In a true democracy the election process should be controlled by the public not the candidates or a press that isn’t accountable to the public.
No business would ever allow the job applicants to decide how the interview process should go and decide which questions they should answer; why should we continue doing this to elect our political representatives?
Election reform will also require media reform and education reform so the public knows how to make some of the most important decisions that control the country and the world.
The way we elect our representatives has become an absurd satire so ridiculous that almost everyone should know there is something seriously wrong. Elections no longer spend much if any time discussing the issues nor did they ever spend nearly as much as they should have. Instead they spend all their time discussing one absurd scandal after another. The best chance the public used to have was when someone was involved in a scandal they used to say they don’t want to distract from the issues and they would try to steer the discussion back to the issues but even then they spent more time saying they wanted to discuss the issues than they did doing so in productive manner. Now they rarely even do that. Right now the control of the election system is in the hands of those running for office and the Mass Media both of which are financed by the multi-national corporations. This has virtually eliminated democracy in the USA which was never as democratic as they made it out to be. In order to fix this the public needs to learn how to set up and control a new system that enables them to make most of the important decisions based on well informed perceptions of how democracy and the major institutions of our society are run. If the government and the biggest corporations keep most of this information away from the public there is no way this can be done.
In order to have successful election reform we need media reform too and this should create at least some media that is directly accountable to the public. Robert McChesney, Ben Bagdikian and several other authors have written about how the media has deteriorated over the last several decades as well as the problems with the media since it was created. The current media system is financed by advertisements and this gives control over the media to the major corporations. This creates a clear conflict of interests when it comes to the possibility where we may need the media to investigate wrong doing by the major corporations. Many of the collapses of business over the last decade and the environmental disasters should make it clear that the current media system isn’t working. There was plenty of evidence that these disasters were coming but they were ignored until they got so bad they caused major collapses in business and damage to the environment that was much worse than it had to be. If these problems were investigated earlier the cause of the problems could have been exposed to the public before they got nearly as bad and they could have been stopped. These are just the tip of the iceberg if you think about it. If you go down a list of different subjects that the media could help inform the public about one subject after another you may find that they hardly even try to do so. They have a small number of media spokesperson that often seems to act as if their right to free speech should be above reproach but they are under no obligation to give any right to free speech to anyone else. This effectively enables them to present themselves as experts by default since they don’t give many if any other people a chance to speak on all subjects despite the fact that they seem to no little about many if any of them. One of the biggest examples which I have discussed on several other posts is the lack of attention they give to people that study the root causes of violence and how they start with early child rearing. Instead they provide an enormous amount of demagoguery from people like Nancy Grace that manipulate people’s emotions.
The mass media has been doing little if anything to provide the most important information that the public needs about the election of candidates: they spend little time interviewing them about the issues or fact checking the information in a trustworthy manner. Robert McChesney and the others from Free Press have argued that we need a new class of journalists that are independent and perhaps subsidized by the public one way or another. They have argued that this should be done through the government. If so then after election reform this new class of journalists should be accountable directly to the people who are financing them and they should pursue issues that the public wants them to pursue as well as the most important issues that affect the public. There may be some important issues that affect the public that many people may not be aware of if a good journalist finds this and brings it to the attention of the public then the public will benefit from it and learn to appreciate it. If this is going to be done successfully it will have to be done simultaneously with election reform and education reform since we will need trust worthy political representatives and an educated public in order to make this work.
Ideally a good media system accountable to the public would investigate many of the most important issues and political and corporate corruption as well as educate the public about many of the most important issues including violence prevention war prevention nonviolent social issues and the sciences including information about the damage being done to the environment and global warming. Shows could be aired that invite many of the best academic experts on any given subject to discuss the details starting with the basics of any given subject so the public will understand how to make important decisions about that subject, As it stand now the public is dependent of the corporations that own the Mass Media for this information and they provide a perception of reality that is designed primarily to protect their own bottom line regardless of what is best for the public. A good media system that is accountable to the public should be open to scrutiny in most if not all cases; however one exception that is worth considering carefully is the press shield law that protects the sources of a good reporter. If this is maintained then the reasons and purpose of the law should be explained to the public so it isn’t misused. This is supposed to enable a credible reporter to act on information they receive in confidence from people that may be worried about retaliation from a criminal organization, corporation or government that is involved in wrong doing and wants to keep it secret. One of the most famous examples of this is Deep throat from the water gate scandal other examples could include people that blow the whistle on pollution issues and want to keep their jobs. The purpose of this is to protect those that blow the whistle on wrong doing from retaliation from powerful institutions that have excessive control over the lively hood of the public or in some cases can even threaten the lives of whistle blowers. Unfortunately it is often used for other reasons to leak information for a political cause or even to retaliate against whistle blowers with impunity. An example of this might be when the name of Valerie Plame was allegedly leaked to the press for political reasons when her husband Joseph Wilson criticized the Bush administration. The reason for the law shouldn’t be forgotten and it should be kept in mind that this could be used either to protect sincere whistle blowers or to achieve political goals in secrecy. It won’t be easy to find a middle ground on this and ultimately it may rely on the credibility of those enforcing it. In the long run if most of the most powerful institutions conduct their business in the open without secrecy at all there may be much less need to use this protection at all but until then the public needs credible people to enforce it properly for the right reasons.
There will of course be some concern about how election reform will be paid for and initially this may cause some resistance but when you consider how much it has already cost the public to go without a credible media it may become clear that it is much more expensive to do nothing than to finance a media that is accountable to the public one way or another. If you consider the amount of money that could have been saved if the financial disasters that cost many people millions if not billions of dollars over the last decade of two you may find that this alone is more than financing a accountable media and this isn’t the only way the public could save by having a media accountable to an informed public. If election reform was implemented the public would save on many other subjects as well. If the public was informed about many of the reasons we went to war over the last hundred years they could have prevented many wars saving thousands of lives and billions dollars that were spent for these wars as well as the money spent rebuilding after them. Billions of dollars could be saved on the reduced crime rates including violent crimes if the public was educated about how violence escalates from early childhood. An enormous amount of money could be saved by preventing environmental disasters like the oil spill in the gulf as well as many other environmental disasters including the deforestation problem and climate change. The more subjects you look at the more you may find that many of the most important decisions being made by the public are based on false facts and they’re costing billions of dollars and thousands of lives; the cost of a credible media would surely be much smaller assuming it is done right. That doesn’t mean that election reform will happen with the first try though it is virtually guaranteed that there will be some trial and error necessary to get it right but the potential benefits would surely be worth it. Reviewing the way some of the other governments in the world are run as McChesney and others have done may help reduce the mistakes made along the way since much of this trial and error may have already been done but the majority of the public isn’t aware of it. It would also help to have input from a variety of academic sources about any given subject s that the information given to the public will undergo peer review.
In a sincere democracy the candidates for office should go through a job application and interview process that is directly controlled by the citizens. This may not seem very easy or for some people it may not appear to be even possible but if some of the details are worked out carefully then perhaps a good first try could be made and even if it doesn’t work the first time it is virtually guaranteed that we can come up with a system better than the current system. The reason for this is because the people controlling the current system don’t even seem to be trying to create a system that is democratic; instead they seem to be trying to convince the public that the system that favors those in power is best for everyone by using an enormous amount of propaganda. After election reform the public should control the interview process starting by setting up a reasonable job application that candidates should be required to fill out in order to qualify for the ballot. No business would ever hire a job applicant that refused to fill out a job application when asked by the potential employer yet for many candidates with political connections this is standard procedure. Vote Smart has been providing something similar to a job application for candidates already. This could be a good starting point; either by using their existing system with the participation of more people or reviewing their methods for ideas to start a good job application system. Unfortunately there seem to be a lot of candidates including some with the most name recognition that haven’t been filling out these applications. These people should be informed that if they aren’t going to inform the public about their positions on policy in the future that they will no longer be eligible to represent the public. In fact they aren’t really representing the public as it is if they don’t let them know where they stand on the issues. They should also be required to show up at a certain amount of interviews that are organized by the citizens groups and answer unscreened questions from the citizens. Ideally the citizens would attempt to do their homework as well so that they are prepared to ask relevant questions instead of silly questions like do you wear boxers or briefs which may be funny but they don’t help choose the best candidate for the job. The method used to decide what questions to ask and who should be able to participate in the interviews with the candidates will need some organization and screening since it won’t be possible to have everyone interview the statewide and national candidates. This could be started at the local level for local candidates then the system used to interview local candidates could be used as a starting point to set up a statewide and national system. This could either be done by rotating which area gets to interview statewide and national candidates or they could each send representatives to a regional board that controlled the interview process.
A system run by the public would be much better than the current system but in the short term it may be necessary to decide whether or not the candidates who have been flooding the airwaves with political ads should be allowed to continue to do so. This is partly based on the Supreme Court decision equating money with speech. This decision should be reviewed by the public not the courts since they haven’t proven to be sincere about it. This decision clearly gives preferential treatment to those with money at the expense of those without money. Under this system the right of those with lots of money to present a distorted perception of reality to the public is more important than the right of people with much less money but sincere intentions to correct the mistakes or in some cases outright lies. A new system should be considered carefully that gives more considerations to the public’s right to accurate information about important subjects and the equal right to free speech for everyone not just the rich. The current system gives the rich the right to flood the public with propaganda and little worthwhile information. One way to address this in the short term until the free speech issue can be resolved on a more permanent basis could be to ask the candidates to pledge not to use many if any ads in the future and to participate in the public interview process. If the candidates agree to this and the public agrees to boycott those that refuse to do this in favor of those who agree to participate in a fair uncorrupted system. The current system has all the characteristics of bribery only instead of calling it bribery they call it campaign contributions and lobbying.
Citizens groups could be formed at the local level to interview their local candidates including the mayors, state representatives and school board members. They could prepare an application similar to the one provided by vote smart or if they choose they could come up with one of their own. They could elect some people to moderate the interviews for candidates of various offices perhaps on a rotating basis and if they have multiple interviews they could have different people moderating them. This could familiarize them with a good interview process and it could be used as an example of how applications and interviews for state wide and national candidates could be prepared. Each citizens group could send a representative to a larger county board that would control the elections for counties and for local representatives of the national congress. The county groups could send representatives to a statewide election group that will control statewide applications and interviews. These board members might set up the interviews but they should allow some input from the public and when it comes time to carry out the interview they should invite a larger number of people to participate in it. There should be a process set up where people would have a right to send in their ideas at their convenience and the public should have an opportunity to ratify the new system.
Ideally there would be participation from academics specializing in relevant subject in these citizens groups. There are already a lot of academics doing plenty of research into any given subject and they are reviewing each other’s work in the academic community but this work isn’t getting through to the majority of the public. Instead the politicians and media people are screening the majority of the information given to the public and if they feel the need for an academic source to back up their beliefs they often choose one that they feel they can rely on for their own purposes with little or no peer review when they present information to the public. This method is extremely biased and is leading to a public that is constantly making their decisions based on propaganda except for a small percentage of the public that takes the initiative to do their own research to find out what is true. To put it bluntly this ensures that many of the most important decisions are based on a bunch of lies designed to benefit a bunch of corrupt people that control the media and the political system. This is quite clear when you look at a few issues like the environment and violence prevention. When it comes to violence prevention as I have indicated in other entries they are manipulating the emotions and prejudices of the public instead of explaining the true causes of violence that often start at a very young age when children aren’t taught right then it steadily escalates. If the public was taught right about this they could solve the problem at an early stage instead of waiting until some adults are so violent that they can’t be controlled without keeping them in jail. In the case of the environment it is very similar; the cost of the damage to the environment is rarely if ever figured into the cost of doing business unless there is a major disaster like the oil spill in the gulf. If this happens it is already too late. If the public were educated about this they could have set up a system that prevented this or set up a quick process to clean it up in the few cases they couldn’t avoid it. Or perhaps if the relied more on wind and solar after the public was educated about the subject there would be no risk of the spill if they no longer need to drill off shore.
In order for election reform to work it would be best if the public was willing to listen to these experts as well; under the current system many members of the public have been spending so much time listening to demagogues that they don’t know how to tell the difference between a reliable academic and someone who is trying to manipulate their emotions. Election reform may not be easy to implement in the short term but it is important to try because one way to guarantee that we fail is to give up without trying. In the long run this may require a better education system and many parents may need to learn how to prepare their children for school better if they haven’t already been taught right by their own parents. This may not be easy since many of these people think they already know how to do these things but they weren’t taught right the first time around so they respond with emotions instead of thinking things through carefully. This won’t change overnight and many people may have to reconsider their preconceived ideas if this is going to work.
Instant runoff elections will also help third party candidates have a chance. Under the current system the public has been given the impression that only the people from the Democratic Party or the Republican Party have a chance and to vote for anyone else is a waste of a vote. If this is true it is only true because the public accepts the false premise given to them by the political establishment and the mass media. Both these parties have been controlled by party operatives who are accountable to campaign contributions from the same multi-national corporations that also own and control the Mass Media. This essentially means that both the political parties and the Mass Media are influenced or controlled by the multi-national corporations; which creates no more than the illusion of a democracy; if the public wants to get their way on any given issue they need to organize on a massive scale to overcome this corruption to make small changes which could be overturned as soon as they go back to business as usual. By having Instant Runoff Election then the members of the public can put third party candidates that participate fairly in the process ahead of the corrupt members from both the major parties. This has been tried on a small scale in some towns they could learn from this to work out the details for using it on a larger scale.
Proportionate representation and comparisons with other countries forms of government could also help reform our system. As it stands there may be some trial and error ahead in order to find a system that works best; however some of this may have already been done. By looking at the systems used in other countries they can learn from their mistakes and avoid many of the worst mistakes that might arise otherwise. Better planning could go a long ways to make the transition much smother. Also it should be kept in mind that the original constitution was never ratified directly by the people and there are still a lot of problems with it. That doesn’t mean there aren’t good things about it of course there are but there are also bad things some of which have been corrected including the fact that woman and minorities didn’t originally have the right to vote and the majority of the public isn’t familiar with the constitution at all; instead many people are taught to worship it without understanding it even though there are still flaws in it. One of the biggest flaws is the fact that the Senate has two members from each state regardless of how many people are in that state. This is blatantly biased yet some consider it sacred despite the fact that the constitution was never ratified directly by a public that understood the document.
Voting machines should also be subject to confirmation and scrutiny. There should be a way of confirming the votes that the people understand; this means that there should be a paper trail; however this doesn’t mean that new technology can’t help do things more efficiently as long as its accuracy can be confirmed. One possibility could be to use bar codes and a written ballot that would be printed out by a computer and the voter could look at it then drop it in a box. This could mean that the voter could punch his/her choice into a computer and then review it before pressing a button that would print out his ballot which would have his choices written along with a bar code. Then when they do an initial count it could all be done by computer by reading the bar code for quick results but the ballots would be saved and if there was any doubt then they could be reviewed by hand. They could either do a sampling if there is a large margin or if they chose for any reason they could review the entire election. When reviewing they could read the results by hand and periodic checks could be made to make sure the bar code reading was accurate as well.
A sincere election reform effort should be done by the public from below not from above and these suggestions, while better than the current system, shouldn’t be considered perfect; however it could be a good starting point and others could and hopefully will provide their own ideas so that they can be compared and the public can choose the best system based on a thorough review of many ideas.
Ultimately one thing that should be kept in mind is that a true democracy that is of the people, by the people and for the people needs to be controlled by a public that has the education and information they need to make the most important decisions influencing our lives.
This means that instead of continuing to find excuses why we can’t educate the middle and lower classes in the most effective way possible we need to find a way to educate the middle and lower classes as well as reform the election system.
First posted on tripod 5/7/10
For more suggestions on Election reform see What is your ballot or candidate question? and Ten Ballot Questions of my own.
To read follow up blog entry by Mrs Rapter about her first hand experience and knowledge about the election process see:
For project vote smarts web site see the following:
For the Free Press web site run by Robert McChesney, John Nichols and Josh Silver see the following:
For the web site of stop big media.com see the following:
For Media Matters with Robert McChesney see the following:
For additional comments on election reform and democracy see the following:
For table of context of other blog entries see: