Guest Post by: Jack Shepard
On July 4th, 1776 our founding fathers signed a document declaring the United States as its own independent nation. This new, radical republic would stand for values including religious tolerance, freedom of speech, and a government by and for the people. Regardless of status or creed, men (and eventually women) had the power to choose who ran the country. In their critically acclaimed book, however, John Nichols and Robert W. McChesney articulate how the United States has come to behave less like a democracy, and more like a Dollarocracy.
Perhaps one of the most unifying and empowering feelings that a U.S. citizen can experience is that of casting his or her vote. Nichols and McChesney explained early on in their book that the poorest man or woman in the U.S. feels just as powerful as Bill Gates while at the voting booth, as both of their ballots have equal value. We feel very attached to this part of the democratic process because our opinions matter- or at least we feel that they do.
In truth, the wealthy have much more influence in the democratic process than the poor. “We have a system that is now defined more by one dollar, one vote than by one person, one vote,” Nichols and McChesney explain. Over the past several decades, the power to influence who takes office has shifted from the common man to the wealthy one. A significant part of this power comes from campaign funding.
The vast majority of campaign funding comes from a very select few very wealthy patrons. And in a country where more funding significantly improves your chances at election, that select few is ultimately responsible for deciding who can and cannot take office. As a result, it is almost exclusively the wealthy whose opinions are catered to by both liberal and conservative candidates. “…the interests and opinions of the great bulk of Americans unequivocally have no influence over the decisions made by Congress or executive agencies today, at least when they run up against the interests of either a powerful corporate lobby or wealthy people as a class,” Nichols and McChesney say.
Independent candidates (who often receive significantly less funding) are not taken seriously in the 2-party system. You can’t even vote for an independent candidate without people thinking you can’t make up your mind, and are “throwing your vote away.” But in reality, most U.S. citizens feel that neither Republican nor Democrat candidates effectively represent their views.
To make things worse, the media actively sustains this lack of representation. For example, several media outlets explicitly broadcast the most extreme political views on both right and left sides. There is little room for dialogue, as many of these outlets are specifically tailored to support one set of extreme positions. These channels unfortunately fool many of us into believing that we must fall in line with one side or the other, perpetuating the idea that our views are not valid if they don’t meet the status quo.
It had never occurred to me how much influence money has in politics. I understood that funding and lobbying play a role, but I never would have guessed that the original vision expressed in the constitution would become so corrupted. Our government is meant to represent all of us– not just the ones who can afford to be represented. The media is meant to hold the powerful accountable, and stimulate conversation- not perpetuate a perverted system where we are expected to fall in line. I can’t help feeling that as a nation, we have let ourselves down. We can do better than this.