July 4, 2011: What will be different? Nothing.

On July 4, 2011, the United States will be led by President X of Party A or Party B. What will be different on that day?

Probably not much. American troops are likely to still be in Iraq. Nearly one out of every six Americans will still be without health insurance. Attempts at immigration reform (whatever that means) will still have been eroded by more objections by many more interests with particular beefs. No coherent, consistent, effective American policy that begins to undo climate change will exist. American school children will continue to lag far behind other nations in math and science — and still have decreasing abilities as critical thinkers. Spending by lobbyists to influence federal regulators and members of Congress will be on its way to passing $3 billion for 2011.

What will be different? Very little.

The income disparity between the top 1 percent of Americans and the rest of us — the other 99 percent — will have widened. The continual tension between those who demand increased security and those who fear erosion of civil liberties and constitutional rights will continue unabated. The debates and difficulties involving voting fraud and reform will have been heightened by the 2008 election as election foes bicker endlessly in courts about outcomes. And, figuring a 10 percent increase per election cycle, the top 50 industries will be en route to shelling out $850 million to just members of Congress alone in political contributions for the 2012 election cycle.

President X will have his or her hands full. By July 4, 2011, he or she will probably be facing a primary challenge. With so many candidates running for president in 2008, it’s likely a few will be bitter losers (or their financial and ideological backers will be) and want big donors to ante up so they can grab another chance to pick the desk in the Oval Office.

In mid-2011, President X will have serious financial problems. He or she — and his or her assigns — will have spent pretty much a half billion dollars getting elected in the first place. Elections — and the TV ads through which “debate” is conducted — are pricey.

So he or she will have to find another half billion, which sounds like a full-time day job. Running the country and pushing meaningful legislation through Congress might be relegated to nights.

Because so much money is tied up in presidential and congressional elections, how is he or she going to find the time, energy and (presumably) talent to cause the glacier known as the American political system to turn away from the governance fiasco that exists now to a better one in the future? It could be one operated by a president from Party A or Party B. Don’t care. Party A might control Congress. Maybe Party B does. Or A gets the House and B the Senate. Won’t matter. Members of Congress will be looking for money, too, for the same reason as President X. They might differ in ideology, but they’ll all be united in the pursuit of the political dollar. The bulk of those political dollars — the hard and the soft — do not come from individuals like you or me. They’ll be looking for fat-walleted folks — or PACs or corporations — with really big checkbooks.

It’d be nice if, by July 4, 2011, health care had become more equitable and affordable, if more school children had become competent critical thinkers, if more women had received equitable pay, if climate change had slowed, if voting had become fraud-proof, equitable and honest, if no more Americans had died in Iraq, all because President X had done something. But he or she will have been too busy raising money.

So nothing will change. And stop screaming about meaningful campaign finance reform, because I’ll no longer be listening — or doing the screaming. (I’ve lost sight of what meaningful really means, anyhow.)

Any future attempts at campaign finance reform that restricts corporate political donations were preemptively eviscerated last month by the Supreme Court in a 5-4 decision.

The Court, in Wisconsin v. Right to Life, “establishe[d] a constitutional regime in which corporations are entitled to the same First Amendment protections as individuals.” That means campaign-finance restrictions designed to lessen the influence of corporate contributions that constitute political speech are unlikely to pass court muster.

That means far more corporate money is likely to flow into politics despite the current limitations on campaign contributions.

So President X of Party A or Party B will be preoccupied with what officeholders have always been preoccupied with — obtaining power and retaining power. And he or she will know where to turn for help in paying the campaign bills.

Come July 4, 2011, nothing will have changed.

xpost: 5th Estate

19 replies »

  1. What you wrote is “scary”; but likely accurate. I will pray for my country tomorrow. Please do the same..

  2. What this country needs is a complete reform of the electoral system. It cannot be that one elite group succeeds the other one with no ending in sight while half of the country watches without participating in the political process. Something similar to a parliament elected on a system of proportional representation would be much more democratic. Our current system penalizes ideological minorities very heavily, forcing everybody to become a member of one of the elite groups if they want to be elected.

    So, I agree with you. Nothing will change if there is no electoral reform. Ideas, like other living organisms, start small and then they gain momentum and wider acceptance if they are perceived as good ideas. A fair electoral system would accept political parties that have differing views so that a 10% or 15% of the national vote can have a figure close to those percentages as a legitimate representation in the national parliament.

    What we have now is a dictatorship of the powerful in which we are invited to participate.

  3. Powerful indictment, Denny. It is hard to find any rays of hope these days—there seem to be too many fronts to fight on. I like to think we can pick them off one at a time: healthcare, imperial militarism, money in politics, the Supremes. But they are interrelated, of course, and each atrocity shores up the next. I do like to think there are significant differences between Democrats and Republicans, our right-wing party and our extreme-right-wing party, but as long as that river of money flows through Washington, that may merely be wishful thinking.

    When you see “Sicko,” watch for the old Labour Party warhorse Tony Benn. Now there’s hope! His linkage of many issues into the single issue of plutocracy vs. democracy got a big cheer in the Berkeley theater where I saw it. I think some of the Democratic presidential candidates are coming close to hitting that positive, pragmatic note: Edwards, Obama sometimes, Richardson occasionally. For Benn, it’s first and foremost a matter of getting people to vote, the many discouraged and disillusioned who stay home because it’s all impossible. Maybe he’s right.

  4. Jim, Robert,

    Thanks. I’m going to begin pushing for full — and I mean full — transparency in political contributions (and those to faux “grassroots” groups).

    At least let us *see* the money.

  5. 6.: I had to smile at the reference to Tony Benn. The other Tony – Tony The aristocrat who could afford his socialist beliefs, meddling in politics and now his kids meddle too.

    I have a liking for the man and wish he had joined the conservatives. He could never, however, understand the type of man Dave Davis is, however, as his perspective is too steeped in wealth, privilege and the past.

  6. Oh, come now. Your mayors are in a tizzy playing spin the bottle to see who can issue the strictest carbon-caps. Rule California, California rules the … carbon credits?

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  8. This is a great, although dismal, blog post.

    I think this blog post is very illustrative of one thing. We seem to be stuck in a Catch-22 of sorts with no seeming escape.

    In science, such periods of crisis presage what are often called “paradigm shifts” — when the solution to this problem requires a serious rethinking of matters. It’s harder in the realm of politics and economics, as described in this blog post, but not impossible. There have been a number of proposals for reshaping our political economy, which can also be applied in the realm of politics.

    I write about some of these on my blog at blog.zmag.org; you may want to check it out.