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Freedom Rider: The Lie of American Democracy

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    by BAR editor and senior columnist Margaret Kimberley

    Just as most American mistakenly believe their country has the highest living standard in the world, they also swear that the U.S. is the ultimate in democracy. They also realize that the Golden Rule applies, here: those who have the gold, rule. But the contradiction does not phase them. And, largely because Americans cling to the myth of democracy rather than face the fact of plutocracy, “we know for certain that we will end up with a corporatist president who will keep our country and the world in a perpetual state of war.”


    Freedom Rider: The Lie of American Democracy

    by BAR editor and senior columnist Margaret Kimberley

    The United States is becoming less and less democratic by the day.”

    Most Americans are convinced, mistakenly, that they live in a democratic nation. The idea of democracy is upheld with reverence, making it one of the most cherished of all mythologies, but its true meaning is obscured in a country where money is king. There have been many times in history when America was anything but democratic, when the country’s original inhabitants were slaughtered, or when millions were enslaved, or during the reign of Jim Crow and lynch law, or when women couldn’t vote. We are accustomed to thinking that because those days are over, we continue to make progress and that our country is improving over time.

    It is true that we elect office holders, and have a Constitution which guarantees certain rights to individuals and a judiciary system designed to protect those rights. It appears that all of the ingredients which define a free society are right here in the United States. But if measured against criteria which show the full breadth of personal freedom, it quickly becomes clear that the United States is becoming less and less democratic by the day.

    Does voting make a difference if the choices are predetermined by people not accountable to the citizens? Successful candidates for even minor public offices need to raise money in order to succeed at the ballot box. They become beholden to their contributors and don’t bite the hands that feed them.

    Here in New York State, it was recently revealed that Democratic governor Andrew Cuomo used his rich friends to influence the legislative session via the Committee to Save New York. The phoney and grandiose name describes a $17 million campaign slush fund, which is used to promote Cuomo’s legislative agenda. The CSNY was the biggest spender of all lobbyists in New York State last year, making sure that Cuomo’s campaign for austerity and union busting won out in the legislature.

    If the NYPD can stop and frisk over 700,000 people with no cause whatsoever, it can’t be said that our society is truly democratic.”

    Contributors to the Committee to Save New York reads like a who’s who of fat cat developers such as the Real Estate Board of New York. It is little wonder that the rent protections lost during a Republican gubernatorial administration have never been restored. How can American politics be thought of as in any way democratic if only the people with the gold get to make the rules? The word democracy doesn’t mean much if governors like Cuomo have to raise at least $25 million to run viable campaigns and then remain in the pocket of rich people who make sure that no one else even thinks about getting their way politically.

    If the NYPD can stop and frisk over 700,000 people with no cause whatsoever, it can’t be said that our society is truly democratic. Those 700,000 people can vote, but that right doesn’t keep them safe from police harassment and possible brutality. Not one of the prospective New York City mayoral candidates has clearly stated an opposition to stop and frisk, which means that the unconstitutional activity may continue indefinitely. Apparently stop and frisk is just fine with the big money folks.

    If America were a democratic nation, the people would have most of what they wanted from their government. We would have universal, single payer health care. United States troops wouldn’t be stationed in Afghanistan, or most of the one hundred odd other nations that are outposts in the empire. If we lived in a democracy, this country would not be the world’s imprisonment capital. Banks would be regulated and public schools would be fully supported by the government as they ought to be. Affordable housing would be plentiful and so too would jobs paying good wages to working people.

    If we lived in a democracy, this country would not be the world’s imprisonment capital.”

    Instead of representing our interests and needs, the electoral system gives us the opposite of what we want. In November 2012 a president will be elected who will proceed to work with Congress and give us as little of what we want as he can possibly get away with. Millions of dollars, perhaps one billion dollars in campaign funds will be sent between now and election day yet we know for certain that we will end up with a corporatist president who will keep our country and the world in a perpetual state of war.

    The expression of democracy ought to be fuller than just watching debates and going to the polls. Our system should acknowledge and act on at least some of our concerns and needs. It is time to be honest about our country as it is, a kleptocracy and a plutocracy, but a democracy it isn’t. It can be, but wishful thinking and myth making won’t get us there.

    Margaret Kimberley's Freedom Rider column appears weekly in BAR, and is widely reprinted elsewhere. She maintains a frequently updated blog as well as at Ms. Kimberley lives in New York City, and can be reached via e-Mail at Margaret.Kimberley(at)

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    The Myth of the US as a People's 'Democratic Republic'

    If Democracy means the true roots political & economic power rest w the people, & republic means that the Gov't represents & serves the best interests of all of the People- then the USA was never truly a so-called democratic republic. In fact it was set-up to have the look & feel of one without actually being one. The US senate was modeled after the Roman Senate- IE: a bunch of rich un-elected elites [Note: US senators were NOT elected by the people from their states until after 1900- in fact most of the US' so-called 'Founding Fathers' were a bunch of rich elitists & Business-men]. The POTUS was Never to be elected by the people's vote but via the semi-secret Electorial College [Note the 2000 {s}Election]. The more democratic elements in the US Constitution [IE: the US House of Reps & the Bill of rights] were pushed by more democratic / 'progressive' reformist elements- & then the general consensus even among these elements was to exclude Afro & Native Americans -&- women. The US Consitution, which was{is} largely a property rights doc, sanctioned both slavery & the seizing of indigenous peoples' lands & their ethnic cleansing [= extermination]. AND- Nearly ALL US colonies both in the South & in the North, had legal slavery & indentured servitude till circa 1776 - 1800.

    For more on the Real History of the founding of the USA see Michael Parenti's: 'Myths of the Founding Fathers' [@ ].


    I also want to thank you for the Parenti link of which I was unaware.

    In addition to having read almost all of Mr. Parenti's books, I had the privilege of spending some time with him.  He had given a speech at an NJ Peace Action luncheon, and I got to drive him back to NYC.  He's as good a listener as he is a talker, and I enjoyed immensely the opportunity to speak with him on education, politics, U.S. foreign policy, and the mythology of text-book history.

    Also, thanks for your added info on the origins of the Senate.  And thanks to Peasehead for his kind comment.





    Thanks for the link. While I am familiar with most of the facts that you presented here,  I am always seeking to increase my knowledge as well as my sources of knowledge. 

    Institutional obstacles to democracy

    Good article.  Three institutional obstacles to democracy are:

    1.  A two party oligopoly that excludes third parties through a web of legal and financial barriers.

    2.  Lack of proportional representation.  A Nader or Jackson could get 10% of the vote and wind up with nothing to show for it.  In most European countries, a party winning 10% of the vote would have 10% of the congress or parliament.

    3.  The very undemocratic Senate which gives Utah the same number of senators as New York.

    Mix in the corporate press, an underfunded and increasingly corporate ecucational system, and a corrupt system of funding political campaigns and you have the United States.                                                      


    You have accurately and concisely identified the three major institutional obstacles to genuine representative government in this country. (I hate using the term 'democracy" because it is, and has been, far too often, used  to to describe societies which are only good at practicing its forms.) My question to all is this, can we change things enough to remove any of the three obstacles, or has this country become all that it will ever be?