Outlook Zen

The Corruption We Abide By

Senators and Congressmen are forced to spend hours every day, making phone calls to the rich, listening intently to all their problems, promising them actions, and eventually, begging them for money.

Presidential hopefuls, the leaders of their party and charismatic figureheads with supporters numbering in the millions, travel halfway around the country in order to meet with billionaires who can give breath to or crush their dreams, with the swish of a pen.

Even the President is not immune. The most powerful man in America is forced to spend his time traipsing through dinner parties and round-panels, all in the name of raising money and pleasing wealthy donors. The leader of the free world, reduced to a cash pinata at parties for rich kids.

We all know it, so why don’t we just say it out loud. Our democracy is corrupt. In the very definition of the word. All those countless hours spent rubbing elbows and pleading with the rich, is going to have exactly the effect anyone would expect – cronyism. All that infrastructure that the RNC, the DNC, and every political campaign has built around fundraising, is going to produce exactly the result that even a child can predict – favoritism. The trials and tribulations of the rich and famous, matter a lot more than what you or I have to deal with. The marketplace threats that corporations and their lobbyists brave, matter a lot more than any dangers that you or I might be worried about.

All votes are equal. But some votes are more equal than others.

We moan endlessly about how all politicians are corrupt, but never look in the mirror and ask ourselves why we’re continuing to support a system that’s systematically designed to reward those who’re corrupt, and weed out those who aren’t. We throw little fits of rebellion every now and then, electing “anti-establishment” candidates like Obama, only to throw them back into our corrupted political cesspool, and then wonder why nothing ever seems to change.

A wise man once said that to understand why someone behaves the way he does, look at his incentives. A politician can only remain a politician if he wins elections. The prerequisite to him winning elections, is having a war-chest full of cash. And the only way for him to have a war-chest full of cash, is to bend to the will of the rich and powerful.

As long as that doesn’t change, our political system will continue to be hopelessly corrupt.

We whine incessantly about how much we hate Washington and crooked politicians, but perhaps it’s time we stopped whining and started acting. Simple solutions already exist. It doesn’t even involve “suppressing the free speech” of billionaires or corporations, or restricting their political activity in any way. It simply involves giving the rest of us a voice in the conversation.

The Fair Elections Now Act is a bill in congress that would give every American a $25 voucher, which she can then give to any political candidate of her choosing. Along with matching funds, this would instantly create a ~$10B majority-funded campaign-financing pool, dwarfing the current pool of $3B that politicians raise from the rich and powerful. It would create a public pool of funds through which honest politicians would be able to mount successful election campaigns, without having to kowtow to the wealthy. It would give every American citizen a vote in the political fundraising process – one in which he’s currently disenfranchised.

The bill hasn’t been defeated. It has not even been debated or discussed. It has just quietly sunk into obscurity – with both the media and our politicians perfectly willing to let it die quietly in the night.

And it isn’t alone. There are numerous bills, proposed by both Democrats and Republicans, that have attempted to do very similar things. The American Anti-Corruption Act, and the Grassroots Democracy Act are a few such examples. Numerous people have also led efforts to popularize these ideas, and bring them to mainstream attention. These ideas and proposals may not be perfect, but at least they are attempting to ignite a conversation and improve upon our currently dysfunctional system.

Unfortunately, without the Republicans-vs-Democrats, conservatives-vs-liberals prize fight, such efforts have simply petered out for lack of excitement. The politicians and their lobbyists are perfectly happy with the status quo, and what incentive could they possibly have to shake up a system that is working so well for them.

But things aren’t as hopeless as they may seem. They never are. When the Obama administration botched the Healthcare.gov rollout, public outcry was so vehement, that the President personally made fixing it his top priority. When the Republicans passed a bill that would have made deep cuts to Medicare, public outrage was so severe that their plans were scrapped almost immediately. When we as voters demand something strongly enough, we get it. The only question is: Do we care enough about political corruption to make it a priority?

We’ve been protesting crooked politicians for decades. We’ve been turning desperately to anti-establishment candidates, one after the other, in an effort to clean up the stink in Washington. Perhaps it’s time we stopped searching for a messiah, and started fixing the rot in our foundations.