By Dave Baird -- Reprinted from The Athens News
Ah, it's election time again. The great American sport.
Sadly, for a lot of folks it's a spectator sport. We tell our kids that with freedom comes responsibility, but ignore that ourselves.
Many of our forebears shed blood to give us the right of the vote. Now our sons and daughters are shedding theirs partly because we have not taken that gift seriously. We are not informed, and are swayed by appeals to our fears, bigotry and emotions rather than by reason.
I get a chuckle every time I hear that we are killing folks to bring them the blessings of democracy when we have made such a muck of it here.
Hey, gang, our government is for sale. We don't have elections; we have auctions. Both parties are crowded around the trough. If you want special treatment, lower taxes, larger subsidies or just to be heard, you don't pay taxes, you give money directly to the politician. (Pardon me, contribute to them...).
The system is stacked to make this almost a necessity in order to get the job. Even the "good" ones rationalize selling out in order to "do some good." Everyone knows it. Most don't like it. But what is going to be done about it? Good question. Ask your party officials and you will get a runaround or they will treat you like a simpleton: "You just don't understand the realities of the system."Well, THEY do. Money is power and power is the name of the game.
Fixing it would be fairly simple, at least in concept, the devil being in the details.
1) Caps on campaign spending tied to inflation.
2) Limit contributions to $50 for an individual and $500 for an organization (be it a business or a union or a knitting club). Provide public funding up to 50 percent of the cap.
3) Part of the license for media would be to provide free time and space for debates and pro/con discussion of issues. And no paid ads within a week of the election (except for a rebuttal).
4) Make it illegal to indulge in negative and personal attacks (that includes so-called surrogates).
5) Make any organization that makes baseless charges subject to libel laws (like the Swift Boat gang). Fines would be imposed in votes, not money.
6) Establish a code of conduct for candidates and fine them for breaking it.
7) Train our kids in critical thinking and encourage, nay, REQUIRE debate of issues in our schools.
8) Voting should be encouraged and protected. Voting days should be either on weekends or made a holiday. Perhaps some penalty for not voting or at least an incentive to vote (maybe a discount on traffic tickets or taxes).
9) It should be illegal for an employer to interfere with the voting or votes of his or her employees, or for that matter even ask them how they voted. That goes for unions, too.
10) Make it illegal for employers to require political contributions.
11) Enforce the strictures on non-profits involving themselves in politics (including churches and religiously based media empires).
12) Can the computer-based voting machines. They have been shown to be open to rigging and hacking. And there's no way to tell if they have been.
13) Last but not least, get rid of gerrymandering by either party. One way would be to require each district to be equal (roughly) and drawn on county lines only, no splitting urban from rural by dividing counties. The process of doing this would be under control of the Census Bureau and the judiciary.
Most of these suggestions would be shouted down by special interests as an infringement on their free speech, which is hogwash. Their concern is expensive speech, speech that only they can afford and feel free to abuse.
Having said that, I'll add that freedom of speech for the many would need to be aggressively protected. One way of doing that would be to enforce the anti-trust laws (remember them?) as it applies to the various forms of media. Individuals and groups should be able to criticize the government without pressure or penalty but should stick to the issues rather than "Candidate A" saying a bad word or having hang nails. And if we vote for someone, it should be on the basis of how he or she is going to affect your family and community (or for that matter, the rest of the world). Not because they hate the same people you do.
Am I whistling in the wind here? Maybe, but it is becoming obvious what the results are of lots of people shirking their civic responsibilities. We see the effects of corruption of the system by moneyed interests, the concentration of power and wealth in fewer hands, and their control over the political life of this country.
Obviously, money and politics must be separated. Church and state need to stay separated.
We are the ones who have to start taking this whole business seriously. The fact that 30-second sound bites can sway an election should be unthinkable. Power still rests in the hands of the people (theoretically). We should be ashamed of the fact that George Bush is sitting in the Oval Office with only 18 percent of the electorate voting for him!
Have a happy and involved New Year.
Editor's note: David Baird, a self supporting craftsman, and his wife, Roberta (better craftsperson), live in the fortunately not burgeoning community of Mud City, in the still beautiful Athens County.