Wednesday, July 08, 2015

Guest Post By Oren Jacobson-- Would Thomas Jefferson Recognize American Democracy Today?


Looks like we lost Oren Jacobson as a candidate against Lipinski, at least for the this cycle, but we've gained a sharp and dedicated new correspondent from Chicagoland. Last week he shared his reflections after Obama's speech in Charleston. This evening his topic is reflections on the Declaration of Indpendence as it has evolved and continues to evolve. His targets are the evils of systemic partisan gerrymandering and the predponderant influence of Big Money on out electoral system and their impact on American electoral democracy.

American (r)Evolution
by Oren Jacobson

Each year on the Fourth of July, I read the Declaration of Independence aloud in its entirety. With every reading I am struck by something different as if I must avail myself through life experiences of the lessons and messages contained in that parchment. This year, as political candidates launch campaigns which draw into question the way we allow the system to operate, I found myself pondering how our Founders might view the breakdown of our democratic institutions.

Despite our temptation to cast our Founding Fathers as an intellectually homogenous and unified group, they were far from it. Division, personal animus, and disagreement ran rampant. They did agree, though, on two key points. First, that power could be used to suppress the rights and freedoms of the people. Second, that the people had not only the right, but the obligation, to address what ails them.

For our Founding Fathers, the dangerous power that threatened them was tyranny. The symptoms of tyranny, however, can exist without a tyrant. Power need not be centralized to be abused at the expense of the people. We face a much different threat to our national well being than our Founders did. The dangerous combination of politicians who can pick their own voters and unfettered money in politics funnels power to the few over the many.

In 1992 there were 103 Congressional districts whose vote was close enough to the presidential outcome to be considered a swing district. This meant that 76% of our Congress was determined before the election even happened. In 2012 that number dwindled down to just 35 swing seats. 92% of the nation’s Congressional DNA was determined before a single vote was cast.

Some of this is the natural selection process of people living alongside like minded people. For example there are many states that are clearly Republican or Democratic states. Most of it, however, is a result of a political process called Gerrymandering. This process essentially allows elected politicians to draw favorable districts and thus preserve their power.

In 2012 Democratic candidates for the House of Representatives earned 1.4 million more votes than Republicans. However, this “victory” for Democrats left them with a 33 seat disadvantage in the House. The GOP had control of about 54% of the body despite having fewer people vote for them and their platform.

The problem with Gerrymandering isn’t simply that one party can artificially maintain power by taking advantage of a loophole in our system, though. It’s the incentive structure it creates for elected leaders. If I don’t have to worry about a challenge from the other party then all I have to do is keep my base happy. Therefore, my only threat, is from a primary. How do I prevent a primary challenge? I don’t take positions, or cast votes, that give the other side what they want. Compromising with the other party compromises my career. We’re taught that all successful relationships are built on trust and compromise. The result of this systemic flaw removes both.

Gerrymandering is just one major crack in the foundation of this country. The other is the influence of money in politics. In 2012 roughly 55,000 people provided the maximum contribution to a candidate according to, a website that tracks all campaign contributions. That represents about .0002% of the population. Nearly 40% of all campaign money that year came from around 125 people, or .0000004% of the population.

Are we so willfully blind as to believe that elected officials will be just as responsive to the will of the people as they are to the will of the people who fund them?

What our founders wanted to do was to protect us from runaway power. They could never imagine a system that allowed those in control to draw boundaries that nearly ensured they would remain so. These were men who believed that campaigning was beneath them. That their election should be based on their merit and service so they would hardly be comfortable with the idea of non-stop campaigns funded primarily by the nobility of twenty-first century America. These men, I believe, would redress these grievances.

Unlike our forefathers, though, such redress need not be claimed by the barrel of the gun. We don’t need another American Revolution, but it seems clear that an American Evolution is necessary and overdue. We need not abolish our form of government to ensure that the power and purpose of democracy is protected, but we must heed the advice of these great men and alter it.

Redistricting reform that ensures non-partisan boundaries is the first common sense step we can take. Some states have already made strides in this regard. The Supreme Court just upheld a measure in Arizona that yielded an independent redistricting committee, taking the politics out of the structure of the electoral process. Adoption of similar solutions nationwide would do much to preserve the integrity of democratic representation in our country.

As it stands incumbents will win at better than a 90% rate and our elected officials will spend at least 40% of their time fundraising to protect their power. The question our elected officials should be asking themselves is whether they should follow the will of the people on an issue, or lead them. Instead they currently ask themselves how to ensure they have enough funding for the next election. Let’s make that a moot point.

Our national GDP is north of $16 trillion annually. With as little as 1/10th of one percent of that money we could fund all federal elections in the next cycle. Federally funded elections, in which each candidate had exactly the same amount of funding, would eliminate, or at least greatly reduce, the influence of money in politics. Overturning the Citizens United decision by constitutional amendment would also go far to that end.

Our Founders gave us the power to change the way our system operates, and called on us to do so in the ever present words of the Declaration. That we have ceded it willingly, or passively, is a fact for which we must hold ourselves to account. We have the government we deserve because we have the government we accept. So did our Founding Fathers. Until they decided they would no longer accept it. How long will we continue to accept ours?
"That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness."
– Thomas Jefferson, Declaration of Independence

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At 7:44 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great article as usual. However, very few are going read this article. Such articles such be posted on influential news sites such as, etc. However, we all know that those corporate-owned sites will never publish such a thought-provoking and true article.

Our country has great potential. However, our political procedures in democracy have completely undone our potential.


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