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writing for godot

American Government and the Evolution of Plutocracy

Written by Tom Adams   
Tuesday, 28 February 2012 04:41
So how exactly does the American political system work? First of all, let's talk about what our political system is not; it is not a democracy. Not only does the word "democracy" not appear in the US constitution, but the founding fathers were absolutely terrified of it. John Adams, for example, explicitly warned of the dangers of the "tyranny of the majority" if America adopted a truly democratic government. Elbridge Gerry contended that democracy was "the worst of all political evils", and Alexander Hamilton claimed that "The people should have as little to do as may be about the Government."

The founding fathers, by and large, were wealthy, white men who owned significant land and other property, and as such, they were naturally inclined to favor a system of government that protected the financial interests of their own class. Also keep in mind that the mantra "all men are created equal" certainly did not apply to African Americans and women, and many of the founding fathers counted slaves among the ranks of their "property".

Rather than a democracy, the founding fathers designed a constitutional republic, in which representatives are chosen to represent the interests of their constituency. The citizenry has no direct say in policy decisions and we cannot vote on individual pieces of legislation. Therefore, the very foundation and integrity of the system rests upon the ability of our representatives to fulfill their duties of serving the people they were put in place to represent.

This is all well and good, assuming the chosen representatives genuinely represent the interest of the public. The unfortunate reality is that our system, by design, simply does not work to the benefit of the general public. Rather, the system serves the financial elite first and foremost, neglecting the needs of society at large, and the manifestations of this system are myriad:
- The top .25% of the population owns more wealth than everyone else combined.
- The gap between the rich and the poor is greater now than at any time since the 1920s.
- The United States, the richest and most powerful nation in the world, puts more of its people in prison than any nation on Earth.
- We spend more money on the military than all other nations on Earth combined, and yet almost 60 million American can't afford basic human health care.
- Most Americans favor increased taxes on the rich, decreased defense spending, universal health care, and more investment in renewable energy, and they oppose corporate personhood, corporate campaign financing, subsidies for oil companies and other big corporations, and cuts to medicare and social security, and yet our politicians have ignored the public will on all of these issues.

The reason for the disconnect between the public will and reality is fairly simple: our elected representatives don't have the best interests of the people at heart. And how could they? The average net worth of Congress members is almost a million dollars, nearly ten times that of the average citizen. How can millionaire congresspeople who send their kids to private schools and whose cars cost more than many of their constituents' yearly salaries possibly represent the interests of a single mother working two jobs to pay the rent on her apartment or the homeless, unemployed man who has no basic health insurance? Indeed, just as rich, white, male slave-owners couldn't possibly represent the interests of peasant farmers, women, and African Americans, neither can our current politicians represent the interests of the vast majority of American citizens. The disconnect between the rulers -- those few people we entrusted to do what's right for our nation -- and the rest of society is vast and stark.

So how is our political system organized to create these massive inequities and blatant injustices? For starters, there is only one political party, however unofficial, and it's called "the Corporate party". That one political party has two factions: the democrats and the republicans. Neither of these parties represents the interest of the people; rather, they represent the interests of the wealthy elite who control them and who put them in power with their millions in campaign financing. If you doubt that this is true, consider that in about 94% of all federal elections, the candidate who spends the most money wins.

Now you may think that one of these two factions is "less evil" than the other, and that that party can work to change the nature of the system to eradicate these inequities. But what is certain is that both political factions are bought and paid for by monied interests, and most of the richest corporations hedge their bets by contributing to both sides of the aisle. AT&T and Citigroup, for example, donated almost equally to republicans and democrats over the last decade. And while the republican party is typically thought of as the party of big business, Barack Obama, a democrat, has accepted more money from Wall Street banks than all other republican candidates combined in the current election cycle. In reality, both parties serve the interests of the wealthy elite that put them in power, and as such, both parties are part of the same broken, corrupt system that neglects the needs of the people. And neither party has any motivation whatsoever to fundamentally change the system from which they benefit so greatly; they're simply not going to act against their own interests, despite eloquent speeches with lofty platitudes of "hope" and "change".

So how has this system been able to thrive for so long with full acceptance by the public? Those who control the system have manufactured a clever framework that pins two seemingly opposing political forces against one another, who, in actuality, differ only in very minor ways, and on issues that are not central to the functioning of the economic and political systems they control. If you look at Barack Obama's foreign policy versus George W. Bush's, for example, they are practically indistinguishable, and Obama has, in fact, increased military spending over that of his republican predecessor.

So by limiting the choices from which the public can choose -- that is, by establishing a system consisting of two factions who are both bought and controlled by the same wealthy elite -- they have established a monopoly on the outcome of these elections. And with full participation from the corporate-owned media, they have provided the American public with the clever illusion that they have distinct choices, and that by voting against the perceived lesser party, they are doing a great service to themselves and their nation. But as with all illusions, the underlying reality is uncomfortable and unpleasant, and the American public are unwitting accomplices in the perpetuation of the very system that defrauds them of their political, economic, and civil liberties.

In short, our political system has been taken over by wealthy business interests. They control who gains power with their billions of dollars in campaign financing and they further control the legislative process via the big-money lobbying industry. We are neither a democracy nor a constitutional republic; we have become a plutocracy. And the plutocrats control both sides of the political aisle. In essence, the game is rigged, and by choosing between one of two factions of a single, corporate-controlled political party, we are working to entrench that system even further. And as with all undesirable behaviors, the first step on the road to redemption is to see things for what they are. It's time to open our eyes to that uncomfortable reality and start making different choices.

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