It is election day, when we celebrate the uniquely American system of democracy, in which every single dollar gets a vote.
The general idea of a democracy is that it represents the interests of the people. That is not what we have in America. Our political system is an oligarchy. It represents the interests of those with money. Our elected leaders have almost no choice but to fall in line with this, because we have a system that requires a great deal of money to get elected to office, and allows almost anyone (including corporations, which are people) to donate almost limitless sums of money for the purpose of getting one candidate or the other elected. Sure, sometimes the candidate with slightly less money wins. But the candidate with no money never wins. Money—not ideas, or morals, or leadership ability—is the entry fee to our political process. To be a politician, you must be a beggar. As a beggar, you are naturally indebted to those who financially support you. The result is a system in which money talks. The people—the millions of citizens—are reduced to secondary status. In our system, citizens are not intrinsically valuable. They are only meaningful insofar as it costs a certain amount of money to trick a sliver of them into changing their votes.
Most Americans, even if they are not politically "sophisticated," understand this at a visceral level. Most citizens cannot name their elected officials, and do not exercise their right to vote, and are apathetic and cynical about politics in general. This is not desirable, but it is also not irrational. People know that money talks. And they know that they are not the moneyed ones. And they go on with things more important to their daily lives, and the system goes on without them.
None of these statements are revelations. The world's biggest problems are rarely novelties.
If we do not drastically reform the way that we finance campaigns and elections, the happy idea of American democracy will continue to be a farce. There have been dozens and dozens of stories during the midterm campaigns that could serve as testaments to the utter brashness of our broken, money-centric political system. Here is just one representative example, from the Washington Post's Matea Gold today, who details just how fictional the line between direct donations to candidates and unlimited outside "soft money" has become:
To help allies fashion their plans, Democratic and Republican congressional committees posted detailed opposition research books and talking points about individual candidates on their Web sites. And it is now standard practice for candidates to share suggested television ad scripts and video footage online — materials that are then scooped up by outside groups and turned into television spots.
This year also saw the rise of single-candidate super PACs, flush with cash from a contender's family and friends. More than 90 such groups sprung up to back candidates in 2014, up from 21 four years ago, according to FEC data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics.
The closeness between candidates and their wealthy backers threatens a principle embraced by Congress after the Watergate scandal — that rich donors should not be able to give unlimited sums to an elected official.
The ostensible justification for this system is that there is a qualitative difference between a political campaign and an outside PAC supporting a political campaign. There quite clearly is not. And the parties and candidates and donors themselves all know it very well.
Watergate? Psht. That was decades ago. Things are much more corrupt now.