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  • Tuesday, October 12, 2004


    Democracy? Not on Our Watch!

    It was while reading this article on registering the poor and working class in LA to vote that I got my usual ho-hum epiphany of cynicism. Democacy in the US is not about collectively making decisions on who to put into office and what propositions to support or turn down. It's about the opposite. Follow me on this one.

    First, running for any office above your local town council is too expensive for most people. Get the support of one of the two main parties? Get financial backing? Suppose your views don't fit under either of the "big tents" of the major parties? (Yes, Virginia, there is political thought outside of them.) What happens to financial support if you run as an independent? You face a massive spending gap if you are running against any major party candidate. Sure, get grassroots support and those $5 to $100 donations, run your campaign on a shoestring budget and the ISSUES. Hmm. How far will that get you? Ok, it isn't impossible but it's still damn difficult. This is the winnowing process for those seeking representative office. It's also the conforming process.

    The complexities of modern law making and legislature (state and national) are vast and often unpredictable. There are many ways in which proposed laws passing through the process can be sidelined, smothered or killed outright. In some ways it's a miracle anything gets through the process. Who most affects the passage of laws? Besides the Congress members themselves? Lobbyists and people with money. Sometimes the public is moved to write or call and express their opinion but only when a particular item is brought to attention. Who brings it to their attention? Their friends or neighbors? Unlikely. It will probably be... Bingo! A special interest group. And who has time to follow everything the Congress is doing? Isn't that why we elected someone in the first place, to be our representative?

    Surely the press is looking out for our best interests and monitoring our fine elected officials... Except that 80% of the TV and news media are owned by just five companies. And mainstream journalism has devolved into a kind of huge bulletin board all the reporters are looking at and copying their own version before tacking it back up. "Official" statements and public relations press releases are processed almost without question. Reporters who question the "official" version of events risk losing access to official sources. Our expectations of the press are lowered so far we don't even realize what is missing. Take the local evening TV news. It's a half hour long. Only it's really only 22 minutes because of commercials. Take away, oh, five minutes for sports. It might be important to you but is it news? Subtract another 3 minutes for weather (important but unless there's a weather emergency, not news). We now have about 14 minutes for news. Look closely at those 14 minutes. How many stories do you see during this time? Probably about 4 with several more covered with only one or two sentences. At least one of those will be an entertainment segment. The nature of news is to cover exciting, breaking stories with great visuals. Why waste time telling people what a proposed tax cut really means when you can show pictures of the hurricane or that three alarm fire?

    I've reached a point where I can barely watch TV news. As I watch all I think of is what they're NOT saying, of the number of times quotes from official sources busy spinning their version of the event appear. Ah, I think the election is making me way more cynical than usual. Carry on.

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