The USA isn’t a single organism… it’s a complex mix of individuals and collectives. It doesn’t have a unified “want” for money buying privileged access. However, there are plenty of elements in American society — and pretty much all societies — that want this. Pretty much to a person, they are the people who already have some level of privileged access, and desire more.
If you do not want a society like that, you need to be careful about your political choices. Privilege, Plutocracy, etc. thrives like most unpopular things do: a small number of people are successful at manipulating a large population to make political choices against their best interests. As well, they can often be successful at insulating themselves from politics, at least to an extent.
The Power of Education and Truth
One of the hallmarks of a free society is education. Educated people tend to be curious about their world, and wary of hucksters, snake oil salesmen, frauds, and manipulators. If you look at Europe today, many countries offer free or very low cost college. They do this both because a more educated population yields a richer society, but also, a more educated population makes better political choices. Educated people practice critical thinking, they are not so easily mislead by those seeking to manipulate a population.
Toward this end, the stance on education and science of a candidate is a strong indication if that person is looking in the long term for an egalitarian society or some kind of plutocracy or oligarchy.
The Power of Competitive Elections
Given that we’re in an election cycle right now in the USA, in a Presidential year, it’s often just assumed that most elections are competitive. Because, after all, the Presidency generally is. Sure, there are years with one Party or another doing very well… President Obama won both elections with over 50% of the vote, the first two-term majority in most of our lifetimes. Ronald Reagan won an amazing 58.8% of the vote in 1984, claiming all but one state and relegating Walter Mondale to the second-worst Presidential election performance in history.
But there are quite a few elections in the USA that are not seriously contested. A specific example is the US House of Representatives. Representatives are, in theory, very close to the current will of The People. That’s how the House was designed: representatives by districts of roughly equal population, two year terms. The People’s House.
But just about anything that’s corruptible will eventually be corrupted. And because there are no specific rules about Congressional Districts (aside from some potential Federal oversight), states can draw them rather arbitrarily.. a practice known as Gerrymandering. And that ability can lead to things like this:
Those are the actual shape of a few Congressional districts. Districts are supposed to include roughly the same number of people, within a state anyway. That’s at least one obvious metric of fairness — my vote shouldn’t count more than yours based on where I live. On years divisible by ten, such as 2010, the Federal Government conducts a census, and states re-draw their Congressional districts based on that census. That’s on the surface good and proper.
However, as with those featured above, the districts are drawn for political gain. In the case of North Carolina, that snaky-looking thing is the 12th district, which is drawn that way to deliver a 64% African-American district. Not surprisingly, in modern politics, that’s a guaranteed Democratic district.
But there’s some of the problem. In drawing it that way, perhaps African Americans in North Carolina are given a district they completely dominate. But this sold Blue district also makes the surrounding six districts more reliably Red.
And none of that is my actual point in this article. Rather, I’m concerned about uncontested districts. In theory, your Representative represents you and your neighbors… I mean, bloody hell, it’s even in the person’s official title. But it’s also the case that, in order to win an election in these days of media influence, the average Representative in 2012 had to raise $1.6 million. To me, that’s real money.. I had a hard enough time raising the $1600 I needed some years ago to participate in a 3-day breast cancer walk.
So to the point: a candidate from a very competitive Congressional district probably has to actually represent a good chunk of that district’s people — ideally all of them, at least as far as possible. A candidate from a perfectly safe district is far more likely to be “The Congressman from Exxon”. Uncontested districts, and similar uncontested elections in other contests throughout the USA, are some of the enablers of corporatocracy, at least as long as we allow public officials to be bought by the rich.
The other obvious problem with this is that it doesn’t actually balance populations to voting outcomes. In the 2014 election, there were 13 Representatives being elected in North Carolina. The Republicans won a state-wide 55% of the vote, to the Democrats 43%. You’d sort of like to hear that the Republicans won 7 Representatives, the Democrats won 6. Or even 8/5. But no… thanks to Gerrymandering, the Democrats took 3, the Republicans 10. And sure, this has worked the other way, too. True Blue Maryland is a contender to districts as weird as those in NC.
The Power of Lies in Elections
The most protected of protected speech in the USA is political speech. If you are a political candidate or organization, speaking about another candidate, you can literally say just about anything about that person. Read more here: False Ads: There Oughta Be A Law! – Or Maybe Not
In this case, I have to come down in support of the lie. Yup, that’s how I roll on this. And here’s why: if you outlaw lies in politics in any way, you can only do that by empowering some arbiter of lies. Remember the last section, how the duty to apportion Congressional districts among voters was mutated into weird political manipulation and, in many cases, a minority rule?
The only cure for this is, again, Education and, perhaps, promotion of the idea that being smart about the vote is your patrotic duty. Because it simply is. Complacency makes the manipulation of the masses by the wealthy very easy. The problem is that being non-complacent is kind of a balancing act. If things always go my way, I might stop thinking deeply about how that happens. And if things never go my way, I might well decide I have no power, and opt out of exercising the power I actually have. In fact, that’s pretty much how you get uncontested votes — everyone “just knows” there’s no chance of not electing the same guy you had last year.
The Power of Voter Disenfranchisement and other Cheats
Some elections are won by very narrow margins. A classic case is the 2000 Presidential election, in which it all came down to Florida’s winner-take-all state election, which came down to lots of political manipulation and a recorded margin of under 550 votes in favor of George W. Bush over Al Gore.
The popular story is that Ralph Nader, the Green Party candidate, took enough votes from Gore to allow the controversy. And that’s likely: exit polls put 66% of Nader voters who still would have voted for Gore, 33% for Bush. Gore would have won without contest if that actually happend.
But there’s the other thing: prior to the election, 173,000 voters were “cleansed” from the rolls in Florida. And most of these due to an error made by a private company paid to produce lists of convicted felons who were on the voter rolls. Oops… nearly all of these people were, worst-case, convicted of misdemeanors.
Some notices were sent out to correct the original “you can’t vote” letters sent out, but it’s estimated thousands of legal voters were turned away at the polls.
So again, a couple of things to understand. First of all, that education thing again. Know your rights. Do not accept being barred from the vote, if that happens and you know you’re legally able to vote. Argue, fight, file a provisional ballot, call the local news crew, make noise. This is your right, and it’s worth defending.
Second thing: look for the candidates, parties, pundits, whomever is trying to make voting more difficult. Voter ID laws, long voter lines, scarey billboards put up near polling locales, there are dozens of ways that The Few want to prevent The Many from voting. Do not accept this, and don’t let others, either. People trying to steal this right from you are real enemies. Know your enemies — that’s the only way to put yourself on a path to defeat them.
The Power of Money in Elections
A large part of modern electioneering is advertising. That happens because it’s well proven that people respond to well designed ads. And it’s also well proven that voters will not vote for a person they don’t know.
So for a minute, let’s look at this year’s election from the #3 guy, Gary Johnson, the Libertarian candidate (#feelthejohnson). I kind of like Gary.. he actually seems like he’d run the country better than at least one of the candidate in the major parties this year. And unlike most third parties, the Libertarians actually have electoral ballot access in many states, and claim they’re on-target for all 50 (they had 48 states + DC in 2012, so they were at least credible). He was Governor of New Mexico — he does have actual executive experience. I found I’m about 67% in agreement with him, versus others in the high 90% range, and at least one at about 7%. There are plenty of things I don’t like about Gary. But the primary reason I’m not voting for him is simple: only the Democrat or the Republican can win. Period. End of discussion, and not really pertinent to this article.
But there’s another reason millions of people won’t vote for Gary: they have no frickin’ idea he even exists. It’s actually worse this year than ever. So ok, Mr. Johnson ran in 2012, and got 1% of the US popular vote. He did not win any states.
He’s running against the Cult of Personality like no one in history. Donald J. Trump was pretty well known, at least if you’re in the mid-Atlantic East Coast, for decades. More recently, he was well known as a game show host (“The Apprentice”) on network television. Hillary R. Clinton was First Lady, Senator from New York, Presidential candidate and Secretary of State, and voted the most Admired Woman in the World, by Americans, in the annual Gallup polls (Mr. Trump came in #3 among men this year… Johnson, not on the list).
And there’s the rub. We already know these two major candidates, at least to some extent. In the 2012 election, both Barack Obama and Mitt Romney raised around $1 billion for their campaigns. Gary Johnson in 2012 raised about $2.5 million. That would be good for a House race, not close to enough to run for Senator. Much less President.
So it’s mostly just political wonks and Libertarians who know Gary Johnson. And I’ll give some credit to the media this cycle: I have seen/heard Johnson more this year than any third party candidate since Ralph Nader in 2000 (and Nader at the time was already a household name). There is no possible way, with that kind of budget, that Johnson can compete with the other two. People will not vote for a person they don’t know about.
Nuff Said… It’s Up to Us
There are plenty of other factors, but ultimately, this is still the choice of The People. My best advice: be educated. That means hearing all sorts of different sources of information, and critical thinking. You are being manipulated. So am I. At least in theory. It’s up to me and you and everyone else to recognize that, to think about our own rational self-interests.