By Frank Gormlie / OB Rag
With Cuba and Cubans back in the news cycle – not only with the release of 3,522 prisoners from Cuban jails before the pope’s visit, but also with the first meeting of something called the Bilateral Commission last Friday, September 11th, I have an opening to comment on something that happened last month.
The Bilateral Commission was created August 14 during a visit to Havana by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry as he presided over the official reopening of the U.S. Embassy in Cuba, and the raising of the American flag for the first time since 1961. The joint US-Cuban commission is a joint working group that both sides can use to establish cooperation in such areas like human trafficking and transnational crimes, environmental protection, prevention of natural disasters, health, civil aviation, law enforcement, as well as combating drugs.
It was something that Kerry said during his speech at the opening of the embassy that has bothered me for a month. After praising the progress made by both nations and their leaders in making large strides in the improvement of relations, Kerry then – stepping outside his role as a statesman – launched into a partisan diatribe – and called for “a genuine democracy” in Cuba.
This may seem as something a Secretary of State would say at a moment like this in Havana.
Yet the hypocrisy is so thick that I didn’t know whether to reach for my lens cleaner or the Alka-Seltzer.
Why is this hypocrisy?
It just so happens that many key people no longer still believe the US even has a “genuine democracy”.
Why no less a leader as Jimmy Carter has publicly proclaimed that the the country is “an oligarchy with unlimited political bribery”.
A little more than a month ago, the former President was interviewed on a radio program by Thom Hartmann about the current state of American elections, particularly after the US Supreme Court decision in Citizens United opened the doors to “unlimited money” in our political discourse.
Here is some of what Carter said:
“It [Citizens-United court case] violates the essence of what made America a great country in its political system. Now it’s just an oligarchy, with unlimited political bribery being the essence of getting the nominations for president or to elect the president. And the same thing applies to governors, and U.S. senators and congress members.
“So now we’ve just seen a complete subversion of our political system as a payoff to major contributors, who want and expect and sometimes get favors for themselves after the election’s over.”
“The incumbents, Democrats, and Republicans, look upon this unlimited money as a great benefit to themselves. Somebody who’s already in Congress has a lot more to sell to an avid contributor than somebody who’s just a challenger, so it benefits both parties.”
Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg also disagreed with the controversial Citizens United ruling as she was one of the dissenters in the court’s narrow 5-4 decision – a ruling that erased campaign-spending caps. Ginsburg called it the “most disappointing” in her 22-year tenure on the court “because of what has happened to elections in the United States and the huge amount of money it takes to run for office.” RollingStone
Here we are in the midst of the 2016 presidential campaign where there are a couple dozens of candidates out there – how can we possibly talk about not having a genuine democracy in America?
Yet the comments by Carter – the 39th President – mirror the conclusions of a study titled “Testing Theories of American Politics,” published by Martin Gilens and Benjamin I. Page in the journal Perspectives on Politics, issued by the American Political Science Association in September 2014.
The study determined that –
“ordinary citizens have virtually no influence over what their government does in the United States.”
“economic elites and interest groups, especially those representing business, have a substantial degree of influence.”
The study found the United States was more of a system of “Economic Elite Domination” than a majoritarian democracy. ThinkProgress
“The preferences of the average American appear to have only a minuscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy.” HuffingtonPost
How can we yell foul in the middle of a democratic election?
In early August, The New York Times front page – as if to validate Carter – declared: “Small Pool of Rich Donors Dominates Election Giving,” and reported that:
Fewer than four hundred families are responsible for almost half the money raised in the 2016 presidential campaign, a concentration of political donors that is unprecedented in the modern era.
A New York Times analysis of Federal Election Commission reports and Internal Revenue Service records shows that the fund-raising arms race has made most of the presidential hopefuls deeply dependent on a small pool of the richest Americans.
The concentration of donors is greatest on the Republican side, according to the Times analysis, where consultants and lawyers have pushed more aggressively to exploit the looser fund-raising rules that have fueled the rise of super PACs.
Just 130 or so families and their businesses provided more than half the money raised through June by Republican candidates and their super PACs.“
Finally, the New York Times article answered its own question, of whether the country was in a new Gilded Age or well beyond it — to a Platinum Age and stated:
The intensifying reliance on big money in politics mirrors the concentration of American wealth more broadly.
In an era when a tiny fraction of the country’s population has accumulated a huge proportion of its wealth, the rich have also been empowered by the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision and other regulatory changes to spend more on elections.
To peruse the top donors in presidential politics is to take a cross section of the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans.
It then on and outlined who they were; 67 are billionaires or married to one, some inherited wealth, others self-made: “shy investors who earned billions in high-frequency trading, oilmen made rich by the fracking boom, and entrepreneurs whose bets in the health care industry have made them both wealthy and politically connected.”
These are the people who get to choose who runs for president in America.
Pity those poor Cubans, in their third-world sham elections. What they need is a little doze of American democracy. Yes, back to John Kerry. Here is more of what he said:
“We remain convinced that the people of Cuba would be best served by a genuine democracy where people are free to choose their leaders, express their ideas and practice their faith, where the commitment to economic and social justice is realized more fully; where institutions are answerable to those they serve; and where civil society is independent and allowed to flourish.”
Sounds nice, doesn’t it? Too bad it doesn’t work that way back here in the good ol’ US of A.