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“Is your democracy flaccid? Do you have trouble maintaining a strong coalition? Are you tired of the parade of disappointing performances? Then you might be one of 330 million Americans suffering from electile dysfunction.” From the video Electile Dysfunction: How to Fix Our Government.
Our democracy and elections are broken. The candidate selection process is producing truly awful choices. The voters are pessimistic and distrustful of their government. The system is flooded with money buying influence and power. Gerrymandering, voter suppression, attack ads,and blatant lying have poisoned the process. Polarization and gridlock is everywhere.
Our “leadership” is failing to deal with climate change, immigration, the excessive cost of health care, the rise of hate and violence (especially gun violence), economic inequality, Social Security funding issues and numerous other important problems. Clearly we are suffering from “electile dysfunction” and this impacts every other aspect of our lives.
The debt ceiling “crisis” is a product of this broken system. With politicians more interested in power and reelection than the public good, bad policy is the result. On the debt ceiling there was a “compromise” reached that, as usual with our dysfunctional politics, did not solve the problem. It merely pushed it off until after the 2024 election. Kicking the can down the road is what our Congress does with virtually every issue.
This compromise is remarkable for its pettiness and ineffectiveness. The New York Times analysis, using previous Congressional Budget Office (CBO) forecasts, says the deal will cut social spending by $55 billion in 2024 and $81 billion in 2025. Given over $6 trillion in federal spending and a $460 billion budget deficit this is obviously insignificant. In addition, the CBO says cuts to Internal Revenue Service enforcement (in the compromise bill) will lower tax revenues and increase the deficit resulting in exactly the opposite of the bill’s purported goal.
Commentator Thom Hartmann has an excellent article on the history of the debt ceiling charade. He says, “This isn't a crisis. This is a plot. The corporate media refuses to tell the American people what this is: a cynical political and media strategy devised by Republicans in the 1970s, fine-tuned in the 1980s, and since then rolled out every time a Democrat is in the White House” (“The GOP Rolls Out Its 'Two Santas' Plot for Debt Ceiling and the Long Con Continues” in Common Dreams).
He says the objective of this charade is not fiscal responsibility. It is to create a campaign issue to attack Democrats.
There is a cure for electile dysfunction. We can create a better, more effective, more democratic electoral system. Unfortunately, it is not as simple as taking a pill – a dose of political Viagra. The therapy needed is the hard work of old fashioned organizing and citizen action. Many groups are working on needed reforms and every year legislation is introduced to fix the problems. But there needs to be more public support for change.
Buying elections continues to be the primary problem. Citizens United, the 2010 Supreme Court ruling, allows virtually unlimited spending on elections. Every year since this ruling the amounts spent have gone up dramatically. Research shows “to a stunning degree outcomes of elections ...are directly proportional to the amounts of money each [candidate] raises and spends” (see article at commondreams.org/opinion/debt-ceiling-charade).
Most of this money comes from corporations and wealthy individuals, not ordinary citizens. Mathew Rothschild of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign says, “Our politics shouldn’t be a tug of war between billionaires on the right and billionaires on the left. In a real democracy, we’d all have an equal tug on that rope...We do not have self-rule when the super-rich can spend unlimited amounts of money in our political arena” (Google “Citizens United at 13” by Matthew Rothschild).
The Wisconsin Democracy Campaign research shows in 2010 state elections for governor and the legislature raised $20 million. In 2022 this increased to over $90 million, with a lot of this money coming from out of state. Mathew Rothschild says this outside spending, “blessed by Citizens United, makes a mockery of the ideal that we all have an equal voice in our democracy.”
Move to Amend (movetoamend.org) has been working for 13 years to reverse this undemocratic blight on our elections. The “We the People Amendment” to overturn Citizens United has again been introduced into Congress this year. But with Republican control of the House it will die in committee.
The Electoral College for presidential elections is another problem with our elections. “The great majority of American voters exercise no real political voice in the outcome of presidential elections.” This is the conclusion of research by Doug McAdam, Professor of Sociology at Stanford University. He says in 2012 “four out of five Americans exercised no real electoral voice in the presidential election due to the winner-take-all Electoral College system which made campaigns focus on the handful of “battleground” states” (Google “Popular vote better than Electoral College, Stanford scholars say”).
The Washington Post agrees, “the Electoral College disenfranchises million of Americans in every Presidential election. It's how President Biden won the popular vote by over 7,000,000 [votes] but owed his Electoral College victory (and the Presidency!) to 43,000 votes spread across 3 states.”
Democrats have attempted to pass reforms. The Freedom to Vote Act tried to to prevent efforts to restrict access to the ballot, improve campaign finance laws, stop purges of voter registration lists and end partisan gerrymandering. Introduced in 2021 it passed the House but died in the Senate because it lacked the 60 votes needed to get past a filibuster threat. The filibuster is another undemocratic anachronism that needs to be ended.
The John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act of 2021 was an attempt to overturn several Supreme Court rulings gutting the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Again it passed in the Democratically controlled House but failed in the Senate because of the 60 vote filibuster requirement. '
On a lighter note, I would recommend watching the YouTube video “Electile Dysfunction: How to Fix Our Government” by Mark Ruffalo and Jonathan Scott. It is a hoot and presents a humorous look at the “Freedom to Vote Act.” Be advised: viewers who are prudes, or Republicans pandering to religious right prudes, may be offended. The video asks voters to, “Talk to your Senator and demand safer, more satisfying elections today.”