The 2014 election campaign was an exercise in dollarocracy, not democracy.
In a democracy, citizens are in charge, votes matter and the governments that take shape after elections reflect the will of the people.
In a dollarocracy, money is considered “speech,” corporations are considered “people” and elected officials take their cues from the billionaires and corporate interests that write the biggest checks. Campaigns cost exponentially more from cycle to cycle (the 2014 price tag will exceed $4 billion for federal races and billions more for state, local, judicial and initiative and referendum contests), and government becomes reflective of the demands of donors.
But that is just the most obvious evidence of the crisis.
Dollarocracy is about a lot more than the money raised and spent in campaigns. It is about the collapse of meaningful journalism, resulting from the downsizing and closure of newspapers, the replacement of local news and talk radio programming with syndicated “content” from afar, the reduction in political coverage by local television news outlets, and the horse-race coverage and spin that tend to characterize national news programs on broadcast and cable television.
When Americans look to television for news, what they get instead is a slurry of spin that tends, all too frequently, to reinforce a broken status quo. Nowhere is this more true that in debates about economics, which tend toward a narrow centrism rather than broad and realistic discussions of income inequality, failed trade policies, and the crisis that is created when crony capitalism replaces sound strategies for maintaining manufacturing and putting new technologies to practical use.
When the economic debate is vapid, when it does not go deep and explore the real questions that vex working Americans, the political process loses meaning. Many Americans simply opt out, which drops election participation rates to shamefully low levels—New York, with a full slate of statewide contests, had the lowest actual turnout since the state Board of Elections began tracking totals in the 1970s; turnout in California and Vermont, both of which had full slates of statewide contests, hit historic lows; in New Jersey, with a Senate contest and several tight House races, turnout was only 31 percent, “possibly the lowest the state has ever seen.”