Saturday, November 25, 2023

Rats Jumping Ship: The Congressional Exodus


This article, "Frustrated lawmakers run for the exits: 'DC is broken'"  showed on my AOL feed  Tuesday as I imagine it did yours. Written by Mychael Schnell for The Hill,  the article strangely makes it seem that the level of dysfunction in Washington is somehow new, which it's not and hasn't been for quite some time. Still, it has some interesting points.

A record number of Congressional members--19 Democrats and 11 Republicans--are bailing due to the vitriol level of bitter partisanship and growing inability to solve even the most mundane of issues. However,  the political system isn't "broken" as the author alleges. In fact, Washington is running exactly as it is intended to by the ruling oligarchy (or kleptocracy if you prefer).

Congress, and indeed our entire operating bureaucracy, has been hijacked by a relatively small group of very wealthy individuals, who have managed to get their hands on the key levers of power in this country, and set up barriers to prevent their removal. This group of individuals are there to serve the interests of Wall Street, not the average American citizen.

Corporate lobbyists literally write bills designed to serve the interests of their paymasters, the big banks and wealth managers, technology, medical, and military companies among others. Meanwhile, no one is there to look out over our interests. The system is aimed to reward the wealthy and powerful while offering vague promises of change to the rest of us.

Benjamin Franklin famously said in 1787, at the close of the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, that they had been bequeath to us a Republic to keep, if we could. Well, we couldn't. While there has been those chipping away at it from nearly the beginning, it was  the Supreme Court that finally laid our Republic to rest on January 21, 2010.  In its place, we were given a Corporatocracy.

This day, January 21, 2010, was when the Supreme Court, blind in its understanding of modern politics and safely sequestered away in its ivory tower, grossly misunderstood the issue before it, that of money, corporate sovereignty, and politics, upheld Citizens United vs. the Federal Election Commission (FEC) by a margin of 5 to 4.  In doing so, corporations became de facto "people" with all the rights of ordinary citizens, but with one very important speech.

The court held that money was now the equivalent to "free speech". Corporations were free to spend all the "free speech" they wanted, be it on politicians, campaigns, or political parties, but what about flesh and blood citizens? Were we going to be allowed to spend what we wanted on candidates and campaigns to?

 The answer was "no". The average citizen's financial "free speech" would remain capped, as if uncapping it would matter anyway. Corporations were now free to step out of the shadows. They could drop tens of millions of dollars without blinking an eye. The result was that voters now had a much influence on elections as spit in a hurricane!

As an example, according to the FEC, during the 2019-2020 election cycle, corporations reported spending  $4.1 billion dollars during that 24 month period. In addition, Congressional candidates received $4 billion dollars while the two political parties, Democrat and Republican, were given $3.2 billion dollars. Corporations funded Political Action Committees ("PACs") to the tune of $13.2 billion. Lastly, electioneering communications and general communications reported to the FEC a received a overall total of $55.5 million dollars. Unions give just one dollar for every ten given by corporations.

The impact of Citizens United is all the more made clear when you consider that 96+% of all media---TV, radio, print, social media platforms, etc---are owned by just five corporations. This means that these same corporations can not only essentially underwrite a candidate or political party, but their control of the media allows them additional influence to affect your thinking on any given issue or candidate.

Citizens United also put the cost of running for office out of reach of most citizens. Races have become so expensive that only the wealthy and well connected can afford to run for political office. In 2022 for instance, the average cost to run for a Congressional seat was $8.9 million dollars according to the FEC. Even local offices can easily cost over $100,000 (as an aside, presidential elections are now firmly in the billion dollar stratosphere).  

It's not surprising that members of Congress are opting out, and who can blame them? The few idealists elected to office and thought they could make alliances in order to make a real difference, have found out otherwise.  Bills not favorable to corporate or special interest groups, are typically blocked or watered down to the point of bearing  little resemblance to their original intent.

In addition, it's not uncommon that newly elected members of Congress are often inundated with committees assignments, which are designed to keep them too busy to think about actually fulfilling any of their campaign promises while it indoctrinates  them into the mechanics of the system. They are also expected to spend hours upon hours fundraising for the party, party leadership and attending functions where they meet their new owners. It seems that you can promise whatever you want during the campaign just as long as you don't take it too seriously.

As the idealists (and naive) continue to vacate the halls of Congress, who do you think will fill their seats---more idealists? Perhaps. But in a political system which has intentionally been corrupted to serve the interests of Wall Street and the very wealthy, we're much more likely to see more charlatans running on promises they have no intentions of fulfilling, even if they had really wanted to. Former House Speaker Sam Rayburn (D-GA) summed up the political process in Congress the best when he said "to get along you have to go along".

So is there anything we can realistically  do? Actually, we can still do a lot. We can help elect Independents and third party candidates. After all, Independents have the largest bloc of registered voters with 49%. Meanwhile, the percentage of Democrats (a distant 29%) and Republicans (20%) continue to shrink. Besides, why should two minority parties control our government? If nothing else, we can vote to oust the incumbents. At least it would be a change of faces!

You can run for office or perhaps you could seek out a board or commission position as way to influence local government. We can change voter registration as well. As I said, Independents are the largest bloc and growing. But there are other viable political parties you might consider such as the Libertarians, the Greens, or the Constitutionalists.

There are also a number of issues you can get behind that would make real impact, such as getting behind Rank Choice Voting, Term Limits, or ending partisan gerrymandering. Roughly half of all states prohibit voter referendums. That's where citizens sign a petition to put an issue on the ballot. Once the requisite number of signatures has been reached, the matter is placed on the ballot  and its voted on by the general electorate. That would be a great issue to get behind!

A key issue to consider is working to get some elected or appointed political offices changed for partisan to non-partisan. Why, for instance, should the State Auditor, Treasurer, Agriculture Commissioner, or Secretary of State be a partisan office? They are Constitutional offices. They don't make any laws. They simply enforce existing laws. The same goes for the offices of County Clerk, Circuit Court Clerk, or County Attorney. Why on earth would you want those to be partisan positions?

As an aside, it's worth nothing that the Board of Elections at both the state and local levels have Democrat and Republican Election Officers to oversee the affairs of their respective party as it applies to voting. But why doesn't Independent and third parties? They literally have no representation!

Currently Independents and third party voters are simply dumped in with whichever of the two corporate owned parties are the smallest to boost their overall numbers, and you can bet that their interests are totally ignored.  So why isn't there a third non-partisan election officer looking out for Independent and third party voters? That would be a great issue to get behind. 

You could volunteer to work for some local group on a particular issue of interest to you. Maybe you'd want to serve as a citizen lobbyist to help get support on some particular cause by lobbying you local elected officials. For example, why don't citizens get to vote on increases of taxes, fees, or rates, including any utilities owned by the city? You could help create or join a neighborhood association or block watch.  Finally, you could write letters to the editor of your local newspapers.

Personally, I've been urging voters to ignore endorsements by the news media for over 20 years. The reason is because I believe the media should focus on solely on reporting the news and not trying to influence elections through endorsements in order to promote their private agendas. That's not their job. Instead, their job is to provide the public with a honest accounting of the facts without bias.

At the very least, those doing the interviews and making the endorsements need to disclose their name, their position, and their party registration (or political leaning) in the name of full transparency. Very few news media endorsements do this. They also  need to release the entire unedited transcript of each candidate interview instead of the editors providing excerpts or corrected responses (unedited filmed versions of the interview would be better)

These are just a few suggestions. There are, without a doubt, many more. The point here is to become and exemplify the change you want to see.  But to do that you have to get off your butt to make it happen instead of whining about how things have become. We lost our Republic by sitting on our collective behinds and assuming someone else would protect our nation and preserve our Constitution for us while we played video games or daydreamed our lives away watching so-called "reality" television shows!

There's an old expression which says that a nation gets the government it deserves. I don't know how true that is, but I can't imagine the average American, regardless of their origin, race, religion, ethnic status or gender, wants to see this great nation continue to circle the drain ever tighter. So, what's it going to be? More bitching and moaning or doing what our Founding Fathers did--- taking a stand? It's your call.


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Statistical Summary of 24-Month Campaign Activity of the2019-2020 Election Cycle

Think: Supreme Court's Citizen United mistake just turned ten years old. It's time to reverse it.


What's Wrong with Citizens United v. FEC

Brookings Institute: What Americans still want fromgovernment reform: 11 takaways

Government Executive: More Americans Want 'Very Major' Government Reform

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