Cargo Cult Democracy

August 1st, 2009at 02:28pm Posted by Eli

There was a great letter in yesterday’s NYT, lamenting just how far American democracy has fallen:

Six moderate/conservative senators from the smallest states will dictate the terms of health care reform, or whether there will be reform, to the rest of the American populace.

These senators oppose single-payer, even a public option, and are obsessed with the “cost” argument. Polls, however, consistently indicate that an overwhelming majority of Americans want either single-payer or a public option and are not so concerned with the cost if health care is delivered.

An even larger majority wants major, fundamental health care reform.

We tout our “democracy” throughout the world, and at every election cycle its praises are sung, yet a handful of senators acting outside the mainstream, apparently in line with their small constituencies, can thwart the will of the vast majority of Americans, denying in the process, or limiting, a fundamental right of all: a healthy life.

The only part of that last paragraph that I would quibble with is the assumption that these six senators’ rural constituencies are as stubbornly opposed to the public option as they are.

But I’m more interested in the larger point: We brag about how great our democracy is, we use it as an excuse to do whatever we want overseas because it’s in the service of our fantastic democracy and sharing its wonders with the rest of the world, but the truth is that we are a democracy in name only.  Like the Pacific cargo cultists, we build the structures and follow the routines of democracy, but the actual democracy is long gone.

We hold free and fair elections, wherein we vote for the candidates who spend the most money and package themselves in the most compelling way and get the most flattering media coverage, with substantive policy hardly a factor at all.  Or we vote for the candidate whose district has been gerrymandered to ensure that the same party wins all the time, no matter how badly it performs.  Or our votes are nullified by dodgy electronic voting machines or suppressed through fraud and  intimidation.

We elect presidents and congressmen to represent our interests, who instead do the bidding of the corporations who gave them the money to buy our votes.

We have a code of laws and a brilliant, enduring Constitution, but our presidents and judges ignore and distort them when it suits their purposes.  And if the president gets caught, Congress just ignores it, flails impotently, or makes it retroactively legal.

That’s not democracy; we’re just going through the motions.  Real democracy would mean real accountability, which would mean a lot less security for those in power.  But as long as we have a political system which ignores the masses and rewards selfishness and amorality in the ruling elite, it’s hard to see where reform is going to come from.  It’s a catch-22, really – the system is designed to produce a neverending supply of exactly the kind of politicians who will fight to the death to preserve it.

Entry Filed under: Constitution,Corruption/Cronyism,Elections,Politics


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