Saturday, September 22, 2012

Is winning all that matters?

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, 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.


  1. While I agree with the premise that politics is all about winning, I vehemently disagree with the rest of the message.

    Regarding media fairness and your whining over FOX News and talk radio, let me kindly remind you that NBC, CBS, ABC, PBS, CNN, MSNBC, NPR, the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Chicago Tribune, the LA Times, Time, Newsweek, USA Today,the Huffington Post, the Public Education System, Academia, and Hollywood all overwhelmingly are left of center. I'd say that there's a good mix of print, tv, internet, education, and entertainment controlled dominantly by the left.

    I freely admit that redistricting does change political boundaries and that local and state governments can become corrupt to maintain the majority's power. However, I think you failed to mention Democratic Party strongholds for generations like Cook County, IL, King County, WA,and others.

    Regarding Voter ID, I didn't have to show any during the primary on Aug. 21. While I'm sure no one would want to replace or impersonate me, it is somewhat scary that someone could state my name and address to cast a ballot in my name. We require photo ID for almost everything else in society: bank transactions, home ownership and renting, government assistance, liquor and tobacco purchases, medical visits, airline travel, hotel check-in, car rental, and such. I believe that we should have a FREE gov.-issued photo ID for individuals (if the individual doesn't have a driver's license, passport, or student ID) that can be hand-delivered, if necessary, to every individual that meets voter qualifications. Each state would have an independent, non-partisan governing panel to ensure that voter IDs are issued to every individual meeting voter qualifications and that NO ONE gets discriminated or disenfranchised.

    Big Money. You're right that money is the big problem in politics. McCain-Feingold just showed ways to get around the problem. I would remind you that the Republicans aren't the only people with money. A fair chunk of the Wall St./bank tycoons did support President Obama in 2008. Of course, a majority of Hollywood and the entertainment industry holds high-profile donor dinners for the President. No problem with it, but I think you should be fair and mention that both sides have the problem.

    Lastly, the recounts. We spent over a month in Florida for the recounts. I believe several of the media sources mentioned above did independent reviews of the votes. The overwhelming majority of the votes showed that Bush won. As I recall, Al Franken was only elected to the Senate from Minnesota due to recounting the recounts of the recounts until he found enough. LBJ did it in Duval County with the help of George Parr. There are rumors of JFK doing it in Illinois and West Virginia. This by no means indicates that Republicans are pure and innocent as a newborn baby. They have engaged in voter shenanigans and general mischief in their quest for power at the local, state, and federal levels. But they certainly do not have a monopoly on it.

    Lastly and unfortunately, no matter who wins or loses this November, I guarantee you that on January 20th, 2013, we'll endlessly hear about the front-runners in 2016. You've gotta love the endless media cycle!

  2. I would like to see the abolition of the electoral college -- I would like to see my vote count -- and a fixed campaign fund provided by the government with no allowable donations. I would not object to the elimination of nasty campaigns in the media. (The new government will be a corporate-ocracy.)