Monday, June 9, 2008

What's Wrong with Democracy, American Style?

Americans from the top down to the person on the street believe that theirs is the what democracy is all about, an example of government for the world to measure against. It's time to think again.

At the recent primary election, the winning candidate raised nearly $400,000 to run for a seat in California's State Assembly (that's the lower house of California legislature). He won by garnering just under 10,000 votes in a hotly contested election but in a typically dismal voter turnout of 30+%.

His opponent ran a vigorous campaign, raised comparable amount of money and lost by a nearly 2000 vote margin. So in losing, he spent around $500 for each vote while his winning opponent spent closer to $400 per vote.

This is just for the primary election, forcryingoutloud. The winner may have to raise comparable sum for the general election even though he won in a heavily Democrat district and the winner is generally a shoo-in in the general election.

But because the winner is of ethnic Asian origin, he can't afford to get overconfident, lest racial bias rear its ugly head. Besides by the prevailing rules of engagement, a candidate cannot be perceived to be weak by not raising a big war chest.

The perceived popular support for his (or her) candidacy is determined by money and little else. In this case, he was endorsed by every politician and major public figure of note. It should have been a walk in the park, but if he hadn't raised a lot of money, he might have lost.

Unfortunately this particular example is the rule and not the exception and typifies what's wrong with American politics. Democracy is measured by the size of the bank account and size matters.

Many qualified and competent prospects do not run for public office because it hurts their pride to have to panhandle for campaign contributions. Those that do run, you would have to wonder: What did they have to do or promise to do for the contribution?

Politicians who promised campaign finance reform before they get elected soon make a sham of it after they won. Under the current system, money favors incumbents and once they become incumbents they would hardly want to change the rules of the game.

The biggest beneficiary of the current rules of engagement is the media industry. They derive enormous revenue from the political advertisements, hit pieces, advertorials and informercials allegely for the benefit of voter education. They give back part of their revenue in the form of political contributions to the politicians that support the status quo.

For those of us that care about how democracy is supposed to work, we are the losers. We are marginalized. "If you don't write checks, you simply do not count."

When our leaders go around the world saying be a democracy, be like us. I can't help but gag. Are we just stupid or are our leaders just cynical?

What do you think?

1 comment:

The China Desk said...

Dear George,

The mistake the citizenry of modern democracies make is to assume that problems such as these and others are "betrayals of democracy."

They are no such thing. They are the full realization of democracy.

Democracy is a defective system at its very core. Democracy contains built-in incentives that encourage just this sort of behavior, and discourage integrity.

Democracy is a filter. It is a filter that filters out the good and ensures that only those willing to lie will get elected to office.