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Doug Knell


Is the United Statea a democracy? We consider ourselves democratic. We have what we advertise as free and fair elections. What Western democracies really are is corporatocracies. We have 2 political parties but they are owned by the same corporate backers. Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsefeld, and Al Gore get rich in the private sector with their connections. Western democracies are better called a demockracy. Some Asian democracies, like India and Thailand, where vote buying occurs, would be called a deboughtcracy.

Home / Politics  /
The Democratic Illusion

How much did that vote really cost?

Pretend you're in the market for a new car.  You head over to the car dealership across town.  The lot is already occupied by salesmen hungry to make you a deal.  Who would you prefer to sell you your new car?

A)      Lenny, a used car salesman stereotype, a fabricator of facts on the spot who offers promises he'll never keep

B)      Dale, the well dressed professional salesman who appears polished, suave, and concerned about your needs, but who, in the end, is still out to screw you by selling you the car at the highest possible price that'll earn him the greatest commission, not the best car for your personal situation

I don't know about you, but my vote is with Lenny.   I already know he's a liar and can filter everything he says and does through that lens.  Dale, on the other hand, could well fool me with his pseudo-honesty, possibly gain my trust, and then fully exploit it.  Both are crooks.  Lenny, however, is the more honestly dishonest.  For now, we'll consider that a compliment.

I was in high school at a time when the world was split in two.  On one side you had the democracy/capitalist camp, represented mainly by the Western nations but with a few prosperous Asian and Latin American ones thrown in for good measure.  On the other side, you had the dictatorship/communism club, headed separately by the Soviet Union and China and their hangers on.  Democracy/capitalism, we were taught, was good.   Dictatorship/communism was bad.   U.S. President Ronald Reagan called the Soviet Union "the evil empire" and the conflict between democratic and dictatorial nations as "the struggle between right and wrong and good and evil."

Well, my friends, it was all a load of rubbish, and I mean ALL of it.  When I look back on it all now, I see the Soviet Union was Lenny.  It was clear, both to the USSR's citizens and to the rest of the world, that the leaders there didn't represent their people.  The USSR never bothered to provide an illusion of choice.  As for the scarier and potentially more dangerous Dale, he looks a lot like big Western democracies, particularly the United States. 

The United States is considered the Land of the Free, and Americans do enjoy ample freedoms.   They can be atheists or pray as they please - to Jesus, to Buddha, to the toilet or to a pagan.  Travel within the country and abroad is unrestricted.  Freedom of the press is tolerated to some degree. No one's going to jail for making fun of a political leader. 

The benchmark of whether a country is democratic is not really based on the above freedoms though.  Those freedoms are bonuses usually present in democracies.  A country's democratic status is determined by whether it has free and fair elections and if the results yield a government of the people, by the people, and for the people.  Imagine there's a country run by a benevolent dictator who has installed himself in office for life and has complete control of the military, yet still allows for freedom of the press, freedom of religion, etc.  You still wouldn't classify this country as a democracy.    

The United States has two main political parties, the Republicans and the Democrats.  This is mirrored in other mainstream democracies.   Australia has its Labor Party and its Liberal Party.  Britain has the Conservative Party and the Labour Party.  There is no rule of democracy which says that a country must have two predominant political parties.   A country could have three, four, five, or four dozen.  What a so-called democratic country can't have is just one.  It must appear like there is a choice of candidates from more than one party.  The Soviet Union was run by just one party, and today, so is China.  Neither is considered democratic. 

In my article, Politicians:  Masters of Defying Reality, I argued that politicians have one objective:  to serve the interests of the corporations/banks/financial backers that put them into power.  They have some latitude on specific policies and stances as long as they promote the ultimate agenda of their backers.  This runs counter to the democratic ideal that politicians are there to represent us and our interests.  At one point, long, long ago, politicians probably did try to represent their constituents and a small number on the big political stages probably still attempt to do so.   They're a tiny minority.

It's far more common to see politicians flitting between the public and private sectors, exploiting the connections in one sector to personally profit from the other.  The further you are up the political totem pole, the more dough you can squeeze out of it.  The mayor of Stockton, California operates on a much smaller scale of plans and scams than the governor of Texas, who in turn is lower down on the political power chart than major league players in Washington, D.C.  If you make it to that elite cut in the nation's capital, you're financially set for life.

Let's look at some examples.  Dick Cheney's most prominent political position was that of vice president under George W. Bush from 2001-2009, but he's been involved in politics as far back as 1969.   He was Assistant to the President under Gerald Ford and later White House Chief of Staff.  He stayed in politics in various positions until George H. W. Bush made him Secretary of Defense from 1989 to 1993.  Cheney shouldn't have been anyone's first pick to run defense.  He was a Yale University flunkie who applied for and received five draft deferments during the Vietnam War, insisting, "I had other priorities in the 60's than military service."  Who didn't, Dick?

It's odd that a man who spent his entire career working for the bloated government public sector would be considered competent and capable of serving as a CEO of a private corporation with no prior private sector experience.  Not when the candidate is the Big Dick!  From 1995 until he became vice president in 2000, Cheney was chairman and CEO of the Fortune 500 company Haliburton and received stock options and stock worth in the tens of millions.  His severance package alone was worth $36 million.  He was supposed to sell all his stock and forego any unexercised options in Haliburton to remove all conflicts of interest once he became vice president.  Evidence suggests he didn't and it's actually an irrelevant detail.  Doubtlessly, he was made CEO of Haliburton and handsomely overpaid in exchange for what he could do for the company with his public sector contacts.  Haliburton's gamble paid off in spades. During Cheney's tenure as vice president, Haliburton was handed billions in government contracts.  Some of these were no-bid contracts, so we can imagine the prices Haliburton offered to the U.S. government were not ultra competitive.  As of 2010, Haliburton's contracts in Iraq were worth over $10bn.  The U.S. taxpayer foots these extravagances. 

What about the recent H1N1 swine flu scare?  As of May 2010, there have been only 3,642 confirmed deaths from the virus in North America; worldwide, just 14,286.  By comparison, the Centers For Disease Control And Prevention estimate that about 36,000 died of seasonal flu-related causes annually in the United States during the 1990's.  I never heard of a flu pandemic on the horizon before the new milennium.  Nonetheless, with the swine flu threat so slight, President George W. Bush called for emergency measures to appropriate another $1bn for Tamiflu, a drug touted to stop H1N1 in its tracks.  Little mention or government spending was made on Relenza, another drug that does the same job.  With good reason.  Tamiflu is manufactured by Gilead Sciences.  Bush's initial Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, once served as chairman of Gilead and still held stock, valued at between $5-25m, at the time of the "pandemic."  He made more than $5m in capital gains selling shares the Senate Armed Services Committee, the Office of Government Ethics, and the Department of Defense Standards of Conduct Office never required him to divest when he took political office.  Unknowing American taxpayers were mugged yet again.

What we have today are corporatocracies, not democracies.  We may have the freedom to elect officials from Party A over Party B, but it doesn't make a whole lot of long term difference.  Both parties are in the same corporate pockets.  Who we freely and fairly choose just determines which party officials get to personally enrich their and their cronies' pockets.  The late Howard Zinn, the historian who wrote The People's History Of The United States, wrote that "[The United States] has been taken over by men who have no respect for human rights or constitutional liberties."  When our leaders say they want to bring democracy to Afghanistan and Iraq, it's a mockery.  How can you bring something to others you yourself don't have?   Our system might be better called a demockracy, a government which offers enough freedoms and window dressing to appear democratic but really has no genuine intentions of serving its people.  How else can you explain that the United States had allocated $315bn for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan up through September 2006 and more than $1tr since 2001 and yet leaves 15% of its citizens without health care?      

The American people are still waiting for a return on their investment

Demockracies are sophisticated.  Vote-buying and bribes are illegal, but there are ways around that.  The corporate owned and liberally-biased media can manipulate public opinion to influence votes. This is very easy to do.  Most of us get our information about candidates from mainstream television and newspapers.  Politicians can't be paid outright as a direct exchange for performing a certain course of action for a corporate backer.  However, they can be rewarded legally with positions and salaries they don't deserve years later.  Al Gore was given paid special advisorship positions to Google and Apple.  No one knows exactly what the position is or what he does (if anything) except get rich off stock shares and stock options.  Gore's net worth was hovering around $100m in 2008.  Before the 2000 election, he was worth between $1-2m.  It looks like Gore went to the same get-rich-quick business school as Big Dick Cheney.    

Our system at the heart isn't much different from Communist China's.  China is just more honest about the way it's done.  Over there no one pretends to have multiple parties or be a government for the people.  The right connections to senior party members give businessmen access to opportunities not available otherwise, almost exactly the way it works in the United States where these under-the-table connections which make politicians and their buddies uber-rich is never acknowledged.   

Let it be said that not all democracies are demockracies.  Politicians in low population countries not boasting a large number of indigenous multibillion dollar multinational companies would find it difficult to use their government connections to pry megabucks out of the private sector.  Of Finland's top 100 companies, for example, only Nokia is world famous.   Finnish politicians are still politicians and power in Finland still corrupts, but without a sizable population and plenty of local multibillion dollar businesses to sleep with, it's trickier to sneak in hugely overpriced no-bid government contracts and bilk the taxpayers for them.  I'm sure it happens, but on a much smaller scale. 

Less developed corporatocracies, like Thailand and India, would better be described as deboughtcracies, a seemingly democratic system but one in which voters can be slavishly bought off to vote a specific way.  Deboughtcracies are still a more honestly dishonest system than a demockracy.  The politicians in those systems tacitly admit they're corrupt, just like our car salesman Lenny, something Dale-like politicians (Rumsfeld, Cheney, Gore) never do.  They don't have to.  The same corporations backing the Dales' efforts for demockratic positions own the media which keep these crooks protected.   

Just before the November 2008 election, a collection of liberal A-list Hollywood celebrities banned together to make a public service announcement imploring all of us, sarcastically, not to vote.  How apposite that one group of highly overpaid people, who make their livings pretending to be people they're not, would encourage us to participate in the illusion of voting to choose another group of highly overpaid people who make their livings pretending to serve people they don't.   The wealthy actors challenged the viewer:  if you care about abortion, the financial collapse, terrorism, literacy, ultra thin condoms, etc. you should vote, an implication that the politicians who would be voted for to represent us were going to solve all the aforementioned problems. 

Maybe solving real problems is what politicians do in democracies.  In demockracies and deboughtcracies, politicians create the problems and then send us the bill.

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 Generation X: Today's Honorary Assholes
 The Complete Article Index