by Randolph T. Holhut
AR Chief of Correspondents
May 22, 2014
OLIGARCHY? OUR GOVERNMENT SURE LOOKS LIKE ONE
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- If a university study reveals that our democracy is completely dominated by moneyed elites and their hired lobbyists, and that the average American has little to no influence on public policy, you might think it would get a little attention.
But the work done by Princeton's Martin Gilens and Northwestern's Benjamin I. Page got virtually no coverage by the corporate news media. That's not much of a surprise when you consider how deep in the tank they are for the ruling class, but Gilens and Pages are worth rescuing from the memory hole.
Gilens and Page, two experienced political scientists, looked at at more than 1,700 policies over 20 years to find out how public opinion translates into policy. They found that the public had "zero estimated impact upon policy change, while economic elites are still estimated to have a very large, positive, independent impact."
Americans like to talk about our democratic process, but how democratic can we be, when, in the words of Gilens and Page, "our findings indicate, the majority does not rule - at least not in the causal sense of actually determining policy outcomes.
"When a majority of citizens disagrees with economic elites and/or with organized interests, they generally lose. Moreover 85 even when fairly large majorities of Americans favor policy change, they generally do not get it," they said.
Gilens and Page don't use the word "oligarchy" to describe the current state of affairs in America. Instead, they use "economic elite domination," which doesn't quite have the same ring.
But this is more than an arcane academic argument. Our democracy is in tatters, thanks to the Supreme Court's insistence that money equals speech in its rollback of nearly all of the campaign finance laws on the books.
Retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, who was the primary dissenter in the Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission case, recently wrote a book suggesting an amendment to the Constitution to help restore democracy and bust up the growing oligarchy.
His amendment reads as follows: "Neither the First Amendment nor any other provision of this Constitution shall be construed to prohibit the Congress or any state from imposing reasonable limits on the amount of money that candidates for public office, or their supporters, may spend in election campaigns."
Getting money out of politics is the first step toward reform in so many different areas and restoring the balance between the will of the people and the power of wealthy elites to thwart it.
Amending the Constitution is never quick or easy, but it is what is needed preserve the principles of democracy and self-government.
AR's Chief of Correspondents, Randolph T. Holhut, holds an M.P.A .from the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University and has been an award-winning journalist in New England for more than 30 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.