Kesmarn’s brilliant article, Please, tear that price tag off!, impresses the powerful image of our democracy and citizenry as a 500 pound patient, too bloated to help itself or accomplish even the most minor tasks required for its subsistence and survival.

Citizens United may have been the last straw in our Democracy becoming too overloaded to effectively be able to function on its own. In light of the abuse of filibusters, the propaganda machines now established in our society, the laziness, ignorance and easy manipulation of voters, one wonders if Democracy is just lying helplessly like a beached whale in a hospital bed waiting for a sponge bath and a bowl of ice cream.

This reminded me of a little known movie from The Depression era, a fantasy that is quite a bit twisted. It is an oddity. When I first saw it years ago, I was fascinated that anyone would truly think of this as a fantasy instead of a nightmare. Today, I see it in a different light, I still reject it as a desirable fantasy but I better understand why many people back then would have been receptive to it.

The name of the film is, “Gabriel Over The White House”. It was made and takes place in the midst of The Depression and fantasizes about a weak president who radically changes and becomes dictatorial…to the benefit of Americans! Here’s a synopsis:

Newly elected president Judson Hammond is shown to be a lackey of his party, willing to follow the party line even if it’s not in the best interest of the people. Showing off by driving his own car to a political meeting, he crashes at high speed. Comatose, he is not expected to recover. But on regaining consciousness, he is a changed man. Dismissing his cabinet and defying Congress, he assumes near-dictatorial powers in order to cut through red tape and institute sweeping measures to reduce unemployment. He even goes so far as to gently threaten nations owing the United States money from World War I to find a way to repay their debts by reducing their arms races. Having brokered this important safeguard for the world’s peace, Hammond is stricken down, his work done.

During The Depression, as now, people were so desperate and frustrated with the need for big things to get done and changes to be made quickly. The process of our Democracy simply isn’t structured to work that quickly so the concept of a President assuming dictatorial powers to get everything done swiftly, no doubt appealed to some then.

Of course, such naive Americans needed only to look to Germany to see the nightmare that their fantasy would become when brought to fruition in real life.

As Santayana said, “Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” And we know far too well that Swing Voters can’t even remember history from two years ago (“Hey, maybe Republicans will make our economy better if they’re in control!”), so the ones who decide elections in this country surely won’t know what happened 80 years ago and are fully available to repeating it.

Of course, only as a fantasy, how cool would it be for Obama to be able to institute all the policies we support without having Repubs in Congress thwarting him? The flip side is, then a President Palin would have the same power. So, dictatorships are far too dangerous to allow, for any reason. Yet, as we saw after 9/11, the American public can be driven to support a dictatorial and oppressive U.S. government.

All of this opens a Pandora’s Box of ideas and propositions in today’s America.

1. “Would Americans willingly elect another dictatorial president to go even farther in trampling democracy and civil rights if it meant he could get a lot done?”

2. “Has our democracy become too corrupt to function properly and do what’s necessary?”

3. “How can the damage to our democracy be reversed if Congress and the election process is dominated by those who corrupt them?”

Starting with the first question, sadly, I think the answer is “yes”, Americans would be willing to elect a dictator-type president. I remember a poll of high school students in Bush’s last years that asked if the press should be allowed to publicly criticize the president…the majority said “no”.

Americans want what they want more than they want principles adhered to. If someone like Mike Huckabee became President and declared that God had told him to ignore Congress and the Constitution and do what God told him would be best for Americans…certainly the Tea Party crowd would applaud his diss of government and some of these mindless Swing Voters would cheer his being a man of action.

“Who needs democracy, we want jobs and Social Security and Medicare and we don’t want to pay taxes! Pres. Huckabee says that we can have it all if he doesn’t have his hands tied by Congress! We’re with ya!”

Kind of scary but not so far-fetched. Bush essentially did this with his record number of signing statements in which he declared whether he would or wouldn’t follow laws passed by Congress and how he would change the way they were applied and enforced. And then he just did things under the cover of “wartime” that he had no Constitutional right to do.

As to the last two questions, though it is politically correct to exclaim that our democracy is the greatest in the world…how many Americans actually sit down and study other countries to come to that conclusion?

What other industrialized nations have democracies where corporations can pour in unlimited amounts of money to influence elections? Or require candidates to publicly attest that they are religious and their faith is Christian-based? Or have campaigns that last years and require hundreds of millions of dollars, squeezing out from participation most of those who aren’t wealthy or already in office?

And what about how our Congress works? Where states with less than one million people have the same power in the Senate as states that have 40 million people? Where the tyranny of the minority continues to reign and simple majority votes are insufficient to pass legislation?

Then there are all the special interests and corporations that are free to lobby with mountains of cash to stop what they don’t like and ram through what they do want.

Moving to a slightly different allegory, our democracy now seems like a car that is in disrepair. The hydraulics of the steering are messed up and it is hard to steer, the blinker only signals right, the tires are all low and the engine is clogged with muck so the car moves slow and sluggish, covered with mud that is constantly slung at it from all directions.

The real question is, is it throwing good money after bad to try and fix it? Do we need to buy a new car?

As unlikely as it is to ever happen, for America to return to a democracy from the plutocracy it has become, perhaps what’s really required is a new Constitutional Convention that incorporates all of the developments in our society and democracy that The Founders simply couldn’t and didn’t foresee.

Some proposals that I would like to see contained in a New Constitution:

  • The Senate would be more representational of the nation, still 100 Senators but one Senator from each state and then additional Senators based upon population.
  • Elections would be publicly financed and on an alternating basis, broadcast and cable networks would be required to provide free airtime to candidates.
  • Any Congressperson could be recalled and replaced by their state’s voters.
  • The Senate and House would conduct votes on bills, decided by simple majorities.
  • Lobbyists would be allowed but prevented from providing any financing to politicians (since elections would be publicly financed).
  • Corporations are not people and may not participate in any way in elections.
  • Truth In Advertising laws for political advertising that allow ads to be pulled and advertisers/politicians to be fined for false claims. In egregious cases, election results could be nullified and after falsehoods had been publicly exposed, a new election would occur.
  • Justices on The Supreme Court would not receive a lifetime appointment. Instead, they would receive a term of ten years which would need to be renewed by the current President and Congress or else a replacement would be made.
  • An explicit and concrete separation between church and state. Any church would be permitted to promote political agendas, candidates or participate in the electoral process but would not have tax-free status once they do so.
  • A Fairness Doctrine that requires news networks to provide legitimate and accurate counterpoints to whatever they present.
  • Voting would be one week long, encompassing weekends to provide for the most participation.
  • Retirement pay and health insurance are rights of all Americans and may never be privatized. The U.S. will provide single-payer health insurance to all Americans.
  • Military spending capped to a maximum percentage of GDP except in case of an emergency. In such cases, authorization for such an emergency will expire in no more than 2 years and may not be renewed or refinanced in any way in a new request.
  • Torture and the death penalty would be outlawed in all cases as cruel and unusual punishment.
  • Taxes on those making $10 million or more may not be reduced below 50% of income. Only deductions that were applicable and useful to most Americans could be made available to wealthy tax payers (all businesses would still be able to write off expenses, of course).
  • Fines and jail time for white collar crime would be as punitive as street crime. Top executives are personally liable for all crimes committed by their corporations.

That’s a number that come to mind. If we could have a new constitution, what would you want added into it?

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Nirek
Member

Our democracy has been perverted. We need to go back to where we had citizen legislators NOT professional politicians.

That is my view WHAT is yours?

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bito
Member

I don’t know if we ever really did have “citizen legislators,” Nirek. Many of the white males at the founding came from state and local political positions and/or the were among the wealthiest. What did set them apart was their indifference on many matters that allowed them to do what was best for the country. Quite the opposite of what we have now.

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bito
Member

Democracy is the art of running the circus from the monkey cage. – H.L. Mencken

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caleb36
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caleb36

Of the many worthwhile Constitutional changes you propose, the most urgent is limited terms (10 years would be reasonable) for Supreme Court Justices, including all currently serving Justices. The present group of ultra-conservative Justices will likely remain in office for decades with their lifetime appointments, strangling democracy as the third, co-equal branch of government. Limited term appointments would mean that hideous decisions such as Citizens United (declaring corporations to be persons under the Constitution) have a much better chance of being overturned within a reasonable time frame.

In terms of much more doable non-Constitutional reforms, the most useful would be elimination of the Senate filibuster. It is my understanding that the Senate can eliminate the filibuster rule by majority vote. The Democrats, still in a majority following the November elections, should do it! The filibuster has proved to be a one-way filter, blocking liberal legislation but not stopping conservative legislation.

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Khirad
Member

Chomsky on post-mid-term America and what democracy should really mean.

In other words, very apropos to this article, IMHO.

httpsh://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S8HYkRSh-2k&feature=player_embedded

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Pepe Lepew
Member

I’ve become convinced the Parliamentary system really does work better. The United States system was an experiment that worked for many, many years, but has become corrupted by corporate money and I think by people who don’t buy in to the concept of separation of church and state.

Two things I like about the Parliamentary system is that when an election is called, the election season lasts something like six weeks. In a country like Canada, spending on campaigns is strictly controlled by law, so it’s difficult for corporations to buy an election.

Secondly, I like that a majority party takes over the government, or is forced to form a government with other parties if they don’t have a pure majority (In Canada, you probably won’t see a majority party any time soon because there are four or five major parties). So, this forces the need for compromise, middle ground, etc. Honestly, I really believe these systems simply work better than the American model, which was a new thing that had never been tried before. Less corruption (though Canada has had some doozie corruption scandals over the past 25 years), less influence by corporations, more compromise, etc.

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kesmarn
Admin

I’m beginning to realize the value of a “vote of no confidence,” too Pepe. Not so much currently as during the Bush administration. That dragged on for far too long.

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Mightywoof
Member

I agree Pepe – I also think not having fixed terms is essential. The only term limit up here is that an election has to be called within 5 years – so, depending on how successful a party is in governing, they can call an election after a couple of years or hang on for the full 5. It makes the opposition parties very careful about pushing the governing party’s back against the wall in a minority situation – they may be blamed by the electorate for forcing an unecessary election. With term limits in the States, there are no consequences for the opposition’s farting around the whole time until the next election – and the next election simply becomes one of messaging and manipulating (a practice that starts as soon as the previous election ends).

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kesmarn
Admin

I love your perspective from Up North, MWoof. It’s great to have another lens with which to view the American scene.
Don’t you dare ever leave the Planet! 😆

And that goes for Pepe, too.

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escribacat
Member

I agree with just about all your points for the ideal constitution, but I know plenty of people who wouldn’t. So…it’s their country too, right? What about them? In fact, as repulsive as I find them, the teabaggers are also Americans. I think it’s this ideal that keeps Obama “caving” as the screamers over yonder like to call it. He’s thinking, “It’s their country too.” He’s right. He won the election with 52% or something like that, if I remember correctly. That means another 48% didn’t vote for him. Even though I disagree with just about every single policy on the right and I have never voted for a republican in my life, I still can see that they truly believe that small government is good and so on. I can see that my viewpoint isn’t the only one. It actually makes sense to me that our country just seems to lurch back and forth from left to right — it’s a reflection of our population. What’s that great quote — “Democracy is the worst system in the world, except for all the others.”

I have doubts about the viability of democracy in a nation as big as ours. (I have doubts about the viability of any monstrously large entity, but that’s another issue.) The closest thing to a democracy I ever saw was when I spent some time years ago in an Israeli village. There was an “election” while I was there. There was no “campaigning,” just a lot of arguing. There was a slate of issues and all the villagers met and argued about the issues and then they voted. The majority ruled. It was simple and sweet and it worked — but only because it was just a village and the issues were important to everyone so everyone got involved and voted. There weren’t any outsiders interfering and no “corporations” influencing the election. It was quite beautiful.

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Questinia
Member

Ever think of running for office Adlib? We need people like you!

I’m serious.

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bito
Member

And I await to enjoy and consume your thoughts into the ramshackle remains of my mind.

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Questinia
Member

bito, you talkin’ to me? Cause thems sweet candy words!

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SueInCa
Member

Great article Adlib. You know, people choose or inherit their relgion in the same manner. How many people do you know that are attending a church where they have actually looked at the church doctrine or looked at the history of that religion to find out what it is really built on? Not many people. They will follow a religion because “everyone else does” or “because they like their building” or “I just felt the need to belong”.
This is how cults thrive. This is how fundamentalists sects thrive. It is the reason most people, if you ask them about the beliefs or doctrine of their church, will look at you like you are giving them a test or something. And most will not have the answers either.

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whatsthatsound
Member

Terrific article, Adlib.
Honestly, I really think America is looking more like a failed experiment with each headline. It seems to be a populace sold, lock stock and barrel, to war mongers, robber barons, financial hoodlums (banksters, in other words) and a phony group of “elected representatives” who act only as their functionaries.

I wouldn’t even know where to begin to get back on track beyond the ideas you’ve put out there, but I would like to see this: Something to revitalize the Rust Bucket cities of the Great Lakes, not only for economic reasons, but as a symbol. Akron, Toledo, and especially Detroit: these were the cities that won WW2 for our country. And they were the first cities to be abandoned to global interests as our former enemies were built up to the point where they overtook our industrial base. This is how you treat a “war hero”? By telling him thanks, and then telling him you’re giving his job to the guy he risked his life to save us from?
America needs to show greater decency to its veterans, of course most importantly its human ones. But those cities are veterans too, they gave everything, and got the shaft. It’s a real symbol of our moral decay that this was allowed to happen.

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kesmarn
Admin

On behalf of those Rust Bucket veteran cities, may I say “thank you” to you, WTS!

The Dem governor of Ohio, who was just thrown out of office by the T-Party, had planned a forward-thinking high speed passenger rail system to link Ohio’s major cities. The funding was already in the pipeline. Hope was in the air.

Sez the new Repub/Wall St. governor: “Nay! No high-speed rail! Forget it! But — how about I should channel those billions from the Feds to my cronies in the old-style creaky freight rail system? OK?”

Thank gods, the Feds said no to that one.

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whatsthatsound
Member

Hi Kes,

I’m from Columbus, and am a proud Ohioan.
Michigan and Ohio, etc. have been among the least served by Reaganism and corporatism, and it is a great tragedy.

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kesmarn
Admin

Sadly true, wts, and as I noted earlier, now that GM has turned around and re-invented itself (thanks to our President), investors are trampling each other to buy stock in it. Again, Obama gets no credit for saving jobs in the area. Think how much worse things would have been if the automakers had all gone under!

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bito
Member

k’es, I have lived in a a few areas where the main industry has been shutdown or had major layoffs. The ripples though the community are devastating. Not just the main industry and their suppliers, but everything from shoe stores, to churches and bars. The magnitude of Obama helping to save the US auto industry is hard to imagine unless one has lived in such an area. Yet he is chastised for helping corporations and those damn Unions. The ruin he, and a Democratic Congress, helped prevent is immeasurable.

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kesmarn
Admin

It’s so frustrating, b’ito. How do you base an argument on “what might have been, but wasn’t”? Especially when the present situation is undeniably tough?

I often think back to the flap over the — was it — avian flu? swine flu? I’ve already forgotten. But it was scary headlines for days. Obama and the CDC orchestrated a really effective development and distribution program for the vaccine. All Obama got was grief. I remember snarky stories about how he and Michelle “grabbed” some of the early, more scarce doses for themselves. Bogus. And, on the other hand, they “didn’t trust the vaccine enough” to let their kids have it right away, or so went the RW legends.

Long story short: epidemic averted. And no credit ever to the Obama administration.

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Khirad
Member

I remember a poll of high school students in Bush

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Pepe Lepew
Member

That’s not just high school students. Many other polls have shown that the many Americans do not really believe in the First Amendment.

This is a 2007 survey done by FirstAmendment.org

WASHINGTON

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bito
Member

That’s a chilling poll, Pepe.
Glad I’m not a non-Christian reporter 😉

Seriously that is a very sad comment on both American’s attitudes and education. Onward Evangelical Christian Soldiers?

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bito
Member

Anywhere you can stick this in there AdLib?

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AlphaBitch
Member
AlphaBitch

Thanks. Wow – so Kes and I would be some of the prototypical founding “Mothers”. I like that!

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Questinia
Member

There is irony to democracy. There really has never been a true democracy here, and what we are seeing now are just the tenets of the Founding Fathers gone metastatic.

I will have more to say later.

What you are probably entreating, Adlib, is a call to pluralism, where people have more of a say. That’s not a democracy per say, but it probably could be integrated into the system we have now.

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AlphaBitch
Member
AlphaBitch

Great, thought provoking articles, both of you!

Having worked for the biggest law firm representing various associations (ie, we were the lobbyists), and having rewritten bills so that our clients were better served: how about no riders on bills? So what if they have beaucoup bills to process? What do you think I’m paying them for? I want a “yes” or “no” vote without all the strings and riders attached. No more “A bill to authorize mandatory jail time for all wife-beaters” with an attached rider “It’s OK to rape young children”. They stand alone or not at all.

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bito
Member

AB,
Agree!! When I watch the proceedings in Congress on C-Span and the clerks read a title of a bill it invariably ends with “and for other purposes.” I often wonder “what exactly are those ‘other purposes’?”

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AlphaBitch
Member
AlphaBitch

I don’t know, but it makes me feel icky if it has anything to do with David Vitter…….

You have to remember, I was in the free-for-all world of Texas politics. I MET Dick Armey and Charlie Wilson. I was there when Henry B. Gonzalez (God love him) punched out a man for calling him a communist because he was a progressive. I once sat behind dear Miss Ann (Richards) at a concert in a “joint”, and she kept asking me if her hair was too big and if I needed her to “pat it down”. I’ve seen the beast of politics and governing up close. Nuthin like the Texas Lege to convince you that true idiots (see Armey and Wilson above and add to that Delay) can get elected and rise to power on the simple premise of bullshit. How do you think Bush was successful?

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kesmarn
Admin

Great idea, AB!

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kesmarn
Admin

I love the mental exercise, AdLib, of tearing down (in the imagination) the whole structure — right to the foundations — and then envisioning what it could look like, rebuilt.

I’ll enjoy mulling this over throughout the day, but off the top of my head — a couple thoughts:

Would it be practical to increase the number of senators to, say, 120? Still leaving two for each state (since people seem to be so in love — rightly or not — with the concept of “balance,” and the possibility of one senator’s being elected from each party would still exist) and then assigning the additional 20 to the most populous area?

In the extremely important area of education: would there be some way to even out the way that primary/secondary education is financially supported? And to limit the ability of states to dictate the content of text books — especially science and history texts? I realize this is a sticky area, since so many diverse sects ardently believe they own the capital T Truth. But could there be review boards of reputable scientists and historians to weigh in on these areas?

Finally…many thanks again for your kind words. But I have to say — it would be futile to write any sort of article at all if you and the other founders hadn’t created an open, safe environment in which to post them. For that, we’re all more than grateful.

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