he upcoming mid-term elections that is now dominating the airwaves is being viewed as crucial to the reform movement that is currently under the political leadership of President Barack Obama. The mythology that still persists in this country, despite all the evidence to the contrary, is the one that maintains we are a free and democratic society and that this freedom is exemplified by the right to vote. The harsh political reality is that the powerful interests in our society continue to inform public policy. Even under the aegis of a supposed reform agenda fostered by the present administration, the so-called health reform legislation recently passed does not challenge the absolute dominance of the for-profit health insurance companies in determining how health care is delivered. The recent decision by the Supreme Court that essentially allows unfettered and unmonitored corporate political donations to those candidates that will support their interests insures that vast sums of private money will determine political outcomes well into the future. If democracy is to be taken seriously, we are going in an entirely wrong-headed direction.
At the risk of attempting to swim upstream during a time when the level of political corruption has reached a new zenith, I maintain that in order for elections to gain the participation required to make them meaningful, voters must feel that they have real choices among candidates for office - candidates that do not require funding by the powerful in order to sustain their viability. Real campaign finance reform must be enacted as well as the public funding of campaigns and free access to the airways so that money is no longer the major consideration for candidacy. This would allow the interests of those other than the advantaged to be adequately represented. This idea, of course, has been made even more precarious by the participation of the national media in an inherently corrupt system. One of the more absurd arguments in defense of the present system is that any reform of the ways by which campaigns are financed would represent an infringement of the first amendment right of free speech. This suggests that wealthy contributors have a far greater right to free speech than small contributors and that, by inference, supporters of candidates who are unable to make any monetary contribution apparently have no free speech rights at all.
The simple fact of voting does not make for a democracy. Democracy should be a living and dynamic institution where the voice of the people is constantly heard, listened to and ultimately incorporated into public policy. This goal can be achieved provided there is the will to do so. Some of the necessary changes I envision are: the public financing of political campaigns, encouraging national discourse through a truly open and accessible government and supplying sufficient resources to social services so that the economically disadvantaged could have a greater opportunity to participate in the political life of the country. In other words, real change can be accelerated markedly by a commitment to an open society - a society that actually honors the diverse and imaginative voice of the people. It is the furthering of all the people’s interests that makes for true participatory democracy. What we have now radically diverges from that ideal.
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