As I See It
NOTE: This is the first part of a three-part series on the future of democracy in America. The next two will explore the increasing barrier between government and the people, and the decreasing barrier between government and religion.
About fifty years after the birth of our nation, a young French nobleman by the name of Alexis de Tocqueville, who had spent the better part of a year in the United States studying the American experiment in self-government, published his observations and analysis under the title “Democracy in America.” Many in Europe were fascinated with what was going on across the Atlantic, and his first-hand account soon became a “best-seller.” Among his conclusions was that the United States would one day be one of the world’s two great powers – the other being Russia.
His primary concern for the future of democracy in America was the potential he visualized for tyranny of the majority over the rights of minorities. For over a century this was a legitimate concern, but what he failed to foresee was the conscience of the American people, which resulted in the civil rights movement of the 1960s and has had far-reaching effects in protecting the rights of minorities, sometimes, it may seem, to the detriment of the majority.
What he also failed to foresee was the industrialization of the United States and the growing threat of large corporations and big money to the democratic process. Recent trends give cause for concern.
The rise of television as the predominant source from which people get their information (because it is quick and easy, like TV dinners) has made it the all-powerful political campaign tool. Whoever can saturate the air waves with sound bites supporting their candidates and issues, regardless of how they may distort or conceal the truth, can determine the outcome of elections. (This was the propaganda psychology of Adolf Hitler. Tell a lie often enough and people will start to believe it.) The cost of saturation political commercials is staggering and is by far the largest portion of campaign budgets. It follows that money buys political power. The fact that major corporations have acquired television and newspaper networks is just frosting on the cake.
In recent years major industries such as accounting, aerospace, banking, defense, HMOs and pharmaceuticals have abandoned their tradition of dividing their campaign contributions more or less evenly between the two major parties, and are now giving up to 80 percent to the Republican party. Tom Delay and some of his cronies have even been warning groups not to give to the Democrats if they want to have their legislation considered.
After the election, the Republicans gave big donors their reward in a variety of favors: continued government contracts for corporations who have moved overseas (taking jobs with them) to avoid paying taxes; reducing liability exposure for defective or unsafe products or services; generous tax breaks for the well-heeled, paid for by cuts in social programs serving those in need; undermining air and water pollution limits on industrial discharges designed to protect public health; exempting drilling, mining and logging operations on public lands from complying with environmental requirements and excluding public comment; reversing the ban on snowmobiles in Yellowstone Park in spite of overwhelming public support for the ban – to name but a few.
This funding imbalance can have serious implications on future elections, and unavoidably on democracy in America. Obviously, when the party in power is in bed with the sources of major funding, there is no incentive for it to change the system which is working to its advantage. That would be killing the goose that lays the golden eggs.
However, if the situation continues on its present course, we run the risk of having a government of big business, by big business, and for big business instead of “of the people, by the people, and for the people.”
Glenwood Springs resident Hal Sundin’s column runs every other Thursday in the Post Independent.
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