Defending the Power Elite in America Against the Interests of the People: The Case of the United States Government

In Election Politics, History on August 3, 2011 at 09:48

This is a special updated edition of an article that lays to bear the problems with government that have been all to evident in the “debt crisis” talks. Not only have the latest talks shown that public opinion means less and less to our federal government, but it demonstrates how the wealthy classes are the protected class in our society. They are protected from taxes to pay for what they receive from us, responsibility to protect the environment, workers and customers, and accountability for the mistakes they made to get us into this recession. Instead of laying out the debt crisis and the problems with the talks, what others have done better than I could, I have laid out what must be done to start the path toward democracy in the United States.  

Defending the Power Elite in America Against the Interests of the People: The Case of the United States Government

The form of our government in the United States is one that is not conducive to change and radicalism. It is set up to prevent big sweeping changes and thus promotes the interests of those in power, the moneyed and political elite. Elections for political office do little to change the underlying body politic, changing one face for another, and are only cosmetic in nature.

There are several ways the status quo, government run by the powerful and not the people, is protected in the United States.

1. The two party monopoly

Many democracies have multiparty systems. Having more parties means more competition, but apparently the two parties in charge only like the mythical competition of the economic markets and the competition on the football pitch. When it comes to political competition, they want to limit it as much as possible.

While I believe that many Tea Party supporters are deluded and extreme if they feel the Republican Party cares about them, they are challenging the two-party monopoly. I support that even if it comes from the far right. The complaints from the left of Obama’s own party makes it clear we could have a more liberal party than the Democrats. But in the United States you have two flavors of political ice cream, vanilla and vanilla bean: same basic corporate flavor with a different name. (link)

Another thing that the two-party monopoly does is limit the acceptable background of politicians in the United States. At the moment, it is unlikely we would have a candidate, let alone a president, from the lower classes like Lula Da Silva of Brazil. To become President in the United States you must be religious (not atheist or agnostic), Protestant (with the exception of President Kennedy thus far), you must have college degree. Being a lawyer is a major advantage and having a business degree is also helpful.

Furthermore, out of our forty-three Presidents, only one has been not all white, and there have been no women. There are no blacks in the current Senate. That is not representative. There are, however, forty-four blacks in the House of Representatives, which is the approximate percent of the population (close to 10%). This amplifies my arguments that the Senate is undemocratic. What about Hispanic representation? Two in the Senate and thirty in the House of Representatives. While the Senate is ruled by wealthy Whites, the House is much closer to what the United States actually looks like. (link) The two political parties in the United States are richer, whiter, and more educated that the rest of the United States. How could they ever have the interests of the working classes at heart when they aren’t one of us? It’s possible, but Congress demonstrates more clearly by the day how out of touch they are.

2. The Constitution

You might be wondering why I put the Constitution on a list discussing the barriers to a more democratic society. There are several reasons, some of which I discuss throughout this article. To put it in broad terms, it is a barrier because it codifies some of the problems with our democracy such as the Senate and the process for electing our presidents. The other reason is the sacred nature of the document. Like the Bible, the Constitution is taken as gospel, until you disagree with it. “But it’s in the Constitution”, or “But it’s not in the Constitution” are oft used phrases when one wants to end political debate. However, like the Bible, the Constitution accepted slavery and even made allowances for it with the 3/5s rule as well as containing other undemocratic policies. (link)

The Bill of Rights, if we adhere to them, is what’s best about our secular/holy document, but the plan of government needs updating, and we need to add amendments protecting people’s voting rights and ending corporate personhood to improve our failing democratic institutions.

3. Winner takes all

In a winner takes all election, you can win a congressional seat by one vote. The loser gets nothing. For example, the Senate candidate in California could win a seat with 6,000,001 votes while the loser gets 6,000,000 votes. That means there are 6 million voters who have no representative of their choosing. If we had a proportional representation system in the Senate (a body I want to dismantle as you will see later), the losing party would get the number of seats in proportion to the votes they received. In the case above, they would get half of the seats, minus one. Thus the “loser” would have a say and those views would be represented. Some people say that the system we have works, so why change it. Take a look at Congress and tell me if it’s really working. (link)

Sociologist G. William Domhoff has made a career studying elections and political systems.  He discusses the advantages of a proportional representation system,

In contrast to a system based on districts and pluralities, countries with systems of proportional representation usually have four or more parties, and would have even more if there wasn’t a minimum vote that has to be reached to receive any seats at all. Although the centrist parties soak up most of the votes, these countries are often governed by a coalition of two or more parties. Roughly speaking, there are left-of-center, center-left, center-right, and right-of-center coalitions. In this kind of system, everyone’s vote counts, and voter turnout is therefore very high. (link)

In Domhoff’s book “Who Rules America”, he reviews statistics comparing winner-takes-all systems versus proportional representation. It is clear from the data that proportional representation systems have much higher voter participation while providing more choices, and they are thus more democratic. The two ruling parties in the U.S. will not allow a proportional voting system that would interfere with their two party monopoly.

The positive side to the Tea Party ideology is that is shows a split in one of the major parties that could, over time, lead to a sustainable third party in America. We could also sustain a left of center party to compete with the corporate Democrats. Until the rules on elections change to allow more third party challenges, rules from registration requirements to costs for entry and proportional representation, citizens are doomed to vote between two inadequate parties.

4. Money Dominated and not Vote Dominated Elections

Money controls politics to a large extent in the United States. Those that defend this say that it has always been this way and that it would be undemocratic to not allow unlimited money from the wealthy to be used in elections. That means Congress is for sale. (link) By allowing unlimited campaign donations for corporations, the Supreme Court has moved the already corporate dominated U.S. Government even further toward a day when one just need buy a seat in Congress without the pretense of voting. Until we limit this money in elections, end the lie of corporate personhood, and treat everyone’s money as equal, our elections will be corrupted by those that can pay the most to have their candidate elected. Read my post about this here.

Post on the Supreme Court “Citizens United” ruling that gives corporations unlimited donation power.

Presidential Election System

Our presidential primary system starts in two less populated states, Iowa and New Hampshire.

The Iowa primary is not even a vote by the people. It has a caucus (group meetings with the party faithful) that favors party insiders and not candidates with alternative ideas. The primary in New Hampshire has very small turnout. For example, only three to four percent of voters nominated McCain in New Hampshire. (link) So a few thousand votes in a small state decided who would represent the Republicans in 2008.

Furthermore, many state party primaries block those not registered with one of the two major parties from their primaries, and thus they promote the two party monopoly. Independents, non-aligned voters, don’t have a say. Thus, voters are coerced to sign-up with one of the two parties or have no vote in the primaries that determine the choice for president. And by the time the Iowa and New Hampshire primaries are over, most of the candidates, often those with the most interesting ideas, have been eliminated. Iowa and New Hampshire, with about 2.5% of the U.S. population, have more say about the nominees that other states.

New Hampshire is mostly rural. So is Iowa. They are also states that have a higher percentage of White people than most of America. So why are those the first two presidential primary states?  If Brown of CA, Scott in FLA and Cuomo in NY (Governors of three populous and diverse states) pushed for a change and asked their legislatures to move up their primaries, the primary system would have an outside chance of changing.

Iowa compared to US demographics
New Hampshire compared to the United States

Other problems with the primary process are the debates that limit participation of candidates, even those on the ballots, and the system of super delegates that allows only party insiders votes. These groups are by nature about uniformity and not rocking the boat, and they insure that no reformer gets on the ballot to challenge the fundamental power of the ruling elite. If a candidate outside the mainstream of the Democratic elite gets a lot of popular support, if they might challenge the neoliberal and imperialist model of our nation state, the super delegates can override the popular vote. So while people say we have a democracy, the choice of candidates is severely restricted by party insiders, money, and the election process.

6. The Electoral College System

We should of course rid our selves of the undemocratic Electoral College system that allows candidates with fewer votes to win the presidency. (link) The electoral college was set up because the founding fathers believed that the average citizen was too easily manipulated and couldn’t be trusted with the direct election of the president, “Hamilton and the other founders did not trust the population to make the right choice.” We are not trusted with democracy, so we can’t directly vote for president and have to rely on the college.  (link)

7. The Senate

The Senate is a “representative” legislative body that gives inordinate power to less populated states that skew toward a more traditionalist, conservative politics. Because they are over represented, less populated states take more resources per capita than more populous states and can block policies that would help the more urban states. It is counter to our stated ideology of one person, one vote. One vote in Montana for Senator is equal to the value of 70 votes in California. It also skews the Electoral College, based on the number of representatives in Congress, toward the less populated states. Before rejecting this unusual idea of eliminating the Senate, read my complete criticism here. (link)

We vote every fall or spring hoping that might make a difference, and some times it does. But As long as we have a two party system in the United States run by money and limited choice, we will never have a government by the people and for the people. Our presidents will also continue to be beholden to corporations such as big oil, big agra, big pharma and Wall Street bankers and investment firms like Goldman Sachs, AIG and Bank of America. Until the rigged game changes, the people of the United States will always have inadequate representation. And, the voice of the majority of the population will be subverted by corporate money and ideology.

Tex Shelters

  1. Terrific critique of how the power elite have rigged our political system as a de facto plutocracy. The corporatocracy has infiltrated the media, essentially castrating the influence of the left, and making impossible the election of any leftist president. The democratic party as a whole has been sold down the river. The differences between the 2 parties are cosmetic, not substantial. For every Bernie Sanders or Dennis Kucinich there are far more corporate democrats, be they “blue dogs” or whatever. We need public campaign financing. We need multiple political parties with equal access to the media, all included in televised debates, all with the equal opportunity to articulate their views.

    The Constitution, as you astutely point out, it used as an emotional buzzword, rather than any sincere attempt to further the discussion of a any topic. The people who say “Constitution” are often the same ones supporting Dubya’s dismantling of it in his GWOT whereby he preyed on people’s fear, bigotry, and xenophobia. The Citizens United ruling illustrates how the supposedly ultimate defenders of the Constitution, the Supreme Court, can destroy a fundamental right, free speech, while feigning a defense of the same.

    I applaud your assessments of the Electoral College and the Presidential Election System, both seriously screwed up and anachronistic. The Senate is a group of corporate whores and gives disproportionate power to rural red states. I like your creative thinking here and agree that the net effect of the Senate is to undermine the egalitarian democratic potency of the House. The process of legislating with these two bodies is so cumbersome and absurd. Bills should have one version, not too, and not be watered down in some reconcilation process. We need laws to be written and passed by an elected body representing the people, not wealthy donors.

    • Thanks Joe.

      Good to see you, and good to see not all on the left are fooled by the corporadems. (I knew you weren’t, really.)

      Tex Shelters

  2. “We are not trusted with democracy”

    We don’t live in a Democracy Tex we live in a Constitutional Republic so we don’t have tyranny of the majority. I wouldn’t want to live in a True Democracy, if we did than the majority religion here in the US could dictate a State Religion to us. I agree with you about the two party system but to have a true democracy (Mob Rule), is the last thing I want for my kids and grand kids. Even with all it’s faults, I doubt there is a better system of government out there than a Constitutional Republic.


    • Yes, I know. We live in a Democratic Republic, meaning people vote for representatives that make legislation.

      There are several Democratic Republics that have higher voter turnout and more choice in political representation. The way we run the system is about as unrepresentative you could get with free voting. Our system has also been called a Constitutional Democracy. But why quibble with words. I don’t want a direct democracy, I want a more representative Congress that is bought by the highest bidders.

      Tex Shelters

    • In a republic, the citizens do not rule directly but, instead, elect officeholders to represent them and conduct the business of government in the periods between elections.
      A “republican” form of government means that the voters do not make laws themselves but, instead, delegate the job to periodically elected officials (Congressmen, Senators, and the President). The United States has a republican form of government regardless of whether popular votes for presidential electors are tallied at the state-level (as has been the case in 48 states) or at district-level (as has been the case recently in Maine and Nebraska) or at 50-state-level (as under the National Popular Vote bill).

      The National Popular Vote bill would end the disproportionate attention and influence of the “mob” in a handful of closely divided battleground states, such as Florida, while the “mobs” of the vast majority of states are ignored. 98% of the 2008 campaign events involving a presidential or vice-presidential candidate occurred in just 15 closely divided “battleground” states. Over half (57%) of the events were in just four states (Ohio, Florida, Pennsylvania and Virginia). Similarly, 98% of ad spending took place in these 15 “battleground” states.

      The current system does not provide some kind of check on the “mobs.” There have been 22,000 electoral votes cast since presidential elections became competitive (in 1796), and only 10 have been cast for someone other than the candidate nominated by the elector’s own political party. The electors are dedicated party activists of the winning party who meet briefly in mid-December to cast their totally predictable votes in accordance with their pre-announced pledges.

  3. “There are several Democratic Republics that have higher voter turnout and more choice in political representation.”

    That’s the fault of the people not the system.

    If the people would stop settling for the lesser of two evils than you would have more choices.

    If the people got off their lazy butts to vote than you would have a higher turnout.

    The true problem is that most people just don’t care as long as their favorite TV show isn’t canceled and Facebook is up and running.

  4. “There are several Democratic Republics that have higher voter turnout and more choice in political representation.”

    That’s the fault of the people not the system.

    If the people would stop settling for the lesser of two evils than you would have more choices.

    If the people got off their lazy butts to vote than you would have a higher turnout.

    The true problem is that most people just don’t care as long as their favorite TV show isn’t canceled and Facebook is up and running.

  5. If you read Domhoff’s books, you will see that there is definitive evidence that proportional representation increases voter turnout as do other voting systems.

    Yes, people are sadly too lazy and too busy and concerned with their own belly buttons to be politically active.

    Tex Shelters

  6. I love what joethebohemian wrote. Pretend I said it, too. No, don’t pretend: I said it, too. See: Ditto.

  7. Thanks Leeza. Every once in a while, I write a good one.

    Tex Shelters

  8. The National Popular Vote bill would guarantee the Presidency to the candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states (and DC).

    Every vote, everywhere would be politically relevant and equal in presidential elections. Elections wouldn’t be about winning states. Every vote, everywhere would be counted for and directly assist the candidate for whom it was cast. States have the responsibility to make their voters relevant in every presidential election. Candidates would need to care about voters across the nation, not just undecided voters in a handful of swing states.

    When the bill is enacted by states possessing a majority of the electoral votes– enough electoral votes to elect a President (270 of 538), all the electoral votes from the enacting states would be awarded to the presidential candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states and DC.

    The Electoral College that we have today was not designed, anticipated, or favored by the Founding Fathers but, instead, is the product of decades of evolutionary change precipitated by the emergence of political parties and enactment by 48 states of winner-take-all laws, not mentioned, much less endorsed, in the Constitution.

    The bill uses the exclusive power given to each state by the Founding Fathers in the Constitution to change how they award their electoral votes for president. It does not abolish the Electoral College, which would need a constitutional amendment, and could be stopped by states with as little as 3% of the U.S. population. Historically, virtually all of the major changes in the method of electing the President, including ending the requirement that only men who owned substantial property could vote and 48 current state-by-state winner-take-all laws, have come about by state legislative action.

    In Gallup polls since 1944, only about 20% of the public has supported the current system of awarding all of a state’s electoral votes to the presidential candidate who receives the most votes in each separate state (with about 70% opposed and about 10% undecided). Support is strong among Republican voters, Democratic voters, and independent voters, as well as every demographic group surveyed in virtually every state surveyed in recent polls in closely divided battleground states: CO – 68%, FL – 78%, IA 75%, MI – 73%, MO – 70%, NH – 69%, NV – 72%, NM– 76%, NC – 74%, OH – 70%, PA – 78%, VA – 74%, and WI – 71%; in smaller states (3 to 5 electoral votes): AK – 70%, DC – 76%, DE – 75%, ID – 77%, ME – 77%, MT – 72%, NE 74%, NH – 69%, NV – 72%, NM – 76%, OK – 81%, RI – 74%, SD – 71%, UT – 70%, VT – 75%, WV – 81%, and WY – 69%; in Southern and border states: AR – 80%,, KY- 80%, MS – 77%, MO – 70%, NC – 74%, OK – 81%, SC – 71%, TN – 83%, VA – 74%, and WV – 81%; and in other states polled: CA – 70%, CT – 74%, MA – 73%, MN – 75%, NY – 79%, OR – 76%, and WA – 77%. Americans believe that the candidate who receives the most votes should get elected.

    The bill has passed 31 state legislative chambers, in 21 small, medium-small, medium, and large states, including one house in AR, CT, DE, DC, ME, MI, NV, NM, NY, NC, and OR, and both houses in CA, CO, HI, IL, NJ, MD, MA, RI, VT, and WA. The bill has been enacted by DC (3), HI (4), IL (19), NJ (14), MD (11), MA (10), VT (3), and WA (13). These 8 jurisdictions possess 77 electoral votes — 29% of the 270 necessary to bring the law into effect.


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