The more we talk about “democracy,” the less democratic our country is
The 21st-century U.S. democracy that Dick Cheney and his front man, George W. Bush, are trying to force on the rest of the planet is less democratic than ever, and this November’s election will prove it, no matter who wins the presidency.
Don’t listen to the words of Bush, John Kerry, or any other elected politician. Take your eyes off the TV screen, turn around, and look at your own “democratic” system—historically the most unrepresentative it’s ever been, and getting worse every time the two parties divide up the spoils by gerrymandering the U.S. House of Representatives.
Keep a couple of things in mind: As NYU professor Ed Wolff has pointed out, the richest 1 percent of American households own 38 percent of all wealth. And as the Center for Responsive Politics notes, fewer than one-tenth of 1 percent of the U.S. population gave 83 percent of all campaign contributions over $200 for the 2002 midterm congressional elections.
Now let’s look at some numbers about how we’ve let such a situation occur.
The people at the Center for Voting and Democracy study your supposedly democratic system, and here’s what they found: “Over 90 percent of Americans live in congressional districts that are essentially one-party monopolies.”
Why is it so hard to get Americans to vote? Maybe because most of us are faced with what the CVD calls “unappealing choices: ratify the incumbent party, waste their vote on a candidate who is sure to lose, or sit out the race.”
The two parties have divided the electoral spoils by gerrymandering districts. Incumbents protect incumbency. In 2002, the CVD says, “over 80 percent of U.S. House races were won by landslide margins” (at least 20 percentage points).
In 1992, there were 84 competitive House races; in 2000, there were only 42.
Want more? “Fewer than 39 percent of eligible Americans cast a vote in 2000; only one in four adults voted for the U.S. House member who represents them.”
Check out the CVD’s Monopoly Politics 2004 report for a passel of sorry-ass details.
All this talk of the Bush campaign courting women’s votes is hilarious—as it would be from the Kerry camp as well. More than half the population, women hold a whopping 14 percent of the seats in the U.S. House of Representatives. At that rate, the CVD says in yet another stinging analysis, women will hold a proportionate half of the House seats by 2124. Only Dick Cheney’s brain will be alive—in a jar—by then.
Export our democracy? How about importing one? Only 24 states have women representing them in the House, compared with 27 in 1993.
Now, let’s talk about black people. (Bush didn’t—at all.) Barack Obama may become the first black man to serve in the U.S. Senate, rather than serve the senators, in more than a century. But he’s an anomaly, not the start of a trend toward more representative government.
The smartest analysis of Bush’s electoral strategy regarding black Americans is from the folks at the online-only Black Commentator. Their current top story, “Bush’s Black Attack Dogs,” shrewdly points out that the GOP strategy is once again a low voter turnout by African Americans this November. That’s been the GOP’s aim since the party was taken over by Dixiecrats (newest member: Zell Miller). Here’s how Black Commentator puts it:
The sham of GOP black voter outreach is over, and the true Republican mission has begun: Suppress the African American vote, by any means possible. To that end, the Bush men have enlisted the mercenary services of black front groups invented by rightwing foundations in the Nineties to push for school vouchers and other elements of the Republican agenda. These bought-and-paid-for servants of the Hard Right took to the airwaves in August calling themselves People of Color United and spending a rich white Republican man’s money to attack Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry as “rich, white and wishy-washy.”
As usual, Black Commentator backs up its assertions with fresh analysis of factoids reported practically nowhere else.
Bush avoided his usual unintentional malapropisms in his speech Thursday night. But he still abused the language with his “ignorance is strength” message. Seven times, Bush invoked the word “democracy”; 11 times, he uttered the word “liberty”; 16 times, he used the word “freedom.” He vowed, “In our world, and here at home, we will extend the frontiers of freedom.”
He didn’t mention, of course, the prior restraint on the freedom of Americans to protest his policies that was practiced by government troops right outside Republican Square Garden.
Bush did mention welfare reform, but not the kind that would end corporate welfare. It’s America’s corporate citizens who have taken the vote and the spoils.
Dick Cheney, the power behind Bush’s throne, is the perfect example of this. For a look at this new welfare state, read the monumental “alternative annual report” of Halliburton: CorpWatch’s Houston, We’ve Got a Problem.
In Bush’s treacly thank-yous Thursday night, he gave props to the “white-haired lady.” He meant his mom, Barbara Bush. But maybe he was talking about Richard Brinsley Sheridan‘s character Mrs. Malaprop, who famously talked about the “derangement of epitaphs.”
It’s our funeral, if this shit keeps up.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on September 3, 2004