Saturday, July 14, 2012

The Loser Generation: Part Nine

Money in politics creates many problems that “losers” like us cannot hope to tackle on our own as long as the current system is in place. Let’s say your district’s Representative to the House has a bad track record. He supports lobbyists tangling up Congressional time, he consistently votes to raise his own salary, and wastes vast sums on getting reelected. What can you do about it?

To complicate matters – when the important matters do come up – he votes for what you would vote for. You agree with his views on foreign policy and boast of his domestic voting record on most issues. You fundamentally like his views, but do not appreciate his making Congress a club for the super-rich by encouraging lobbyists nor his being beholden to corporate interests.

Your option has always been to vote in the other guy. But why would you vote for a candidate who holds fundamentally different views? Moderate, conservative, or liberal, there’s little incentive to vote for a candidate who doesn’t reflect your opinions. Meanwhile your Party certainly isn’t going to replace the current Representative since he’s been reelected eight times in a row. You want someone who is like your guy, but who will work hard to make Congress more effective, not more dysfunctional —someone who isn’t part of the current money culture. You need an outsider; a new option.

Let’s call it the Legislative Party. It is the best hope we have to fixing our country. It doesn’t exist yet – but it could tomorrow, if we want it to. This party would run candidates specifically against individual seats, Democrat or Republican, who have a track record either of obstructionism or of pandering to moneyed interests. The Legislative Party would run individuals who were reflective of the constituency they were to represent. They’d be just like the candidate the district had always supported – except for their commitment to making Congress into an efficient, deliberative, lawmaking body. The Legislative Party candidates would be committed to getting bills passed quickly and professionally.

As members of the Legislative Party (LP), they would be pledged to introducing and supporting legislation to fix Congress. Three areas would be of their top concerns: Lobbying, the Citizen’s United decision, and Campaign Finance Reform. These problems must be addressed before Congress can change back to the more honest system it once was. On all other matters these candidates would vote based on their district’s preferences. Some would be conservative, some liberal, and, except for fixing Congress, would almost certainly not vote as a block. But when it came to fixing the Congress, they would be united with allies on both sides of the aisle.

(And Congress is definitely broken – to the point of crisis. For a body designed to create and vote on legislation is it surprising that now fewer days are spent voting?

“During the 1960s and 1970s, the average Congress was in session 323 days. In the 1980s and 1990s, the average declined to 278. But the days in session have since plummeted, with the likelihood that the first six years of the Bush presidency will show an average below 250 per two-year Congress.[1]

Nor are they spending this time in committee or subcommittee meetings. 5,372 such meetings in the 1960s and 1970s dropped steadily to 2,135 by 2005.[2])

The LP isn’t designed to run a Presidential candidate – it exists solely for the legislative branch of government, to ensure that the system is returned to efficiency and truly represents the human population, not the corporations.

In Supercapitalism Robert Reich concludes in his thoughtful and empirical study that forces like globalization and multinationals are here to stay, but that it doesn’t have to conflict with democratic process. The Legislative Party can be our stand to against those forces drowning out our voices.

We know, intuitively, that money tends to corrupt. But there is also plenty of evidence to back such a claim. “Since World War II, scores of lawmakers or their aides have been indicted or convicted of bribery, influence peddling, extortion and other crimes. And those were only the ones unlucky enough to get caught.”[3] In that time House has censured only five Representatives, three Democrats and two Republicans. Two have been expelled, nine have been reprimanded. Likewise three Senators have chosen to resign once expulsion procedures were begun, and four have been censured (including Joseph McCarthy). Abuses will not disappear, nor were all of them related to the role of money in politics – unfortunately a few scoundrels will likely always worm their way into the system by means of deception. But to ensure that they are then removed the rules must change, so as to not allow for incumbents to nearly always win their re-election, regardless of their actions. (Recall that over 90% of elections are won simply by the candidate with more money.) If bribery is doomed to be with us forever we can at least limit it to the fringes and smallest of donations. If strong laws are passed, and enforced, that have severe consequences for contribution irregularities this will become a reality. But how can we expect such action from those who deal with these sums, and have used these tactics, to achieve the offices that would enforce the law? How can we except campaign finance reform from people who got their position from the patronage of corporations?

Anyone who cares about their own future security, the future of the nation, the global economy – any interest in our future – needs to be concerned about Washington, particularly the Congress, being broken. The LP would seek to fix this most critical problem. Not every Representative and Senator is an enemy, for some have been trying in earnest to fix this. But this scheme is perhaps our best hope at restoring democracy to America, and rooting out plutocracy. It is at the same time both just as easy as going to the polls, and as difficult as uprooting an entrenched and powerful system. It will be a bitter fight – and those with money – the millionaires and billionaires, the corporations and those whose livelihood come from super PACs and lobbying – will pull out all the stops to ensure they continue to have power. The forces that will marshal against our Legislative Party will commit to everything shy of bloodshed to continue ruling the most powerful country on earth without us, constitutionally-minded American citizens, getting in their way.

One doesn’t have to be under 30 to want to change Congress; but since we’re both unemployed and, hopefully, motivated to make the U.S. and world a better place, we can lead the movement to fix Congress. Until the corrupting influence of money in politics is removed, and Congress is made more efficient, it will be unable to tackle the serious problems. Many Americans consider now to be a time of great crisis and upheaval. The crises that we’ll be facing in the years to come will undoubtedly be great, as is the case for any world power. If Congress is unable to work efficiently to solve these problems, then we will begin a twilight decline that future historians will trace back to the broken system in Washington. It is a threat as serious as the Civil War or the British burning the White House, but far more subtle. Yet if we – the voters, and the Loser Generation especially – choose to change the system, then the decline need not happen.  The voting-age youth make up one in six potential voters, a block too large to ignore. According to a Washington Post poll in January of this year, 2/3 of Americans are willing to vote for a third party, and half of our country thinks a third party is needed. This is no longer an eccentric, idealistic cause, destined to fail. This is what Americans want. This is a call to action. We have to start a movement not designed to battle for dominance of the beltway, but to fight for a fully functioning government.

[1] Mann and Ornstein, The Broken Branch, New York: Oxford University Press, 2006.
[2] Ibid. (Mann)
[3] Parenti, Michael, Democracy for the Few, Boston: Bedford/St.Martin’s, 2002

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