The 1-Percent Problem: How Americans Can Save Themselves from Plutocracy

By Pfaff, William | Commonweal, December 2, 2011 | Go to article overview

The 1-Percent Problem: How Americans Can Save Themselves from Plutocracy


Pfaff, William, Commonweal


The theme of most political and social commentary is that things are more complicated than you think. For once, I wish to write that things are simpler than you think. This concerns two matters at the core of the present American political crisis.

The first is that control over the government has passed all but completely into the hands of business corporations. The country has become a plutocracy. This has occurred because corporations are the principal supplier of funds essential to the election of federal officials--the president and the members of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, and through them, the members of the Supreme Court and the rest of the federal judiciary, all of whom are nominated and confirmed by the elected officials of the executive and legislative branches of the government.

As all, or nearly all, Americans understand, the nation's constitutional system rests upon a theory of differences of opinion and interest among the citizenry finding expression in the election of presidents and legislatures that reflect public opinion in all its diversity. This diversity in the elected Congress and in the choice of successive presidents is expected to produce an overall system of balanced powers and interests, each of the government's three branches contributing to checking the excesses of the others and of the government as a whole.

What has never before happened has been the seizure of power in all three constitutional branches by a single outside interest group. Corporate business, notably the banking and financial industry, which is now the most important component in the American economy, effectively controls the Republican and Democratic parties, as well as the national news media, whose main preoccupations are national poli tics and the national economy.

Now for the simple answer to this phenomenon that is destroying American democracy. The unprecedentedly enormous sums of money required to run for federal office in the United States today go to purchase television and radio time. To gain high office in the United States it is essential to be a multimillionaire (literally) or to have a billionaire sponsor. Labor unions were once in a position to underwrite a limited number of candidates. Today, the unions have been so weakened that their financial power is no longer any match for that of business and industry.

The simple solution is to ban paid political campaign advertising in broadcast media--as it was banned in 1930s legislation that originally regulated radio's use of the public airways.

Next, every broadcaster or cable or satellite operator in the United States that carries news and political discussion should be required to provide equal time to the major political parties and candidates (again, as required in the past). …

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