Monday, October 18, 2010

Is Democracy Really Working?

Our entire system of campaign finance calls into question the virtue of our so-called "democracy."

We live in a representative republic. We elect leaders to make decisions for us. And in some cases, we vote directly for referenda that changes laws without the middle men.

On one hand, the concept of direct democracy is potentially terrifying. We're just not that enlightened, to be honest.

On the other hand, there is a danger in the way we do things. By voting every so often, we receive symbolic feedback that the system is alright. "I voted." Therefore, it's at least a democracy.

But what does that actually mean? 

Is it a democracy in the sense that democracy embodies certain values we elevate in society? To be honest, do we really give a shit about "democratic values" outside of politics? It seems that in our education system, workplace, churches, and homes, for the most part (yes, there are morsels of democratic values in these places) we seem fairly comfortable with authoritarianism.

So why do we make an exception for civic life? For one, we had a revolution. But, underneath that, I presume it's because people inherently like feeling in control.

Our democracy might be the driver behind the wheel of a car, a dangerous vehicle that kills millions every year, but you get to control your car, so it feels safer because you believe you're a good driver.

The non-democracy might even be an airplane, a far safer vehicle, but you don't get to steer. That's the job of the pilot and the machinery. They know what's best, but since they're not you, you feel powerless to evade disaster.

Why do I use this metaphor? Not because I think democracy is a bad idea (or that people driving themselves is bad), but because I think our current system might just be a car designed without safety in mind, one that lulls us into a sense of control.

ThinkProgress, a liberal political blog that I highly recommend, broke a story showing that the United States Chamber of Commerce is receiving foreign money and using it on partisan attack advertisements. And I wonder which party they might be attacking? Hmm...

Their follow-up story provides a nice of list of foreign donors. I'll let you read the articles and decide for yourself, but after the Citizens United ruling earlier this year, and corrupt bullshit like this, I don't know what to believe in. Regardless of party, money has far too much influence in our electoral system.

I'm an American and a Democrat through and through, but the entire subject of campaign finance leads me to believe we might just be driving behind the wheel of a killing machine, only comforted by our apparent sense of control.

Perhaps we are so drunk with capitalism that we forget what we are driving in this demolition derby.

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