Archive for January, 2012

Is It Time For a New Constitutional Convention?

January 13, 2012

It has become clear that politicians no longer serve the voters.
A number of things have made this obvious, not least the unwillingness of the House to consider tax reform, to consider elimination of the sweetheart tax exemptions, the anti-competitive deals that favor drug makers, such questions as the practice of attaching amendments to bills that have nothing to do with the bill itself but only with pork for the legislator’s district. And legislators simply refuse to address any of these issues; they assert sovereignty in the way they do their business, forgetting that they are OUR employees, not the new royalty.
What we need is a public initiative. A mechanism whereby we, the people, can send a bill to Congress that they must consider in a timely manner. A bill that cannot be modified by amendment, not be tabled by a committee chairman, a bill that each lawmaker must publicly vote on to make his stand for or against obvious, and something that may cause his recall.
And that’s the other thing. Public recall. People from a district may elect a representative; but when it’s payday, they get their money from all of us. They work for us, for the national interest, not just for the people who voted for them. It’s time for a system of recall whereby we, the people, may make our voices heard. A time when elected officials need to remember who they work for.
And in a time when Congress can’t get the job done, it’s a time for total recall. There’s nothing to say that the next Congress will be any more responsible or responsive than this latest disgrace has been. This is not what the founders of the Republic had in mind.
These things, initiative and recall, won’t happen without an overhaul of the Constitution. And for that, nothing short of a new Constitutional Convention may serve.
Times have changed. We have fewer external threats, but the internal threat is greater than it has ever been, I think. The OWS protests, indeed world-wide protests, are a symptom of that. Around the world, people have lost confidence in their leaders, have acted to overthrow despots. Our own despots consist of professional politicians, corporate elites, the army of lobbyists who keep the two connected through money.
You may think the nation isn’t ready for major change. OK. But keep this idea in mind. Dust it off if things don’t improve.

Politics, the Political Elite, and their Relationship to the Corporate Elites

January 12, 2012

I’ve been mulling the things I think are wrong with American politics. Clearly, there’s something wrong; rotten, if you will. We continue to elect people who are often fools, are venal, immoral, silly, and even stupid. And once we, the poorly informed and too-often intellectually lazy, elect them, they gain entry to an elite group. That membership may well last for a lifetime. Once elected to office, the politician now immediately forms a reelection committee and begins campaigning for the next election; few ask what he/she has done to deserve reelection. Most, despite their claims to ‘leadership’ will vote 95% or more of the time with their party. Their concerns are reelection, gaining or maintaining party members in power, and whether some proposed course of action is likely to personally favor them. If there’s concern for the nation, it’s not apparent. Polls may show that a majority of citizens favor a certain course of action; politicians routinely ignore such. For example, at this time a majority of Americans favor raising taxes on the wealthy; the leadership of the House ignores this and continues to claim that the wealthy are ‘job creators’. This, despite ten years of lowered taxes for the wealthiest that have provided the nation with underemployed or unemployed workers in excess of 15%.

The party system grew from custom, not from something that the Constitution handed to us. It hasn’t served us well. Party procedures and policies are designed to let their members gain and then hold political power. Just that. Power is for winning elections, not governing. Even should a party achieve a supermajority, such that the party that’s out of power cannot act to control or even influence legislation, the party in power acts to minimize the chances that the next election cycle will see them turned out of office. Cooperation between members of opposite parties is rare. No one party has a monopoly of ideas, but it’s-not-our-idea rules. Even when the opposition favors a course of action that might be in the best interests of the nation, it’s suppressed; good ideas can cost votes for the party that didn’t initiate those ideas.

There’s a constant shuffling of primary election dates, all designed to focus national attention on the voters of one state or another. There are often rules that ensure that all the electoral votes of a state go to one candidate, effectively disenfranchising all those voters who voted for the second, third, or fourth candidate. This maximizes the state’s political power by giving more electoral votes to a candidate than he/she honestly earned. It’s quite possible that the candidate who got the most votes in the general election will not get the most electoral votes, thereby electing a candidate that most Americans didn’t want.

The Electoral College process is itself designed so that a candidate who’s considered ‘not worthy’ can fail to be elected, despite carrying a majority of a state’s popular votes. Many scholars feel that the nation’s founders, those who drew up and then voted for the Constitution when it was ratified, deliberately set up the Electoral College in order to ensure that a member of the elite class of that time would always be elected.

Once elected, candidates are there for the term of office. It’s difficult or impossible for voters to decide they’ve made a mistake and recall the elected official. Even if the candidate is turned out of office after one term, nothing stops that candidate from moving across the street and becoming a lobbyist, using money, knowledge, and contacts to cause legislation that favors moneyed special interests to be passed into law.

We elect candidates most often on the basis of party membership. The party sets the ‘platform’, those policies and objectives they would like to see enacted into law. If we set out to hire someone for a job, we wouldn’t allow them to campaign for that job by presenting prepared, rehearsed, well-vetted speeches to groups who are also examined for their party loyalty. Candidates don’t like crowds that disagree with them, and they don’t like to answer questions unless their campaign leaders have had time to carefully examine the question for any possible political harm that might ensue. So audiences are too often carefully selected. Consequently, we get candidates we don’t know, front men or women for a group of people who work in the background, whose views we never get to examine but who are in virtual control of their candidate. This can be expected to continue in the future; the candidate who’s elected by this system will hire many of his supporters to become his staff in Washington. These, in turn, are the contacts for lobbyists who feed money and ideas to the politician, even to providing fully-written documents that the officeholder is expected to submit to the Congress so that the document begins the process of becoming law. We elect officeholders and expect them to write the laws that will be considered by the Congress; too often, the lawmaker submits, even votes on a proposed bill that he/she has never even read.

Once elected, the national candidate becomes part of a system of ruling elites.

In my view, there are two groups of such. One is made up of elected officials. The other consists of the corporate elites who control them through money. Corporate elites don’t run for office, as a usual thing. Often their background would render the elites unelectable. But they can still cause political control to be used to benefit themselves and their corporations. Campaign contributions buys access to the officeholder. Officeholders are quick to point out that the elites who hold out the cash don’t buy their vote, they only buy access, a chance to talk to the official and present his case. Unsaid is that the officeholder only allows access to the ones who bring money.

So there are the two groups. They interact with members of their own group, and with members of the other group. Unless you have money, you’re not a part of either group; and they interact only in defined ways.

The corporate elites interact through business activity. They sell you a product. Often they do so through an intermediary, agents or advertisers. Such interaction is one-way. Politicians interact rarely except when involved in a reelection campaign, and then the interaction is limited as outlined earlier. If you are present at the candidate’s appearance, you get a handshake, a request for a vote or occasionally for a campaign contribution. The candidate presents a well-rehearsed, sanitized speech which is always long on promises, never on specific acts the candidate will take. The result is very limited access from those on the lower socioeconomic strata to those in the upper groups, the political elite and the corporate elite.

Some of the politicians last long enough to make elected office a lifetime project. They serve until they’re no longer able to serve; but even then, they maintain contacts with the other elites.

So this is what our politics have become. It’s not what the framers of the Constitution intended.