In a well-functioning representative government, people irrespective of status and resources can voice their opinions to their representatives. The United States is NOT a well-functioning representative government. Repeatedly, and almost relentlessly the government has ignored the sentiments of the masses in favor of the few.
The reason for the continued disregard for public opinion comes from a lack of ability for the middle and lower-income brackets to make a change. Unfortunately, more than anytime in our modern history the theme is that money rules politics and runs campaigns, and if you don’t have it you don’t matter.
Influence over actual policy outcomes appears to be reserved almost exclusively for those at the top of the income distribution – Martin Gilens, Princeton University
Here are some “highlights”:
- The Bush tax cuts “passed in 2001 were directly at odds with majority views” – Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson
- 52% of Americans do not support furthering the Bush-era tax cuts on those making over $250,000 yet the vote was shut down in congress even at the $1,000,000 mark. Source.
- Further, despite majority support, the House has voted against raising taxes on the wealthy in the name of deficit reduction. During the battle, polls reported that 58%-64% of Americans wanted to eliminate tax cuts given to the wealthiest.
- No viable plan has been put in place to make a constitutional amendment limiting corporate campaign funding despite that such action has 4-to-1 support among voters. Source
- Americans widely view government policies as having favored big banks, corporations and the wealthy (74%, 70%, and 57% respectively) while doing little to help the middle-class and the poor (27% and 31% respectively). Source
- While only 19% see cutting taxes as their primary concern this coming election (compared to the 76% who say either increasing spending for job growth or reducing the deficit are more important) both parties have taken onto tax cuts as a key issue. Source
- 2-to-1, Americans think that money and wealth should be more evenly distributed. While during this campaign Obama has been chided for supporting redistributive policies. Before this campaign, drops in the capital gains tax from 48% in 1978 to 15% today have unequivocally tilted the income distribution in favor of the super-rich at the expense of large deficits and mounting debt.
- Despite 66% of the country preferring a health insurance mandate, including public support for the poor, along with a majority supporting the most essential provisions of the Healthcare Reform Act, politicians are moving to eliminate such provisions. Source
It is not that politicians don’t care about the masses, or that there aren’t systems in place to facilitate correspondence with elected officials, it is that the middle-class has been disenfranchised by money interests. There are multiple causes for this, namely corporate lobbies, who John McCain is quoted saying:
[Extending tax cuts for the wealthy] “is the worst example of the influence of special-interest groups I have ever seen.”
Corporate lobbies are HUGE – they roughly outnumber labor lobbying efforts 16-to-1. Apart from the election cycle, when it came to policy lobbying in 2009 and 2010 business lobbying spent $6 billion and outspent labor by a staggering 65-to-1. So it’s little wonder why policies are usually heavily tilted towards corporate and executive interests. This is vividly highlighted looking at the events immediately following the financial crisis:
Such is the lobbying power of the big Wall Street institutions that they not only caused a global economic crisis and then forced the US government to pay for a massive bailout but then used a slice of that bail-out to bribe politicians with campaign donations in order to block rule changes that might prevent a repeat performance. – The London Telegraph
The majority of Americans appear to be aware of this changing tide that has sent business to the front of the political line. In a recent poll by Gallup, 64% of the respondents say that “the government is run by a few big interests.” I suspect the People dislike the unfairness of the system but feel powerless to change it.
They do not have the ear of any national politician and do not have the resources to lobby. While ordinary people feel cut out of the system middle-class citizens are “institutionally trained to be passive.” – Ernie Cortes, Grassroots Organizer
The available evidence is striking and sobering, in Aristotle’s terms, our political system seems to be functioning not as a ‘democracy’ but as an ‘oligarchy.’ If we insist on flattering ourselves into referring to it as a democracy, we should be clear that it is a starkly unequal democracy. – Larry Bartels, Political Scientist
Another cause of disenfranchisement is the growing income inequality and the formation of a quasi-caste system in the United States. The blitz of corporate lobby interests along with the uprooting of Americans financial security has left many Americans in the dark without a flashlight.
While money talks, literally since the Citizens United ruling, public opinion can still away the vote, we have seen this with the striking down of the Ryan budget plan, and Bush’s reversal in policy regarding the privatization of Social Security.
The only way Americans can take back the political stage is if radical policy shifts take place and income levels are recovered. A fundamental cause for a lack of grassroots action besides a general feeling of disenfranchisement has to do with the feeling of financial security.
If a person has to juggle multiple jobs to support their family, this person does not have time to join the picket lines and faces increased economic hardship if they do.
If a person wishes to fight corporate greed, they cannot feel that impending repercussions are coming their way.
If a person does not have financial security, none of these are possible, the risk is just too great to “join the good fight.”