November 8, 2010

The Fabric of the Status Quo

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It’s telling of the flaws of American democracy that even in the advanced age of the microchip we have seen a rise of two-sentence politics; where talking points suffice to herd Orwell’s sheep. The power in the House has shifted to right-wing Republicans and the Tea Party, whose entire platform is designed to further derail social policies coming from Obama.

In contrast to the disappointing results of our democracy’s elections, a democracy in the southern hemisphere has recently elected Dilma Rousseff to continue Brazillian President Luiz Ignacio Lula da Silva’s agenda. Lula truly transformed Brazil through social reforms that were targeted at the masses. In eight short years, along with bringing prosperity and financial stability to Brazil, he lifted 29 million Brazilians out of poverty.

Americans shouldn’t settle for what our current form of democracy restricts us from doing.  If, as individuals, we truly are wicked, indifferent, myopic and greedy, then the ideal government is one that works to secure equal basic liberties for all rather than a system that allows the flaws of human nature to thrive. America’s democracy must lead to a government where politicians are fighting together on the principles of promoting equality for all, and not seeking to exercise politics that will arbitrarily favor the individual constituency they represent.

American democracy has a strong bias towards promoting the status quo. When looking at the net worth of the United States during the past 30 years, the top one percent of American’s retained their average ownership of 42.7 percent of the financial wealth of this nation. The greater majority of American’s share has dwindled from 8.7 percent in 1983, as the bottom 80 percent of Americans now live from seven percent of the American pie. How can a government of the people allow such inequalities for its people? Under the current model of American politics, the American dream of upward mobility is nothing more than that. A myth where anomalies are glorified as evidence that we’re living in a working system. But, in fact, each year fuels the downward spiral of growing inequalities. In its current state, American democracy is serving as a veil of legitimacy rather than a true proponent and advocate of the people.

Equality cannot be promoted under the current model where the education you receive is determined by your economic position. An education system that allows lower-quality schooling based on a student’s neighborhood goes against the essence of tabula rasa — one of the pillars of democracy essential to achieving the equality and clean slate to succeed from birth. Furthermore, curriculums of our schools should be producing graduates with higher levels of interest in civil involvement. Spending in education is vital for a successful democratic system and it should be a non-issue for elected officials of either party.

Politics in the American system is a game played almost exclusively by the elite. Only 42 percent of registered voters went to the polls for the midterm elections, and historically these elections show less participation than presidential ones as seen by the dip from the 67.1 percent voter turnout in 2008.  What is also not unusual is the relationship between education/income and political participation. This discrepancy in representation from society’s less-advantaged groups reveals why American justice lacks reflective equilibrium.

Democracy can work as a government for the people when it truly represents the entire population; thus it must become more accessible. The fact that Election Day is held on a Tuesday only furthers barriers to participation. Currently elections are on Tuesdays because that day once allowed for more people to vote when America was mostly an agrarian society. It would take time to travel from farms to polls, so Monday wasn’t reasonable, seeing as most people would leave Sunday and needed time to travel. Technology needs to be embraced to further engage the populous and prompt greater participation.

More important than when elections are held is how the government promotes civil engagement and access to the goods the society produces as a whole.  It is education and debate which allows nations to move past the politics and into progress and positive change. Another aspect of American democracy that counters democratic values is how politics are viewed as a taboo topic for conversation. Politics should be debated regularly and not shied away from at the dinner table or public sphere. Internationally, it is commonplace to discuss current events and politics, while from sea to shining sea an epidemic of ignorance has overcome the American populous, the consequence being a population of an either civically disengaged or unreasonable citizenry.

Vicente Gonzalez is a senior in the School of Industrial and Labor Relations. He may be reached at vgonzalez@cornellsun.com. Color Between the Lines appears alternate Wednesdays this semester.

Original Author: Vicente Gonzalez