Resquiescat In Pacem: Molly Ivins, 1944-2007
In her final column, Molly Ivins said, "we are the people who run this country," and she's right. We are a government of the people, by the people, for the people. It is in our power to decide how this country will be run, and by whom. The politicians may be the ones who make the laws, but we make the politicians. It does not matter how many lobbyists spend their time greasing pockets and palms. It does not matter how much money they spend. What matters is for whom we vote, and why.
They know this. It is we, as a people, who have forgotten.
Right now, we have so many problems facing us as a society that I literally do not know where to begin. Utterly removed from any policy decision, the very process by which people take and keep office, and the abilities that people have once there, are so removed from the sane and rational that we cannot trust our current elected government to ever fix the problems. This is not a complaint about the direction we are headed, though I do have plenty of vitriol to spill on that front. No, this is anger directed at the very process by which we decide who gets to have a say in picking a new direction.
The Supreme Court decision in Buckley v. Valeo has ruled that political contributions equal free speech, meaning that more money equals more speech. This precedent is thirty years old and has almost no chance of revisitation and repudiation given our current political climate. Research abounds to suggest that the amount of money available to a candidate has a direct influence on the likelihood of a candidate getting elected above and beyond any message the candidate carries during the campaign. Until you have billions to spend, your voice will not be heard.
A patchwork of ballot access laws across the country make minor parties an afterthought to our political spectrum. The laws that govern who can get on the ballot in one state may be so different from the laws in the next that it is, I think, not unfair or misleading to characterize the process of registering as a national third-party candidate as "nigh impossible". It has been done, and it can be done, but the opportunity cost of doing so is egregious bordering on absurd.
To add insult to injury, the plurality voting system in place in most of this country's elections means that any third-party candidate that actually gets to on a sufficient number of ballots as to be treated with any modicum of seriousness becomes a threat. These people are not hailed as masters of navigating a rotten system. They are not praised for their dilligence and hard work. They are not recognized as serious contenders for the title of whatever office they seek. No, they are repudiated as spoilers to the party they most closely resemble. A serious Green candidate will become the biggest enemy of the Democrats, a Libertarian the victim of the Republicans, simply out of fear that any attempt at genuine candidacy will steal votes away from the "real" candidate.
What does all of this mean? It means that despite falling interest in the two major parties and rising dissatisfaction with the electoral process in this country, a wealthy elite representing a narrow band of political thought continue to dominate the electoral process. It means that unless you have a seven-figure salary or a major-party endorsement, your election campaign will be at best a fluke and at worst a joke. It means that if you have a viewpoint that deviates too far from the prescribed range of orthodoxy, you have virtually no chance of being elected.
I have not forgotten Bernie Sanders, but I think he's a one-off success story, not a trend.
I don't know where to start fixing things. I don't know if things can be fixed. I have ideas, but they seem huge and I feel very small in comparison. Looking at the laundry list of things that need correction, I still can't shake the sense that the easiest solution is to leave and let somebody else sort out the mess, but here, in no particular order, are my current ideas:
- Do vote
- This one seems obvious, but I still know people who say that their votes don't count. I can't argue my way out of that, because it's true that any given individual's vote doesn't make a direct difference on the outcome, but the aggregate effect of people not voting is a disaster.
- Don't vote for any candidate that rejects public funding
- This one may be a dying form of protest, but it's the only form of protest that really comes to mind for this point. The law will not save us here; the only thing we can do is save ourselves. I am prepared to limit my vote choices to those candidates who abide by public campaign limits. Hillary's not getting my vote even if she does win the nomination. I'll write-in if I'm forced into it, but I won't support any candidate that doesn't try to bring some sanity back to campaign financing.
- Do look into third-party alternatives
- Right now, at this precise moment in time, I care less whether you subscribe to the Libertarian, Green, Reform, Socialist, Workers', Communist, Constitution, or Independent Party. I care that we have a huge range of values and viewpoints that aren't being heard because the financial oligarchy that has been established finds it in its own best interest to keep those choices from being heard. I'll still dun you if you say something stupid, but I'd rather you say it and be heard than say it and be silenced.
- Don't give them money
- Yes, I am crazy. The last thing we want to do is shoot ourselves in the foot by transfering our political spending from two candidates to three or four. Give of your time, give of your support, but don't give of your pocketbook. If you believe in it, volunteer to help.
- Do support organizations working for campaign reform
- Here's a quick, but by no means exhaustive, list of groups trying to make the process of picking a winner more fair:
- Don't partake of the election hysteria
- Right now, just about every campaign that can go negative will do so. We as an electorate need to show that we're not going to buy into it. If a candidate goes negative, take your vote elsewhere and don't be afraid to contact the election office and tell them that their decision to run a negative campaign has cost them a vote.
- Do talk to others
- This is not a one-person effort. It can't be. It's not a work of dozens or hundreds or even thousands. This won't work if it's not some significant percentage of people who all recognize that this is something that needs to be done, and then actually does it. If you agree, then find someone and tell them. If you don't agree, tell me why. Explain to me what I've overlooked that makes these a bad plan.
- Don't give up.
- This probably isn't going to make a hill of beans in 2008. It might not even help us by 2010. However, if we don't start taking steps now, we'll never get where we want to go, and maybe if we start working now, by 2012 or 2014 we might start seeing some results.
The longest journey starts with a single step.