Saturday, November 5, 2011

And Just How Truly Representative Is Congress?

Here's a chart making its way round the internets that demonstrates a point I've been making (along with other smarter more widely read people) for some time. Congress does not really represent us, especially under our current system of legalized corruption.

I stole this chart from IT.

As the "Citizens United" decision of the Supreme Court affects more elections, expect this very lopsided chart to look even more lopsided.

Here's what this crazy pot-smoking hippy idealist would like to see done about it:

--a constitutional amendment to repeal "Citizens United"

--public financing of campaigns with donations limited to a maximum $100

--Congressional redistricting taken out of the hands of state legislatures and given to independent commissions

--The size of the House of Representatives should be dramatically expanded, at least doubled, to reflect the great expansion in the US population over the last half century; The House and Senate together are about 600 people. The British House of Commons is over 600 people representing a much smaller population.

--no more privileged Congressional benefits. Representatives and Senators should live and work under the same health insurance and retirement plans as all the rest of us.

--Congressional term limits. I would limit senators to 2, maybe 3, terms, and representatives to 10, maybe 12 terms. Public office is not a lifetime sinecure. The spectacles of Strom Thurmond in office well into his 90s, and Joe Lieberman changing parties to dodge a primary result in order to keep his office are shameful.

I think there's another deeper problem underlying all this corruption and erosion of our democracy. We've forgotten what democracy really is and what it's for over the past few decades.

We're of two minds about our government.

One is a consequence of Vietnam and all the similar conflicts since. We can't trust our government anymore (and not just the federal government). This distrust is common to all points along the political spectrum ( the right has its conspiracy theories and so does the left). On a certain level, that suspicion is healthy, the necessary corrective to the decades before when government was usually seen as benign and paternal. From The New Deal to the Cold War, the father figures in public office ("I Like Ike!") would always be there for us protecting us from destitution and Communist invasion. With the Vietnam War and Watergate, we found out how ready the daddies were to sell us out.

The other is a consequence of consumer culture. We tend to see our government as a kind of hotel management. We expect it to fix everything for us since we are paying customers. We expect the military to clean up the mess we made in the Middle East because of our oil consumption, and we certainly don't expect to be handed a mop and bucket or to be billed for the extra service (especially for the medical care of those who manned the mops). We expect our streets to be cleaned and repaired; we expect to feel secure behind everything from police and fire departments to food and drug safety to military protection; we expect our trash to be picked up and our children to be educated; and we expect to get all of this at a discount with no extra payment, and certainly no participation from us. And then we expect the government to mind its own business and stay out of our business, even when our business interferes with someone else's business. We're all spoiled adolescents and we expect government to be Mom, to clean our room and make us dinner, and then to leave us the hell alone. We all want government services, and none of us wants to pay for them or to do the necessary work to provide them.

As so many from Thucydides to John Dewey pointed out, democracy is a way of life in which everyone participates and everyone assumes some measure of responsibility to maintain. Yes, we've been robbed. We've been shaken down since the 1980s (at least). Our pockets have been picked. Our nest eggs were stolen in order to line the pockets of a tiny and disproportionately powerful minority. But on a certain level, we let them do it so long as we could continue to compensate for our stagnant wages by spending on credit or borrowing against the value of our houses, and they were oh so helpful with that too. So long as we could continue to play with our toys and Those People didn't move in next to us (whatever they are, they're not Us and we don't like them), we were content to let the Big Boys run the whole show while robbing us blind.

And now, it's morning in America, and we are waking up to find our houses empty and looted, with a pink slip in our pockets, with delinquent bills in the mailbox, and with a foreclosure notice on the door. On top of that, we face a future of indenture as the debt slaves of those we thought we could trust (after all, they looked so much like Us and not like Those People).

In a democracy, the government is us. It's not King Louis XIV and his ministers Colbert and Fouquet making decrees and implementing policies in which we could not possibly have any say. We are supposed to be the ones who choose our governments and their policies. We are as sovereign in our country as King Louis was over France (in theory at least). The government is supposed to be our Lord Chancellor, our Prime Minister, implementing policies we have chosen. On a certain level, we have the government and the policies that we wanted (or thought we wanted) for the last 4 decades. Those guys who sold us that car with a cracked engine block now have the deed to our house.

It's time to wake up and to begin the hard work of reclaiming our rights and our inheritance as citizens; not as employees, or customers, or debtors, but as citizens. If it means paying extra, or getting out and actually bothering to vote, or even if it means sleeping in a tent in the winter cold and facing cops in riot gear, then so be it.

Occupy Denver in the snow recently


JCF said...

Still don't like term limits.

Aye to everything else!

Leonard said...

Ditto to JCF