Sunday Roast: Rebooting the American Dream, Chapter 6

Chapter Six of Thom Hartmann’s book, Rebooting the American Dream: 11 Ways to Rebuild Our Country, is called “Make Members of Congress Wear NASCAR Patches.”

Why do we, as individuals, vote?  Seriously, why?

When I was growing up, I couldn’t wait to be old enough to vote.  In my starry-eyed youth, I truly believed that having come from a monarchy, in which the “small people” had absolutely no say about the direction of our lives, our basic rights, and the laws of the land, Americans would consider voting to be a precious and hard-won right — something no one would take lightly, especially women and people of color.

Boy was I wrong!! Just over the course of my own lifetime, our population has grown a great deal, but the percentage of voter turnout is steadily decreasing.  The 2008 election, which was so dynamic and hotly contested, only brought out about 56% of the voting age population, and that was the best turnout since the presidential election of 1968.  Mid-terms?  Forget about it…

So where am I going with this line of thought?  Isn’t Thom’s latest chapter about making politicians wear NASCAR patches?  Indeed, it is.

The [Center for Responsive Politics] report [of 2010] showed that the top federal lobbying spending was carried out in 2009 by the health-care sector ($543.9 million); followed by the finance, insurance, and real estate sector ($465 million); and energy and natural resources ($408.9 million). Among the biggest lobbying clients were the U.S. Chamber of Commerce ($144.5 million), ExxonMobil ($27 million), and the pharmaceutical industry group PhRMA ($26 million).

One person, one vote, right?  Assuming our elections are still on the up and up (not a safe assumption at all), and our individual votes send politicians to Congress to represent our best

interests, what is up with all the above money?  That’s where the NASCAR patches come in — because it’s not just “one person, one vote” anymore, it’s “he who takes the most money, wins.” There’s money to be made in politics, and it’s not chump change.  Our votes are becoming purely symbolic — something to keep up the illusion that we have any say in the direction this country takes, and a way for mass media to rake in the advertising dollars.  After the egregious Citizens United ruling by the Supreme Court, even NASCAR patches would not be helpful.

In 2010 in the Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission case, the Supreme Court ruled that corporations—even foreign corporations—and wealthy individuals can spend unlimited amounts of money to influence elections; they just have to spend it independently of the candidate’s or party’s official campaign.

I’m not suggesting that we stay out of the voting booth — absolutely not.  I’m saying we need to turn out in even greater numbers.  Barring campaign finance reform and the repeal of Citizens United, showing up in the voting booth is our last best hope of having any sort of voice in this country.  Staying home because politics is messy/imperfect is not an option.  Approximately 50% or less of Americans are deciding the way forward in this country — along with a staggering amount of money, that helps politicians forget very quickly who sent them to Congress and why.  How’s that working for us? Continue reading