Robert A. Levine 4-23-14
There are so many negative aspects of democracy that it is difficult to focus on one particular problem as being responsible for the failure of democratic elections to produce good government. However, virtually all of the problems with the democratic process result from one aspect that appears to be resistant to correction- the unwillingness of the electorate to study the policies and values of the candidates running for office, to have a better understanding of how they will perform once they are elected.
This failure on the part of the voters in many nations to learn about their candidates has resulted in democracy becoming increasingly autocratic, with one individual or one group taking control of the government on a permanent basis. Democracy in these countries has essentially been eliminated, with officials no longer elected, or the elections when conducted being unfair, held under the aegis of the government that is in power, with the media completely under the thumb of the ruling group. This type of progression to autocracy has occurred in Russia and Turkey, as well as a number of African nations, and the chances that a return to democracy will occur in the future are small.
In the United States and other western countries, an overt transformation to autocracy has not been seen. However, the ignorance of the electorate and their lack of knowledge about the issues and the candidates, has allowed partisanship and corruption to dominate politics, making the system increasingly dysfunctional, with an inability to pass the necessary legislation that would allow the government to operate appropriately.
Extreme partisans in both parties, elected by voters who did not investigate their policies or values, have become dominant in the political parties, refusing to compromise on important issues and driving the parties to take more extreme positions. In addition, they have allowed the entire electoral process to become more corrupt, aided by recent rulings of the Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court, an unelected body controlled by conservatives, has equated the spending of money in politics with free speech. In their Citizens United and McCutcheon rulings the Court overturned past laws regarding political spending, expanding the amount of money individuals and corporations could donate to political parties or to Super PACs, with donations to the latter groups allowed to be clandestine if the Super PACs also were involved in social issues. These ruling skew the balance of political power even more into the hands of the affluent, allowing them greater control of the political process. In addition, the rulings increase the opportunities for corruption, with politicians anxious to get their hands on the greater amounts of money now available for political campaigns. The reforms on campaign financing that followed Watergate have essentially been thrown out.
To see what new rulings hath wrought, we only have to look at the way potential Republican presidential candidates came crawling on their knees to Las Vegas billionaire Sheldon Adelson a few weeks ago, hoping to get his financial backing for their campaigns. The Center for Responsive Politics estimated that the 2012 election campaigns cost about $6 billion, an absolutely insane number that subverts the idea of democracy. The 2016 elections will far surpass this, as will every subsequent election in the future.
American citizens can accept that this is how elections will be financed in the future, or they can get more involved in the political process and work for a constitutional amendment that will limit the amount of money individuals and corporation can spend on political campaigns. A constitutional amendment will not be able to be overturned by the Supreme Court and it will take campaign financing out of the hands of wealthy American, making our elections fair once more. Is America a beacon of democracy for the rest of the world or are we just another nation dominated by corruption and partisanship, with a few affluent individuals who are willing to spend from their fortunes to gain political power.