The Biggest Problem in Politics — and Why Liberals and Conservatives Can Fight It Together


I'm lucky to have many intelligent and thoughtful friends and colleagues, a number of whom have dedicated their free time, some even their careers, to "causes" of various sorts. From prisoners' rights to women's rights, marriage equality to income equality, the people in my life care deeply about trying to make the world a better place. But at the same time, any student of history will tell you that real social change only happens when a critical mass of people demand it. Think Women’s Suffrage, the Civil Rights Movement, and more recently, marriage equality. It’s taken the majority of citizens getting behind these causes for any progress to be made. And it's time for us to rally together again, this time behind an issue that has the potential to help all of us, liberal or conservative,achieve our own objectives. What’s the cause?

Establishing a true democracy in America.

Wait a moment, you may be asking; Don't we already live in a democracy? Well, actually no, we don’t. If you didn’t already know it, in America — and in most places around the world, really — moneyed interests control government. It’s called plutocracy. Don’t believe me? Read about how Congress and the president are owned and run by the wealthy. Moreover, thanks to the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, private donors can give unlimited amounts of money to candidates and, as we all know, money wins elections. In fact, 85% to 94% of all elections are won by the candidate with the larger war chest. Things are so bad in our “democracy” that around 70% of Americans have absolutely no influence over government policy whatsoever. Guess which 70% that is?

In America today, the poor are, for all intents and purposes, entirely disenfranchised. They have no say in which candidates are nominated by either political party and, as such, are given no real choice. The wealthy vet those whom they believe to best represent their interests, leaving the rest of us with zero candidates to choose from that represent our interests.

So while I sincerely applaud everyone who is fighting for fairness and justice, I believe their energies to be misplaced. No matter how much time, effort, and money liberals and progressives pump into their respective “causes,” they will never achieve their goals so long as moneyed interests control the political process.

I propose an alternative action for all those interested in change. Instead of rallying for fair wages, why not rally for a political voice? Instead of “Occupying” everything bad in the world, why not focus on achieving the original ends of Occupy? After all, political equality and economic fairness are easy sells to both liberals and conservatives. The Band-Aids we’re placing over the gaping wounds that are our country’s inequities aren’t cutting it. It’s time to perform surgery. The patient? The U.S. constitution.

Many Tea Party Patriots, along with Rootstrikers, an NGO working to get money out of politics, have suggested that we hold an Article V Constitutional Convention. No document written by men is infallible, and America’s founders certainly could not have imagined the type of world we live in today. We’ve amended the constitution before to create a fairer and more just society, and it’s time we did so again.

It would take 34 states' legislatures calling for a Constitutional Convention for one to occur. Once called, it would take 38 states for any amendments to be ratified, preventing either side of the political spectrum from enacting extreme changes.

There would be many issues discussed at the convention, but none more important than how to establish a true democracy. Noam Chomsky has argued that we never really had democracy in America in the first place. Whether we ever did or not, we certainly don’t have it now. No one would ever mistake me for an optimist, but I truly believe that if we added a 28th Amendment to the Constitution eliminating private money from public elections, we could have true democracy in America.  

The challenging part in all of this would be electing local and state representatives that would work toward calling a Constitutional Convention. We need to start movements in our communities to identify and support candidates who share this goal. Once they’re in office, we need to hold them accountable and ensure they present legislation calling for this action.

Some have said that calling on our presently elected officials to pass campaign-finance reform would achieve the same ends without having to go to such extreme measures. I believe this to be naïve. The few spending limits enacted by the Bipartisan Campaign Finance Reform Act of 2002 were effectively overturned by the Supreme Court, partisan gridlock continues to pervade Washington, and Congress remains owned by moneyed interests.

The vast majority of citizens across the political spectrum already want money in politics to be limited, and most want elections to be publicly funded. The difficulty is in getting all sides to realize that this — the removal of money from politics — is the defining issue of our generation. As Harvard Law Professor Lawrence Lessig has said, “We will never get your issue solved until we fix [our democracy] first.” It’s a fact. Once we’ve given every citizen a political voice, all of our own personal causes will be able to be addressed in a substantive manner, many for the first time. 

For this to happen, liberals and progressives will have to join forces with conservatives and libertarians. We must harness our collective energies, which are varied and unfocused, and combine them into a singular, powerful, Civil Rights-like movement. I truly believe that with clarity of mission and agreement of purpose, we can still give this democracy thing a shot.