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Unelect them all!

TO GO WITH AFP STORY: US-vote-ballotingNo matter how you look at it, democracy is still the best system—nay, the only system—to govern our messy human race. But with this system spinning out of control, here comes a conundrum: can we have democracy without elections and if so, what would replace them?

Item: There are signs that the Iranian President shortly to begin his mandate may not be all he was touted to be—or, if not quite an dangerous cretin like Ahmadinejad, not allowed much leeway by the power elite in the Islamic Republic. The U.S. response to Iran’s perceived or real threat regarding the nuclear issue so far has been to impose ever stricter sanctions. For me, these fall under the “don’t know” category, meaning I’m neither for nor against, unable to figure out their utility. Are they working? If the goal is to weaken and even destroy the economy, then yes, they are. Will it bring the Iranian regime to its knees and make it renounce its evil ways? I don’t think so. We’re giving too much credit to the Supreme Leader and his clique when we attribute to them a Machiavellian mind capable of reasoning and strategizing rather than see how incapable they are of realizing that their repressive and irresponsible regime will eventually fail, with or without sanctions. And while analysts analyze and Middle East or Iran experts pore over tea leaves, Congress does what? Votes 400 to 20 to increase sanctions, in a move typical of a system—ours in democratic countries—gone amok.

More pressure will certainly not put Iran in the mood for discussing nuclear or any other issue. But to our elected representatives, the concern is not the threat of a rogue Iran going nuclear, or containment, or the future of our planet. No, their eyes are fixed on the one goal which is to be reelected, so they pander to the knee-jerk reactions of their constituents, period. Or, as we have seen too often in recent years, to fight to the finish over every single piece of legislation, Republicans definitely against on principle, Democrats turning sanguine and insisting on defending their turf. What happens to issues, in the meantime? Immigration? Obamacare? The infamous support for fracking pushed by Halliburton? Getting assault weapons out of our schools?

“Elections,” ours and others’, and “democratically elected” have become bonbons to our uninformed taste buds. Regarding our tsk-tsking about the sad but inevitable military coup in Egypt, all we see is that Morsi, a totally undemocratic leader, and inept to boot, was “democratically elected” and thus should be kept in office no matter what. We say the same about an ancient piece of history in Iran, the 1953 coup that deposed “democratically elected” Prime Minister Mossadegh. Never mind that he was actually appointed by the Shah, with a vote of confidence in the Iranian Majlis or Parliament attended that day by a handful of deputies (the greatest number choosing to stay home). Mossadegh, a patriotic Iranian done in by doubtful alliances, did win a popular referendum about nationalizing the oil industry but was never elected by anyone. Yet the legend goes on.

Today, howls go up about Mugabe’s rigged elections. A joke, compared to his innumerable crimes against the people of Zimbabwe, but no, that’s all we know: the sanctity of elections in countries where they don’t amount to anything, not even band-aid on the deepest wounds. What about countries such as these United States where people are truly “democratically elected”? The system may have worked, more or less, for decades and even centuries, but it is now fundamentally flawed, corrupt and dysfunctional, not least for the incredible sums of money diverted toward elections. Mark Leibovich’s book, “This Town,” avidly read these days by the Washington elite, gives us depressing details about how broke the system is, former members of Congress and the Senate turned lobbyists, lobbyists turned sharks, an underworld of cronyism, influence-peddling, billions spent on hot air ($6.3 billion on the cost of elections in 2012!).

So, the question remains. If elections no longer work, with what could democracies replace them?

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  1. August 4, 2013 at 5:07 pm

    Churchill said, “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.” What would you replace it with? Tyranny? Yes, our system is broken, but the answer is not ditching elections but working to make them fairer.

  2. KA
    August 4, 2013 at 9:32 pm

    Excellent article providing a realistic but rather a depressing account of our universal affairs. Where do we go from here?

  3. Jonahan Agronsky
    August 5, 2013 at 3:54 am

    Sounds good, Joe, but how exactly does one take on the entrenched American plutocracy, both inside and outside the halls of Congress? Right now, based on my observations of what is happening in both the national and local governments in this country, where the ruling elite appears deaf to the cries of distress from the people, including the least powerful among us, that seems, practically speaking, to border on the impossible for us non-millionaires.

    Jonathan Agronsky

    • August 5, 2013 at 6:04 pm

      Join progressive causes. Work diligently, especially in off-year elections, to vote the rascals out. Continue to speak out. This is a generational struggle. We have to keep fighting. But I believe demography is with us. The right-wingers and racists are clinging to power (gerrymandering congressional districts, voter suppression) because they know they’re days are numbered.

  4. Sue Ellen Hearn
    August 5, 2013 at 6:11 pm

    A very good question……

  5. Amineh McKellip
    October 12, 2013 at 6:18 pm

    If politicians were elected for a maximum limited period, say 8 years, they would not be so focused merely on being relected.

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