By Gavin Keenan. (Illustrations added by Gordon Harris, courtesy of online publications)
If you are anything like me, you have been greatly disturbed by the presence of political ads on the television from various presidential contenders of both major parties, which sadly are the only parties that we have to choose from. If this weren’t bad enough, some of these ads first surfaced back in the summer, a full sixteen months before the 40% of us who normally vote will dutifully stand in line and cast ballots to choose our next Commander-in-Chief. Why is this the case, and more importantly, why does it even matter? Read on.
Back in 2010, the US Supreme Court decided the matter of Citizens United vs. The Rest of Us, and found within the constitution a heretofore unknown doctrine written in invisible ink near the edge of the penumbra suggesting money equals speech. The more you have of the former, the Justices reasoned, the more you can exercise of the latter. In the real world, people have known since the beginning of time that money talks while the rest of us walk. Did we really need the SCOTUS to give judicial notice of this sad truth?
So before you could say Shock and Awe, this decision gave a very bright green light to wealthy interests which then peppered the airwaves with political ads of all sorts. And lets tell it like it is; most of these ads spout Republican (read money) interests. The Democrats would have participated just as much had they been able. But they are financed mostly by the few remaining labor unions and other “socialist-leaning” entities. And everyone knows they’re broke. The bottom line is that in the morning when I’m trying to stretch my aching back and hear Matt Noyes’ weather report, I get a lot of hot air with the five-day forecast.
Qui bono, you ask? Major media outlets that now reap the millions of advertising bucks spent by those who are wildly wealthy and wish to remain so. And with the wide field of potential Republican candidates seeking their blessing, well there’s a lot of free speech to spread around, for the right price of course. But let’s not give the Dem’s a free pass here. The political whirligig will spin more dizzyingly once Hillary reaches out beyond the self-anointed NPR elite and ramps up her scripted, wooden and woefully uninspiring media blitz on the rest of us. And political punditry has it that Bernie Sanders is itching to contribute to the din and open his war chest to give us his version of Socialist bombast. Top it all off with “The Donald,” who by his magnetic personality and magisterial mane, not to mention his penchant for insult, innuendo and personal attacks, manages to garner plenty of free publicity and you have politics ad hominem, ad infinitum and ad nauseam. Phooey!
Is there no escape, no hallowed middle ground where a weary citizen may find surcease from this endless blather of polemical paralysis? Must we suffer through twelve more months of nail-biting, cliff-hanging, pseudo-drama? Searching for an answer, I scratch my head and look to our friends in the north. No, no. Not New Hampshire. Canada.
There, in the land of tranquility, good manners, self-effacement and National Health Insurance; the wise Canadians just changed their Prime Minister from the Conservative Mr. Harper, to the Liberal Mr. Trudeau. They did this with a minimum of mayhem by replacing a number of sitting MP’s with those of new blood. A sea change in the direction of the government to be sure, but the amazing thing is the campaign lasted for little more than two months; August 2nd to October 19th, to be exact. It has to do with the way the Canadian Elections Act operates. But this brief duration of political campaigning is typical of Parliamentary Democracies, with Great Britain the classic example. The Canadians remained under the British yoke far longer than Americans did, so they were more willing to accept a form of government that Sam Adams and John Hancock flipped the bird to back in 1775.
But I think we may have erred here. Under our hybrid system of representative democracy, we have a direct election of the President, sort of. But he / she is actually elected by the Electoral College, which according to the National Archives is a process, not a real college. Confused? There’s more. To be elected President, one needs 270 of these 538 electoral votes. A simple majority, but one that’s not so simple. Remember Bush vs. Gore and the Hanging Chad Election of 2000? This dragged out the campaign mud-slinging well beyond Election Day and negatively impacted Black Friday shopping.
It seems to me the problem is that our system husbanded and is now beholden to a two-party electoral process. Yet the Constitution does not mention, endorse or create a two-party system. Only the two parties do. And these parties are subject to rigidity, flatulence and tunnel vision; all things that are bad for democracy and domestic tranquility. As our electoral history has “matured,” and I use this term loosely, we have become like whinny brats in the sandbox, unable to share our toys or candy. Differing voices are shouted down, called bad names like “Liberal” or “Conservative,” and otherwise disdained. Those who don’t partake are designated “un-enrolled,” and ironically are becoming the majority of the electorate. In a parliamentary system, these folks could form different parties and elect people who more represented their particular point of view and interest. These MP’s in turn would influence the makeup of the national government in a more representative and moderate way. It all seems so civilized. This can’t be a bad thing. Can it?