Democracy loses the election

November 4, 2010 | By | 5 Replies More

At Truthdig, Amy Goodman mourned the biggest loser during the election day this week: democracy.

As the 2010 elections come to a close, the biggest winner of all remains undeclared: the broadcasters. The biggest loser: democracy. These were the most expensive midterm elections in U.S. history, costing close to $4 billion, $3 billion of which went to advertising. What if ad time were free? We hear no debate about this, because the media corporations are making such a killing by selling campaign ads. Yet the broadcasters are using public airwaves. I am reminded of the 1999 book by media scholar Robert McChesney, “Rich Media, Poor Democracy.” In it, he writes, “Broadcasters have little incentive to cover candidates, because it is in their interest to force them to publicize their campaigns.” . . .

Goodman points out that the airwaves belong to the public, yet they are being used for reaping huge profits that create a financial bar to candidates who merely have good ideas.

The place where we should debate this is in the major media, where most Americans get their news. But the television and radio broadcasters have a profound conflict of interest. Their profits take precedence over our democratic process. You very likely won’t hear this discussed on the Sunday-morning talk shows.


Category: Media, Politics

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

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  1. Erich Vieth says:

    James Galbraith weighs in:

    "The original sin of Obama's presidency was to assign economic policy to a closed circle of bank-friendly economists and Bush carryovers. Larry Summers. Timothy Geithner. Ben Bernanke. These men had no personal commitment to the goal of an early recovery, no stake in the Democratic Party, no interest in the larger success of Barack Obama. Their primary goal, instead, was and remains to protect their own past decisions and their own professional futures."

    What should Obama have done?

    "Law, policy and politics all pointed in one direction: turn the systemically dangerous banks over to Sheila Bair and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. Insure the depositors, replace the management, fire the lobbyists, audit the books, prosecute the frauds, and restructure and downsize the institutions. The financial system would have been cleaned up. And the big bankers would have been beaten as a political force."

    And a final thought: "His presidential campaign was, after all, from the beginning financed from Wall Street. He chose his team, knowing exactly who they were. And this tells us what we need to know, about who he really is."

  2. Erich Vieth says:

    Ralph Nader recently spoke about the disturbing similarities between the Democrats and Republicans (I'll quote at length – this article is covered by a creative commons license that allows this with attribution):

    I think if the trends bear out, Amy, once again, the Democrats will demonstrate to the American people they cannot defend the country against the most craven Republican Party in history. I mean, I’ve never seen worse Republicans. With every ounce of potential tolerance I have toward the Republicans, I can say that I have never seen crueler, more vicious, more unknowing Republicans in the Congress, with very few exceptions, like Walter Jones from North Carolina.

    So, what we see here is complicity. When people say, "Gee, why aren’t the wars an issue?"—well, because the Democrats are complicit in both the Iraq and Afghanistan war. "Why isn’t corporate welfare and subsidies and bailouts of Wall Street crooks an issue?" Well, because the Democrats have done the same thing as the Republicans. Just now, they’re giving away the store to the taxpayers’ share in General Motors in the IPO that’s about to be issued. And they say, "Well, why aren’t the Democrats making a big deal of corporate crime against consumers and workers and issues like minimum wage and card check?" Because the Democrats don’t want to be involved in that. They’re dialing for the same corporate dollars. They say, "Well, why aren’t the Democrats raising these great civil liberty issues, like what’s in the PATRIOT Act?" Well, they just rubber-stamped another renewal over a year ago of the PATRIOT Act.

    So, that’s why they can’t draw a bright line between the Democrats and Republicans, as Franklin Delano Roosevelt did in making the people think that the Republicans were the party of Big Business and the Democrats were the party of working people. And that worked a lot for both him and Harry Truman. Imagine what those two gentlemen would have done to today’s Republican Party, instead of the namby-pamby, wishy-washy, so-called phony "bipartisanship" of Obama’s administration and his allies in Congress.

    . . .

    The Democrats can be pressured by mass appeals on these civil rights issues. But on the corporate power issues, they’re too far gone. We could never get today the legislation we got in the '60s and early ’70s, even under the Nixon administration—EPA, OSHA, air and water pollution control, consumer protection laws, etc. You can't possibly get them. There’s a simple auto safety bill to strengthen the budgets and law enforcement of the Department of Transportation following the Toyota acceleration problem, and it’s wallowing in the House and in the Senate. There’s a food safety bill that’s thirty years overdue to deal with contaminated food and preventing thousands of deaths and hundreds of thousands of sicknesses in this country, and it passed the House, it’s been buried in the Senate. The Senate is controlled by Democrats, so—and they don’t want to change the filibuster rules, and now that’s going to come back to haunt them. So, I think the Democrats are beyond "Well, let’s put some pressure on them."

    They’ve been so corporatized, so monetized, so driven on corporate power closer to the Republican Party, regardless of their rhetoric, that we have to have third party and independent candidates, even ones that are up against all this rigged ballot access obstruction. No other Western country obstructs voters and candidates the way this country does, especially with its state laws.

    And that’s why I favor people voting their conscience.

    . . .

    The corporations now dominate every department and agency in the federal government, from the Department of Defense, Department of Treasury, Department of Agriculture, Interior and other departments. By that I mean, the outside influence on these departments is overwhelmingly corporate, even the Labor Department. Number two, they have something like 9,000 political action committees—auto dealers, insurance companies, banks, drug companies—funneling money into members of Congress and the White House. Number three, they’ve put their executives in high government positions. Now, nobody comes close to that kind of triple control of our government. And when Franklin Delano Roosevelt sent a message to Congress in 1938 to set up the national—temporary national commission on corporate concentration—and they did pass that—he said in his message, when government is controlled by private economic power, that’s fascism. That was in 1938. And now, more than ever, we have a corporate government in Washington, DC, corporate-occupied territory, that is destructive of any semblance of democratic process. Voice for the people, voice for labor, a voice for small taxpayers, consumers, they’re shut out. They’re excluded.

    And we’ve got to completely revise our sense of routine in our country. And we have to start right at the neighborhood and form little republics, so to speak, of a hundred people each—friends, relatives, neighbors—and begin studying the ways that people are controlled in this country, how giant corporations have no allegiance to the United States other than to control it or ship its jobs and industries to repressive fascist and communist regimes overseas who know how to keep workers in their place. And if that occurs around the country, my guess is about one to two million people, organized equivalently in the 435 congressional districts, can begin turning Congress around. And when Congress turns around, the federal government turns around. And when the federal government breaks its chains from the engines of corporate power, things can change, because there’s a large consensus in this country and a lot of overdue changes, including full Medicare for all, including living wage, including cracking down on corporate crime, protecting the sovereignty of the people from being pulled down in these nefarious trade agreements, WTO, NAFTA. And above all, there’s a big consensus on electoral reform, multi-party systems, cleaning up the monetization of holding elections as if they were auctions. That’s what we’ve got to do. Otherwise, we’ll just keep diagnosing and diagnosing and exposing—

  3. TheThinkingMan says:

    Erich, I especially like that last bit from the quote from Nader. It's something that I have been advocating for quite some time now. I have become increasingly upset with how people simply sit back and watch the political system fall to shit, excuse my french. It's as though the common American simply sees the Democrats and the Republicans as two opposing football teams. All this mindless bickering and competition is unnecessary and ultimately rips this country apart. It's a farce. A comedy put in place by those in power to keep the masses mindlessly entertained and out of the way.

    This government was founded on the ideals of open and honest communication, debate and discussion. The free exchange of ideas, a country where learned and enterprising individuals interact and work together to mold policy so that all have their thoughts and ideals at least heard and where the individual has rights.

    Instead we've become a country where the bottom line is making money, and where those in power remain in power by oppressing those without using the Media Megaphone filled with messages of hate, fear, and craziness.

    Its too true that we need to form "little republics," though essentially move back to the democratic republic that this country is supposed to be, and MAKE our representatives actually represent us.

  4. Erich Vieth says:

    The Thinking Man: Nader's message will not be welcome to those of us who have become accustomed to sitting back and letting government run itself. Many of us are over-scheduled with work, family, fixing up our houses, etc. It's the last thing many of us want to hear that we need to get much more involved. Especially when any one of the many pressing issues is incoherently complex, thanks to 2,000 page bills loaded up with tricks and traps by lobbyists. Take health care reform, for instance. Who among us really has a detailed grasp of what the system used to be or what it now is? Who wants to sit with 100 of our neighbors and even attempt to discuss it? But what is the alternative?

    The country is a complex adaptive system. It will spin and whir even if most of us are uninvolved, but what KIND of government will we I'm working on a post setting forth the two options for reasonable citizens. My analogy is that the government is like a plot of ground outside, on which plants are growing. We can have either a Garden or a Jungle. If we do nothing, we get a Jungle. To maintain a Garden, complete with all of the beauty and usefulness (e.g, fresh vegetables) we seek, we need to tend to that Garden. You can't wish a terrific garden into being. You need to work it.

    Thus, I agree with Ralph Nader, but I'm discouraged by the immensity of the task. Many of my neighbors lack any interest in getting educated on the details of legislation and common law. Even those who have the interest and willingness to help, will only want to put in a couple hours, here and there, nothing close to the willingness of paid lobbyists to put 80 hours per week into the task. Further those lobbyists can focus in on one topic at a time and push hard with lots of corrupting money and misinformation. Neighbors don't have a chance to win this battle, for the most part.

    The trick is to figure out some broad principles for turning things around. I've focused quite a bit on campaign finance reform and media reform, because without these, honest conversation and deliberation are impossible. These battles are not going well, as you know, especially in light of Citizens United and the FCC's failure to take a big club to those who at attacking net neutrality. Without campaign finance reform, most smart and good-hearted people I know have no interest in running for office. Without media reform, we will continue to have "news" that provides very little information that allows people to be good citizens. It will continue to be "news" that is not the kind of information that led to the phrase: "The Fourth Estate."

    I hate to sound so pessimistic. I do want to be honest, though, and these are my sad thoughts this morning.

  5. Karl says:

    Democracy can only lose when it ceases being able to correct itself from errors.

    If one side of a story is constsntly painted as the only way of looking at a situation then democracy is not cabable of winning because it is misinformed.

    In these situations, when one's strategy is to be deceptive in what one really intends to do the Americam Public will eventually discover when and where presented reality and truth really mesh together or not.

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