What’s Wrong With Everything

14 03 2011

I recently read this article in Mother Jones:

Plutocracy Now: What Wisconsin is Really About

It’s fairly long, but it explains a lot. Here are a couple excerpts:

  • American politicians don’t care much about voters with moderate incomes. Princeton political scientist Larry Bartels studied the voting behavior of US senators in the early ’90s and discovered that they respond far more to the desires of high-income groups than to anyone else. By itself, that’s not a surprise. He also found that Republicans don’t respond at all to the desires of voters with modest incomes. Maybe that’s not a surprise, either. But this should be: Bartels found that Democratic senators don’t respond to the desires of these voters, either. At all.
  • The Republican Party gets [money] from corporate sponsors and [organizational muscle] from highly organized church-based groups. The Democratic Party, conversely, relied heavily on organized labor for both in the postwar era. So as unions increasingly withered beginning in the ’70s, the Democratic Party turned to the only other source of money and influence available in large-enough quantities to replace big labor: the business community. The rise of neoliberalism in the ’80s, given concrete form by the Democratic Leadership Council, was fundamentally an effort to make the party more friendly to business. After all, what choice did Democrats have? Without substantial support from labor or business, no modern party can thrive.

So, essentially, due to the decline of organized labor, we have come to a state of government by the rich, for the rich. Which is certainly what it’s felt like for the past 30 years, but I always figured that was due to the Republicans gaming the system. Instead, it turns out that apart from a few stalwart individuals (Peter DeFazio comes to mind) there is just no one standing up for the interests of poor or middle-class people. This should be depressing, but I find that knowing the causes and the real situation relieves a lot of frustration.

And it brings me back to one of my many unrealistic ideas; we ought to abolish political parties. They don’t serve any purpose other than to funnel money into large organizations that, more and more, exist only to continue funneling more money. It doesn’t serve the electorate to classify candidates by party. The platforms of the Democratic and Republican parties are both incoherent in terms of right and left politics. Voters identify with one party or the other for personal and cultural reasons more than political ones. And politicians are inconsistent in how closely they stick to the platform.

We’d be much better off if every candidate for every office had to lay out his or her own positions and run on his or her own merits. Then we wouldn’t have two sides of an aisle in congress to become deadlocked. It would mean more work for everybody; voters trying to stay informed, candidates trying to get their messages out, elected officials trying to build consensus; but that’s not a bad thing. It would require different rules for campaigns and campaign finance to insure a level playing field, also not a bad thing.

I don’t know how to make it happen. There’s no way a majority in congress would agree to dismantle the engine that makes them rich. But we ought to do something, because the engines are making the rest of us poorer.

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