“OUR DEMOCRACY IS IN PERIL” (44)
Our democracy, as bequeathed and entrusted to us by our Founding Fathers, is in peril on several different fronts.
In the first place, it simply takes much too much money to establish a credible electoral campaign today. Even for judicial campaigns, it takes more than $20,000 for a candidate to publish a 200-word statement in the voters’ ballot statement. That is silly! And harmful! How do we expect voters to gather the information they need in judicial or other elections if these statements costs so much money? In my view, we would all benefit if the statements would be furnished for free to the candidates.
The next best way to get a candidate’s name in front of the voters is to have it included in one of the many “slate mailers.” Unfortunately, although most people do not know this, the “endorsements” on almost all of the mailers are simply available to the first candidate that pays the required fee. Mostly there are no such organizations as are shown as sponsors of the slate mailers. In fact, you or I could make up a name such as the “Firefighters for Justice,” or “Parents for the American Way,” and then offer our mailers for hire to the first candidates that come up with the money. Seldom do these mailers have anything to do with a political philosophy, instead they are money-making tools, pure and simple.
Another major threat to our democracy is the process of gerrymandering that has been addressed in a prior column. Both parties in Congress have manipulated the voting districts expressly to keep the seats they hold from being subject to competition from the other party. As a result, there is more competition for seats in the Russian Politburo than we have today in our Congress.
But the biggest threat to our democracy was highlighted by Alexis de Tocqueville when he was traveling through our country in the early 1800s. He said that “The American Republic will endure until the day Congress discovers that it can bribe the public with the public’s money.” In my view, we are getting perilously close to that situation.
Today there are numerous programs voted into existence by our “representatives” both in Sacramento and in Washington D.C. that simply buy votes for themselves by giving our taxpayer money away. That is fine in a vacuum, since most of us want the poor and downtrodden to be better off. But we must understand that this activity is not free - someone must pay the freight. And as soon as we go too far down this path and taxes get too high, the people with money will simply decide to leave our country and take their assets with them, or at least hide their assets somewhere offshore. We have already seen this happen with companies that used to employ many of our workers, and the same thing will start happening on a large scale for individuals as well.
What can we do about this problem? The best place to start is to control government spending. That is the key. People must realize that although governments certainly serve a necessary but limited function, governments do not create wealth. Instead they are actually a drain on wealth.
So when governments borrow money in order to pay it back to the economically deprived, which is what we have done in Washington with our recent “tax cuts,” that is a direct threat to our way of life. And when Sacramento pays off its deficits by borrowing money by issuing bonds or borrowing from such programs as the lottery, we are going down the same dangerous path.
Actions like this will be our great country’s undoing. But to be frank, this will not be a particular problem for me or my generation. We are doing just fine, thank you very much, because we will not be called upon to pay these borrowed monies back. Instead, that will be the responsibility we will visit upon our children and our grandchildren. So it is they who will suffer the consequences of our irresponsibility. But that is not a legacy that makes me proud - and it should not make you proud either.
So how do we begin to reduce government spending? Maybe we could start by reducing the money we pay for the staffing of the offices of our legislators. In fact, maybe we should go a step further and follow the lead of the State of Texas by having our legislature and even our Congress meet only every other year. We have plenty of laws; we really do not need any more.
Mark Twain said it best when he announced: “Good news from Washington - Congress is deadlocked and unable to act.” In my view, that really would be good news.
Reducing the size and influence of government will spur the economy like nothing else can. Now don’t worry, that does not mean that we will abandon our environmental or antitrust laws. But it does mean that we could allow our businesses to do what they do best, which is to produce goods and services that generate wealth, without being required continually to look over their shoulders to see what new laws and regulations they must now comply with. And that will result in more jobs for productive workers, which will, in turn, generate more wealth for everyone.
My final thought in this matter is that simply getting people to come out and vote in our elections, without more, is not a victory. What we need is voters that are educated about the candidates and all sides of the issues. Originally I greeted the coming of cable television with its large number of stations to choose from as a blessing. I thought that this would result in more diversity and more exposure to alternative points of view for everyone. But I was mistaken. Because what has happened is that people have now been able to find a television station that caters almost exclusively to their own predisposed points of view.
As a result, most voters’ political philosophies have hardened, and our country has become more polarized on both the extreme right and the extreme left. That means that there are fewer and fewer people in the moderate and non-committed center from which the political candidates must seek support. This in turn makes the candidates more polarized as well.
Does any of this matter? Only if we care about our country and our way of life, and want to pass them along to our children. Because, like I have said before, it is our government, and if it is not working, we have only ourselves to blame. And our way of life is in peril.
James P. Gray is a judge of the Orange County Superior Court, the author of Wearing the Robe - the Art and Responsibilities of Judging in Today’s Courts (Square One Press, 2008), and can be contacted at JimPGray@sbcglobal.net or at his blog at JudgeJimGray.JudgeJimGray.com.