I am a strong believer in Democracy - it’s almost like a religion to me. I’m a sort of Jeffersonian swearing eternal hostility against any form of tyranny over the mind of man. America after its revolution became the Symbol of Democracy to the world -- to Europe and South America in the 19th century and to the peoples of Asia and Africa in the 20th. From Bolivar in Columbia, the radical republicans in Europe in 1848, down the years to the young Chinese protesters in Tiananmen Square; the democratic movements throughout the world used America as an example and often our Statue of Liberty (a gift from the first nation to follow our revolution) as a symbol.
But can democracy continue to thrive in its modern birthplace, the United States of America in to the twenty first century? Throughout America today legislators are passing laws to restrict access to the vote - to make it more difficult to register and to require more paper and some use of money to be able to vote. This counter revolution comes after over one hundred and fifty years of franchise expansion. From a small number of well to do property owners to all white male, and then all male and then all female citizens the nation and its constituent states expanded the electoral franchise. With the Civil War the use of military ballots and absentee ballots became more common.
Today with recent Supreme Court decisions money is now uncontrollably flooding the political arena. We always had the ability to spend personal funds now corporations can spend their funds and in most cases now there is little to no accountability nor transparency. With the cost of waging Congressional and Senate campaigns becoming prohibitive to all but self made millionaires we are seeing more and more keeping offices in the family with sons and daughters running for their parents seats gaining the advantage of both their parents fundraising capability as an incumbent and inheriting their name recognition. The word for this type of government is Oligarchy - the rule of the few and the related - the curse of the Roman Empire. And when you add money to that you get Plutocracy - the rule of the rich few.
So in America today a new generation of citizens is entering the body politic --disenchanted with the political system believing that anyone can buy an office be it Mayor of New York City or President of the United Sates. And, today young citizens consider the jury still out as to whether their involvement going door to door and making calls and using social networking can overcome the expenditures of the billionaires.
So as the twenty-first century unfolds what kind of government does it portend for America: a democracy with a government of the people, by the people and for the people or a plutocratic oligarchy where a few rich families rule in the interests of the 1%. If that happens I fear that the peoples of the world who gather in Tahrir Square and seek freedom in Tibet and civil rights in Burma will turn to other models and examples -- perhaps to a Chinese model of economic freedom with some personal liberty and local control over local matters and a strong military keeping order. Or the Putin type man on a white horse approach in Russia where the leader by whatever title personalizes the government.
Democracy can be messy -- too many people today practice the politics of personal destruction and obliterate candidates - too many elected officials place such total loyalty to the D or the R behind their name that they refuse to work with each other to the benefit of the people. As citizens get turned off and fewer and fewer vote they care less if the democracy becomes the oligarchy or the plutocracy. And by not caring they ultimately loose the rights they have come to take for granted - the right to think what they want, to practice the religion they want, to get a good education, to get a good job earning a Iiving wage, to live in a safe community, to obtain quality health care and to decide who will make the rules that govern their society.
If the 99% allow the 1% to take ownership of their government “they will get” in Harry Truman’s words “the government they deserve.” America will enter the history books not as “the shining city upon a hill” that the Puritans so hoped it would be but as a failed attempt by a diverse society to govern itself in a democratic fashion. Many saw the 2008 Presidential elections as a cross roads that asked the question “would America elect a black President.” Now and especially since the counter-revolution of 2010 we are at a fork in the road - one path leads to continued democracy -- an end to the radical right wing Republican anti democracy moves--; and the other path leads to a society ruled by the rich and their relatives. The entire history of our nation and its great leaders and the many Americans who gave their lives fighting for freedom since 1776 calls out for today’s generations of Americans to keep the faith and keep their democracy.
21 April 2012