There are some who say that our democracy is failing. We might even point to North Carolina, as a sign. According to The Hill, The Electoral Integrity Project analyzed that state's laws, electoral district boundaries and other attributes and found that it's about as democratic as Iran, Cuba, Indonesia and Sierra Leone. For those who believe in the Domino Theory, North Carolina may just be the first state to fall.
I believe that our government is unresponsive (to most of us) by design. I can recall my high school textbooks and their fairy tales about how a great democracy was left to us by the founders. But as an adult, I see that for much of our history, the majority of the people were not involved in the process of running this country or even choosing the leaders to run it. Most of us have no say in who gets to lead this country because we have no control over the nomination process.
I would like to direct your attention now to the work of Harvard law professor, Lawrence "Larry" Lessig. Mr. Lessig is one of the great unsung heroes in politics, and few know what he has done. Lessig woke me up to realize that when it comes to the nomination process, I had near zero input. The presidential election just passed, with that farce of a nomination process in the Democratic Party, confirmed everything that Lessig has taught me through his articles and videos.
For a short summation of what Lessig stands for, go here:
Most of the people in our country have next to zero control or input over the nomination process. It was a great stroke of luck to see Bernie Sanders jump into the fray to show us that we can nominate people to run for office without help from the wealthy, but only the most disciplined people can do it. Sanders is one of them. Sanders and his travails on the way to the Democratic nomination, if only to lose in the end, proved to me beyond a doubt that our country has a disease: Tweedism.
For a great discussion of what Tweedism is, you can watch Lessig explain it here:
The takeaway from Lessig's message is this: if we want government that is responsive to most of us, even all of us, we must all be involved in the process of nominating the people who represent us. In that video above, Lessig references William "Boss" Tweed (the namesake of Tweedism) who says:
"I don't care who does the electing, as long as I get to do the nominating."This concept of a two-stage election for high office has been practiced from the beginning of our country. It is to ensure that the great unwashed have the sense of having a say in how the country is run, but never have a chance to choose the people they get to vote for.
First there is the money primary. That's where candidates for high office dial for dollars and beg for money from the wealthy. We sometimes call them, "the donor class". If a candidate wins the money primary, they go on to run in the primary election that we read about in the news, and they usually do very well. Only after proving that they are still beholden to the donor class, do they receive still more money from the donor class to win the election.
Once in office, the winners of the money primary will spend 30-60% of their time in office begging for more money. They will find themselves in a sort of Skinner Box (Lessig's words, not mine), constantly facing the choice of doing what the money says, or losing the money that keeps them in office.
Notice that many states have closed primaries in their nomination process. That's because the nomination is generally considered a private event in which only members of the party, a private party, may choose the candidate. In the second video above, Lessig mentions how Texas primaries were run far in the past. He reminds us that for a time, only white people could vote in the primaries in Texas and that everyone could vote in the general election when that came to pass. The nomination process was reserved to white people in Texas for a long, long time.
Many of us still recall the drama of the Democratic National Convention. We recall the monumental disappointment of watching Bernie Sanders as he declared Hillary Clinton the nominee. We now see the results as Hillary Clinton went on to lose the election. Bernie Sanders was as close as we have ever gotten to nominating and electing someone as president who was not graced with big money from on high. He did not have to win the money primary, he did not even try. Bernie eschewed large contributions so that he could focus on what the people wanted, so that he didn't have to serve elite interests before everyone else. This is how hard it is to vote for someone who represents us.
From the electoral college to super delegates, the entire system is designed to prohibit ordinary people like you and me from having any say about who gets elected. Why? Because only the wealthy elite get to choose who is nominated for high office and they want to keep it that way.
This isn't just about the election for president. Tweedism affects all races to high office at both the state and federal level. And for those who didn't watch the second video, the United States isn't the only country infected with Tweedism. Lessig provides a useful example with the protests in Hong Kong, to show how a tiny minority was able to use the power they gave to themselves, to choose who gets to run for office. Hong Kong got Tweedism from us.
When wealthy elites get to choose who gets to run for office, they make a mockery out of what we call democracy. Tweedism creates a walled garden, limiting our choices for who will represent us. Tweedism permanently disables our ability to reform our government because reform candidates cannot get past the money primary. They cannot even get past the closed primaries as we learned with Bernie Sanders. Third parties and independents continually struggle to attain high office, that's why Bernie ran as a Democrat.
Tweedism relies on political monopolies (one party) and duopolies (think Democrats and Republicans). I remember how I used to laugh with my conservative friends at countries like China and the Soviet Union (now we call it Russia). We can add North Korea, Cuba and Vietnam to the list to illustrate this point.
All of those countries have one party, The Communist Party. There is only one party and the nomination process is under even tighter control in those countries, yet they still refer to themselves as democratic or people's republics. Even they try to wear the veneer of democracy, to show that their people live voluntarily under tyranny. Yet, these United States are populated with people who still think that we have a superior system to those "backwards countries". Those "backwards countries" suffer from Tweedism just as we do, but you'll never hear that from the mainstream press, lest we get any funny ideas.
No longer can we say that we are better than those "backwards countries" when two parties dominate the politics of our own country and accept no meaningful input from ordinary citizens. No longer can we laugh at those "backwards countries" when we have so little chance of getting a reform candidate through the primary process.
To reclaim our country, to take back the power that is rightfully ours, we must root out the political disease of Tweedism. We must reclaim the right of nomination. To reclaim the right of nomination, we must reform the nomination and election process so that it is open to all who hold the right to vote. Open primaries are a requirement to take back the right of nomination. Publicly funded elections are also required. Election holidays are required. And finally, the one thing that will nail Tweedism where it really counts, is anti-corruption laws that put elected officials in jail when they take money for favors in office.
Mr. Lessig has provided much of what we need in the Citizens Equality Act of 2017. This legislation provides reforms to voting rights, electoral districts and funding of elections. It is not just his legislation, a team of people have reviewed the state of election laws across the country and written the best of the best for election reform into the Citizens Equality Act.
Lessig has also created mayday.us, the superPAC to end all superPACs. This is a superPAC with one purpose: to promote and elect people to Congress and other high offices who will dedicate their time and effort to reform our elections and restore power to the ordinary American. Mayday.us also promotes anti-corruption laws that have real teeth, that provide for penalties when elected officials who take money and gifts for favors.
There are many proposals for reform of our government, but none of them shall pass until this one does: We must get big money out of politics. Why? Because those who profit from the way things are pay big money to keep it this way.