Friday, July 4, 2014

Republic Lost and the Mayday PAC

Happy 4th of July everyone. In the midst of fitfully trying to convince myself to write again, I came across a draft of my thoughts on Republic, Lost, which I had originally tried to get out back in October of 2012. With the July 4th deadline for the current Mayday PAC fundraising goal today I figured now was a good time to get this out the door.

I would like to recommended Republic, Lost, by Lawrence Lessig, to anyone with an interest in American politics, or who lives and votes in America. I have been a fan of the works of Lawrence Lessig for years. He first came to my attention with his work on the disastrous effects of modern intellectual property law, and this is the first work I have read of his that branches out to a broader view of the American political process.

Republic, Lost goes into painful detail how corrupt American politics have become over the last forty years. This book is frightful in its details, explaining how the process of deciding elections, how the practice of governing, and the end result of law and policy have all been horribly warped by money. The book traces a majority of the issues I care about back to this cause. Yes, it is a political policy book designed for the mass market, of course it is going to explain that it knows the primary cause of and cure for the nation's ills, but I found myself convinced of the importance of the issue.

Over the last several decades the amount and importance of campaign fund-raising has increased tremendously. Campaign processes have grown increasingly sophisticated in ways that sink money into advertising, research, etc. Campaign finance restrictions have been rolled back. The ethical norms of what is expected of our elected officials has changed and lobbyists have become a normal, accepted part of our political system while politicians spend more and more of their time fund-raising. Politicians work hand in hand with lobbyists in creating the laws. Congressmen spend less time debating the bills that they are supposed to be writing, farming that duty out to lobbyists. The laws grow more complex as lobbyists seek benefits for their industries, and politicians seek to expand regulation so that they have more influence to bargain with lobbyists in exchange for campaign donations.

Lessig goes on to detail how this corrupted process created the disastrous financial regulatory framework that lead to the Great Recession, how it prevented more thorough healthcare reform such as a single payer system, how it contributes to growing wealth inequality, how it has created an overly complex set of tax law, and many other unfortunate examples. There are many dreams of idealists on both the right and left that have been thwarted by the current corruption of the American political system.

In order to fix this issue Lessig as recommended many solutions since Republic, Lost was published in 2011. A constitutional amendment to repeal Citizens United, or publicly financed elections, or other forms of electoral reform would be wonderful, but are unlikely given the current state of political polarization and with moneyed interests opposed. Right now, the most important plan that I would like to encourage support for is the Mayday PAC, which with some degree of irony, is raising money to support candidates pledged to get money out of American politics. I am more optimistic about the Mayday plan than any previous attempt to address this issue I have seen before, simply in terms of the amount of public awareness it is generating. I would like to encourage you all to consider supporting it.

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