We, the people of the United States of America, love to give lip-service to our great democracy. How is that working out for us? We live in a land where the few who are wealthy take more and more, middle-class families are under assault, the poor are invisible, and many of our representatives prioritize the will of corporations over their constituents. Is this a functional political system? Well, yes and no. If your goal is to have a plutocracy that caters only to the wealthy and powerful while maintaining an illusion of mass participation in the decision making process then congratulations! You have one heck of a functioning political system right here in the good ole’ U.S. of A. However, if you believe in an America that should be a beacon to the world in self-government, our system is broken, rotten, and in dire need of repair. What shall be done? Fear not my fellow citizens; the answer is simpler than many realize: to be a functioning democracy we need to be an expanding democracy.
Grow or die. Only by expanding the influence of the average citizen can we reclaim our democratic ideals and wrestle our nation out of the hands of the few who wish to throw us backwards through the ages. In this country influence means money. The only way to have politicians place their constituents over special-interests is with publicly financed campaigns. If we are the primary source of the cash the political class so desperately seeks we will be able to ensure our voices, and only our voices, are heard. Many people have suggested that we do this by overturning Citizens United. We need to do far more than overturn Citizens United; we need to overturn Wall Street.
The wonderful thing about publicly financed campaigns is that its’ greatest strength is that it can lead to more reform if the people think that is what is needed later on. We will never have the foresight to know what future generations will decide about what to reform next. In a complicated system such as government there is almost always a need for reform, but many times it does not get done because our leaders are not working in the public interest. By funding the campaigns the taxpayer will not only have a much needed reform in itself, but will also be more likely to get other reforms when the time arises for them.
Not only will elections exclusively funded by taxpayers lead to a more functional political system it will also save taxpayers’ money in the long run. Representativeproposed a constitutional amendment that would do just that arguing, “With public financing, we have officials working for the public. And public financing will actually save taxpayers’ money, by eliminating any incentive of public officials to reward campaign contributors with taxpayer subsidies.”
While publicly financed elections are a great start, expanding democracy also means reforming the Senate. This chamber can benefit from two reforms: representation based on population and passing legislation with a simple majority. The idea that Wyoming with 600,000 people gets the same number of Senators as California with a population of 37 million is anti-democratic.
Speaking of anti-democratic, why a 3/5th majority vote to get anything done? This requirement to avoid a filibuster has rendered the Senate almost incapable of governing. We are an urban nation in the 21st Century being held hostage by the minority party under rules written in the 18th Century. In order to further expand democracy the Senate must accept these rules or be abolished. This country already rid itself of one evil institution; perhaps, it should try once more.
Finally, the most direct route to expanding democracy is by requiring every eligible American to vote, and also ridding ourselves of the Electoral College. Mandatory voting is the law in Australia and that country regularly has a voter turnout of around 95%. Meanwhile, only 38% of eligible Americans voted in the 2010 midterms and 57% showed up for the 2008 presidential election. What happens if an Australian doesn’t vote? They only have to pay a $15 fine. Also, Australians have the choice to vote none of the above if they reject all candidates in a particular race. How can we be a government by the people if almost half of the people eligible to vote don’t show up?
For that matter, how can we be a democracy if the popular vote does not determine the winner of the presidential election? When polled by Gallop in the fall of 2011 62% of Americans wanted to abolish the Electoral College. That system is outdated and because of it only the minority of people who reside in a “battle-ground” state get to influence who resides in the White House. Are these citizens entitled to have their votes matter more because they live in Ohio? No, democracy requires one person to equal one vote.
I know people will object for this or that reason to the aforementioned reforms, but what their objections really come down to is a fundamentalist belief in the infallibility of our founding fathers, and the inerrancy of our Constitution. Well, I can assure you that our founding fathers were fallible and the Constitution is not perfect, but was written in the hope of laying a foundation of a more perfect Union. The work of that Union is an on-going one that has evolved over the generations. Now is the time for the citizens to assert themselves, and demand an expansion of democracy.
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