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Doris Haddock is not a well known name, but you might know her as Granny D. She saw clearly the corrupting influence of big money in our politics and on our country and determined to do something about it. To draw attention to this issue she set out on a 3,200 mile walk across America, from California all the way to Washington DC. When she began this brave journey on January 1, 1999 she was 88 years old. When she completed it on February 29, 2000 she was 90.
Granny D saw something that ever-more Americans are seeing, that our democracy is in grave danger due to the dishonesty and inequality inherent in our present election system. Whatever issue is of greatest importance to you, be it global warming, gun safety, human rights, international trade, voting rights, immigration, fracking or any of the vexing challenges before this nation, big money in our politics is the mother of the dysfunction that prevents solutions from being implemented and allows things to steadily get worse.
We have massive unemployment and, every bit as bad, massive under-employment. We have brilliant people who cannot find a job. Perhaps that is an issue that you don’t deeply feel just now, but when your knees go bad, you will wish that some truly gifted person had been working in a lab and had found a way to re-grow the cartilage in your joints. When you contract cancer, as so many of us will, you will wish that one of our people with a head full of amazing potential had been able to get the education that might have led to a cure. When your adult children are living in your basement, burdened by overwhelming school debt and without a chance for a job, you will wish that our politicians did more than tell us that it’s all about jobs, jobs, jobs. You’ll wish they had done something about it.
Both Pew Research and the Gallup Organization have done polling on how we Americans feel about our government. The staggering truth is that 81 of every 100 Americans does not trust our government. In recent years one of the biggest trust killers has been the growing economic disparity between the rich and all the rest of us and that is aggravated largely by money-driven political actions and inaction.
Elections are insanely expensive, largely due to the cost of television and radio advertising. The 2012 presidential contest alone cost $2.1 billion. The senate contest in Massachusetts between Elizabeth Warren and Scott Brown cost $77 million and the current senatorial contest in Kentucky looks like it will cost over $100 million. About 75% of that money will come from outside the state, meaning that the decision on the next senator from Kentucky will be driven largely by very rich people who don’t even live in Kentucky but who want to ensure a senate that does their bidding.
Don’t imagine that all politicians are dishonest because that simply is not true. On the other hand, it is impossible to raise enough money to mount a serious campaign in most federal elections if money is raised solely through small contributions from local citizens. That leaves candidates having to solicit large contributions from big donors. Another way to say that is that the system requires that anyone who wants to serve must put themselves in a position of becoming beholden to rich benefactors. And that is the problem.
In a study done by Larry Bartels of the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, it was found that only wealthy constituents gain the ear of their elected officials. Nobody is listening to the rest of us, so rich people get what they want and everyone else goes wanting.
A study done by Gilens and Page found exactly the same thing about policy making. And these studies have proven with research what every American has known for decades. The problem is that the situation continues to become worse and is bringing us to an America that almost none of us wants.
People in power rarely give up their power unless they have no alternative – that’s just human nature. They have engineered a system that keeps people afraid of speaking up for fear of losing what little they have managed to secure for themselves. But while part-time work at minimum wage and with no benefits can be tolerated for a while, there will come a time when the patience of the American people will run out, when people simply won’t have it any longer. We the people will let the politicians know that if they want to serve, they must serve us.
If 81% of us don’t trust our government, that is not a partisan issue. If 90% of us believe that there is way too much money sloshing around our political system, that is not a partisan issue. If for many years nearly all the economic gains have gone to the richest 1% of Americans, that is not a partisan issue. We really are all on the same side of this.
It is time to wake up. It is time to stop ridiculing the Occupy Wall Street crowd just because they don’t have a formal hierarchy and a central organization. It is time to stop ridiculing Tea Party people just because some of them are flamboyant. The words may sound different, but the demands of those two very different groups are remarkably similar regarding money in politics. It is time to unite as Americans, left, center and right.
Granny D was correct: When we solve the big money problem, we’ll be ready to solve all the rest. And that is what 99% of Americans want.
Ed. note: There is much in America that needs fixing and we are on a path to continually fail to make things better. It is my goal to make a difference – perhaps to be a catalyst for things to get better. That is the reason for these posts. To accomplish the goal requires reaching many thousands of people and a robust dialogue. Please help by offering your comments, as well as by passing this along and encouraging others to subscribe and do the same. Thanks. JA
Copyright 2019 by Jack Altschuler
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