Restored Democracy Should Be Our Focus

August 26, 2011

Americans are being lured into distractions  and caught up in partisan bickering while becoming increasingly disillusioned by congressional partisanship that has no foreseeable horizon.  Every six and a half minutes another crisis fed headline booms across talk radio and 24 hour cable news programming enables, aids and abets, Congressional outlaws intent on accomplishing their stated purpose–not to fix things but to keep our president from fixing anything.  The fact is that, as the country continues to regress as a democracy, most voters just don’t know which ball to keep their eye on.

Much has been said to criticize the vast right wing of our political system–deservingly so.   However, right wing enlightenment, while not likely to occur, isn’t going to restore what is truly wrong with our political system.  As a starting point, America needs to go back to their 7th grade civics studies, recall, understand and accept that our system of democracy was designed to limit the power of the president.

The endless criticisms of President Obama, that he is an appeasement-happy crypto-Republican, that he hasn’t tended to jobs quickly enough, that his administration’s  healthcare plan is destined for the Supreme Court guillotine, or that the bankers on Wall Street are thriving once again while tens of millions of Americans are being crushed by the overhang of mortgage debt in an economy that predictably continues to fail, are all foreseeable issues of orchestrated design.

How long will it be before we hear that the President has been slow to act to the charge of a  justice department investigation of Standard & Poors, who is thought to have purposely overrated toxic mortgage securities in the years before the bust?  Surely, the next words we’ll hear from Wall Street drum beaters is that the investigation is a retaliatory decision that flows from the debt ceiling crisis credit downgrade—would the Tea Party mind?

President Obama’s strategic and structural challenges are immense but they are not solely the result of the radical right wing either. With the exception of continuing the Bush tax cuts, the president has needed 60 votes, not the customary 50, to address every major issue including stimulus, extending unemployment benefits and healthcare. Conservative Democrats have made the party’s majority an illusion while enabling insincere disruptive play-to-base regressive obstructionists.  The bottom line for America is that the president lacks the power to overcome the congressional challenges set in place by a changed campaign finance election system that rewards obstinate representation and, in effect, has set functional limitations upon our democracy.

As early as 1905, President Theodore Roosevelt asserted the need for campaign finance reform and called for legislation to ban corporate contributions for political purposes.  In response, the United States Congress enacted the Tillman Act of 1907, named for its sponsor Senator Benjamin Tillman, which banned corporate contributions.

In 1971, Congress consolidated its earlier reform efforts in the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971 (FECA, Pub.L. 92-225, 86 Stat. 3, enacted February 7, 1972, 2 U.S.C. § 431 et seq.), instituting more stringent disclosure requirements for federal candidates, political parties and Political Action Committees (PACs).

More recently, in 2002, Congress made major revisions to the FECA in the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act, more commonly referred to as “McCain-Feingold.” However, in 2007 major portions of McCain-Feingold were struck down by the Supreme Court on Constitutional grounds in Wisconsin Right to Life v. Federal Election Commission, and again in 2008 in Davis v. Federal Election Commission.

However, in 2010 the Supreme Court gave new meaning to ATM machine politics by way of their Citizens United v. Federal ElectionCommission  decision which struck down FECA’s complete ban on corporate and union independent spending originally passed as part of
the Taft-Hartley law in 1947.

Surely we can hope for, demand and attempt, to seek out better politicians and presidents.  It’s time for Scotty to beam us all back up to reality.  Our focus needs to be on realigning the interests of our elected representatives with that of the voters–not campaign contributors.  Corporations don’t vote but their financial influence clearly has a hand around the throat of a functional democracy.  We must refocus our priorities and first correct a campaign finance system that fosters an unworkable climate through the absence of transparency, financial accountability and the ATM machine politics that has put our democracy up for sale.




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