August 04, 2005

Pot. Kettle. Black.

Former President Bill Clinton criticized (registration required) the Georgia Republican Party and the Republican Party in general yesterday for trying to restrict voting rights and ballot access. President Clinton said: "All over America there are efforts being made to restrict access to the vote under the guise of preventing voter fraud." The former President was making reference to a new Georgia law which would require state ID in order to vote, and which has further limited the kind of identification that can be used to get ballot access. While President Clinton is right that this law and others like it are no doubt going to restrict voter rights and limit ballot access, what we have here is an unfortunate case of the pot calling the kettle black.

Surely we can all remember when the Kerry/Edwards '04 campaign and the Democratic Party were involved in extensive state-by-state efforts to keep independent candidate Ralph Nader and other third party candidates off of various state ballots during the 2004 election. The Democrats justified these efforts as they have justified every other action they've taken since 2000, because of their contempt for President Bush and their desire to see him and his political party lose power over our nation's government. This boggles the mind of some who remember that would-be President Kerry (whose campaign, by the way, I volunteered for) actually agreed with President Bush on everything from Iraq (that is, he voted for the war before he voted against it) to the Patriot Act to the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza to National Health Insurance to the expansion of global corporate power.

But that's beside the point. The point is that, in their endless crusade to take power away from the Republican Party, the Democrats actually took power away from the American people by restricting their voting rights. We should all be able to agree that restricting voter choice is the equivalent of restricting voter rights. All of us want to see President Bush out of the White House and the Republican majority out of Congress, but there are right ways and wrong ways to go about getting there. The right way is to propose clear and contrasting ideas that will appeal to the American people more than the ideas proposed by the Republicans. The wrong way is to limit voter choice by trying to remove third party candidates from state ballots, because this essentially is an attempt to take away the Republicans' power by taking away the American people's power. As Americans, we cannot and should not stand for that. The all-pervasive reach of political partisanship should not grab and twist our most important right: the right to vote.

The fact of the matter is that restriction of voting rights is a systemic problem which must be purged from our government. Both of our two leading political parties have been engaged in a long battle to restrict American voting rights to keep their parties in power, and part of the motivating reason behind this is to keep corporate power and interest groups in control of a government that is supposed to be controlled by the public. As Americans, we can lament this and do absolutely nothing about it, or we can demand a change in our electoral system and other democratic structures that will favor the power of the people and take away the power of corporate entities and interest groups.

Here's what we can and should expect from our government:

- Merit-based politics instead of politics based on who has the support of the most interest groups and who has the most money;

- Campaign finance reform, including caps on spending and contributions; and/or full public financing of elections;

- Free and equal media time for all viable candidates;

- Restriction of political action committees and soft money contributions;

- Lobbying regulation and Sunshine Laws which open up the political system to the American people in order to allow us to hold politicians accountable;

- An increased role for independent expository agencies to hold government accountable;

- Proportional representation voting systems such as Choice Voting (candidate-based), Mixed Member Voting (combines with district representation), and/or Party List Voting (party-based);

- Semi-proportional representation voting systems such as Limited Voting and Cumulative Voting;

- Instant Runoff Voting in chief executive races to ensure that chief executives are elected by a clear majority of the people;

- Multi-party democratic structures;

- The abolition of the Electoral College to ensure direct democracy;

- Grassroots political participation, with heavy emphasis on the principle of subsidiarity;

- And more.

This is what Democrats and Republicans should be able to expect from their political parties, but this is, frankly, what no one is getting from our elected leaders in Washington. It is time to have diversity in Washington, to make our government a diverse gathering of ideas all based upon what the people want and need.

Today, our elected leaders seem to be concerned with spreading the principles of liberty and democracy to the rest of the world. That's all well and good, but it's difficult to spread democracy to the rest of the world when it's being eroded at home. Isn't it time for us to stand up and say that the best way to show the world the value of democracy is to fully implement democratic principles in our own country? Isn't it time for us to stand up and say that democracy can't be forced upon anyone, but perhaps seeing our example of how democracy is supposed to work will bring others to a greater appreciation of democratic government? Isn't it time for us to stand up and say that it's useless to try to bring Iraqis to the polls if we can't even get our own citizens there, and if those who do vote don't really count?

It is high time for us to see Presidents, senators, and representatives with G's and L's after their names, instead of just D's and R's. It's time for the American people to stop sitting back and complaining about the erosion of our civil liberties, especially our right to vote, and it's time for us to stand up and do something about it. It's time to punish our political leaders for substituting corporate greed and interest group ideology for the will of the people, and it's time to elect leaders who just won't do that. Put simply, it's time to elect leaders who will do more than be the pot calling the kettle black.