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We need to rescue our democracy from the plutocrats

  • Author:
  • Updated: June 29, 2016
  • Published October 19, 2014

This election cycle further demonstrates that we are headed toward revolution -- and we should be.

We are still pretending to be a democracy, but that is no longer true. As mentioned before in this column and as political scientists Martin Gilens and Benjamin Page among others have demonstrated, the United States is a plutocracy, a dominion governed by the wealthy, and that development is tied to the evolution of electronic campaign advertising.

The harbinger of change was the 1952 presidential election, Dwight Eisenhower v. Adlai Stevenson. It was the first election in which television played a substantial role. Stevenson used much of his TV time to deliver lectures and discussions thoroughly probing the nuances of foreign or domestic policy. As someone who knows a thing or two about putting people to sleep with a lecture, I can attest to the dreariness of this technique.

Eisenhower, on the other hand, focused his campaign on minute-long "I Like Ike" segments cited by Time magazine as among the top 10 political ads of all time. With the music and words written by Irving Berlin and animated cartoons done by Walt Disney Studios, lines like "hang out the banner, beat the drum, we'll take Ike to Washington" resonated with American voters perhaps as much as Eisenhower's brilliant war record, his "beware the military-industrial complex" philosophy, or his mastery of emerging cold war politics. Eisenhower won by a landslide.

And so was born the power of electronic media to shape elections with content-free visual messages. In today's digital age, sophisticated election strategists know that the 30 percent or so who vote will be influenced most by the sheer volume of repeated images and sound bites. Throw in a smiling perfect family picture and a little negative advertising and you're in. The technique is to bombard the electorate with appearance over substance including ads on TV, radio, targeted Internet sites including Facebook, robo-calls, and some old style print ads and paid-for opinion pieces. And don't forget the yard signs. Lots of yard signs.

Elections are cleverly orchestrated campaigns designed to polarize the voter into a simple "like" or "dislike" emoticon. Two generations have been brought up on this style of politicking and people think that by watching TV or Internet ads they are participating in the democratic process when, in fact, they are participating in the plutocratic process. Electronic electioneering costs a huge amount of money to produce, far beyond the reach of bake-sale funded politics. Consequently, voters are being influenced by the wealthy to vote for the candidates controlled by the wealthy, to do the bidding of the wealthy. Corporations and the rich control elections. Corporations and the rich control the country.

And so we have come to a place where the disparity in wealth between rich and poor is at an all-time high; where corporations now have the rights of individuals; where wars are fought to safeguard or expand multinational corporate interests; where people can be convinced to vote for something not in their best interest; where prosperity theology is an emergent form of Christianity; and where campaign financing favors dark money channeled to big-money candidates and corporate causes.

Democracy is dying. What can those of us who still care do?

First, we need to be clear that the principles of Jeffersonian democracy still matter. We need to reaffirm that power is best held by informed citizens who vote: one person, one vote.

Second, following James Madison's Federalist Paper No. 10, we need to acknowledge that influences on who and what to vote for must come from within the jurisdiction, no where else. Political action committees and all forms of funding external to a polity must be banned. Citizens United and other forms of "dark money" funding must be overturned. People and corporations should only be able to donate money to candidates where they live or are located. ConocoPhillips, for example, should only influence local elections in Houston or state elections in Texas. If all politics is local, all political funding designed to influence politics should be local as well.

Third, "we the people" need to understand that the reforms needed to bring down the plutocracy will not be led by officials elected through a corrupt system. The battle can only be fought through mediums that have a measure of people control: Internet websites, social media and some print media and radio. We need to expose the dominance of plutocracy and elect candidates willing to restore democracy.

At this point, that will take a revolution.

Alan Boraas is a professor of anthropology at Kenai Peninsula College.

The views expressed here are the writer's own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary(at)alaskadispatch.com.

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