Only you can stop dysfunction
October 15, 2015
Two systemic conditions underlie the contemporary dysfunction and corruption of representative democracy in our country. One is an inherent risk in that system of government, the other a result of an injudicious interpretation by the Supreme Court of the First Amendment freedom of speech clause. Only the electorate can correct those unfortunate realities.
The Democratic and Republican parties each bear partial responsibility for the gridlock that has existed in the legislative body and between it and the executive branch for several decades. Fault rests with the current congressional leadership, including Senators Mitch McConnell and Harry Reid, who in joint TV appearances can't even look at each other, and certainly with John Boehner, the (for now) Speaker of the House of Representatives.
House Republicans, in particular the self-proclaimed Freedom Caucus, are especially accountable. These extreme conservative, ideologically bound members threaten the pillars of government and have now created chaos in the House over the election of a new speaker.
The spectacle of the 15 candidates seeking the Republic nomination for president also is cause for concern. A political party that now offers Donald Trump, Ben Carson, Ted Cruz and Carly Fiorina as their favored candidates threatens the viability of our two-party political system.
But the most frightful reality is it's not just these Republican members of Congress and the leading presidential pretenders who threaten our society. They are only individuals who seek power. It's the extremist element of the electorate that empowers them and their message of intolerance, misogyny, trickle-down economics and libertarianism verging on anarchy.
In the highly disputed Citizens United case (2010) the Supreme Court held money is speech, in the context of the freedom of speech clause, and there can be no limitation on the amount of independent expenditures in a political campaign. The Court also recognized that First Amendment protections extend to corporations. Almost unbelievably, the Court concluded unlimited expenditures, including those made by corporations, "do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption."
The direct result of this case is corporate contributions to political campaigns now far exceed the amount expended by political parties. The Koch brothers have announced they are putting together an almost $900 million fund to support Republican candidates in the 2016 election. Such massive political spending, by Republican or Democratic supporters, is unconscionable and dangerous.
An informed and active electorate must put reasonable and responsible candidates in all political offices and ensure the adoption of a constitutional amendment to overturn the Citizens United decision. The survival of our democratic republic, versus an inchoate oligarchy, is at stake.
This is my last weekly column, due to the demands of other responsibilities. In my first column more than two years ago, I said I intended to express my liberal views on a variety of issues with clarity, objectivity and informed opinion. I hope I have met that standard, even though I surely have not persuaded innumerable readers who disagree with me. I appreciate the many responses to my columns, both supportive and critical of the opinions expressed.
It has been a privilege to write for the Appeal, and I thank the editors for the opportunity. Adam Trumble has offered to run future guest columns, which I expect to submit occasionally.
Bo Statham is a retired lawyer, congressional aid and businessman. He lives in Gardnerville and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.