The NFL goal posts are 18 feet 6 inches wide. What if, in the fourth quarter, a team winning by two points could change that as their opponent prepared to kick a last second field goal? Suddenly the width diminished to, let’s say, 9 feet, three inches. Vince Lombardi famously said winning is all that matters but even football couldn’t survive those sorts of unfair rule changes. Neither can democracy.
What will democracy look like for our grandchildren? Will it be a vibrant political system honed by an honest debate over ideas, leading to the selection of decent, honest people to represent us? Unfortunately, that is less likely as some decide winning is all that matters.
The Wyoming Secretary of State’s office reports that of 15 open state senate seats, the Democratic Party is contesting only three. The Democrats fielded just 22 candidates for 60 open house seats. It’s now official. Wyoming is less competitive at the ballot box than Cuba.
We all get it. The role of a political party is to elect their candidates. Still it is out-of-bounds to fundamentally alter the political system and the rules to favor one party over the other. It’s a game that both parties play to some measure depending on who has the votes. But the tactics threaten to end democracy as we know it.
The first casualty was the fairness doctrine. Old enough to remember when radio and TV stations were required to give equal time to both sides of political issues? Fairness is no longer an issue, not even a goal. The media found right wing entertainment sells far more than thoughtful dialogue. FOX News was spawned. Search the radio dial in Cheyenne. You can’t hear much other than right-wing propaganda.
Wyoming institutionalized one-party rule with sub-districting, exchanging a system that required legislators to represent everyone in their county to single-member districts. It was nonsense to think someone in south Cheyenne couldn’t represent people in east Cheyenne. Today, few even know which district they live in or can name their legislator. But, soon the GOP may have 100% of the legislative seats. The places where that happens don’t call themselves democracies.
Nationally the attack on democracy is equally ominous. In Pennsylvania, the legislature passed a so-called Voter ID law, the purpose of which the GOP floor leader admitted, “is gonna allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania.” In Ohio Republicans control county elections by virtue of a law allowing the Secretary of State to break ties among equally divided election boards. The GOP Secretary of State’s vote assures GOP counties remain open longer. Counties traditionally voting Democratic must close early. And Florida…well we all know what happens there.
The Supreme Court opened the floodgates for special interest and corporate dollars, transforming elections into a cynical form of auctioneering. The U.S. has a voting age population of 210 million. Fewer than 50 of them contributed 57% of the $230 million raised by super PACs.
Money floods the campaigns of those who need little. According to opensecrets.org, Wyoming Senator John Barrasso, with token opposition, received more than 6.5 million dollars since 2007. Does a guy who wins with 75% of the vote need that kind of money? Campaign contributions used to be about the candidate’s needs. Today it’s about the needs of the contributors.
Disenfranchisement of average voters seems to be the ultimate goal. Curious isn’t it, how all of this coincides with the decline of the middle class. We might ask more about the connection. The disparity in political contributions certainly reflects the economic differences between the 1% and the 99%.
With fewer people competing for local office, a political system flooded with special interest dollars, and voting laws closing the doors to regular voters, we’ll no longer have a democracy. Among those trying to game the system, the real battle will eventually come down to whether democracy is replaced with an oligarchy or a theocracy. Then we’ll see whether winning is all that matters.