Why Do Political Elites All Hate Democracy?

political magicAt both the Republican and Democratic National Conventions this year, the term “leadership” was tossed about like fresh kill among hungry lions.

McCain’s jingoistic speech called for leadership in war. Condie the control-freak warned us to lead from the Front, or else chaos would ensue. And Chris Christie drew both vision and script from his homeboy Tony Soprano: “You may not love me, but you will respect me.”

Christie ended his soliloquy on leadership by pointing out, “Real leaders do not follow polls. Real leaders change polls.” For Christie, and unfortunately, much of our political directorate, leadership involves exercising control over people, not actually listening to them.

Marco Rubio reminded us that American leadership means helping the rest of the world become just like us, because let’s face it, we’re God’s favorite. And Mitt Romney showed that money can’t buy a personality — or his party’s love. But just maybe, it can buy the White House.

With tremendous insensitivity to those lost in the Dark Knight and Sikh Temple massacres, Suzanna Martinez glorified gun violence and bragged about her Smith & Wesson 357 Magnum. And at a time of severe public skepticism over Congress’s ability to lead, Paul Ryan blatantly lied about the president’s track record, as well as his own. Clint Eastwood may have fired insults at an empty chair, but Paul Ryan insulted us all.

At the DNC, there was less megawar, and megachurch, but no less hypocrisy. Bill Clinton dazzled as usual, defending Obama better than Obama defends himself, and dishing some serious dirt on the GOP. But let’s not forget. As president, Clinton boldly went where no Republican dare go: He demolished our welfare system. And his miraculously low unemployment rate was eerily proportionate to his miraculously high levels of incarceration.

The Glass-Steagall Act of 1933 set crucial restrictions on the U.S. banking industry, meant to control the kind of wild speculation that caused the Great Depression. But instead of stemming the resurgent tide of deregulation during his presidency, Clinton further opened the floodgates, declaring the Act as “no longer relevant.” Now, millions of Americans are bearing the brunt of an entirely man-made, greed-induced financial crisis. Thanks to deregulation, however, prosecutors are unable to land convictions on Wall Street. Tell me, Mr. Clinton, is that “irrelevant” too?

Am I the only one who feels that these so-called leaders are seriously out of touch with the realities we Americans are facing?

Sure, they’re human. Romney met his doting wife at a dance. Obama thinks about his kids when things go wrong. Paul Ryan washed dishes and mowed grass. But that’s not going to lower gas prices, make health care more affordable, or put food on our tables. It’s not going to bring back those so recklessly sacrificed in war. And it’s not going to help the masses of foreclosed upon citizens, unemployed and under-treated veterans, destitute and homeless.

And it’s not going to make our political leaders just like us. Most of them attended universities that we could never afford, even with student loans. Most of them do not clean their own homes or stress over the bills. They are too exceptional for that. And as exceptionals, they do not bear the weight of their own decisions.

To be fair, the convention organizers did script in the common man and woman. Some gave powerful speeches, and a peek into many Americans’ difficult reality. But we are not electing them. And if the party leadership on both sides really cared, why didn’t they open the floor? Why didn’t they invite their constituents to respond, offer opinions, and spark some debate?

Despite their differences, Republican and Democratic political elites have more in common with each other than they do with most of the people that comprise their respective bases. Their experience and worldview is shaped by a common class-consciousness, based on shared prestige and access to power. Everyday people, on the other hand, do not hold such common ground. They remain woefully fragmented, and as such, woefully impotent. As Senatorial candidate Elizabeth Warren put it: “People feel like the system is rigged against them. And here’s the painful part: they’re right.”

We need to start thinking seriously about what kind of political system we really want. And we need to start pressing for things that our politicians did NOT discuss at the conventions. Real solutions–like universal education, debt forgiveness, wealth redistribution, and participatory political structures—that would empower us to decide together what’s best. Not who’s best.

At the Conventions, speaker after speaker repeated the word “democracy” as if we all knew what it meant. But I think our political establishment actually fears–and perhaps even hates—real democracy. Many of them are relying on the fact that the public won’t know enough of the truth in order to demand it. Or even better, they simply won’t care.

But real democracy is not just voting the candidates or rule by the Best. Nor is it an objective system of government that can be learned in textbooks or read in the Constitution. Real democracy is an act: The act of taking part.

Think about it. Imagine a democracy that bucks forms of power based on superiority. A government by All, and leadership by Many, that places clear limits on the conceited pursuit of wealth and power. Imagine if we all had an equal chance of leading. What if, at any point in time, any one of us could be called to lead? What kind of values would drive our political life? What kind of education system would be required? What kind of people would we be?

heather gautryWhen Obama cut the deal with Republicans to extend the Bush Tax Cuts, Bernie Sanders staged an historic filibuster, lasting nearly nine hours on the Senate floor. In the closing lines of his speech, he stated that “if the American people are prepared to stand and we are prepared to follow them, I think we can defeat this proposal…”

As the elections draw near, now more than ever, we must all prepare to stand.

Heather Gautney

Published: Wednesday, 19 September 2012


  1. JoeWeinstein says

    Heather is correct – until her very last sentence. She worries that ‘elections draw near’ – a fact which by her own account signifies NOTHING at all. Elections are not democracy. As the article points out, these elections at best are for choosing WHO is ‘best’ [as a political oligarch] when what we need are ways whereby we can all help choose WHAT is best. The article correctly calls for ‘participatory political structures’ – i.e. real democracy – where public-decision-making power is widely distributed, rather than concentrated in a readily corrupted oligarchy of officials.

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