Sunday, November 28, 2010

We the People?

A while back an acquaintance of mine, a professor of Political Science at Oregon State University (no longer there) admitted to me that he doesn’t vote. I was taken aback; dumbstruck to hear such a statement from someone whose academic career was based on the study of the political process. He went on to explain that the real political forces are the lobbyists and Special Interest Groups which control an overwhelming majority of the policy making in Washington and state governments. Voting, he explained, was simply to lend an “air of legitimacy” to the perception of the democratic process. Elections are nothing more than political theater giving us the illusion of self-governance.

Likely many of us who yield to our cynicism have suspected such is the case; but we tend to hold at least some brief hope that our elected officials serve with some sense of the greater good. In our hearts we don’t REALLY want to believe that a “quid pro quo” exists between our elected officials and certain individuals, groups or businesses interests which grease their campaign machines.

But recently what glimmer of hope in the integrity of our political process was thoroughly extinguished after reading an interview with recently California governor-elect Jerry Brown by Skeptic Magazine.

Brown comes from a generational political family; his father was governor back in the days when my father was employed by the State of California. Jerry Brown, like Bill Clinton, is an extremely knowledgeable and astute practitioner of the gamesmanship which is this country’s the political game.

As my political science professor friend revealed to me, and as further confirmed through this interview with Jerry Brown, “The People” have little true participation in the governmental process. The mere 40% who turned out to vote in the recent elections appear to be essentially the willing pawns of powers they neither recognize nor understand. The Tea Baggers are the most obvious; but Brown’s revealing exposure of the truth behind who truly wields power over our republic is discouraging and revealing. But it likely confirms what many of us have suspected for some time.

Not just for American audiences, this expose’ I on American politics likely pertains to other Western parliamentary and constitutional democracies as well. The link is below – it’s a sobering read:
We the People?
Jerry Brown on Money, Politics,and Who Really Runs America

an interview by Frank Miele - Skeptic.com, e-Skeptic, Nov. 11, 2010

19 comments:

Murr Brewster said...

You know, Frank, I've met a lot of The People, and I'm not sure I want them in charge either.

Gorilla Bananas said...

I would have asked Jerry Brown whether the people who voted him Governor of California twice were being "manipulated". Saying people are "manipulated" just because they don't vote the way you think they should is deeply elitist and undemocratic attitude. You're saying you have the ability to see through all the manipulation while your deluded fellow voters are too dumb to. A more plausible explanation is they don't buy your arguments.

DJan said...

I've often wondered how we can expect a great government from the current democratic process. Enlightened dictatorship would be the best. But they never stay enlightened.

Robert the Skeptic said...

Murr Quite so. Most of our citizens have no clue how our governance works, they mistake "majority rule" for Democracy, they would replace the Constitution with the 10-commandments in a heartbeat. Unfortunately, some of these dolts get elected.

Bananas Brown would answer quite clearly, "yes" they were manipulated and the one who does the best job of it wins. Your value judgments of "elitist" and "undemocratic" are immaterial. Though there are a few who study the issues and could be considered "informed" voters, the overwhelming MAJORITY people remain ignorant (not stupid) and obtain their information about a candidate from 30-seceond TV commercials.

Take for example the public support for health care reform in this country. When Obama took office, the majority of opinion was the need for health care reform. Once the political "machine" took hold after reform was passed, the majority now want it repealed... even though repealing it goes squarely against their own self interest. John Boehner stands in front of a camera and says "the people don't want Washington-run health care". They don't recognize that Boehner himself enjoys his own Washington-run health care.

The same instruments of marketing that make people overwhelmingly buy "Tylenol" pain reliever over the far cheaper generic equivalent "Acetaminophen" is at play here. Our political process is researched, designed, funded, marketed, and sold to the populace by very sophisticated and powerful business interests. All Brown is doing is admitting it openly where others won't.

DJan I wonder how far we really are from that? Essentially each party wants a one-party control. Remember Karl Rove "the architect" they called him, was trying to design a permanent Republican control of our government. The only reason that didn't happen was the ineptness of the Bush Administration to prop it up. They will learn from their mistakes and try again.

The Mother said...

I only have one comment:

AARGH!

PeterDeMan said...

I've long been deeply tuned in to the political process. My lady, who once wouldn't vote has, in the past 3-4 years become the political guru in our home. There's no way I can say this with any authority or accuracy, but I suspect we're in the top 2% range of people highly informed and educated in the political arena. But, it's become utterly and ultimately discouraging to realize how, (for a lack of a better word), "brainwashed" the American public is. It's amazing to see people such as the "tea partiers" campaigning against their own self interests, not having a clue as to what's happening. The conservatives have an incredible "talking points disinformation machine" that is awesome to behold. Almost every day the "word of the day" is issued and then repeated over and over and over, by legislators, talk radio and TV commentators. Jon Stewart once showed a montage of same catch phrase being repeated by 16 different sources in the same day. It's all being driven by the right wing money machine. And it's a very big machine. (Not entirely sure I made sense in all this, but what the hey!)

billy pilgrim said...

as heinlein said many years ago, the game is rigged. it just costs a hell of a lot more to rig the game these days.

Kay Dennison said...

Thanks for sharing this!!!! It confirms what's been rattling around in the back of what's left of my mind for years. I think my burgeoning cynicism just grew a bunch.

Marylinn Kelly said...

What is it they say, Democracy is the worst form of government except for all those others that have been tried? There must be an identifiable moment when any will of the people, ill informed as we may have been, was lost to corporations and media. A recent episode of "30 Rock" repeatedly told us, in humorous exaggeration, that Haliburton runs everything on the planet. It is a time to be clear about our own truth, not that it will necessarily change things, but to keep from being swept away. That the game is rigged saddens me but holding on is the only answer I can think of.

Artist and Geek said...

How does the saying go?
Democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for dinner.

Robert the Skeptic said...

Dr. Mom I can only follow up with a resounding "Oy".

Peter Steward doews a resoundingly great job of stripping the emperor of his clothes. Unfortunately his is one of a few small voices above the din. The recent Supreme Court decision has really put the nail in the coffin of the disclosure of who is really behind the discourse in this country.

Billy Indeed these are high-stakes games. The thing that people forget that business interests rarely "spend" money unless they believe they will receive a profitable return. For their investment dollar, political contributions are money sell spent.

Robert the Skeptic said...

Kay Mine as well, I think we all knew this all along but hoped it was not so.

MaryLinn "30-Rock" has some great lines... seriously, we took a turn against citizen government when a Supreme Court decision rendered the Southern Pacific Railroad the same status of free speech as an "individual". Of course, corporations have all sorts of tax advantages and powers that individual citizens do not... but the damage is done. Too late.

Artist I hadn't heard that one... it is most apt.

secret agent woman said...

I certainly understand people's despair about elections. And yet not voting feels like the greater evil, so I vote even when it's hopeless.

Artist and Geek said...

Rob-I'm not sure whether it's a good or a bad thing, but wikileaks.org posted today.

Gorilla Bananas said...

I don't know the rights and wrongs of the health reform issue, but it's obvious even to someone living outside the US that the President and his supporters have been able to make their case to the public. If the majority of the public are against the reforms, it must be because, rightly or wrongly, they find its opponents more credible. You can cry "manipulation" all you like, but the alternative to letting people make up their own minds is compelling them to do what the informed few think is best for them. It's a form of government that was tried, with little success, in the former Soviet Union.

Robert the Skeptic said...

Bananas If the majority of the public are against the reforms, it must be because, rightly or wrongly, they find its opponents more credible

Precisely, the elements of the health care reforms benefit people over corporate profits (insurance companies). Likewise the same with the government stimulus which prevented another Great Depression in this country. So what happened? Public opinion on these issues were completely reversed by a huge highly coordinated marketing/advertising machine. Example: "You don't want Government Takeover of your health care, do you?" Or alarming people about the size/danger of the national debt even though there was almost TOTAL SILENCE on that issue prior to Obama taking office when 90% of the deficit was incurred.

Perhaps you weren't party to the plethora of television advertising earlier this fall during the run-up to our elections. The campaign ads were all about attacking the opponent and were completely devoid of any substantive position on any issues.

"It's a form of government that was tried, with little success, in the former Soviet Union."

You completely don't see the difference; what has happened is 180 degrees opposite from top-down dictatorial government control. The goal, and they are quite successful at this, is the opposite - to eviscerate government and make it impotent and irrelevant. There is big money behind this movement to disinfranchise government in the eyes of the people. Funding toward this end is one of the largest expenditures for businesses.

If you don't believe it, read the follow-up article below which came out just yesterday.

Follow up article:

Robert the Skeptic said...

Anti-Incumbent Or No, Campaign Cash Was Handled By Old Pros

"Anti-incumbent anger and "tea party" conservatives may have set the tone for this year's midterm elections, but it was mostly experienced political operatives -- not fervent newcomers -- who managed the money.

While billions of dollars were spent on campaign ads and other efforts to gin up discontent with Washington, much of the spending was handled by veteran political consultants at a few longtime media firms -- many in Washington."

GutsyWriter said...

Naive me, did not realize how much money comes from the teachers unions to political candidates, until I saw the movie about the educational system in the U.S. I no longer know who or what to believe.

Robert the Skeptic said...

Gusty Business interests are often decrying about the amount of money that all Labor Unions, including the Teachers Union, give to political candidates. And they are always trying to find ways to stop, restrict or control Union contributions to political campaigns.

But the argument is disingenuous at best as business interests spend TWICE that of unions in in PAC contributions. In the 2008 election, $157 million from Labor versus $380 million from business.

Business interests don't want labor to be in the game because almost all of Union contributions go to support Democratic candidates. Corporate donors would love to rig the game against Unions and be the only game in town. As unions are continually falling to outsourcing, their influence is gradually waning. The game is one-sided and getting more so. Source