Monday, January 23, 2012

Obamaville January 23, 2012


The Games People Play Now

What a week in America we just experienced.  NFL payoffs led to heart-stopping games and the New York Giants and New England Patriots in the Super Bowl.  With the bitter rivalries between teams and their location in two of the best media markets in the nation is should be a Super payoff for the teams, for the advertisers and for Indianapolis, host of the Super Bowl.

On the never ending political front Omaha continued raising millions of dollars in non-stop campaign events.  Here in the land of the free and home of democracy you could have dinner with the president for about $38,500 a ticket.

Not bad for economic stimulus.  You and your wife, or girl friend for some politicians, could go out to dinner with the president for just $77,000.  That means your tickets cost three times the average annual personal income and one and a half times the total annual household income of all Americans.

No indication of class warfare or political elitism in those numbers huh?  Are you ready to spend three years working to buy dinner for two with the president?

That is just part of the problem with politics in America.  It is not the politicians but the parties that are behind the illusion.  Or is it?

Only once in our history did we elect a president from NO political party, our founding father George Washington.  So what gave rise to the power of the Democratic and Republican parties?

Historically, the Democrats got their start in the 1830's and Republicans in the 1850's.  Both began as policy differences with those parties that did win elections.  The following were all legitimate parties, most of which elected presidents, in our early history.  One other thing they have in common is all are extinct.

Federalist Party
Democrat-Republican Party
National Republican Party
Anti-Masonic Party
Whig Party
Liberty Party
Free-Soil Party
The Know-Nothing Party
Greenback Party

Politics, however, entered the national scene by the 1796 when Washington decided he'd had enough of public service.  You should know, however, that the people who would make politics an American institution were all involved in the debates regarding who would succeed George.

In the middle was Alexander Hamilton, the 1st Treasury Secretary of the US under Washington.  Then there was John Adams, the Vice President under George who became  the second president after George.  Thomas Jefferson, the Secretary of State under George who lost to Adams in 1796 for president but beat Adams in his re-election campaign in 1800 becoming our third president.

Finally, Aaron Burr, former governor and senator from New York. who ran for president in 1800 against Jefferson but settled for vice president under Jefferson.  He might have become president in 1808 as well had he not challenged his bitter enemy Alexander Hamilton in a duel and killed him in 1804.  By the way, in 1800 Burr and Jefferson tied, both beating incumbent John Adams, as Hamilton now mastered the backroom deal and brokered the election in the House of Representatives.

So, we have always had political parties trying to manipulate our politics and elections.  However, until the 1900's there were many parties fighting it out and presidents from many of them.  What happened next, and please rest assured I know this is an over simplification but necessary to keep from losing the interest of readers, the states, who have always controlled the elections, began trying to manipulate the elections.

This was done so the states could protect themselves from special interests in Washington and probably started with the anti-slavery issue, then the economic issues like the gold standard.  As states watched the federal government get bigger and bigger as we went from 13 to 50 states, the power of the states slipped away.

With so many political parties controlling the policy agenda, the states wanted a stronger role.  So after the modern Democrat party was founded in the 1830's and modern Republican party in the 1850's, states tried to manipulate the election outcome through the use of primary elections and caucus's which remain in place to this day.  Both were efforts to allow the states to limit parties by increasing the complexity and cost of running for office.

Abraham Lincoln was the first and only third party candidate in our history to win the presidency as he led the four year old new Republican party to victory in 1860.  Ever since the two major parties have controlled the outcome through the caucus and primary strategies.  Though third party candidates like Ross Perot in 1992 and Teddy Roosevelt in 1912 most likely changed the election outcome by their presence.

So what is the conclusion in how to get America back from the political parties and fat cats who control or influence the parties?  Realistically, it won't happen.  It hasn't happened since the founding of our country and it may be integral in order for our style of limited democracy to succeed.

There are three powerful forces who can lose sight of the public good and use our political system for their own gain, power and greed.  First, those People with a lot of money.  Make no mistake, money and greed are a part of every political party and a temptation to every politic candidate.

Second the political parties who lust for power and control and do this by convincing various demographic, social, class and cultural groups that their particular party is good and the other is bad.  These two parties use every federal and state technique possible to make it impossible for third party candidates to succeed.

Finally, there are the politicians who do get corrupted by the system, the money People, or the political parties.  Now before you protest I know there are many politicians in both parties or Independents who are dedicated, honest and actually do try to serve the public good.  They haven't got a chance right now however.

I believe we don't need institutional change to make our system responsive, useful, and a lot more concerned about the American people than their own ideological followers.  In spite of our many problems we still have the most successful nation on earth and we remain the envy of most everyone.

We can strengthen our system and reduce the tremendous influence of Fat Cats and corruption, whether financial or moral, with two simple legislative initiatives that won't cost the government a penny to approve but could change the face of government forever and for the good.

First we need meaningful campaign finance laws which President Obama and our political parties refuse to address because it is the very corrupt system that got them in control and elected in the first place.  Second we need conflict of interest and ethics laws passed for our politicians that stop them from figuratively and literally getting in bed with special interests.

They will be the topic of future stories.

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