Is there a teeny tiny bit of hubris involved when writing a post title like this one? Perhaps.
America is being destroyed by its own political system. So to save her, we must attack the root of the problem rather than the symptoms. Problems with the banks, the education system, the health care system, the border wars, the deficit spending and on and on are symptoms. The disease itself is the political system. Reasonable people can certainly debate these symptoms and the best way to treat them, but they cannot argue what the root cause of it all is.
But I think the solution to this, our primary problem, is actually quite simple. In fact, I propose a simplification of everything using technology that did not exist at the time many of our existing policies (read: primitive traditions) first became so ingrained in our society. By not moving forward and adapting the way we govern to the new capabilities we have, we look every bit as backward as those communities in rural Pennsylvania and Ohio appear to us, pretending that progress arbitrarily stopped in the year 1845.
Our political system assumes that progress ceased in the 1970’s. Team Obama just spent $400 million in the last 18 months, a big chunk of which went to – I kid you not – phone banks ($24 million) and direct mail and postage ($46 million). And he’s supposed to be the tech-savvy one, lol.
Rather than writing another 1000 words on all the corruption and bribery of the lobbying process and then droning on and on about the whole Citizens United thing (which everyone knows is completely fucked in terms of how our forefathers envisioned democracy), I’ll just lay out my fixes now. The sooner they are published, the sooner they can be ignored.
Below I fix the political system (and, by extension, America) in just three steps. (As a quick caveat, you’ll tell me why they are impractical and can’t be done and whatever, rather than respond, I’ll just tell you that I’ve already thought those issues through and I’ve concluded that, too bad, it’s this or the shitshow we already have. And this, flaws and all, is better.)
Three Steps to Save America from the Politicians:
1. No More Electoral College or Polling Locations.
We vote directly for candidates on the internet from now on. We register there and vote there and spend whatever money/time necessary to clean up the security and technology to make this possible. We’re already doing this nationwide for American Idol candidates, please don’t tell me the Federal government can’t pick up that football and run with it, logistically speaking. James Altucher has talked about this idea before and I think he’s right.
And allow me to remind you (or enlighten you) about the fact that the electoral college is a racist construct to begin with – the very latest in negro subjugation technology from 1787. James Wilson and James Madison were both in favor of having the populace decide the presidential election as opposed to the Virginia Plan, which would have appointed Congress to the task. But ultimately, the idea of state appointed “electors” won out. This is because a popular vote for president would have rankled the landholding Southern gentry. Here’s Madison:
“There was one difficulty however of a serious nature attending an immediate choice by the people. The right of suffrage was much more diffusive in the Northern than the Southern States; and the latter could have no influence in the election on the score of Negroes. The substitution of electors obviated this difficulty and seemed on the whole to be liable to the fewest objections.”
In English, the Southern leadership knew that the more populous North would eventually have chosen a president who would take their slaves away so having an electoral college of “political gentlemen who understood these issues and traditions” would reduce the risk somewhat in their minds. They’d fight that particular battle less than a hundred years hence, but let’s not get off track…
Bottom line: It’s 2012, kill the electoral college and let’s use technology to the advantage of our democratic nation. Some traditions were meant to be broken as technology subsumed their usefulness – indirect voting for presidential candidates is one of them.
2. No More Campaign Contributions Period.
The current state of campaign financing makes our elected officials dumber and favors an already untouchable cabal of the powerful, connected and wealthy elite. There is nothing wrong with being wealthy and successful, there is everything wrong with using that wealth and success as a weapon against those who are looking for a similar opportunity to attain such status.
For example, does Sheldon Adelson’s opinion matter more than yours? For the unfamiliar, Adelson is the chairman of Las Vegas Sands, a company that has done a great deal of social good for America and is now over in Macao succoring the legendary gambling addiction of the Chinese kleptocratic bourgeoisie. With our current system, Adelson and his wife Miriam are able to drown out the voices of you and your family without even thinking twice about it. The Adelsons have spent $36 million on SuperPACs (special interest bundlers of money that serve as campaign slush funds for political races). That sure sounds like a lot of money – but not to them. You see, Sheldon and Miriam are worth $25 billion, so their outlay thus far in the election is equal to less than .15% of their assets. It’s like you buying tickets to take your family to a baseball game, essentially. Adelson has committed to spending up to $100 million to see his pony (Romney now, formerly Gingrich) win this race – but is every other middle class family going to spend the equivalent $300 per household to balance him out? Not likely! And why, you might ask, is Mr. Adelson so passionate about politics? Las Vegas Sands is paying an effective corporate tax rate of just 9.8% versus the national rate of 35% thanks to the almost-zero tax rate policy of his Asian casinos’ locales. Obama has talked about closing that loophole which would severely impact the profitability of Sheldon’s business.
But removing the money from politics is not just about fighting off corporate and interest group influence, it is about bettering the environment in which decisions that affect all of us are made.
Bill Clinton once talked about the reason why it seems that our modern elected officials seem so intellectually inferior to the statesmen and women of eras past. It’s not because our pols were born fucking idiots, it’s that our process made them into fucking idiots. Plus, it attracts those with enough ambition/ lack of shame to make it this far rather those who are actually competent.
When you watched the GOP series of 39 debates, you probably wondered aloud “is this the best we can do?” You’re not alone, most of us wondered that. The answer is that it’s not the best we can do, but the people who represent “the best we can do” could never withstand the scrutiny and relentless pace of begging that our current election mechanism mandates.
Clinton talks about a time when Congressional leaders could retire back to their home states between sessions, read and think and ponder the issues of the day so that they could go about making informed decisions upon their return. Not anymore. Now they are in fundraising mode 12 months a year, they have no choice. Rather than study issues and see problems firsthand and speak with experts, they are attending the ribbon-cutting ceremony at a fucking combination Hot Topic/ Dairy Queen in a strip mall somewhere in the exurbs of their state.
I got a fundraising email from President Obama the other day that made me cringe it was so beggarly (is that a word?). Can you imagine Teddy Roosevelt holding his hat out on a street corner, maybe singing a doo-wop song or squeegeeing your windows for you at an intersection? It was that cringe-inducing. We have an 8.3% unemployment rate, we’re in the process of winding down two wars, all hell is breaking loose in Syria, costs of living are rising while wages stagnate and the banks that just destroyed our economy by virtue of their sheer monstrosity have spent the last four years quadrupling in size.
And this guy needs money. What a humiliation to both him and us.
One possible solution to this endless sweepstakes is to look north. Canada does not allow this fundraising game show to go on all year round. The Prime Ministerial candidates are allocated an equal amount of taxpayer funds to run their campaigns how and where they see fit. It is contained and constrained so as not to breach the borders of bad taste and utter lunacy. How much better would our pols perform with the need to fund-raise out of the picture. How much more fair would state and local races be if people voted on the issues rather than who can buy the most airtime?
3. Referendums rather than influence peddling.
I begin here with a quote from the eminent G.K. Chesterton:
“The mere proposal to set the politician to watch the capitalist has been disturbed by the rather disconcerting discovery that they are both the same man. We are past the point where being a capitalist is the only way of becoming a politician, and we are dangerously near the point where being a politician is much the quickest way of becoming a capitalist.”
By bringing the election process onto the web and out of the backrooms, we immediately gain an upper hand in the age-old fight against corruption. We can also vote directly on specific issues themselves, thus removing a lot of the decision-making process from elected officials whom we’ve historically entrusted to “vote on behalf of their constituents.” We know now that they will typically vote based on who kicks in the most money to keep them in office or on powerful committees.
But what if our Reps and Senators no longer had the power to represent us on every issue? What if We the Double-Chinned People could log on, study the issue, check our Facebook timelines, study the issue a little more, surf some amateur porn, and then cast a vote directly? Why are we voting for representation rather than the issues themselves? In this age, we are told that everyone has their own brand online, we can build companies in less than 24 hours, raise money for them in less than 36 hours and become billionaires by registering the right domain name and Twitter handle. So why can’t we be our own politicians as well?
And think what this would do in terms of getting money out of the system. No more chokepoints, we become a fragmented and diverse (in other words, hyper-democratic) set of voting blocs. Can special interest groups bribe 5 million of us at a time? It is likely they cannot. Instead, they’ll have to spend ad dollars influencing us or – gasp – actually make their case through research and data. I like the idea of a nation of voters who read about the issues and then vote directly on them without just leaving things to the ex-lawyer with the winning smile they’ve elected. This might even make a portion of the population smarter.
So there you have it:
Get the money out of politics, end the influence peddling and remove a huge layer of bullshit bureaucracy from the elections themselves.
Sure there will be unintended consequences and a transition wouldn’t be simple. But your alternative is the world we have now.
How’s that working out for everyone?