Tuesday, April 28

The Good Wife and democracy in America

In Episode 19 of The Good Wife, Alicia Florrick thought she had won the election for State's Attorney. Whatever. I didn't like that plot line and wondered about the trajectory of the show if she actually was in the SA's office, but I was not expecting Season 6, Episode 19 to cause me such ojida, such nausea.

In my opinion, Alicia has tried to be the good soldier. While she is not St. Alicia, she mostly strives to err on the side of ethics and integrity. What I witnessed in Season 6, Episode 19 left me wondering how we can call ourselves a democracy. And why, with SuperPacs and lobbyists, any of us bother to vote.

In a critical scene [spoiler alert!], Alicia is told by the Chair of the Democratic National Committee to stand down, that "the party" will find her a role and will take care of her. She was told her sacrifice was for the good of The Party, that they could not afford to lose the majority or call attention to other elections. Then she was betrayed by a party lawyer who previously had claimed to be for ethics and integrity but who, in front of the election board, claimed Alicia had been lying to him. Why? "Two-thirds majority." In other words, her individual role, integrity, worth, etc. was sacrificed to and for The Party.

I wanted to throw up.

Today I read this article about our stunted democracy. It echoes some of what I was thinking the other night as I wondered how our elections and electoral machinations really look to the rest of the world, and I wondered why anyone would want to replicate the US-style of democracy.

Every year Americans complain about robo-calls, emails, direct mail, and incessant radio and TV ads. Every year Americans complain about candidates who campaign dirty and that, because of SuperPacs and lobbyists and what we think we learn by watching The West Wing and The Good Wife, we are all being manipulated by half-truths and spinning so it's a wonder the candidates can remember what they think they stand for. . . today. . .this ten minutes.

Meanwhile the professional media people and amateurs are eager to find something that gives them the opportunity to point a finger and shout "Aha!" and chortle that they "found out" something suspicious or whatever about a candidate.

Our democratic system is seriously messed up. State and federal not-really civil servants are too busy protecting their legacies, their potential libraries, and their re-elections to do anything that might be meaningful. They don't want to make the hard decisions because they might not be re-elected. That's like saying you won't buy a new car or computer because you want the latest and greatest features. Ain't gonna happen. So failing to make hard decisions to get re-elected means failing to do the job for which you were elected. The irony is appalling.

What isn't messed up is that I have the freedom to say this. I also have the freedom to try to change things, but, like many others, I'm perplexed how to go about that. The laws favor the people who are running for election not those who want to vote. Lobbyists will also be closer to my representatives and better able to "leverage" their interests and inclinations. All I have is a vote. And we've shown that voting the current bums out of office seems to mean we only get different bums.

And yet, the power of the American system is that we can keep voting and we have more than one choice and as long as The Party allows people to practice democracy, we can exercise our right to vote. On the other hand, if The Party spends much of its time making sure its preferred candidate gets and stays in power, well then, we're a complete failure at democracy.

Alexis de Tocqueville wrote in Democracy in America, Volume II (1835):
After having thus successively taken each member of the community in its powerful grasp, and fashioned them at will, the supreme power then extends its arm over the whole community. It covers the surface of society with a net-work of small complicated rules, minute and uniform, through which the most original minds and the most energetic characters cannot penetrate, to rise above the crowd. The will of man is not shattered, but softened, bent, and guided: men are seldom forced by it to act, but they are constantly restrained from acting: such a power does not destroy, but it prevents existence; it does not tyrannize, but it compresses, enervates, extinguishes, and stupefies a people, till each nation is reduced to be nothing better than a flock of timid and industrious animals, of which the government is the shepherd. I have always thought that servitude of the regular, quiet, and gentle kind which I have just described, might be combined more easily than is commonly believed with some of the outward forms of freedom; and that it might even establish itself under the wing of the sovereignty of the people. Our contemporaries are constantly excited by two conflicting passions; they want to be led, and they wish to remain free: as they cannot destroy either one or the other of these contrary propensities, they strive to satisfy them both at once. They devise a sole, tutelary, and all-powerful form of government, but elected by the people. They combine the principle of centralization and that of popular sovereignty; this gives them a respite; they console themselves for being in tutelage by the reflection that they have chosen their own guardians. Every man allows himself to be put in leading-strings, because he sees that it is not a person or a class of persons, but the people at large that holds the end of his chain. By this system the people shake off their state of dependence just long enough to select their master, and then relapse into it again. A great many persons at the present day are quite contented with this sort of compromise between administrative despotism and the sovereignty of the people; and they think they have done enough for the protection of individual freedom when they have surrendered it to the power of the nation at large.
So much has changed; so little has changed.

No comments: