The Fatal Flaw with Democracy
Of all the depressing things to take away from last night’s elections – and believe me, there are many – the most depressing is probably the fact that we have outsourced our political process to factions. Actual candidates and actual campaigns no longer run the show; billionaires and dark money do.
In many of the closest congressional races across the country, outside groups – groups like Super PACs that aren’t officially connected to campaigns – actually outspent regular candidate campaigns. In North Carolina, for example, where Republican Thom Thillis beat out Democrat Kay Hagan in the most expensive senate race ever, outside groups spent $88 million while the Thillis and Hagan campaigns together only spent around $33 million. In Colorado, meanwhile, where Republican Cory Gardner beat out Democrat Mark Udall in the race that really sounded the death knell for Democrats, outside group spending tapped out around $81 million while regular campaign spending came in around $27 million.
It used to be that candidates had to work hard to raise money from everyday donors like you and me, but now, thanks to the Supreme Court, they don’t have to worry about that. The billionaires run their campaigns for them. And believe me, it really is the billionaires who are calling the shots.
As USA Today pointed out recently, 42 of the country’s richest people accounted for one-third of all Super PAC spending this election cycle. That’s right, 42 people!
What we did with prisons, with voting machines, and with the surveillance state are all things that we’ve now done with our election system: we’ve privatized, outsourced, and corporatized it, with similarly disastrous results. The Founding Fathers are rolling over in their graves.
You see, besides the return of the British Empire, there was nothing that terrified them more than the takeover of our republic by factions. James Madison, the author of the Constitution, talked at length about the dangers of faction in Federalist Paper Number 10. First defining faction as, “[A] number of citizens ... who are united and ... adverse to the rights of other citizens, or to the permanent and aggregate interests of the community," he then warned that, "The instability, injustice, and confusion introduced [by faction] into the public councils, have, in truth, been the mortal diseases under which popular governments have everywhere perished.”
Madison was a student of history, and he didn’t want our fledgling republic to go down the road of Ancient Rome and Ancient Greece, which collapsed after being taken over by powerful special interests. He knew, as did the other Founders, that if democracy had a fatal flaw, it was that it was susceptible to the influence of factions that could deceive the people into thinking they were on their side. Which is why, of course, Madison and the other Founders created this thing we call our government – to protect against the power of factions with laws and regulations.
Today, though, the Founders’ worst fears have been realized and faction has taken control of our political system. The total dominance of outside billionaire money in this year’s midterm elections is proof of that. Whatever protections were in place to prevent the hostile takeover of our political system by factions were smashed to pieces by the Supreme Court with its 2010 Citizens United decision. Now, a small group of wealthy people has co-opted our political system to enrich itself at the expense of everyone else.
Every empire of any consequence throughout history that has collapsed has done so because a small group of wealthy people rose up and seized all the wealth and all the power. And it’s how the American Empire will collapse, too, if we don’t wake up and get money out of politics once and for all. Our democracy has been outsourced to and hijacked by a faction of billionaires and their front-group, which calls itself the Republican Party.
So, as the old saying goes, who will tell the people? You could start...