Death By Election

By David Swanson

There must be a Star Trek episode (if there’s not, there should be) in which all the best minds in the leftist political opposition on some planet are diverted into an obsession with a virtual reality game, leaving all the right-wingers free to drive the planet into inevitable war and destruction. A game is a harmless thing when not put to such use. Elections are a fundamental pillar of democracy when not put to such use. That makes the case I want to argue all the more difficult. My thesis is that, if we do not change our thinking, elections are going to be the death of U.S. democracy.

How can that be? Without elections, there can be no democracy. And participating in elections is the principal, if not sole, duty of the citizens of a democracy. The health of our democracy can be measured by the wide range of candidate choices we’ve been offered. We’ve even got a woman and an African American. What in the world can you be talking about?

Well, I would make a slight modification to one of the claims above: Without HONEST AND CREDIBLE elections, there can be no democracy. We have not had anything approaching those in the past 8 years, and we have left in place a system that will deny us those again in November 2008: Citizens who are busy working to create a credible election system in certain states, and perhaps someday in the entire United States, are doing crucial work. They should be encouraged, joined, and supported.

I would make another slight modification: Without honest and credible elections and an INFORMED ELECTORATE, there can be no democracy. The corporate media that dominates the U.S. information system does not provide useful electoral information. While we are developing an independent, web-based, and radio communications system, much of that system currently, voluntarily, and self-destructively submits to the frames of the corporate media, serving as critic rather than educator, boosting cynicism rather than participation. Leftists, liberals, and progressives, and those who share their views but run in fear from their names, have more than enough money to create honest democratic television news. In fact, every election cycle, we dump that much money into election advertising that funds the destructive corporate media. It’s as if we’re hooked on the game and keep feeding it quarters without stopping to think.

I could go on modifying the claim about elections to rule out systems that have legalized massive bribery, imposed undemocratic primaries, locked out new parties and movements, developed election seasons that last from one election to the next, or in the immediate instance already weeded out any truly decent candidates. (Yes, you should vote for Kucinich. Yes, you should believe anything is possible. But you’re going up against the televised voices in everyone’s heads.)

Well, what are we supposed to do, ignore elections until we can fix them? That’ll just get us more elected officials less likely to fix them, won’t it?

That depends. Certainly focusing on the elections will do that, given that the elections are now routinely stolen. And I wouldn’t want you to ignore elections in order to watch football. I would ask you to ignore elections in order to fix the election system now and in order to fix other pressing problems that you don’t need elections to fix. I would modify this claim:

“And participating in elections is the principal, if not sole, duty of the citizens of a democracy.”

to read:

Participating in honest, credible, informed elections is one of the LESS IMPORTANT of the many necessary duties of the citizens of a democracy. Participating in non-credible elections is a DISTRACTION. Of course, in the current system, the primaries offer more real choices, less fraud, and many fewer voters than the general election. They also don’t put anyone in office.

Have you ever noticed that the U.S. Constitution doesn’t mention primaries? Or political parties? Or corporations? Or churches? It provides no right to vote. Instead, it mentions the freedoms to speak, to assemble, to publish news, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances. And it goes on repeatedly, at some length, to establish the power of the people’s representatives in the House of Representatives to hold an outlaw executive or judiciary in check through impeachment.

O.K. But how do we petition our government for a redress of grievances except by waiting until the next election and voting it out?

Is it possible we really have to be told this again? We do it by assembling, by speaking, by publishing news, and by drawing on the traditions of Henry David Thoreau and Martin Luther King Jr., the tradition of suffragettes and labor, the lessons of abolitionists and populists. We resist injustice here and now through creative nonviolent action. In early January, the peace movement will announce a series of major actions in March 2008. Resistance to the new American policy of torture is planned for January 11: A growing list of members of the House Judiciary Committee is pushing for hearings to begin in January on Dick Cheney’s impeachment: On January 26, we can join the world for World Social Forum events: On January 31, we can all help end global warming: On February 15, we can demand an end to the occupation of Iraq: By the time March comes around, we can build the activist culture needed to revive a democracy that is wilting under the heat of election madness.

And not a moment too soon. Scientists agree that we have a limited number of years to reverse the current climate change, or we will be past the point of no return. The common acceptance that we must waste the next year before acting is evidence, I think, of greater self-destructive tendencies than ever surfaced during the Cold War. We do NOT have to wait another year. We have to impeach Cheney and Bush. We have to work at the state level. We have to work internationally. We have to educate and mobilize, pressure, resist, and sacrifice. The occupation of Iraq is worse every year. The attack on Iran is still a threat. Pakistan, a nation that really DOES have nuclear weapons, is in turmoil. And where is the so-called progressive online media? Where is the blogosphere? Why, it’s got its nose so far up the ass of the November 2008 elections it can taste the inaugural champagne.

Is it really true that the health of our democracy can be measured by the wide range of candidate choices we’ve been offered? Take this 1-minute test, and then tell me if you still believe that:

How closely did any of the candidates come to agreeing with you? Did those who came closest fall into the category of corporate-acceptable “viability”? Why can’t you find anything about this situation or any substantive reporting on candidates’ positions at all? Because for some politics is a sport, and the fascination lies in the techniques and maneuvers, not in what it might mean for the world. For others, politics is a soap opera, an excuse to obsess over whether in the next episode Obama will take his shirt off or Giuliani’s ex-wife’s ex-husband will claim to have Hillary’s child. Think I’m exaggerating? Not much.

The political blogs, like MyDD are all election, all the time. Firedoglake gets credit for being 2/3 election, all the time. Huffington Post is 3/4 election, and 3/4 of that is election fluff and refuse. On New Year’s Eve, this was the top HuffPost story, with two big photos: “Edwards: Obama Too “Nice” For The Presidency.” It was followed by these edifying tracts:

Huckabee Questions Romney’s Honesty
Marty Kaplan: I Know Who’s Going to Win
Iowa>> Romney Surging In Polls As Caucus Nears
Live Iowa Campaign Journal – Blowing Bubbles
Politics >> Clinton-Backing Ohio Governor Calls IA Caucuses “Hugely Undemocratic”
Washington Post Editorial Misses Mark With Criticism of Obama
More in Politics >> McCain’s Extensive Wooing Of Lobbyists Exposed … NYT: Bloomberg Moves Closer To Prez Run
Obama: “The Real Gamble Is Having The Same Old Folks Doing The Same Old Things And Expecting A Different Result”
Joe Biden: Dem Rivals “Not Making Sense” On Bhutto…
Huckabee Pleads Poverty As He Takes Cash For Speeches
Edwards Radicalizes Anti-Corporate Pitch
Ron Paul Third?
BIO: Up Close and Personal With Edwards
HuffPolitics: Marc Cooper >> Will Edwards Really Win Iowa?
BIO: Obama Rolls The Dice With Latest Edwards Criticism
Edwards: Bill Clinton Has A Place In My White House
Hillary’s Final Strategy: Be Afraid
Media Insiders Shaft Biden, Richardson, Dodd, Kucinich and America
What’s the Matter with Iowa?

Some of those articles are by people I greatly admire, and in some cases know and like. But if they were in that Star Trek episode I mentioned, my concern would be that their abilities were being wasted when we needed them most. Here is the complete set of headlines that the otherwise wonderful website BuzzFlash Emailed out in a New Year’s Eve Email:

Awhile back there was a rumor buzzing around that McCain was pleading with the NYT not to post an article revealing his extensive — and hypocritical — tie to lobbyists. Turns out it was the WP working on the article, and they posted it on Dec. 31.

Latest MSNBC-McClatchy Poll: Dem Race Still Too Close to Call, With Shifts of One or Two Percentage Points Day by Day. “Where Edwards previously had lagged slightly behind Clinton and Obama, the poll showed him at 24 percent, compared with Clinton at 23 percent and Obama at 22 percent.”

BuzzFlash’s Last Chance Democracy Cafe: Screw Bipartisanship

Senator Obama’s Barber Shop: Come on a BuzzFlash Video Visit to the Home of the “Obama Cut.” Learn About Barack’s Favorite Sports Team and His Loyalty to His Neighborhood Barber of 13 Years. We Needed a Break, As You Do, from the Doom and Gloom.

Over on Dailykos on New Year’s Eve, the top story was “Huckabee’s Imaginary Conception.” Below it were posts like these: “More failed ‘leadership,’ please! On white toast with mayo,” and “Mike Huckabee’s incisive grasp of foreign policy.” The top recommended diary was “MSM Continues Blackout of John Edwards.” It was followed by “The Iowa Edwards Surge — first-hand, on the ground,” and “Barack Obama will change the system part 2.”

I guess it’s a relief to know that WE don’t have to be the ones to change the system. Over on Alternet, the top story on New Year’s Eve was “GOP Mess in Iowa: Romney Stalls, Giuliani’s Flailing, Huckabee Scares the GOP Establishment.” It was followed by these gems:

Despite Media Hype, Iowa’s Democratic Caucuses Will Have No True Winner
Huckabee: ‘I Don’t Know’ If People Are ‘Born’ Gay, But It’s a ‘Choice’ to Act Gay [VIDEO]
Election 2008: Huckabee has a record of using the power of government to discriminate against the choices that gay Americans make in their private lives.
Iowa: Edwards Takes on Corporate Greed
The Imperial Presidency: The ’08 Candidates Weigh In
Behind the Edwards Surge: Right Message at the Right Time
The Best Moments in Mike Huckabee’s Extremism
Iowa Caucuses: Not the Battle of the Century

Oh, and that “Imperial Presidency” one – contributed by Huffington Post – is a column arguing that we should address through an election, a year away, exactly what the authors of the Constitution told us to address through impeachment.

Better than average on the awaking-from-eternal-election-daze count is Common Dreams, which on New Year’s Eve ran the top headline: “FROM IOWA CORNFIELDS, A LEFT-TILTING TRADITION, MOST DEMOCRATIC CANDIDATES VOTE FOR NUCLEAR POWER,” but which carried below it a relatively small percentage of election headlines, including these:

An Endorsement from the Wilderness
Behind the Edwards Surge: Right Message at the Right Time
What Hillary Hasn’t Done in Foreign Policy
Mitt Romney’s Pursuit of Tyrannical Power, Literally
Candidates Split Along Party Lines on Healthcare does relatively well too, tending to run 50% or less election coverage. OpEdNews is superb, making election coverage far less than half its news. On New Year’s Eve, it featured two election-related top headlines, but one of them was about preventing election fraud and the other about Ron Paul’s refusal to support impeachment.

Democratic Underground is pretty far gone on most days, running lots of election blogs and even more election videos. Video websites are easily dominated by election fluff, but video-heavy Crooks and Liars tends to keep election nonsense to a relatively low level.

I mention all of these websites, because they are the ones I like and would like to see focused on the work needed to restore our democracy, not a year from now, but immediately. My goal is not to leave the business of elections to those who will steal what we break our necks preventing them from winning. My goal is to shift the political discussion in ways that, among many other things, compel better political candidates.

I know there are tender feelings involved here. I know John Edwards is cute, and even Hillary seems measurably less insane than Huckabee. I know Gravel has more heart than Biden. I know you adore Ron Paul more because you think he’ll shut down the empire than because he’s a xenophobic bigoted moron. I get that there are differences and intrigues, personalities, and tons of money and hard work at stake. My point is that we need not lower our standards so far that supporters of the last invasion who refuse to forswear the next one count as the best we can do.

But we cannot raise those standards through electoral work. If we want John Edwards to promise never to launch an aggressive war, we will impeach the people who launched the last one. If we want Hillary Clinton to commit to not spying on Huckabee (or any of us) without a warrant and probable cause, we will put behind bars the architects of the current spying programs. If we want the world to understand that Bush and Cheney and the current Congress do not speak for us, we will raise our voices now, not next November. Focusing on the choices presented to us in a two-year electoral campaign leads to insufficient pressure on Congress (with disastrous results in 2007), not to mention independent billionaire campaigns.

If we want credible elections and palatable candidates, we will break the electoral spell and start behaving like the citizens of a democracy.

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