Swans Commentary » swans.com November 19, 2007  



Democracy Versus Stability


by Joel S. Hirschhorn





(Swans - November 19, 2007)   As an activist writer working for political reforms, I keep noticing how those disagreeing with me exhibit faulty beliefs. Chief among these is the incorrect conflating of stable American government structure with a healthy democracy. True enough; the constitutional structure of American government has remained stable over a long period. But to think that the quality of democracy has remained stable is sheer stupidity.

I can understand why younger people might not understand what has been occurring. Their formal education and exposure to the mainstream media do not educate and inform them about the decline of American democracy. But people over about 50 years old should have their own personal observations to reach the conclusion that American democracy has been decaying over many decades. Of course, this requires political engagement and critical thinking, which, sadly, too many adults do not possess.

Our three branches of government have been stable. But that does not mean that the checks and balances among them created in the Constitution have been functioning effectively. They have not. The presidency has become far too powerful. The Congress has surrendered its power. The federal judiciary starting with the Supreme Court has become highly politicized and subservient to the partisan political interests that give justices and judges their life-long positions.

Yes, the U.S. is a constitutional Republic and not a pure majority-ruling democracy. But it is a representative democracy. As a Republic the rule of law is supposed to trump majority rule, but the rule of law must be upheld by government. And the federal government has increasingly not upheld the rule of law or faithfully obeyed the Constitution, the supreme law of the land. As one clear example, Congress has not faithfully held tightly its legal authority to declare war, yielding that power to the presidency. Laws have been passed by Congress that violate constitutional rights, and Executive Orders and signing statements by the president have also shown blatant disregard for laws. Signing statements have said that the president does not intend to obey laws passed by Congress. The Supreme Court routinely amends the Constitution through its decisions, disregarding the Constitutional path for constitutional amendments. Congress has always refused to obey the provision in Article V that gives states the right to have a convention to propose constitutional amendments.

Rather than the sovereign US citizens controlling their government through elections, the two-party duopoly has for a very long time maintained a stranglehold on the political system, despite there being no constitutional basis for political parties wielding such power.

And the division of power between the federal government and states has been completely obliterated as the federal government has accumulated more and more power. Unfunded mandates created by the federal government and imposed on the states have made the states slavishly dependent on federal funds.

Add to all these terrible developments the ever-increasing dishonesty and corruption that has invaded and captured our political system and government. There is simply no rational basis for Americans to have any faith and trust in their elected representatives. So it is really no surprise that national polls continue to show record-low levels of trust in Congress and the president, and that over 70 percent of people see the nation on the wrong track.

And yet there remains an endless stream of status quo apologists refusing to see the continuing decline of American democracy and all too often defending their blindness on the basis that the structure of the federal government and the Constitution itself has remained intact. They foolishly think that their rights and freedoms tell the whole story. Rather than seeing massive noncompliance with the rule of law, these people avoid the painful truth about their democracy by creating psychological defenses.

Rather than focus on finding new ways to reform the system, too many people cling to the faulty hope and optimism that they can fix things by voting. At first this seems reasonable. Just one problem: History shows that voting no longer works. And the primary reason is that the two-party system is a sham, a disgrace, and worse. Recently, MSNBC commentator Keith Olbermann was praised when he called the Bush presidency a criminal conspiracy. That missed the larger truth. The whole two-party political system is a criminal conspiracy hiding behind illusion-induced delusion.

Virtually everything that President Bush correctly gets condemnation for could have been prevented or negated by Democrats, if they had had courage, conviction, and commitment to maintaining the rule of law and obedience to the Constitution. Bush grabbed power from the feeble and corrupt hands of Democrats. Democrats have failed the vast majority of Americans. So why would sensible people think that giving Democrats more power is a good idea? They certainly have done little to merit respect for their recent congressional actions, or inaction when it comes to impeachment of Bush and Cheney.

One of the core reasons the two-party stranglehold on our political system persists is that whenever one party uses its power to an extreme degree it sets the conditions for the other party, its partner in the conspiracy, to take over. Then the other takes its turn in wielding excessive power. Rather than political reform achieved by shifting power from one party to the other, Americans get a different set of liars and crooks. When they belatedly realize their error they fall for the same old scam and put the other party back in power, and get a new set of liars and crooks. American government seems to be moved forward, except that its democracy continues to decline in spite of and because of elections.

Most Americans, at least those that vote, seem incapable of understanding that the Democrats and Republicans are two teams in the same league, serving the same cabal running the corporatist plutocracy. By keeping people focused on rooting for one team or the other, the behind-the-scenes rulers ensure their invisibility and power. Individual politicians on both teams can only rise to power by being loyal to their respective parties.

The genius of the plutocrats is to create the illusion of important differences between the two parties, and the illusion of meaningful political choice in elections. In truth, the partner parties compete superficially and dishonestly to entertain the electorate, to maintain the aura of a democracy. Differences are mostly for campaigns, while each party serves the rulers when in office. Illusion creates the delusion of Americans that voting in elections will deliver political reforms, despite a long history of politicians lying in campaigns about reforms, new directions, and bold new policies.

Like a law of physics, the rulers need power shifting between the teams to maintain popular trust in the political system. Voting manifests that trust, as if changing people will fix the system. It does not work. It is like rearranging the proverbial chairs on the Titanic. American democracy keeps sinking.

The stability of the two-party system guarantees that no honest, courageous people more loyal to restoring American democracy than to their party will ever rise to power. That stability of the two-party duopoly has assured, against the backdrop stability of government structure, that American democracy continues to erode. This is the lesson of history: Stability is the enemy of deep political reforms.

So voters become co-conspirators in the grand political criminal conspiracy. Those who vote for Democrats or Republicans perpetuate the corrupt, dishonest, and elitist plutocracy that preferentially serves the interests of the upper class and a multitude of special interests, some aligned with the Republicans and some with the Democrats. Voting only encourages worthless politicians and those that fund and corrupt them.

Public discontent leads to settling for less through lesser-evil voting rather than bold thinking about how to reform the system to get genuine political competition and better candidates and government.

I understand why sane people would not want to vote for Republicans, based on the Bush presidency. But I cannot understand why politically-engaged people think that putting Democrats in power will restore American democracy and put the welfare of non-wealthy Americans above the interests of the wealthy and the business sector. Bill Clinton's administration strongly advanced globalization and the loss of good jobs to foreign countries. Economic inequality kept rising. Trade agreements sold us out.

And in this primary season, talk about reforming our health care system among Democrats never gets serious about providing universal health care independent of the insurance industry. And why should citizens be supportive of a party that favors illegal immigration, nothing less than law-breaking that primarily serves business interests by keeping labor costs low?

Nor have Democrats stood up to challenge the official 9/11 story that no longer has any credibility to anyone that takes the time to seriously examine all its inconsistencies with what really happened and the laws of physics. The corrupt and dishonest two-party political system, not just the Bush administration, has conspired to prevent the truth about 9/11 coming out. 9/11 was not solely caused by foreign terrorists. There is more to that story that has yet to be told. People do not understand that revealing the truth about 9/11 can be the single most effective path to major political reforms. Those refusing to see the truth are mostly the same people refusing to see the truth about the decline of American democracy.

Whoever wins the Democratic presidential nomination will not be free of corruption and lies. He or she will owe paybacks to all the fat-cat campaign donors. Voters will be choosing the lesser-evil Democratic presidential candidate. Is that really the only choice? Is there no other action that can advance the national good?

There seem to be just two other choices. Vote for some third-party presidential candidate, but the downside of that is twofold. No such candidate can win in the current rigged system. Worse, voting gives a stamp of credibility to the political system, as if it was fair, when it is not. Voting says that you still believe that the political system merits your support and involvement.

The second option is to boycott voting to show total rejection of the current political system and the plutocratic cabal using the two-party duopoly to carry out its wishes. When a democracy no longer is legitimate, no longer is honest, and no longer serves the interests of ordinary citizens, then what other than violent revolution can change it? When the electoral system no longer can provide honest, corruption-free candidates with any chance of winning, what can citizens do? Either stay home or just vote in local and state races and for ballot measures.

I say remove the credibility and legitimacy of the federal government by reducing voter turnout to extremely low levels. Show the world that the vast majority of Americans have seen the light and no longer are deluding themselves about their two-party democracy. A boycott on voting for candidates for federal office is a form of civil disobedience that has enormous power to force true political reforms from the political system. This is the only way to make it crystal clear that the presidency and Congress no longer represent any significant fraction of the people. This is the only way to show that America's representative democracy is no longer representative and, therefore, is no longer a credible democracy. Just imagine a federal government trying to function in the usual ways when only 20 percent of the eligible voters actually voted. A winning president would only have the support of around 10 percent of the electorate, and the same for most members of Congress.

It takes more courage to boycott voting than to vote for lesser-evil Democrats and in the end this is the only way for people to feel proudly patriotic. This is the only way to not contribute to the ongoing bipartisan criminal conspiracy running the federal government.

We have broken government because the spirit of Americans that gave us our revolution and nation's birth has been broken, in large measure by distractive and self-indulgent consumerism. It is better to recognize that those who vote suffer from delusion than to criticize those who do not vote as apathetic. Non-delusional nonvoters recognize the futility of voting.

Democrats will not restore our democracy. That is the painful truth that most people will not readily accept. Such is the power of group delusion. Within a meaningless stable structure, voting produces never-ending cycles of voter dissatisfaction with those elected, both Democrats and Republicans. It is time to break this cycle of voter despair. Voters that complain and moan about Congress and the White House have nobody to blame but themselves, no matter which party they voted for.

A voter boycott is a first step in reinventing American democracy. The second step is fixing the system through constitutional amendments that will only get proposed through an Article V convention, that Congress has refused to give the nation since its inception. Congress will never pass laws or propose constitutional amendments necessary to restore American democracy. The Founders intended that the Constitution would be updated and improved over time, and that dependence solely on Congress for necessary changes was not wise.

The Founders did not enshrine stability. As true revolutionaries they were not unthinking believers in government stability. Stability is the enemy of maintaining effective democracy.


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About the Author

Joel S. Hirschhorn was formerly a full professor at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and senior staffer at the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment and the National Governors Association. He now writes about politics and government, and is the author of Delusional Democracy: Fixing the Republic Without Overthrowing the Government and Sprawl Kills: How Blandburbs Steal Your Time, Health And Money.



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Published November 19, 2007