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This artwork by M. Ryder relates to claims that Congress is out of touch with the American people.
Thursday, June 20, 2013
Do the libertarians running our Congress really believe they have a mandate? They have passed Paul Ryan’s budget repeatedly. They are now using the sequester fiasco to drastically cut our most basic social programs and our safety nets.
Well, yes, they have a mandate, but it is not from the great majority of the American public. They take their orders from someone else. Who owns Congress? Who dictates members’ votes? Why do Republicans continue to sabotage our recovery and undermine our cherished social programs?
Thanks to the Roberts Supreme Court, large corporations and the super rich have been given the right to use their money to buy politicians and write legislation that allows banking and Wall Street to play the games they love to play. These games inevitably lead to recessions, but that is the price we must pay when we allow banks, Wall Street and libertarian tea partiers to establish the rules of the game.
Republicans were sure the attack-ad strategy, used successfully in 2010, would lead to another landslide in 2012. They had been undercutting President Obama for four years. But the stimulus, although blunted, was slowly creating more jobs. Moreover, most voters were finally seeing through the blatant obstructionism. Obama won handily, but the public’s wish to “throw the bums out of Congress” failed. The Republicans still wound up with a 33-seat majority in the House. Ryan could still claim to have a mandate.
Our response to the actual vote totals for Congress should not be simply a profound disappointment; we should be outraged. Many more Americans voted for Democrats for Congress than voted for Republicans. Democrats received more than 1.5 million votes more than Republicans, but Republicans still hold a commanding margin of 234 to 201. State after state with actual Democratic majorities or nearly-even votes, Republicans won the large majority of the Congressional seats: Florida, Michigan, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Virginia. In Virginia, Republicans won eight seats to three. How did this happen?
Recall how the 2010 election attack ads created disappointment and distrust and gave the Republicans a great victory. The red state legislatures used political gerrymandering during redistricting to create safe Republican districts (and yes, the Democrat politicians are not above cheating when they have the chance). Surely we voters must do something to outlaw gerrymandering and any method politicians use to disenfranchise us.
How can we elect congressmen more interested in representing us instead of doing the bidding of their keepers? We need to change the rules of the game. At present, congressmen sell their souls before they are even elected. Possible rule-changes include term limits, judicial review and guidelines for redistricting, and restoration of limitations on campaign contributions. This would require a citizen revolt, referendums and a new Supreme Court.
In the past, there have been efforts to enact term limits and candidates who pledged to limit their terms. But the power, prestige and life benefits have been too tempting. They succumb quickly to those who promise re-election funding.
There have been partially successful efforts to pass legislation limiting campaign contributions and providing the alternative general funding. These federally funded options failed since they simply could not compete. Moreover, the Roberts court struck down this legislation and approves of wealthy individuals and corporations using their power to influence elections and thereby government.
What is broken about the rules of the game is obvious. Even before the primaries, a candidate learns that campaign contributions are the lifeblood of politics. Those who displease large contributors need not apply. It is understood that the congressman will vote as he or she is told.
Following orders is a necessary condition for getting elected and certainly for getting re-elected. That process has been standard operating procedure for centuries.
Only in special circumstances can the interests of the American people overcome the power of the super rich. It is time for voters to revolt and explore ways to salvage our democracy. We have our work cut out for us. And we cannot expect any help from our so-called “elected representatives.”
Would it be possible to have a nationwide referendum to require term limits? Or to write legislation to limit campaign financing? These efforts will have to wait for a change in the Supreme Court and perhaps the 2014 elections.
Could citizens at the state level initiate referenda aimed at ending gerrymandering and other methods used to disenfranchise voters? We need to appoint bipartisan boards to govern the redistricting process. We need a public discussion of what a fair set of districts would be. We already know the definition of unfairness and cheating.
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