Sunday, January 06, 2008

Ending The Choice Between Two Evils

[Originally posted at on February 28, 2006]

The five years or so of the Bush presidency have been a tragic mix of Republican tyranny and Democratic spinelessness. Democrats will tell you that there was nothing they could have done differently under a Republican monopoly of all branches of our government. Still, their complete complacency with everything Republicans have chosen to dish out to this country is indefensible No evidence of government abuse or malfeasance, it seemed, would motivate the Democrats to rise to the occasion. No in-your-face appointment or nomination would prompt a Democratic rebellion. No corporate or political scandal would move the Democrats to go after Republicans as a united front. Perhaps these are unrealistic expectations from a party that has lately come to embody the concept of the innocent bystander.

Then, when you least expected signs of intelligent life from the party of the living-dead, the Dubai Ports World deal comes along, breathing life into the comatose, and manages to do something that nothing, not the war in Iraq, not prisoner torture, not warrantless detainment, not FISA-less wiretaps, not the ample of circumstantial evidence of election manipulation, not the Alito nomination, not the Valerie Plame outing scandal, not even Katrina's aftermath, has managed to do in recent memory: unite the Democrats against the administration. So, just how do Democrats take advantage of this golden opportunity? They accuse the president of turning port security over to an Arab nation! That's it! Bingo! National Security + Arabs = The end of the United States of America. That should grab people's attention. In essence, when Democrats finally found a unified voice, they used it to perpetrate a lie. Kind of like, you know, if you cannot beat them, join them.

That anyone would represent the DP World acquisition as a matter of national security is the consequence of the demise of analytical reporting in this country. Whereas analyses are the voice of reason, headlines are the scream of a frightened crowd. Fifteen-second sound bites convey the impression that “handing our ports over to an Arab nation is a matter of national security.” Any measure of analytical scrutiny would be sufficient to refute such an extreme statement, of course. There are many facets of port security that are infinitely more consequential to national security than who handles freight (which is precisely what Dubai Ports World would do here, and already successfully does in Germany, Australia, and China.) The sale of six out of over 360 commercial U.S. ports, even major ones, to a Dubai-based entity cannot be more compromising for our national security than the fact that Congress has yet to do anything about the fact that only approximately 5% of incoming freight is ever inspected. In fact, the handling of freight at numerous U.S. ports is being managed, as we speak, by foreign companies, some of which aren't exactly loyal allies of the United States. Why, the port of Los Angeles is managed by the Chinese.

You would think that, as many times as we have been reminded that we live in a post-9/11 world, one of the greatest priorities of our elected officials would have been to secure our nation by making sure that no one can put a deadly substance in a U.S.-bound container, not without us knowing about it before the ship that carries it has a chance to dock. Everyone, including Democrats, must surely understand that by the time a ship has reached a U.S. port, it does not matter who handles the cargo if it contains a nuclear weapon ready to blow. In fact, the security at ports of origin has much more to do with our national security than the security of our own ports, at least as long as free trade exists. So, the Democrats' uproar against the DP World deal sounded much like the President's accusation that if Congress did not vote to extend his version of the Patriot Act, the most regressive piece of legislation for civil liberties in the history of this country, its refusal would play right into the terrorists' hands: an inane appeal to the most foolish and misguided patriotic instincts. Sadly, the opposition party has decided to stoop to the level of a ruling party that has lied, cheated, and stolen at every opportunity, for a chance at making political hay.

Democratic candidates in the upcoming mid-term elections have about nine months to turn their image around. We can no longer afford this false choice between Bonnies and Clydes who will do anything to gain and to keep power, regardless of how low they must go. Democrats, I believe, are still the lesser of the two evils. Their fortune is that they are up against the most corrupt, power thirsty, and unprincipled group of Republicans ever to come to Congress in the history of the nation, so Democrats can glow—in the comparison. Mind you: glow, not shine. Nonetheless, a choice between two evils remains a losing proposition.

If they want to prove me and a rising tide of disgruntled electors wrong, Democrats should campaign for public financing of elections. They should do so convincingly, not like they are happy to take second place (like Kerry against Bush.) Only by taking money out of the political equation will this country be able to start tackling all the other serious problems that threaten its future: environmental mismanagement, dependence on energy imports, the coming collapse of the healthcare and pharmaceutical industry, corporate abuses, domestic poverty, education reform, the steady hemorrhage of manufacturing jobs, and so forth. But Democrats won't prove me wrong, because they know that their slice of the pie is bigger, even as losers, with only two parties at the table, and if the system that allows interest groups to buy political influence remains in place. So don’t expect anything dramatic in November, and later. The house always wins.

Under these circumstances the only viable alternative, it seems, is for groups of ordinary citizens in each state and locality to resort to the power of the ballot-initiative, in order to introduce mandatory public election financing. It is time we stopped using this most powerful of democratic tools, the ballot initiative, to rescue politicians from their dereliction of the duty to legislate as our elected representatives on matters too thorny and threatening for their reelection chances, like gay marriages, assisted-suicide, the legalization or marijuana, smoking-bans (what politician would want to alienate R.J Reynolds or Philip Morris?), or the construction of that new sports arena. It is time we started using ballot initiatives to light the fire where it belongs: under our so-called representatives, to remind them of whose interest they're supposed to be looking after. This is no short-term solution, mind you, but it will lay the foundation for a new political landscape. By equalizing the resources, candidates will stand out not for the power of the lobbies behind them, but for the power of their ideas. By dismantling the system that makes corporate influence over our elections possible, there will be a return to politics by people, for the people. Tell your congressmen it is time to take corporate money out of the game, or you will be glad to do it for them.

For information on public campaign reform, please see Public Campaign

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