A Democracy in Name Only -

Why I Won’t Be Voting on November 2nd

by Paul Donahue

fascism: A system of government that exercises a dictatorship of the extreme right, typically through the merging of state and business leadership, together with belligerent nationalism. American Heritage Dictionary, 1983

"Fascism should more properly be called corporatism because it is the merger of state and corporate power." - Benito Mussolini.

As the mid-term elections draw near, the airwaves once again are filled with the attack ads and meaningless candidate debates. But this time around it doesn’t matter to me because until our electoral process undergoes fundamental and systemic changes, I will no longer be participating in the charade of voting. No longer can I pretend that we live in a democracy.

The preamble to the United States Constitution reads, “We the people”, not “We the corporations”, but things change. Putting a positive spin on the situation, we now have the best government money can buy, however that is because we have experienced a corporate takeover of our democracy. Abraham Lincoln's famous phrase from his Gettysburg Address, "government of the people, by the people, for the people” doesn’t even remotely describe the corporate-controlled government of the Exxon Mobils, by the Lockheed Martins, for the JP Morgan Chases that we have in the U.S. today.

I recently was forwarded an email detailing the fight in the early part of the last century by women for their voting rights. The email ended with an exhortation to women to get out and vote, to honor the difficult struggle of their forebears. It’s true, after a very difficult battle the Suffragettes finally won women the right to vote - to place an “X” next to a name or pull a lever on a voting machine. Unfortunately, however, they didn’t also win the right for that vote to actually mean anything, and it is not just women who suffer that fate.

People say we have to exercise our right to vote lest we lose it. Well, how would that look different from our current system? Is it even possible for giant corporations to have more control over the electoral process, our politics, and our government than they do now? I suppose if elections were abolished the mainstream corporate news media could save a lot of time by not having to pretend that we have a democratic system of government. If they didn’t have to bother covering political campaigns, it would free up even more airtime for reporting on Lindsay Lohan’s latest drug problems. And, of course, politicians could stop pretending that they actually care about the American public. But would there be any practical changes for the people - aside from those who really want to know more about Lindsay Lohan?

The election in 2008 of the great prevaricator Barack Obama, complete with his Nobel Prize for Public Speaking, was the last straw for me. Tremendous grassroots support, millions of newly energized voters, massive amounts of rhetoric about “Change you can believe in”, and for all that we just got more of the same. Once Obama was elected, the message very quickly morphed into “Change? Who Needs Change?”

Obama raised a record $745 million for his 2008 candidacy, the bulk of that money from corporations, and the corporations certainly have received an excellent return on their investment. The health insurance industry contributed generously and for that they received a health care bill guaranteeing them 30 million new customers. Their stock actually went up the day after the health care “reform” legislation was signed. The coal industry contributed generously, and for that they have received continued government inaction on global warming. The financial industry contributed millions, and in return received billions in bail-out money. And lets not forget BP. Over the past twenty years, Obama has been the largest recipient of BP campaign dollars of any candidate, and for that, the Obama administration has been behaving like a wholly-owned subsidiary of BP, colluding in the continuing cover-up of the greatest environmental crime in U.S. history.

Even our foreign policy - or maybe especially our foreign policy - is controlled by giant corporations. The brutal, homicidal, and illegal actions of the U.S. in the Middle East and Central Asia have devastated the targeted countries and brought U.S. citizens a greater, not a diminished, threat of terrorism plus tremendous debt. The only beneficiaries of the current U.S. jihad against the Muslim world are the energy corporations, arms manufacturers and other Pentagon contractors.

In late December 2008 and early January 2009 the spineless president-elect couldn’t find it in himself to speak out against the Israeli massacre taking place in Gaza - a massacre carried out with U.S. manufactured weapons and paid for with U.S. tax dollars. Then three days into his administration he became a war criminal in his own right when he began his illegal drone strikes inside Pakistan (extrajudicial assassination, prohibited by international law). A short time later it became quite clear that the torturing war criminals of the Bush administration were going to be given a pass.

What we are now experiencing is George Bush’s third term - the U.S. is still occupying Iraq, despite Obama’s claims to the contrary, the wars against Afghanistan and Pakistan have been escalated, Guantanamo is still open for business as are other U.S.-run torture dungeons for Muslims, extraordinary rendition continues, government secrecy continues, government spying on citizens continues, the president claims the right to assassinate Americans abroad, and the threat of a U.S. war on Iran still hangs in the air. Of the many promises made during his campaign, virtually the only promise Barack Obama has kept is the promise he made to escalate the war on Afghanistan.

Of course, all the blame for our state of affairs doesn’t lie with the war criminal in the Oval Office, Congress shares culpability. Thanks to the Supreme Court’s January 2010 decision regarding Citizens United v Federal Election Commission, which allowed unlimited corporate money into political campaigns, this years mid-term Congressional elections will be the most expensive and the most meaningless mid-term elections ever. Unprecedented amounts of corporate money are being funneled into campaign advertising. Total spending on this year’s election could reach as high as $4 billion. That represents about a fifty percent increase over spending on Congressional campaigns just two years ago. What corporations do you think are providing the additional cash, and what will they want for their investment? The non-profit citizens’ group Common Cause warns that the race for campaign cash has a dangerous impact on democracy and says, "When candidates are in a never-ending battle to raise campaign cash, the voters are the ones who lose. And when these candidates become elected officials, they know who they are accountable to - the big donors that helped them get elected."

If nothing else, Congress is reasonably predictable, consistently voting against the best interests of American citizens and for the best interests of their large corporate sponsors. With issue after issue, vote after vote, they defy the wishes of the American public… on education, environmental protection, alternative energy, food safety, financial regulation, privacy, telecommunications, and internet openness.

If I were to vote, I would vote for a candidate who promised to stay home and do absolutely nothing for the duration of their term. In case you think I’m being facetious, I’m not. I mean that quite literally. Think about it. What are some of the most significant actions taken by the present Congress?

First, Congress voted to continue funding for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Let’s forget the fact that both these wars are clearly illegal because, as all good Americans know, in this country, the greatest country in the world, adherence to international law is optional. I mean, after all, who’s going to stop us, Bolivia? Let’s focus instead on the will of the people, the majority of whom want us out of Iraq and Afghanistan. (As I mentioned above, just for the record, and presidential rhetoric aside, leaving 50,000 regular troops and another several thousand special forces troops behind does NOT constitute a withdrawal.) Did Congress follow the will of the people in acting to end the illegal wars? No, of course not - because the oil companies and defense contractors that fund their campaigns aren’t ready for the wars to end.

Second, they passed health care reform. The biggest problem with our health care system is that it is dominated by for-profit health insurance companies that put profits WAY ahead of the health of their customers. If you want to really reform health care, you start by removing these for-profit corporations from the loop. An alternative to this horrible system is some variation of single-payer national health insurance - something similar to what EVERY other developed country already has. A majority of the citizens of our country wanted single-payer national health insurance, a majority of doctors wanted single-payer national health insurance, a majority of nurses wanted single-payer national health insurance, and the biggest labor unions wanted single-payer national health insurance. So what did Congress do? They guaranteed another 30 million customers to the insurance crooks now running the system. Anyone who previously was too poor to afford “insurance” from these rip-off artists will now be criminalized if they fail to purchase the defective product. Thanks, Congress.

If all the members of Congress had just stayed home watching daytime soap operas instead of showing up to vote, the wars would not have been funded and we’d be stuck with a really bad healthcare system instead of a really, really bad healthcare system.

People say that elections give us the opportunity to vote for the candidate of our choice, but that is, at best, a half-truth. Yes, I can sometimes vote for the candidate of my choice. Rarely, very rarely, does my chosen candidate have the slightest chance of being elected, or even of being heard. More often, far, far more often, my chosen candidates are thwarted from getting onto the ballot, and are then marginalized and demonized if they do manage to make it that far.

As someone who tries to vote green, the first problem for my candidates is ballot access. The two dominant corporate-controlled political parties erect numerous stumbling blocks and hurdles designed to prevent third party candidates from ever getting on the ballot.

If, by some miracle, a third party candidate can overcome these obstacles to ballot access, they still face the enormous challenge of getting out their message and being heard by the voters.

Political campaigns are a pay for play system. As I said above, Obama raised a record $745 million for his 2008 presidential campaign. Meg Whitman in California’s current gubernatorial race has already spent $140 million of her own money. How do third party candidates lacking corporate backing, like those from the Green Party, even begin to compete against those astronomical sums of money?

If that isn’t enough, third party candidates also have to contend with the mainstream corporate media and the role it plays in choosing the candidates and the winners. My candidate of choice in the last three presidential elections was Green Party candidate and independent Ralph Nader. However, in the last presidential campaign, in 2008, despite Nader successfully having fought to get on the ballot in most states, and despite active campaigning on Nader’s part, and despite the fact that Naders’s polices and programs would have benefited far more Americans than those of either Obama or McCain, and despite the endless coverage the mainstream corporate media lavished on the Obama and McCain campaigns, Nader’s name was not even mentioned in mainstream corporate news reports after February 2008. February, eight months before the election, and the corporate media has already effectively eliminated Nader from the contest! He was even excluded from the Democrat and Republican-controlled televised presidential debates. With most Americans getting their news from television, that was the end of the show for Nader. A majority of voters didn’t know who he was, what he stood for, or that he was even running. And this is supposed to be a democracy? During a recent gubernatorial debate in California, Laura Wells, the Green Party candidate, was actually arrested outside the debate from which she had been banned. Again, this is supposed to be a democracy?

Upon emigrating to the United Sates and seeing our system of elections, with two nearly identical corporate-sponsored political parties controlling the show, a friend who grew up in Communist-controlled Hungary asked the same question, “This is supposed to be democracy?”

If our “democracy” has come down to nothing more than choosing between the lesser of two evils with every election, with no hope or prospect of that situation ever changing, then I guess I just don't care enough to participate in the farce. If I’m only given the choice between drinking battery acid or drain cleaner, I’m going to pass. Both of those two liquids will kill me, it’s only a question of how painful it will be and how long it will take. I’m going to hold out instead for the hot chocolate.

Some people say that if you don’t vote, you can’t complain about the system. Wanna bet? Is that caveat buried somewhere in the U.S. Constitution, because I must have missed it? Is there anyone out there who doesn’t feel entitled to complain about or protest against gross injustices committed by foreign governments, even though they don't vote in those countries? How is that any different? And how often does voting actually change things for the better anyway?

But voting should have the capability to change things, right? So, below are some of the changes I feel necessary to regain our democracy. Politicians already know about these ideas for repairing our broken system, but most of them are clearly not interested in following through because it’s pretty obvious that it would not be in their own best interest to do so….

  • Get the corporate money, all of it, out of our elections and out of our government. Corporations are NOT people and we should stop treating them like they are.
  • Make public financing not just available for all campaigns, but mandatory - no corporate money and no private fortunes used to buy elections.
  • Make airtime available to candidates free of charge - after all, they are OUR airwaves. The media corporations don’t pay for their use, so providing free airtime to candidates is the least they could do for us.
  • Vastly improve ballot access for third parties…and fourth, and fifth, and sixth. There is a big world of ideas out there, and voters should have the right to choose among them.
  • Employ instant runoff voting (IRV) so that people would feel free to vote their hopes, not their fears.
  • Leave behind the easily rigged electronic voting machines, the ones that allowed George W. Bush to steal two elections, and return to verifiable paper ballots.

For those interested and concerned about the state of our democracy, there are already groups working to bring about all these suggested changes, and these groups need your help and support. I look forward to their success and the day when I feel my vote will again have meaning.


Pacifica, California

29 October 2010