As good government is an empire of laws, how shall your laws be made? In a large society, inhabiting an extensive country, it is impossible that the whole should assemble to make laws. The first necessary step, then, is to depute power from the many to a few of the most wise and good. – John Adams – “Thoughts on Government”
One can only imagine what John Adams would think about the United States government’s current state as we prepare for the 2014 mid-term elections. My gut feeling is that it would be something along the lines that Americans, be they Democrats or Republicans, should be embarrassed. Our Congress created over 200 years ago as a place where men and women would engage in intellectual debate and fashion laws to shape the country and benefit the greater good of all people has devolved into nothing more than a sandbox full of school children who pout when they don’t get their way and accomplish nothing. Yet somehow profit individually from their immature behavior. Much of the current dysfunction in Washington can be blamed on the two party system’s inherent flaws. Paralyzed by extremists on both sides and dominated by big money from special interest groups and corporations. Congress today has little interest in accomplishing anything during their current term other than ensuring their reelection, and that requires money. According to TIME, lots and lots of money, the cost of running for Congress has increased more than 500 percent since 1984. And if you think most of that money is probably not coming from ordinary citizens like you and me, well, you would be right. According to the Center for American Progress:
The total cost of federal campaigns in 2012 totaled $6.3 billion. This considerable sum was raised from a tiny percentage of U.S. residents, with 0.12 percent of the population giving $200 or more to candidates, political parties, or political action committees and 0.02 percent giving $2,600 or more. Unsurprisingly, most of these contributions come from Americans who can most afford them. The total spent on federal lobbying in 2013 stood at slightly more than $3.2 billion, with large businesses and business associations comprising the largest lobbying spenders. And these figures underestimate the total amount of money in politics, as some types of spending are not required to be disclosed, and a considerable amount is spent on campaigns and lobbying at the state and local levels.
Wondering what the impact of that is? Well, in a nutshell, it means that the government in America, our government, is not working for the good of you and me but the interest of big business. Study after study of campaign fundraising shows that political parties and candidates in both parties tend to tailor their policy priorities to specific donor communities’ desires. A study by political science professors Martin Gilens of Princeton University and Benjamin Page of Northwestern University has found that ordinary Americans have virtually no impact on the making of national policy in our country. Examining survey data on 1,779 national policy issues for which they could gauge average citizens’ preferences, they concluded that the influence of ordinary Americans registers at a “non-significant, near-zero level.”
Government is instituted for the common good; for the protection, safety, prosperity, and happiness of the people; and not for profit, honor, or private interest of any one man, family, or class of men; therefore, the people alone have an incontestable, unalienable, and indefeasible right to institute government; and to reform, alter, or change the same, when their protection, safety, prosperity, and happiness require it. – John Adams – “Thoughts on Government”
Fortunately, the power of the vote remains the ultimate weapon of the masses in leveling the playing field and ensuring that those sent to Washington to represent the will of the people do just that. Sadly, many Americans have eschewed that responsibility and the country that holds itself up as the model of Democracy has fallen far behind other countries. In countries with compulsory voting, like Australia, Belgium, and Chile, voter turnout hovered near 90% in the 2000s. Other countries, like Austria, Sweden, and Italy, experienced turnout rates near 80%. Overall, Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development member countries experience turnout rates of about 70%. In the U.S., about 60% of the voting-eligible population votes during presidential election years, and about 40% votes during midterm elections.
“America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves.” – Abraham Lincoln.
“Children should be educated and instructed in the principles of freedom.” John Adams -Defense of the Constitutions, 1787
America’s shame regarding voting is even more pronounced by those who have the most to lose, our future. The percentage of Americans age 18-29 who say they will “definitely be voting” in November fell to 23 percent, a steep drop of 11 points from December, according to a new survey by Harvard’s Institute of Politics. According to Gallup, youth turnout has stayed between 22 percent and 25 percent in all midterm elections since 1998. It had also stayed at about the same level in 2010. Many point to the growing disillusion with politicians in general and the political system for declining youth participation in the election process. While there is without a doubt plenty to be disillusioned about, by choosing to remain outside of the process entirely, future generations of this country are actively forfeiting their right to have a voice in decisions that will impact them decades to come.
It becomes necessary to every [citizen] then, to be in some degree a statesman, and to examine and judge for himself of the tendency of political principles and measures. Let us examine, then, with a sober, a manly . . . and a Christian spirit; let us neglect all-party [loyalty] and advert to facts; let us believe no man to be infallible or impeccable in government any more than in religion; take no man’s word against evidence, nor implicitly adopt the sentiments of others who may be deceived themselves, or maybe interested in deceiving us. – John Adams, The Papers of John Adams,
For the 40% that will vote in this mid-term election, it is critical that they not cast their ballot blindly for either a democrat or republican. That they do not let the talking heads on FOX News, MSNBC or CNN influence their vote or be swayed by a 30-second commercial that accuses someone of doing something without evidence. As the electorate, it is our responsibility to educate ourselves on the issues, thoroughly investigate and comprehend the positions and moral character of those we give the responsibility of representing our interest. It was Franklin D. Roosevelt who said it best. “Democracy cannot succeed unless those who express their choice are prepared to choose wisely. The real safeguard of Democracy, therefore, is education.”
It is time we sent a message to those in Washington, on both sides of the floor, that we have had enough of their antics that they serve only at the pleasure of our vote, not at the hand of special interests and multibillion-dollar corporations. Simply stated, we let them know that we voted you into that seat, we can vote you out.