Thursday, January 14, 2010

Is American Democracy Broken?

Miami held a special election this past Tuesday that cost $300,000. Of the 63,000 residents of the district, 39,961 are registered. Of those, approximately 12% turned out; that means roughly 4,500 people voted. The ‘winner’ got more than half of those votes, and a ‘landslide’ would have been 3,000 votes. So in other words, 3,000 people decided who would ‘represent’ 63,000 people. Does this seem ‘right’ to you? Does this seem like ‘democracy’?

It doesn’t seem ‘right’ nor like ‘democracy’ to me; it seems like something isn’t working and is broken. Many excuses are offered – ‘off-year’ election, local election, but these seem pretty lame to me. ‘Democracy’ isn’t what it used to be, and isn’t working now. Check it out – 63,000 people, approx 40,000 ‘eligible’ to vote, 4,500 vote. Even during ‘on-year’ elections with big issues of state and national interest, only 48% of the ‘eligibles’ turn-out. And, the thirty year trend is for lower registrations and lower turn-outs. Not very ‘good.’

There is something dead, deeply and fundamentally broken about this, and it seems to me until we admit that, until we stop making excuses for it and stop thinking we can patch it up, we won’t be able to fix it. Pretending it’s OK and denying that it’s fundamentally broken, keep the status quo. It’s not about blaming, punishing, or being ‘un-American,’ it’s simply about fixing something that’s broken beyond repair. When our shoes are broken, we fix ‘em, or our cars or houses.

I have some ideas about why this is happening and what to do about it, but before those can be shared, people have got to understand that new ideas are necessary, that the ‘system’ is broken. Until we’re ready to admit it’s not working, until we give up denial and admit we care and can do better, there’s no need to do anything. After all, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

There are consequences to doing nothing and staying in denial; the consequences of not fixing our ‘democracy’ are more polarization, gridlock, corruption and more visible, widespread failures of other systems – energy, immigration, health care. The consequences of letting these systems go is not only the death of the ‘American Dream,’ but the literal and actual death of our standard of living and place in the world. It’s not just politics and usual, it’s decline and dissolution. But it doesn’t have to be this way.

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