Campaign Finance Reform, and Democracy in Action
As American's, we usually see democracy as an absolutely positive thing. We all tend to agree that one of the most important aspects of our society is its democratic nature, and we believe that other countries should become more democratic because that will help them to advance to a new and wonderful world. We also believe that as other countries become more democratic, the world will become a safer place.
Well we are not doing a good job of handling our own democracy, and the democratic experience of some other countries is not providing us the safety we would have expected.
Let me explain.
In the United States, we have mishandled our democracy terribly. The idea of democracy is that each individual has an equal say in how the country is run. In the United States this is the fiction but not the reality. In truth, we all do get a minor say during the elections, however the real power and influence is money. Politicians in America need money, and lots of it. In order to get elected it costs boatloads of money. So in order to get that money they sell their souls. Ok, it isn't quite that dramatic, but they do have to spend an inordinate amount of time pandering and begging for money. The impact of this is that they spend less time actually governing, and more time on their knees looking for handouts. In order to get elected, you need lots of money. In order to get lots of money, you have to get it from rich people (or be rich yourself). In order to get it from rich people, you have to give them a promise (or at least the illusion of a promise) that you will give them something in return... usually policies and government contracts that they want.
Recently in the U.S. we have seen the power that money has on politicians through the incredible corruption unveiled through the recent Republican financing scandals.
It is really pretty simple. People only give money to politicians because they hope that the politician will govern in a way that benefits them. Since most of the money belongs to rich people (funny that) most of the money given to politicians supports policies that support the wealthy. There are some obvious exceptions, like when thousands of poorer people give small amounts to a politician, but the problem is that it is much harder to get thousands of the poor to part with a small amount of money, than it is to get one rich person to give up a larger portion of money.
So we end up with a system where politicians don't necessarily have to be good at governing, they really just have to be good at fund raising. And to be good at fund raising, they have to advocate policies that support those giving the money.
What a joke, and what a corrupt system.
What we really need to do is have full public funding of elections, and outright ban ANY money given to politicians, labeling it as it really is, a bribe. Think about that for a second. If we take money out of the equation, then the politicians will not see success by how good a fund raiser they are, but instead by how well they serve the interests of the voters as a whole. This would cause a dramatic change in the sorts of policies and laws that are passed in Congress, and will improve our situation to no end.
Now will that happen? Of course not, every politician in power today got there because of their excellent grasp of the current process. They are good fund raisers, and so it is in their benefit to maintain the status quo. Without some incredibly dramatic revolution, this will never change.
Now to democracy's surprises overseas. Bush has been telling us that the spread of democracy in the middle east will lead to open and free societies that will be safer for us. This actually seems to make sense; it is a simplistic argument, but the basic idea seems sound. However the reality on the ground is very different. We have seen three recent elections in the middle east that have gone counter to our expectations.
The first is the recent election victory of Hamas in the Palestinian Territories. Hamas is a terrorist organization that has called for the destruction of Israel. The United States pushed hard for this election, and then when it looked like Hamas might do reasonably well in the election, they clandestinely supported the Fatah party to try and help them to victory. However Fatah failed dismally, and Hamas has taken power. So here we have a situation where democracy has lead to a breakdown in the peace process, and most likely an amazing increase in the volatility of the middle east. Israel has already said they will not negotiate with Hamas, and unless Hamas repudiates their stated goal of the destruction of Israel, then I can't see how they will do anything but increase the danger in the area.
The next election was the election of Iran's new President Ahmadinejad. He has moved Iran away from reforms, and closer to the closed Islamic society of the past. He has also declared that Israel should be wiped from the face of the earth, and is very likely pursuing nuclear weapons. He is a destabilizing force in the middle east, and will also cause us no end of trouble. He was also democratically elected.
Thirdly is the election in Iraq. It is now clear that the major victors in the Iraqi elections were the Islamic fundamentalist religious parties with ties to Iran. Those are the people who will now be leading the country. The secular Shiites that were supported in the election by the U.S. lost dismally. The Iraqi people voted almost universally on ethnic and religious lines, and the result was that they have chosen for themselves quite possibly the American's least favorite leaders. These are men who will lead Iraq towards an Iranian style theocracy, and will likely reduce the rights of women, increase the impact of Islamic law in society, and basically move the country away from the freedoms that we would expect.
Obviously democracy does not always give us the outcome we as Americans might hope for. The funny thing about democracy is that it is not pro-American, it is simply pro voter. And if the voters in other countries don't like the U.S., you can be guaranteed that their governments will not be pro-U.S. either. This of course leads us to the difficult situation where we have to start considering whether our support of the principle of democracy is strong enough to allow the further spread of anti-American sentiment and government policies throughout the world. This is a tough test for America to have to go through, and it will be interesting to see how we do.
I guess it really depends on what the rich in America want.
One final note, the Bush Administration always seems to be surprised that people in the middle east tend to vote for religious politicians. Why they are surprised is beyond me, as that tactic is a central pillar of Bush's own electoral strategy. Why he thinks that Muslems will be likely to vote for secularists while his own strategy is appealing to the religious insticts of his constituents is beyond me. The religious angle has been a big winner for him, so why not in the middle east?