The Selling of American Democracy: The Perfect Storm
Robert B. Reich
Who's buying our democracy?
It's a perfect storm -- the combination of three waves that are about to drown government as we know it.
The first is the greatest concentration of wealth in America in more than a century. The 400 richest Americans are richer than the bottom 150 million Americans put together. The trend started 30 years ago, and it's related to globalization and technological changes that have stymied wage growth for most people. It's also a product of "trickle-down economics," the Reagan and Bush tax cuts, and the steady decline in the bargaining power of organized labor.
The second is the wave of unlimited political contributions -- courtesy of
The third is complete secrecy about who's contributing how much to whom. The failure of the
Separately, any one of these three would be bad enough. Put the three together and our democracy is being sold down the drain.
With a more equitable and traditional distribution of wealth, far more Americans would have a fair chance of influencing politics. As the great jurist
Alternatively, inequality wouldn't be as much of a problem if we had strict laws limiting political spending. Or, at the very least, laws requiring that the identities of big donors be disclosed.
But we have an almost unprecedented concentration of wealth, and unlimited political spending and secrecy.
I'm not letting Democrats off the hook. Democratic candidates are still too dependent on
But make no mistake: Compared to what the
And the losers aren't just Democrats. They're the American people. Our democracy is the most precious thing we have, and we're allowing it to be bought and sold like oceanfront property.
What can you do? Make a ruckus.
Demand that the Obama administration get the
Insist on legislation that forces the full disclosure of all campaign contributors. (Last month, Senate Republicans blocked the "Disclose Act," which would have gone some way toward achieving this.)
Support efforts to reverse Citizens United with an amendment to the Constitution making it clear that corporations are not people under the First Amendment.
Back legislation that would provide public financing to candidates who agree to strict limits on campaign donations -- enough to erase any advantage their opponents may get from raising large sums from a few mega-donors.
Even if you disagree with one or more of these proposals, at least fight to protect our democracy from the big-money corruption it's now prey to.
Don't fall into the seductive trap of cynicism -- assuming our democracy is hopelessly corrupt, available to the highest bidder. That kind of cynicism is what the buyers and sellers of American democracy are counting on.
If you give up on our system of government, they win everything.
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