spend 90 percent of their time raising money and 10 percent of their time actually legislating, nothing will ever change.

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