Yesterday I was asked an interesting question in the Good Men Project’s Political Activism group that seems like an obvious question to ask a political writer. “If you could make any changes you wanted to fix the government, what would you do?”
I was surprised by how caught off guard I was for a guy who spends a good 90% of his public and personal life thinking about and discussing politics. We spend hours talking about the breaks in the system, and point out irregularities in the execution of law and the spirit of the American experiment, but how much time do you actually think about what a perfect system would look like? If you were given a blank check and the will of the people, how would you go about affecting change?
We had some pretty good discussions about issues, and what goals we’d like that perfect government to accomplish, but all the “whats” we want we tend to overlook the “how” to get it. A liberal utopia of equality, free education, sunshine, and rainbows sounds wonderful to me but is probably not going to build a concession with say, a Trump issues voter in Arkansas. So assuming we’re using an American style, three branch system/checks and balances system, here are some thoughts I have on how to create a more balanced system:
1. First and foremost, at the tippy top of the list, is campaign finance reform and contribution accountability
If you want to affect any change at all to the stranglehold stalemate politics we have now, we have to, without a doubt, remove money from politics.
Now, I’m not talking about operational budgets, obviously some money is needed to simply execute a campaign. There are hotels and travel, there’s staffing, there are supplies, all the things a small business needs to operate… and those are not unreasonable things to ask your supporters to fund. Let’s assume the costs related are triple that of a rock and roll tour and use the example of this article by Jack Conte of the band Pomplamoose. Conte lists expenses of a 24 event, 23 city tour at $135,983 in 28 days. Let’s generously triple that, and say around $500,000 dollars a month in operational expenses for a National political campaign mostly built with volunteer staff, a few professional political operatives and travel costs. That’s about $6,000,000 for a year-long campaign.
According to the Washington Post, the 2016 Presidential election campaign of Hillary Clinton raised $1.4 BILLION dollars, Donald Trump raised $957 million dollars, and it’s safe to bet that a generous portion of President Trump’s personal finances went to make up the gap.
Now, I’m not a finance expert, nor am I an expert in campaigns, but I’m willing to bet that it doesn’t cost $116 million dollars a month to fund the operational costs of a group of 20 or even 300 travelers around the country. So if individuals are only allowed to contribute a maximum of $2700 per campaign, where does all that money come from and where does it go? The answer is Political Action Committees, otherwise known as PACs, otherwise known as lobbyists.
Think of a PAC as a Union, but instead of banding together to fight for labor rights specific to their workplace, they’re banded together to fight for a specific cause. Notable PACs with high contributions are folks like the National Rifle Association, who spent $54.5 million dollars in the 2016 election cycle alone who have been able to successfully block mild gun regulations to existing gun control laws that (according to a 2018 GALLOP poll only 15% of Americans said they are “very satisfied” with. (The math suggesting then that 85% of Americans have an issue with existing gun laws)
Or on the $64 million dollars that Finance and Insurance lobbies have paid to fight the 50% of Americans for Wall Street bank regulations and the 58% of Americans who support Universal Health Care. Money, it seems, is dictating the path of a majority rule democracy. This must be dramatically changed. So what do they need all that money for?
CLICK HERE TO FIND OUT, #7 WILL BLOW YOUR MIND.
Just kidding, I’d never do that to you. The answer is advertising.
2. Media Market Share Antitrust reform and ending political ad-buys
A scary thing has happened that none of us are talking about and it has to do with who controls what media you see. In 1983, the year I was born, 50 companies shared 90% of the media market. This means that 50 different ownership groups with 50 different agendas shared the control over what you see, hear, or consume for 90% of Americans.
By 2011, that number is down to six. Six voices who decide what 90% of Americans are exposed to. (If you’re curious, those companies are Comcast, The Walt Disney Company, Fox, Time Warner, CBS/Viacom.) Six decision makers at the heads of those tables influencing everything you buy for breakfast, every car you buy, prescription you suggest to your doctor, every entertainment you consume, and most importantly… 90% of the news you see.
Those six people also get to decide who they’ll sell political airtime to. For example, CNN (A Time Warner company) has been running Tom Steyer’s Impeachment ad campaign for almost a year, (from my casual viewing), about once an hour. The CNN agenda has been, to say the least, anti the Trump Administration. Fox News, (21st Century Fox company), who is just shy of a propaganda machine for the Trump Administration, has dropped the ad because it has political disagreements with the content. I feel I need to disclose I have trouble watching Fox News, but I’d make a bold assumption from what I have seen, that they’ve filled that airtime with an advertisement which better suits their agenda.
Both of these groups have used their airwaves to further a political agenda, and people have paid extraordinary amounts of money to fill their airwaves. (In Tom Steyer’s case 22 million dollars as of 2017, the ad is still currently running in March of 2018.)
Additionally, the FCC’s ruling on Net Neutrality makes it easier for these six companies to use their product to further their agenda, now not only with television ads and programming but with digital access. For example, Comcast, which owns MSNBC, could theoretically give you free access to the news produced by their team of journalists, while building a paywall to access Fox News. Or Walt Disney Company could give you access to all Hearst Corporation news stories while forcing you to pay for access to CNN. Public access to information drives public opinion, plain and simple.
The 2016 election cycle saw $9.8 billion dollars in adbuy across the board in traditional media. That’s where the money in politics is going, that’s why the minute a politician is elected they must immediately begin raising money for reelection before legislating.
If ratings drive ad prices, and there are 9.8 billion dollars to be had, you want to aim your adsell to get the most positive response and how you would do that is tell the candidate you can adverse it to a specific demographic of people who are likely to find the ad effective. It’s marketing 101, and those geographic demographics are called districts, and they’re decided by a process called “gerrymandering” which is next on my list.
3. Constitutionally ending Gerrymandering
I’ve tried to come up with a quick and easy way to explain gerrymandering to the uninitiated, and haven’t been able to. Therefore, I’m going to steal a line directly from Wikipedia to illustrate, with apologies to my readers for using Wikipedia as a source:
“The United States, among the first with an elected representative government, eventually named the practice. Incidents precede the 1789 election of the First U.S. Congress. In 1788, Patrick Henry and his Anti-Federalist allies were in control of the Virginia House of Delegates. They drew the boundaries of Virginia’s 5th congressional district in an unsuccessful attempt to keep James Madison out of the U.S. House of Representatives.”
What Gerrymandering is, is looking at a congressional district, and saying “I want this person elected, so I’m going to draw the district around who is going to vote for them, so there’s no chance to lose”.
Now, why is this bad in a representational democracy? Let’s say you’re a fly, and you live in a town that’s about half flies, half spiders. (I know, I know, bear with me, Wilbur.) The town is set up in four districts, based on geographic location. Say there’s an issue up for vote that says spiders can build their webs anywhere they want, without restrictions all over town, regardless of where in town you live. Now, you’re a fly, and spiders eat flies, so you’re probably bunched together with all the other flies because spiders are kind of dangerous to you, as a fly, and so even though you’re about the same amount of numbers most all the flies live on the south, let’s say, the south-central side of town. Your populations are still roughly equal.
The spiders on the north side of town all think it’s a great idea, and all the spiders on the west side of town think it’s all a great idea, and all the east side spiders think it’s an ok idea, but that it may cause some problems, but they don’t really have anything to fight about because it doesn’t really hurt them either way. So election day comes and all the spiders and flies vote and the results come out that 3 out of 4 districts are in favor of the Freedom of Spider Web Placement Act, which now passes as a majority mandate and spiders now get to put their webs all over, where ever they want.
That’s gerrymandering. Even though half the population was adamantly against the FSWPA, it passed because of the way the voters were geographically distributed. Now, instead of flies and spiders, think Democrat and Republican, and instead of purely geographic districts imagine you can draw those lines in any way you want, around any group of voters.
So those six flies that live on the Northside, now you can just draw a line right around those guys so they don’t count in with the Northside spider vote. If it’s sounding like a way to circumvent the popular vote to create safe voting blocks for parties, it’s because it is.
How can we get away with this in a democracy? The answer is that we’re not a democracy.
4. The Electoral College must be revised or completely abolished
We’re not a democracy, at least not a direct one, we’re a representational democracy. The difference, as anyone who spent any time at an Occupy rally in 2011 can tell you, is that in direct democracy, every voice has equal weight in a very real way. Every citizen votes directly on every issue, every measure, every bill, every debate to debate a bill, everything. Being a citizen in a direct democracy is pretty much a full-time job. It takes lots of time, and there are lots and lots of single cause voicing that grinds the whole thing down to a molasses-thick bog of a government.
In a representational democracy, we vote for our “representatives” and they “represent” our voice, based on the population size of the group they represent so that they’re the ones stuck in the molasses jar, not us. In fact, the reason we call it “public service” is because it’s kind of an undesirable position, and should be a service provided by our representative, to stand in legislative quicksand on our behalf. In the Constitution, these folks also appointed the President and Vice President for you with the help of the Electoral College.
The electoral college is another representation tool, meant to protect us from the day to day operations of the government. The Constitution talks at length about the process and is built for the citizenry to elect a whole bunch of electors, who must be removed from government office to appoint both the President and the Vice President. The idea was that these elector representatives would be the same in number as your congressional representatives to make sure that the population had an equal vote and that the electors would be somehow knowledgeable about how the government operates and what was needed in leadership so that you wouldn’t have to be in the wonky reeds.
The Framers were pretty torn about this issue in fact, and a big kink got thrown into the works when the slaveholding states insisted that their populations would be not equally represented because the human beings they held in bondage still needed to be represented even though they couldn’t themselves vote. So the compromise was, that each human being held in slavery counted for an additional three-fifths of a vote, to be exercised on their behalf, by their “owners”.
Now you have the voting population of, for example, Virginia, counting its land holding free male’s vote, and also giving them roughly 33% more representation than the Massachusetts land holding free males. Beyond the irredeemable moral problem that was human enslavement, this presented a huge political problem for the great American experiment. One voice, one vote, was clearly not working as intended and the 12th, 13th, and 14th amendments were necessary to correct and still 150 years later we can’t seem to get it right.
And then we also had the 12th Amendment which said, “You know, maybe we should let the President be elected by popular vote, not appointed by Congress.” and everyone said it was a good idea, but forgot that this Electoral College thing was still out there.
Alexander Hamilton, everyone’s current favorite founder and snappy rapper, argued for the Electoral College to be a sort of fifth estate in Federalist 68. A final, final, check on the democratic process. By creating the College as a sort of non-governmental oversight committee, he foresaw a way to keep out individuals who the first four checks let slip through the cracks. Someone like a popular businessman with no government experience who somehow found himself on the fast track to the Executive Office might be ultimately stopped at the door by this oversight committee. Think of it like a jury of your peers, an unbiased group, debating one issue and making one decision based on the evidence presented them.
This isn’t a bad idea at all, but Hamilton just couldn’t foresee how the country would change the ways it disseminates information. The telegraph was science fiction, let alone the era of the internet. Creating an unbiased, untainted by information saturation, group of electors becomes next to impossible. So instead, we have a system that gives undue privilege to so-called “battleground” states, in which a specific state’s electoral votes become more important than the popular vote, circumventing the entire idea behind popular elections.
Now, generally the good people over at the Good Men Project give me the occasional 600 words to rant about politics here and there, and I’ve gone pretty far over that giving the Mckay Williams School of Political Kerfuffle primer on elections, but here’s why:
We cannot make the changes that, we the people, want regardless of political party or leanings until our election process is not owned by wealth, monetized political press, or fairly represented districting. We cannot have any of the lists of programs and policies we want until our voices are individually as loud as the well-positioned few.
Democracy lives and dies by an informed electorate, and we owe it to ourselves and our future citizens to affect the changes we need, almost more than the changes we want.
Arm yourselves with the knowledge you need to be the citizen you deserve.
What’s your take on what you just read? Comment below or write a response and submit to us your own point of view or reaction here at the red box, below, which links to our submissions portal.
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