The World Thinks We’re a Democracy: But we’re really just a parody of one

The world thinks we are a representative democracy in which We the People are sovereign, and we send elected officials to Washington to represent us in conducting the nation’s business. But the reality today is much different: once our elected officials cross over the beltway into Washington, they enter a parallel universe:

  • where the bond between elected officials and their constituents has become tenuous with the growth of our population and geographic size of the country; special interests are on the official’s doorstep in Washington while we are hundreds or thousands of miles away, and the resulting shift of power is clearly in evidence;

  • where many of them contract the disease of hubris (for which Washington is so well known) and succumb to the love of personal power (favors given to special interests enhance that feeling of power);

  • where a principal activity is not a rational discussion of public policy but instead is political theater staged for the benefit of the public. This covers for the real work that often takes place behind closed doors not accessible to the public;

  • where 40% of every dollar they spend is borrowed, ballooning the national debt without concern for how it is to be paid. Serious discussion of this topic is throttled;

  • where important legislation is at times drafted in secret, distributed with no time allowed for members of Congress to read the bill, and enacted without open and free debate and with no amendments permitted (the Affordable Care Act is the poster child for this genre);

  • where the fourth estate, which was given constitutional protection to enable it to act as the watchdog of the government, has largely ignored that responsibility and has instead become the unapologetic advocate for expanded government;

  • where the real power lies not with We the People but rather with special interest groups that gain access to public policy through their financial muscle (which is used in lobbying and election contributions);

  • where the generous and trusting nature of the American people and moral code that informs our civic activities are used against us. Unfortunately, these characteristics can make us reluctant to face the hard facts of how our democracy has been hijacked and our birthright stolen by special interests and the political elite. This attitude of trust leaves us vulnerable to manipulation, and an entire industry of professional operatives has evolved to do just that: manipulate us through press releases, political speeches, and advertisements coming from Washington that are a mix of facts, half-truths, and bald fabrications, and this toxic brew is delivered with no pangs of conscience or remorse. It lacks any moral grounding. A favorite tool of these political operatives is to obfuscate meaningful dialogue through personal attacks on opponents.

Over the years, we have seen many efforts to reinvent government, but these have tended to play “small ball,” working on individual issues without making a lasting impact on the larger effectiveness of government. But half-measures like these won’t do the job. What we need today is a bolder, more comprehensive reform effort that will result in a properly functioning democracy that is both effective and more efficient.

We suggest that after investigating the facts, no rational person would define our government today as a strong democracy, and there is only one solution available to us: We the People must demand comprehensive reform of the federal government.

Frank Keeney

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