Ellen Read - Do We Have a Democracy?

With the election less than two weeks away, several of my friends and I have recently attended candidates’ debates and forums, and although we all submit the same question multiple times at each event, the question never gets asked.  And this year we have fewer opportunities than ever to even ask the question, because candidates around the country this year are refusing to debate each other more than ever before.  This is ironic, since our question is what will be done to restore our democracy.  Yet, this doesn’t surprise us,because we know, as most New Hampshirites do, that the U.S. no longer has a government that answers to its People.

     And a recent Princeton study has officially declared what we all already felt:  the U.S. is no longer an actual democratic republic, but a plutocratic oligarchy--rule by the wealthy elite.  The study demonstrated definitively that policies end up reflecting the wishes of the tiny fraction of one percent of the country that makes substantial political contributions, and not the desires of average voters.

     But we didn’t need a study to tell us this, did we?  Ninety-six percent of the public—conservatives, liberals, and everyone in-between, agree that it is important to reduce the influence of money in our political system.  We feel that our legislators do not really care about what we want, but about what their donors, who they spend 70% of their time courting, want—even if their donors are outside their district, or their state, or now thanks to shadowy superPACs, even outside the country, in effect.  In fact, candidates no longer have to raise a single dollar from an actual constituent, yet election spending is higher than ever.

     And that is why my friends and I feel the need to ask our candidates what they are going to do about it.  But our question never gets asked because usually debate moderators have a set agenda based on the hot-topics of the day--things like healthcare, national security, spending, the environment, and net neutrality, for example.  But each of these issues, and so many more, come back to a single issue:  the profit of corporations that have donated to and lobbied legislators until they get policies that benefit them, usually at the expense of the citizens at large. 

     We cannot make healthcare policies that benefit everyone, or be judicious in our use of military force, or rein in spending, or protect the air and water and climate we live in, or ensure an open internet—not as long as the corporations that profit from forcing us into expensive insurance plans, or from selling weapons of war to the government, or from receiving government giveaways, or from polluting without regulation, or from monopolizing access to information, make the majority of political contributions to our legislators, who are supposed to represent We the People.  

     We learn in school that a democracy cannot exist without a well-informed public.  And so it is incumbent upon the so-called “fourth branch of government”--the press and media at large--to show to the people, who already have the sense that big money has corrupted our government, that how we conduct our elections is at the very heart of every other issue, whether it is a conservative or liberal cause.  The press needs to remember that until we have a government that actually represents the will of the people, no other issue will be resolved according to the best interest of the people.  The press must stress that business should mind its business, which is selling goods and services and making a profit within the confines of the law; and remind us that it is the business of the citizenry, and nothing else, according to the constitution, to direct the government in making law.