Perpetual Paralysis: Democracy be Damned

For anyone who thought that the Democrats won the last election and, therefore, the government would move in a progressive direction, think again.  The Democrats strengthened their hold of the Senate, gained seats in the House and retained the White House but they did nothing to bolster their power in Washington.

The Democrats may have won a clear majority of votes in the 2012 election but the Republicans held on to a double veto of all legislative action.  First, having won the critical census-year election of 2010, they devised a system by which a decisive minority could secure a decisive majority in the House of Representatives.  Second, when Senate majority leader Harry Reid settled on a handshake deal rather than meaningful filibuster reform, he effectively yielded the majority power of the upper chamber of congress.

The result is exactly what the Grand Old Party desired:  a government in perpetual paralysis.  The filibuster is subject to review with the next congress but Republican control of the House, barring a dramatic change in the heart of the electorate, will remain intact until the next census in 2020.

Thus, while a newly re-elected President Obama summoned the ghosts of progressives past in his inaugural address, his agenda is dead on arrival.  He can use the power of the presidential pulpit, he can appeal to the voters, he can rally his supporters to the cause, but anything that happens in Washington must have the Republican seal of approval.

The fact is Republican members of the House have nothing to fear from this or any other president.  Their seats are safe.  Because you cannot gerrymander a state, they may not be able to take the Senate without some appeal to the minorities, but they can hold on to the House in perpetuity and that is sufficient.

The power of government has been nullified for the foreseeable future.

Immigration reform will be sifted down to the Dream Act and working permits for highly skilled workers.  There may be concessions to the families of dreamers but any path to citizenship or real acceptance of the millions of immigrants working, raising families and contributing to our society, will be blocked by unrealistic qualifications.  Amnesty remains an unspeakable word.  On the whole, things will stay as they are and any suggestion of comprehensive reform will be a mirage.

We have already witnessed a similar process of nullification on gun control.  Despite the strong support of the people, what began as a demand for comprehensive reform, an assault weapons ban, limitations on ammunition clips, registration of bullets and universal background checks for the purchase of deadly weapons, has now boiled down to closing the gun show loophole and even that is in question.

There will be no major legislative accomplishments in the second term of Barrack Obama.  Fair Trade and the rights of organized labor will not be on the table.  Unless there is another crash and even then, effective regulation of Wall Street will not be considered.  We will have no repeal of the USA Patriot Act.  We will not close Guantanamo Bay.  The only civil liberty we will move to protect is the second amendment right to bear arms.

The only advances in civil rights for women, gay, lesbian and transgender individuals will be accomplished by the states or in the courts and those advances will be answered by repressive measures in other states and by other courts.

There will be no concerted effort to fight back global climate change or to rebuild our aging infrastructure.  We are stuck on the path of economic austerity (otherwise known as debt reduction) despite its failure to produce positive results anywhere in the world.

It is a Republican agenda, one designed to protect the elite and the status quo, and yet the Democrats won the election.

What kind of democracy are we?

Brace yourself.  It could get worse.  The party that won two presidential elections through massive disenfranchisement of minority voters (aided by the most partisan decision in Supreme Court history) has a plan to recapture the White House by jerry-rigging the antiquated Electoral College system.  Republican controlled state governments are in the process of enacting laws that would award electors not in proportion to the popular vote but by congressional district.  Since Democratic voters are generally concentrated in cities, such re-apportionment of electors would maximize the probability that a Republican could win the presidency with a minority of the popular vote.

If they were to succeed, we would face the distinct possibility that two of the three seats of power in the national government would belong to the party with minority support.  That would leave the Senate and the Senate is designed for minority control.  When the most populous states (California and New York) receive the same representation as Wyoming and Idaho, we could easily foresee a Republican party in complete control of all branches of government without the support of the majority of voters.

Where is the outcry?

We lost a critical opportunity to repeal the Electoral College after the debacle of 2000 clearly demonstrated that the system failed even at its primary function: to ensure a peaceful and equitable transference of power.

A media owned and therefore controlled by the international corporations that now threaten to strangle our democratic process convinced us that the system was, in fact, working.  Talking heads from all quarters pretended that disenfranchisement on a scale unseen since the days of Jim Crow was nothing more than the shenanigans of the political class.  Karl Rove was anointed a political genius.

It was not a wholesale attack on the heart of our democratic system of government.  It was rather a system working out its own problems and arriving at a fair and responsible conclusion.  Both parties participated in the charade.  Both parties turned their backs on the overriding principle of a free and fair election.  Both parties betrayed the electorate and allowed the Supreme Court to decide the election for us.

We should have abolished the Electoral College then.  We failed.  Or rather our two-party system failed us.  We should have prosecuted the perpetrators of the disenfranchisement campaign in Florida, including Governor Jeb Bush.  We failed.  Or rather government failed to represent our interests.

As a consequence of our failure to correct the systemic errors that made the presidency of George W. Bush possible, the parties felt free to continue their practices of rigging the system, democracy be damned, as if it was a part of the plan.

We are saddled now with a two-party monopoly where one party is unabashedly dedicated to the proposition that the wealthiest among the wealthy should rule the world and another party dedicated to the proposition that the masses must be pacified to make the world safe for the elite.

Is there a difference?  Yes.  But it is becoming increasingly clear that the difference between parties may not make a difference.

There are a great many people in this country who are stockpiling weapons in the belief that they are the last line of defense for our democratic government.  It is ironic that they are almost uniformly Republican.

How will they feel if and when their own party takes complete control of government without the benefit of winning at the ballot box?  Is it only despotism if the despot is on the other team?

Abraham Lincoln led the nation into civil war so that a government for the people, by the people and of the people would not perish from the earth.  I wonder what Lincoln would think today when the party he once served is conspiring to do what the Confederacy could not do by force of arms.

Am I being too dramatic?  Is it acceptable that a political party could take over the government without anything resembling the support of the majority?  Is that the way a republic is supposed to work?

Are we just supposed to sit back and accept that this is how our founders intended the system to work?  Are we supposed to let the system work itself out?

I don’t believe that.  I believe in democracy.  I believe in democracy even when I am in the minority.  I believe in the cardinal principle:  One person, one vote, majority rules.

If you lose the principle of majority rules, you’ve lost your democracy.  If you lose that principle without a fight, you’re telling the world you really don’t care – except when it becomes a cause of war.

We are Americans.  Democracy is our birthright and our greatest gift to modern civilization.  We are entitled to leaders, regardless of party or philosophy, who believe in the democratic form of government.

That is the American way.

Jack Random is the author of Ghost Dance Insurrection (Dry Bones Press) the Jazzman Chronicles, Volumes I and II (City Lights Books). The Chronicles have been published by Dissident Voice and others. Read other articles by Jack, or visit Jack's website.