Wednesday, August 13, 2014

R.I.P. Participatory Democracy

This will come as no surprise to anyone who’s been paying attention, but if you’re just waking up from a twenty-year coma, I hate to be the one to tell you, but American democracy passed away while you were gone. A recent study by two university professors has confirmed what many of us already new intuitively: The average American has virtually no say in how our country is run anymore.

The new study, "Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens," will be published in the fall 2014 edition of Perspectives on Politics. The authors are Martin Gilens of Princeton University and Benjamin Page of Northwestern University. Simply put, when compared to the power of the wealthy elite, corporations and organized interest groups, the influence of the average American is, “non-significant, near-zero level.”

The elites and interest groups, with their truckloads of money and armies of lobbyists, have the greatest impact on government policy in Washington. And when their desires are at odds with those of the majority of Americans, which is often, guess who wins? It ain’t you and me.

Is there any question why so many citizens have stopped participating in elections? Year after year, election after election, we signal our desires and concerns at the ballot box, only to have the door of the White House and Congress shut in our faces. Recent Supreme Court rulings like Citizens United have clearly made the problem worse, turning our government over to the highest bidder. We are now “non-significant” entities, allowed by our overseers to go through the motions of living in a democracy, but shut out of the real policy debates and decisions.

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