If our government is doing a lousy job, it's not because of the president or a recalcitrant Congress. It's because of soccer, baseball, and the two-party system. Research has proven that unless you are an independent thinker, you are likely to identify with your parents' party. Your parents wanted you to think for yourself, but they may also have wanted you to vote Republican or Democrat. Remember, we voted those representatives into office, so we ultimately have to take responsibility.
Partisanship is a sinking ship.
Rather than thinking how to solve the red versus blue problem, we're too busy ferrying the kids to soccer. We, the people go about our lives, irrespective of what our government is doing behind our backs. We're going to little league games, antique shows, NASCAR events, the mall, acting as homework helper or cabby to the kids: How can we be bothered to pay attention to politics? My friends always complain that they don't have enough time to learn everything they need to know because they are just trying to keep up with family affairs.
In short, the majority of us have turned a blind eye to the machinations of Washington. But it's even worse than that: Some people who do care, who have their finger on the pulse of politics, refuse to stand up against the system.
In my extended family, I have a cousin who clerked for a Supreme Court Justice. He is probably one of the brightest people I know, so I asked him to help write a question or two for the nonpartisan presidential debates I host and moderate for my website. He declined to offer any questions, but wrote "I am a died (sic) in the wool Democrat" implying that he toed the party line. People who live "in it" are loathe to look at themselves as a source of gridlock. Or worse yet, maybe he's afraid that speaking against party loyalty will ruin his chances of moving up the ladder.
Democrats and Republicans have made politics into a business. Both parties know how to raise funds, market themselves, and "educate" the masses through repetition. Nothing will ever change if we keep following this format. Behind all of the showmanship runs the engine of big business heaping money on the media in the way of political ads.
Many people are wise to these tactics, but the cynics are not the ones who will regain control over our rogue system. No; cynicism is destructive. Rather, welcome the rise of thinking and acting Independents who connect their heads to their hearts. This is the group of people I will define as a huge powerhouse of voters, comprised of three factions (that may overlap):
- The "lesser of two evil" voters.
- Angry dissidents who refuse to vote either party.
- People who understand that it's not about the parties per se, but the funders who are causing the problems. Let us join forces with a fourth faction, probably the largest group of people:
- Americans who are dissatisfied with their advertised choices, don't know their candidates, and don't care because they feel disenfranchised or hopeless.
The Independents live with the sober reality that the American dream is shot full of holes. Not everybody gets rich by putting in hard work, as the Republicans wish. Not everyone gets health care or their basic needs met, as the Democrats wish. As the gap widens between the "haves" and the "have nots," the Independents see a disparity: Some people are getting fabulously wealthy without doing much to promote the public benefit, while others are struggling to survive.
It will be up to the Independents and independent thinkers to restore our country. These are the people who don't believe everything they see on television and decide what is best based on their own findings. As more voters realize that the two-party system is not serving the public good, intelligent Republicans and wise Democrats will back away from the rigidity of their respective party's ideology and rise up to the challenges facing us. No longer identified by the party, they will think for themselves and collaborate through their business, social, and political endeavors without having to form a new party. People who think for themselves might vote, for example, for representatives who support a measure such as the American Anti-Corruption Act, a comprehensive and aggressive strategy for removing money's influence on government. It is the antidote to extreme capitalism, the kind that has hijacked our government and has written most of the regulations that keep small businesses tied up with red tape.
The leaders of this independent streak are the ones who know how the deck is stacked, and are willing to stand up against those forces. I attended a conference on Nov. 17 with these movers and shakers: Lawrence Lessig of Rootstrikers; Trent Lange of the California Clean Money Campaign; Trevor Potter, attorney for United Republic; and Lisa Graves of the Center for Media and Democracy.
Lawrence Lessig, author of Republic Lost and Harvard Professor of Law, opened the conference called A 28th Amendment? Legal Issues, Remedies and Strategies to Get Money Out of Politics. His entertaining description of the problem of money's influence stirred the audience of three hundred. Trent Lange, of the California Clean Money Campaign promotes the California DISCLOSE Act, forcing businesses to show not just their name, but logo on political advertisements they fund. Watch for the DISCLOSE Act in upcoming elections. Trevor Potter, former FEC chairman and Stephen Colbert's attorney for his short-lived Super PAC named Americans for a Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow, helped draft the American Anti-Corruption Act along with a think tank of activists from United Republic, now known as Represent.us.
Lisa Graves of the Center for Media and Democracy stands to teach us the most out of all these people. She is in the trenches of the money-in-politics problem. All you have to do is read her reaction to Jeb Bush's "Foundation for Excellence in Education" (FEE) which took place on Nov. 28. Her excellent article explains the close ties between FEE and ALEC, the Super PAC that is 98 percent funded by corporations who write the legislation that paves the way for their dominance, then uses that money to buy your vote for their candidates through advertising.
The siren song of "money out of politics" may be the item that brings voters together long enough to bridge the gap between parties. Seventy-six percent of Americans, regardless of party, agree that money's influence has had a negative effect on democracy. Represent.us is seeking one million "citizen co-sponsors" to promote the American Anti-Corruption Act and pressure Congress to pass this legislation, clean up their campaigns, allow lobbyists to work with integrity, and stop the revolving door. If you add your name, and then vote for those candidates who sponsor the bill, we can pressure congress to do something they have resisted for decades: rein in the bribery that goes on today, everyday.