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Dinosaurs, Democracy and a Doomed Republic

“If liberty and equality, as is thought by some, are chiefly to be found
in democracy, they will be best attained when all persons alike share in government to the utmost.” – Aristotle

January 29, 2008
by Rob Lafferty

The business of extracting fossil fuels from the earth is at its peak; a slow but steady decline in production looms in the immediate future. The practice of democracy in America has also peaked – but unlike crude oil, democracy hit its peak some fifty years ago and has been declining ever since. That slow slide into the abyss is quickening in these days, however, and the democratic process might die out completely long before the oil from the last dead dinosaur is burnt away.

In 1960, 60 percent of the nation’s television households watched the October presidential debates. By the year 2000, fewer than 30 percent of viewers tuned in to the programs that pass for presidential debates in our modern media world.

The controversy surrounding the presidential race in 2000 obscured the sad fact that neither George Bush nor Al Gore could convince more than about 25 percent of the eligible voters in America to support them. What’s worse is that 25 percent was enough for either man to win in a race so close that the result could be rigged by the folks who counted the votes.

Four years later, this country held the most galvanizing, polarizing and talked-about election since 1968 – and a “wartime” election, at that. Yet only a bit more than half of all possible voters bothered to actually cast a ballot. The much-hyped under-30 age group that was going to change the world came out to vote at the same pathetic 17 percent rate in 2004 as they did in 2000.

There’s no serious mandate for change in those numbers. There’s no mandate for an election “winner” who can only inspire one-fourth of the electorate to support them. And there’s no chance of having decent representation when participation levels are so low.

The small differences between Democrat and Republican ideologies – which are often wrongly labeled as “values” – are increasingly irrelevant because only two true political groups exist in America today. The members of one group are those who vote; the members of the second are those who don’t.

The Non-Voter Party has been the majority party in nearly every national election held in the United States during the last three decades, and in most state and local elections as well. In 2004, 1.2 million people cast ballots for a variety of third-party candidates; many of those were symbolic votes for anyone other than Bush or Kerry. At the same time, 100 million eligible citizens chose not to vote at all. That’s a loud and clear statement, but it carries less political weight than even one symbolic vote.

The Non-Voter party has no presence or representation in the political arena, yet its membership grows every year. Once enough folks have joined the “Nons” the electoral process will lose what little credibility it manages to retain.

And that’s not much. There remains a heavy imbalance of ethnic representation in American politics today, especially in the Republican Party. After the 2006 elections, 3,643 Republicans were serving in state legislatures across the country. Only 44 of them are not Caucasians, for a grand total of 1.2 percent minority representation at the state level across the nation.

Texas has 106 Republicans in their state legislature, but none of them formally claim to have African, Asian or Hispanic ancestors – that’s zero, nada, even though Texas has a minority population of 47 percent. In our national Congress, 274 Senators and Representatives are Republican. Exactly five of those GOP members can be counted as minorities.

Those sorry numbers don’t mean that Democrats do a better job of representing the diversity of the American people. State government in Hawai‘i provides an excellent example; traditional Democrat and Republican roles on the mainland are almost reversed in the islands, yet the general public suffers the same indignities and abuses.
On a national level, there’s almost no political accountability for legislators who act against the best interests of the citizenry. That’s our fault. Over the past four decades we’ve been too easily distracted, too busy working and too afraid for our personal safety to pay attention as the American Republic was corrupted at its core.

The long-term impact of legal bribery in the form of campaign contributions has poisoned the national electoral system into a coma. Until the dominance of Big Money is removed from the process, every attempt to restore a national democracy is doomed to fail.

There’s good news behind all of those bad numbers – this is a perfect time for us to re-create the way we govern ourselves. We’ve done this before. We do it all the time on a local level where the original style of town-hall democracy still functions best. And we have nothing to lose when the current process has failed us so badly.

Public funding of elections and greater support for independent candidates just might flush the system from the bottom upwards. Take Big Money and professional politicians out of the mix and democracy could reawaken as it has in many other parts of the world. We won’t clean out the election process in one cycle, but we only need one election to get started.

That’s one of the two last, best hopes for reviving our Republic – because the American form of democracy as it exists today will never inspire the 80 percent turnout for a national vote that other modern societies on this planet take for granted.

The other hope for restoration of the Republic? It involves money again, of course.

An honest national economy won’t be possible until we recognize the fact that more than half the money we give to the federal government each year is spent on military and defense projects. There is no shortage of money in the Treasury to make life a little better for us all; it’s simply a matter of changing priorities and allocation.

For too long, our government has poured over half of its income into our War Machine – which is usually called the Defense Department or the Military-Industrial Complex, among many other things, but never “Our War Machine,” as that would be considered rude or unpatriotic. Still, it is a machine for waging war and it is ours; we paid for it.

The same solution applies to both of democracy’s greatest problems – take Big Money out of the equation. End all military expenses for Empire-building; spend half of those billions to protect the nation in an intelligent, 21st-Century manner; spend the other half all around the world providing food, water, medicine and shelter to people in dire need. By doing so, we could restore some of the legacy left to us by generations of Americans who wouldn’t recognize – or accept – the government we live under today.

Changing our priorities won’t be easy, but we’ve done that before, too. The American Republic that for a brief time in history promised so very much has not been completely sold off. It’s just been leased out to the highest bidder by our property managers, our elected officials. We can reclaim possession any time we choose...