Why Should I Care, Does My Vote Really Matter? - The Democratic Role of an American Citizen
Congress sucks. The president sucks. All they do is take my taxes and give them to welfare and foreign aid. Politicians are all liars - they're corporate shills corrupted by greed and legal bribery. Why should I bother with choosing the lesser of two-evils? Why should I care? Why vote?
On social media, in the break room, in the sauna - this is what a lot of people have to say about politics. And there's relative truth in it. Given the dysfunction and negativity, it's easy for a lot of folks to become jaded with politics and politicians. Why bother?
I'm not just talking about crime and punishment, due process and jury-of-your-peers style capital punishment.
No, I'm talking about the war-without-borders, extra-judicially determine you to be an enemy-combatant, & drop-a-hellfire-missile-from-a-flying-robot style kill you.
Give or take the missile.
It's easier that way, you see. Since you are an American citizen, you have certain rights - Miranda, presumed innocence, legal representation, judicial process, cruel & unusual punishment protection - those type things. That being the case, killing you is ...simpler. Simpler than locking you up in Guantanamo and torturing you for years on end while suspended in legal limbo.
Minimal paperwork that way, and scant media attention. Win-win.
Oh, and government decides whether you count as three-fifths of a person, and whether you are regarded as personal property. The gov't decides whether to throw you in an internment camp, and whether you can be assassinated for posing an imminent threat.
You may be thinking - I'm not a terrorist & I'm not a minority. I live comfortable enough, so why should I care about any of that?
The government decides whether or not you deserve to vote. The government defines privacy. The government defines speech. The government defines "person," dammit!
The government decides whether the freedoms bestowed us in the Constitution hold meaning - or whether those rights are simply scribbles on an old piece of paper that would crumble to dust in mere sunlight.
And yet therein lies our salvation; that great disinfectant - sunlight.
This is not meant to be a scare-piece, and this is certainly no anti-government screed. This is a democracy, and our solutions lie there within. It's a simple matter of understanding a little bit of history and few basic nuts & bolts.
Still not convinced? Too meta?
Roads & Bridges
You can’t build them on your own. We all drive on them, and we all buy products shipped on them.
Then there is public transportation - buses, ferries, & railways moving us about. We have highway patrol to ensure public safety on roads & sidewalks.
We have 9-1-1 to call in case of an emergency. Fire trucks to show up when our house catches on fire, and ambulances that take us to emergency rooms - required by law to help us.
Courts, jails & mental hospitals for violent criminals.
We build libraries and schools for our kids' education, and Pell grants for college. We build dams, wind farms power plants & grids for energy.
We take our kids to national & state parks - while maintaining and protecting our natural & national treasures from the Grand Canyon to Mount Rainier and Yellowstone, Lincoln Memorial, Washington Monument, the Statue of Liberty.
Plus local parks and playgrounds, swimming pools, lakes, softball fields, basketball and tennis courts.
The EPA protects the very air we breathe and water we drink. FDA approves the products we use - from steaks and eggs we eat to toothpaste and lipstick, from aspirins and condoms to lead in our babies' crib and the brakes on our cars..
We landed the first man on the moon with NASA. We invented the internet and laser surgery with R&D grants.
The Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force, National Guard, Coast Guard, JSOC, FBI, CIA, SSI, SNAP, HUD, SEC, CPB, Medicare, Medicaid...
Mortgage, business, and student loan rates? That's gov't.
Taxes & fees? Sales tax is on everything. Gov't in is our electric bill, cell phone bill, cable bill, power bill, firearms (FAET), alcohol & tobacco (sin tax). We pay for the privilege to drive, auto licensing, fishing, hunting, adoption, marriage license, building permits, tolls...
We need a business license, and proof of citizenship - just to go to work and make a living.
Government is as ubiquitous as the air we breathe and death itself. In fact, they regulate the air, and it's damned expensive to die.
Since I'm not going anywhere - and I'll assume that if you are still reading this then you are staying put as well - we'll have to find a way to work together to make this whole self-governance thing work for us, and not against us.
The problem with politics of course, is the politicians.
Unless you are a political junkie, then about all you know about these politicians is what you see on bumper stickers, facebook shares, and 30-second attack ads.
Those ads. You know the ones:
"My opponent is evil because he voted this way or said that & freedom will die if you elect my opponent. Vote for me since I’m great. My name is such and such, and I approve this message.” The End.
They spend billions of dollars on these 30-second hack-jobs, and all the public sees is a bunch of muck-raking bottom-feeders.
Follow the Money
As with all else, it boils down to the money.
Ninety percent of elections are won by the candidate with the biggest campaign war-chest. Veritable elections at auction. The average Senate seat costs a mere $10m - and over $1.6m for a House seat. So where do those billions come from (before being shoveled off to media conglomerates for ad-buys)?
Why, legal bribery, of course! The only limit is a given candidates' individual inability to cash in. Thus, members of Congress now spend 40% of their time working the phones for cash, as encouraged by their respective party leaders.
Imagine you are sent to Washington - you are then coerced into spend nearly half your time begging special interest groups and know-it-all millionaires for no-strings-attached handouts - and much of the rest of your time dealing with co-workers who collectively struggle to maintain 15% approval ratings. Poor babies...
So why do it?
Political office now serves as an entry-level job. From 1998-2012, 79% of the 352 congress people who left office have been employed as a lobbyist - peddling influence. Many more opt for think tanks and social welfare groups.
Congresspeople author legislation and serve on committees with authority over a given industry - with the knowledge that they have a job waiting for them in that very industry, regulators too. This is known as the revolving door.
Not only that, but they use knowledge gleaned from closed-door congressional hearings and reports, to build their portfolios.
The average net worth of a US Senator in the 113th Congress is up to just over $2.5 million - and over $850k for House members.
As with many of problems, the solutions to these seem to be screaming out. So why haven't we fixed them yet?
Imagine you woke up one day at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Consider this, there are 535 folks down the block who get a say in this thing too.
The House requires whipping up agreement amongst more than 200 duly elected representatives with biennial elections and their own political motivations - just to keep the lights on. Herding stray cats, as it were.
One hundred senators in the upper chamber, two per state, six-year terms.
The problem? Suddenly, the basic democratic principle that majority rules has been tossed out with the trash.
The founding fathers set very specific vote-requirements for respective aspects of governing - but today's senate eschews the Constitution (and often the American people) by instead requiring a new filibuster-proof 60% majority.
While the filibuster was invented in 1837 - it was never invoked more than ten times by a given Congress until 1979-80, and never more than 60 times until the 2000's. However, since 2007-08, 130+ filibusters is suddenly the new norm. The same is true of cloture motions.
And not the old-school Jimmy Stewart, stand-your-ground and plead-your-case style filibuster either - the neo-filibuster is sent in a midnight e-mail, and prevents even simple debate from occurring on the Senate floor.
Filibuster reform itself is strangely exempt from the 60-vote threshold and can be realized with a simple majority-vote every two years - and in theory at any time granted the nuclear option.
So what's the holdup? They're too scurred.
Why does it matter? Since the 101st Congress that began in 1979, there has been a steady decline in the number of bills signed into law. And so it came to pass that our 112th Congress shattered the statistical record for congressional ineptitude.
Granted numbers don't tell the whole story, as not every bill is as profound as the Civil Rights Act, and many are ceremonial namings of post offices - but I believe the approval ratings tell the gist of the story where Congress is concerned.
Today class, we meet a new verb - it is know as being... primaried.
Congressional lines are bipartisanly gerrymandered in an manner which corrals like-minded voters with similar voting patterns into "safe" districts for the incumbent majority-party. This rejiggering of haphazardly shapen safe districts is done every ten years with updated census numbers.
In these safe districts, the only fear of the incumbent is that of being outflanked within party ranks by someone more extreme in a future primary election - hence the term primaried. The result of this has both parties snarling at each other across exceedingly distant party-lines with exceedingly ideological representatives.
While only between 3-5% of voters actually vote for both parties, fewer & fewer people self-identify with either major party. Between the muck-raking and the corruption, the vast public disapproval and hair-pulling ineptitude - why would any sane person voluntarily submit themselves to labels associated with these bunch of cads?
Mostly because party structure provides access to funding, which is prerequisite. But why would average citizens? Because giving up is not an valid option - and again our solution is quite simple. We have technology perfectly capable of drawing more fair voting districts - and thus removing the (bi)partisan gerrymandering, which help drive partisanship, from the equation of fair and free elections in America.
Cash for Votes?
On the topic of fair elections; while in-person voter fraud is nearly non-existent (roughly .0004%) there has recently been massive attacks on voter rights. Voter-suppression tactics go straight at heart of democracy. It is no longer self-governance it you are not allowed to participate. Taxation without representation.
Simple fix: opt-out voter-registration. Many valid options - we have a social security number, we could also have a separate personal voter-ID number. Better yet, we could attach voter registration to driver's licensing and (free) state IDs - or to registration for the draft when we turn 18.
Compulsory voting would be ideal - we could give a $50 tax credit for voting. The more people taking ownership of government the better - no matter their political leanings.
Money. Rules. Politics.
This thanks to astonishing judicial mishaps, including but not limited to - Citizens United v FEC (2010), Buckley v Valeo (1976), Pembina Consolidated Silver Mining Co. v Pennsylvania (1888) & Dartmouth College v Woodward (1812).
Long story short; corporations are people, and money is speech. Since free speech shall not be infringed, corporations are free to lavish politicians with piles of legal bribery to their heart's content.
And with Dodge v Ford Motor Company (1916), fiduciary responsibility instructs corporations to abide only by the rule of profit, with no regard for community or greater good.
Hence 501(c)3 non-profits, and 501(c)4 social welfare organizations. These sometimes shadowy groups bundle and shift around dark money from behind closed doors - sometimes with shadowy intent. They run propaganda laden attack ads just before an election, funded with multinational corporate profits, and cartel & terrorist groups' drug money - no disclosure of where the money came from and thus no accountability for the lies they may be telling the public on election's eve.
The Federal Election Campaign Act (1971) prohibited donations from foreign nationals, banks, government contractors, corporations, and unions. It also required that candidates disclose the sources of political contributions, and their total campaign expenditure, to the Federal Election Commission. Unfortunately, big-moneyed interests immediately began tearing down these achievements, and show no sign of mercy.
We need constitutional amendments to put and end to corporate personhood and money as speech. Publicly funded elections would also solve this problem.
Money rules politics, but money rules everything, so this is no big surprise. That serving as our backdrop...
Virginia is for Lovings
For all that is broken today, we've seen far worse in the past.
In 1787, the US Constitution counted certain "other persons" (as opposed to free persons) as only 3/5ths. In the 1857 Dred Scot case, and then with Plessy v. Ferguson (1896), the US Supreme Court upheld slavery & segregation (ahem) respectively as being perfectly valid in this, a supposedly free country. Then in 1944 the SCOTUS ruled in favor of Japanese internment camps in Korematsu v. US.
Legal second-class citizens.
Since then, SCOTUS wisely ruled on Brown v. Board & Loving v. Virginia - to strike down "separate but equal", and to protect interracial marriage rights.
Thanks to Article V, a constitutional convention can be called by 34 states, and specific amendments passed with 38-state ratification. Without congress, POTUS, or SCOTUS.
With the 13th Amendment (1865), 19th Amendment (1920), and the Civil Rights Act (1964) - we've righted some of our more egregious wrongs.
This should serve as perspective when we encounter future obstacles to progress. How crazy is it that women got the right to vote, when they couldn't even vote on it themselves!?!
Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence, he was also a member of the Democratic-Republican Party. So while political parties may come and go, morph and evolve; our rights to Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness have remained.
This is why we vote, because our legislators have the charge of keeping our Constitution.
Our Constitutional rights are not just words on a piece of paper. Not just words. But a demand - for a more perfect union.
Sure, roughly 80% of world countries are democracies - but this is America dammit! We're exceptional - baseball, apple-pie, amber waves of grain, red, white & blue! USofA! If we plan on remaining kings of the proverbial hill, it's gonna take some work - and the first step is getting off of your butt and opening your eyes.
Our founding fathers entrusted us with great freedoms. We have the right to criticize and to organize, to ensure that our collective concerns and grievances are heard and recognized. We have the ability and the charge - to make change happen. And with those freedoms come responsibility.
Whether your fight is over corporate person-hood or deregulation, religious freedom or equal rights. Free speech or campaign finance, imperialism or nanny state. Pro-choice or pro-life, Voter ID or immigration. Deficit spending or welfare state, Halliburton & Lockheed Martin or habeas corpus. Or campaign finance or 2nd Amendment rights or drones.
I can't tell you how to think. I'm not smart enough to know all of the answers. I don't know what your priorities are and how they weigh on your political views when you vote. But I do know that the more people who pay attention, the more regular people the politicians are responsible to.
So my message is to vote. For whomever you please, just do it. Because the debates are happening all of the time, on our behalf. The wheels of government are always turning, whether we bother to pay attention or not decisions are being made. And I don't trust them enough to do it without the rest of us.
To me? I was blessed to be born here, with great freedoms. But as an American citizen, it is also my responsibility to keep these elected officials in line. They must be analyzed, they must be scrutinized … they must useful! And if they are ineffective? They must be poked, they must be prodded, they must be provoked. Most importantly, they must be motivated. And the way I. Me. Justin Earick. The way I personally motivate my representatives? With my vote. I’m the boss. I’m HR. I decide who deserves to represent me in government. With my vote, and with my voice.