Posted previously in December 2013 – here again with some slight updates.
Demonstrations the way they used to be – 60,000 gather in Union Square, New York to protest for economic justice – May Day 1934
How “free” are we as a people to affect change in government policy or indeed any change in government? Are we more free than the British or French? The Germans or Norwegians? Or the Greeks?
A good many of us are frustrated by what has been termed the ossification of government; the inability to get anything meaningful accomplished, locally or in Washington. We are “free” to go about our lives, change jobs (if we can find one), make money, move to another location, watch A. I., be a Scientologist, buy shit, argue Coke vs. Pepsi, etc. And of course, we can vote.
So what is currently wrong with our system of government which makes affecting change so difficult if not impossible?
Let’s start locally.
I live, as all of you know, in Florida. Florida has become a “Purple” state over the last twenty or so years, spurred by an influx of northerners, retirees, immigrants. There are more registered Democrats in Florida than Republicans.
Florida has virtually split it’s vote 50/50 over the last two Presidential elections. So if Presidential candidates split the vote in this “battleground” state, why is our House delegation of 27 Representatives split into 17 Republicans and 10 Democrats?
Gerrymandering. It used to be much worse. It was 19 – 6 several years ago after the election of Bush the Lesser.
Congressional districts, drawn by Republicans are purposely created to establish “safe” seats. The Republicans are in charge of the process since the Florida legislature (also the product of safe seats) looks out for its own interests.
Now I’m not picking on the GOP. The Dems do exactly the same in states where they control the local government.
The result is a Presidential battleground state that has a 17-10 split in the House in favor of Republicans. My own district included vast swathes of rural land specifically designed to dilute any “city” vote. I have been effectively disenfranchised in local and congressional elections for ten years. The district is so “red” as for it to be pointless for a Dem or a progressive to bother running. I attended the opening of an Obama storefront prior to his first election as President and there were right wing demonstrators outside carrying Soviet flags – Obama the socialist don’t you know.
Our former Congresswoman, a Bush water carrier, waited until the day before the filing deadline to announce she wasn’t going to run. The only person she had told was her close associate, the county sheriff who promptly filed to run for the seat. She fixed it so he was the only GOP candidate. Even the Republicans were pissed off. Of course he won in a walk.
This last election I was sliced off from my previous district and put into the adjoining heavily Republican district. No change for me.
“Fair Districting Florida” fought a battle to get an amendment on the ballot here requiring compact districts which protect the voting rights of minorities. The Florida GOP fought it tooth and nail to protect its incumbents. The Florida Supreme Court sided with Fair Districting Florida threw out the proposed district maps drawn up by the legislature. Redistricting in 2012 resulted in the increase in Democratic representation in the House delegation. Several days ago Florida’s Supreme Court ruled again that the state’s congressional map was illegally gerrymandered and ordered the Republican-controlled Legislature to redraw eight congressional districts, including two of the state’s most contested battleground seats – but not mine.
At the Senatorial level the purple nature of Florida is more apparent – we have one Republican and one Democratic Senator. Only one problem with our representation in the Senate besides the fact that our Democratic Senator is a corporatist – Republican Lite.
The Senate is mired in archaic “rules” which make governing with a simple majority impossible, even for routine business. It is impossible to pass anything anymore even when you hold the majority. The minority, with as few as 35 seats out of 100 can block anything if they vote as a bloc. The have only to yell “filibuster!”.
Now no one actually filibusters anymore. They just announce it. No need to take the podium and keep on talking. If the House cannot muster 67 votes for cloture there simply is no vote. Both parties use the tactic. Neither is willing to give it up thinking of the day when they are in the minority. And neither party wants to have to get up and actually filibuster. They like things the way they are. The Senate, as a legislative body has ground down to uselessness. It is the power to paralyze.
Presidential Elections are two party affairs thanks to the Electoral College. People don’t elect the President. Electors elect the President. Popular vote don’t mean diddly squat.
Two times in our history we have had Presidents “elected” having lost the popular vote. We all know about Bush – the other was Rutherford B. Hayes who lost the popular vote to Samuel Tilden but won the Presidency by promising Southern electors he would remove Union troops from the South. The deal brought on Jim Crow.
So we have only two parties to choose from – because the Electoral College overstates the winner’s margin, understates the losers percentage and obliterates third parties. If the winner gets 50.1% of the popular vote in every state, he or she (?) gets 100% of the Electoral College vote. The loser, with 49.9% of the vote gets zero. That’s zero. The media will call it a “landslide”.
So we haven’t had a viable third party since Lincoln and only because the Whigs couldn’t make up their minds about slavery.
The House is filled with safe seats protecting incumbents. Even when there is a major change in the composition of the House, a Senate minority can block anything it dislikes. Gone are the days when the GOP included Nelson Rockefeller, Jacob Javits, Everett Dirksen, Barry Goldwater and the Dems had JFK, Hubert Humphrey, LBJ and John Stennis. Each party could find someone to work with across the aisle which made governing possible. It was Everett Dirksen who delivered Republican votes to LBJ to allow the passage of the Civil Rights bill.
Those days are over. Today the most liberal Republican is far to the right of the most conservative Democrat – bloc voting is de rigeur. As is stalemate.
It was sad to listen to Obama’s State of the Union addresses knowing that nothing he proposed had a prayer of passage – and sadder still to know that he knew it too.
As for the Court, in my opinion it is stacked with a number of hacks – I would make a better judge than Clarence Thomas who always votes exactly as he is expected to, along with Scalia and Alito. The Court’s days as a bastion of individual liberty are long gone. Corporations are people too.
So how free are we? How do we change a government or the policies of government which gives an illusion of “freedom” but actually does little but protect itself?
The two parties spend their time spouting the rhetoric of “change” while actually changing little – progressives know this to be true. We’ve been had time and again. Look for Hillary to tack left in the primaries and then forget us.
“Demonstrations” against the “system” now have a certain sadness to them – everyone stands around with their placards and slogans (having first obtained approval to demonstrate from the powers that be) then all go quietly home when told to as the cops look on. Who would dare throw a rock through the windows of Goldman Sachs or JP Morgan? Non-violent resistance requires challenging the power. It requires resistance – not just going home when they tell you to. The cops are ALWAYS on the side of the state and property – never on the side of change.
Ossification means everything stays as it is with no way to change – it is the death of “governing”, which is exactly what certain elements in this country want. Within that paradigm you are “free”.
Meanwhile I don’t recognize my country and the erosion of rights and liberties, especially since the commencement of the “War on Terror”, the rampant corporatism, rendition and torture, NSA spying, preemptive war, occupation, militarism, a concentration camp.
“If voting changed anything they’d make it illegal!” – Emma Goldman.
“All in the State! Nothing outside the State! No resistance to the State!” – Benito Mussolini