Presidential campaigns occur overwhelmingly on television, mostly empty deceptive 30 second advertisements that fuel public cynicism far more than advancing factual enlightenment. The 1996 presidential campaign was one of the worst ever — a “virtual reality” campaign separated from real communities, real debates and real neighborhood organizing. The major candidates roamed the country parading in front of the people, and the bored reporters, instead of campaigning with the people and their issues. Carefully contrived campaign crowds were used as props for the television and press photography. Predictably, this dreary daily repetition of the same slogans and buzzwords by increasingly look-alike major parties results in U.S. elections attracting a smaller percentage of voters to the polls than any other western country. More and more, of these voters, who vote, know they are choosing between the bad and the worse.
The central contention of electoral politics should be the proper distribution of power in order to maximize decisions on behalf of the general interest. After a brief decade, between 1965-1975, of consumer, environment, and civil rights movements countervailing corporate power, the global companies have consolidated their position and aggressively concentrated their influence over both political parties, our federal governments, the economy and our very culture. The reflection of this corporatist grip on our economy is seen by what both Bill Clinton and Bob Dole, drawing on these commercial interests for cash and sustenance, did not discuss nor disagree on in their campaigns or their platforms.
The two major party presidential candidates neglected the subjects of pervasive corporate crime, bloated corporate welfare, genuine campaign finance reform, energy independence, universal health insurance, 23% child poverty, weakened civil liberties, collective bargaining and job safety laws for workers, the size of the military budget, housing, the corporate merger wave, GATT and
NAFTA, and the non-enforcement of consumer, environmental and natural resource laws. Unfortunately, the very media that has reported frequently on these topics over the years, fell right into the narrow agenda trend dug by these politicians and their consultants.
Anyone who has been on the hustings knows that a unifying expression among citizens of different backgrounds is the deepening loss of control. Whether as voters, workers, consumers, taxpayers, or saver/investors, Americans believe that their ability to shape their near- and long-term futures is being over-ridden. Voters find their votes being nullified by campaign money and given the absence of a binding non-of-the-above (NOTA) option, they cannot even register a protest or no-confidence vote.
Workers can scarcely organize trade unions in industrial or commercial workplaces so weak are the laws and flexibility of the anti-union strategies by large employers. Consumers have no facilities, such as inviting inserts in state or corporate mailings, to band together for collective action. Consumer access to the courts is being destroyed by the twin corporate- backed drives of tort deform and compulsory arbitration.
Taxpayers have virtually no legal standing in federal courts to challenge the corporate- governmental complex of waste, fraud and abuse of their monies. Nor do they have much influence, to speak of, regarding how their monies are allocated and used in the federal budget (which is why they are receptive to politicians promising tax rate deductions).
As for saver/investors, need more be said than to mention the massive bailouts imposed on these innocent people as taxpayers for the S&L debacle and other financial crimes and speculation.
The challenge to citizens in the next electoral cycle is to field candidates who will strengthen the tools of democracy and enhance the roles citizens can play in our political economy. These tools will deconcentrate power and enhance greatly an informed community intelligence with which to solve or reduce our national problems.
Throughout our history, each time concentrated power was
challenged by a strengthened democracy of citizens, American became a better, more just society. Whether by the abolitionist movement, the women’s suffrage drive, the farmer populist reforms, the trade union initiatives and the more recent expansions of consumer, environmental, disabled peoples and women’s rights efforts, to name a few, the expansion, of the power of the many vis-à-vis the domination of the few raised our society to new levels of human possibilities.
Presidential and other political campaigns should be of, by and for the people if the resultant governance is to adhere to those same accountabilities. This means citizens need to work at democracy with time and talent long before election day. The challenge for citizens after election day is to build political a future that encourages more Americans to join progressive politics and to broaden the public agenda to better match readily available solution.