The last 12 years have clearly shown that our political problems cannot be solved by just voting for different politicians or a different party. Our problems are systemic and our failed system needs fundamental reform. Regardless of your partisan affiliation or your main issues, everyone's first priority should be to fix our system of legalized bribery.
During the last 12 years both major parties have been given a chance to govern and both have failed miserably. First President Bush and Republicans gained control of all branches of government. The result was $5 trillion added to the debt, two large protracted wars, attacks on civil liberties and privacy, unprecedented inequality, stagnant wages, crumbling infrastructure, 50 million Americans without health insurance, and the largest recession since the Great Depression.
After their abysmal failure, President Obama and Congressional Democrats were elected in the hope that they would change Washington.
Instead, with few exceptions, they just continued the race toward Kleptocracy. More continual war, more spying on Americans, and a further erosion of the rule of law. They continued the Bush bailout of corrupt Wall Street bankers, extended the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy, and continued to ignore a struggling Main Street. Democrats did extend health insurance to millions of Americans but only after huge giveaways to health insurance and pharmaceutical companies.
To pay for the disastrous policies of the last 12 years, Republicans now want to cut Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, the last vestiges of economic security for working Americans, and cut education funding, the last chance for economic mobility. Democratic politicians, as usual, are offering little resistance.
There clearly are large differences on social issues, but on the economic issues that affect the most people, the votes of the two parties are much more similar than their rhetoric. Republicans are open about their support of the wealthy, while Democrats pretend to fight for the middle class, but in the end, they each play their role to keep the public divided while they are united in protecting the powerful. On every important economic decision in Washington, lobbyists won and the average voter lost. In most cases the outcome was pre-determined before the public debate ever started. The health care debate was limited to what the health insurers would allow, financial reform was undermined by Wall Street, alternative energy solutions were blocked by energy companies, and even our national defense policy was dictated by defense contractors.
Meanwhile, every institution that supports the middle class has been systematically undermined or dismantled. Independent media, independent politicians and labor unions have all been marginalized.
We are left with a media that will breathlessly report sound bites from a presidential debate 17 months before the election, but refuses to provide context for the issues being debated or report views outside the narrow consensus defined by the two major parties.
In what may be the last nail in the coffin, the Supreme Court ruled that corporations are persons and should be allowed to spend unlimited amounts on campaigns. Politicians now know that if they help special interests they will be rewarded with large donations and a lucrative lobbying job when they retire. And if they instead choose to support the middle class they will be replaced by a better funded opponent in the next election. As a result, politicians listen to big donors first, lobbyists second and voters last.
We need term limits, limits on campaign spending and the length of elections, instant runoff voting and other election systems that allow third parties to compete, and an end to the revolving door between government and lobbying. But most importantly, we need public financing of elections to replace the corrupting influence of money on our politics. We need to create a system in which good people can once again get elected without begging special interests for money.
Corporations and billionaires learned long ago that investments in lobbyists and campaign donations pay big dividends for them. We need to learn that public investment in democracy will also pay dividends for us.
Alex Prichard is a 19-year resident of Fairbanks.